Please forgive my bad literature. I’m not a writer. But I wrote this and am sharing it as a kind of therapy. I will append an explanation–if one is even really necessary–in a comment. Thanks.
The rain has turned cold.
My daughter is playing a few feet away from me. Heedless of the chilly October drizzle, she is amusing herself with a little carved wooden horse. I don’t recognize the toy—she must have found it somewhere in the station, maybe on the platform. It’s broken, as the poor horse has only two legs. But Daiya doesn’t mind. I can hear her humming a little song as she pretend gallops her little stallion through the mud. He charges heroically back and forth, left and right, releasing an occasional happy neigh, in a small semi-circle described by the arc of her arm’s reach.
She is so brave, and so strong. I know that hunger must gnaw at her little belly, as it does, at mine. How long has it been? Sixty hours, perhaps? since only the meager bread and broth in Lódz. Where is her mother? Where is my dear Elka? Already at a camp? I saw her last boarding a train, huddled together in a grey woolen mass with the other women. She was looking back at me, without tears, telling me one last time that she will always love me. Heavier in my gut than the hunger is the Great Fear that I dare not speak: I will never see her again. I close my eyes and press the image of my beloved’s face into my memory. No matter what is to come, I will not forget, moja kochana. I will not forget. I will love you forever, Elka, and I will not forget you. Daiya doesn’t understand—or is artfully, beyond her years, avoiding the recognition—that Mama is gone. Despite the shouting, the crowds, the cold, the rain, the fear, the abiding Unknown that hovers over us in these present moments, and throughout the past three months of living in the ghetto…my daughter is still playing. G-d grant this night that we may sleep in peace…
I still have my daughter. But for how long? Only the Lord knows. Why were the children not sent with the women? Surely, dreadfully, the men in the grey uniforms will take her away at any time. A man with the Death’s Head on his cap and collar, whom we were directed to address as Herr Scharführer, is barking orders in German. I don’t understand, but the other soldiers are rounding up the little ones, now.
I call Daiya to me. I ache to hold her fast in these last minutes. She rises to run to me, just like we were back home…just like she did each night when I came home from a long and hard day. I hug her little body and hold it close to mine. The cold drops strike my face and run down my cheeks. Just treasure this moment, just this one little moment… I speak a silent prayer that G-d will grant me the gift of seeing my little girl and my wife just once more in this life. But my heart is already shredded and dying from loss. I suffer an absence that is to be everlasting.
It is then I realize that I am not at that train station any longer. And it is not raining—I am weeping, and my tears are cold. And my beautiful Elka and little Daiya are surely dead. If G-d is there, if he can spare any pity for me in these blackest of days, so too will I be, soon.
A sob, and I shake myself from this horrific vision. The shower water has run cold. I only envisioned it as my own icy tears.
I had sat down in the bathtub, in the forgiving rain of a hot shower, to ease the aches in my body and assuage the horror in my soul. Yet my brain, craving the flood of γ-aminobutyric acid that the days-departed X had once triggered, allows me no rest, and it carried me back to a life not my own, to an alien time of suffering unparalleled in human history. Why? I don’t know. But the pain I am experiencing seems to need a reason, a context, a justifiable trigger, beyond the pathetic, mundane, and prosaic actual cause, which I dare not confess to anyone right now. I am alone.
The “W” word…withdrawal. From two different classes of drugs, at once. My GABA and μ-opioid receptors scream. My brain and mind are on fire, my heart has been flayed alive, and my body is a walking, pain-wracked corpse. The steep drop in mood-altering neurotransmitters leads my mind inexorably to gravitate to, to fixate upon, the Worst, the Ugliest, the Most Horrific and Barbarous, the Unspeakable, the Brutal, the Pains That Cannot Be Survived. The separation of families during the Holocaust, watching your spouse and children being sold away from you into slavery in 18th-century America, how I will possibly support my family and deal with the shame when I lose my job, what it would really feel like to be crucified or perhaps anally impaled, the most effective and ethical way to kill myself when all this becomes too much to bear, how much my daughter will cry over the daddy who abandoned her…
My wife and daughter sleep peacefully in our bedroom. In two hours it will be time to wake up—I have already been awake for sixty hours now—and to rouse my little one, feed her breakfast, and drive her to daycare. Then for me, work for eight hours. How will I ever make it? I lack the strength even to stand and walk. Merely being alive right now is an immense struggle, one that I find myself wishing more and more that I would lose. In fact, I pray for death. And the sooner it comes, the better. The sleeplessness is torture. The anxiety and dysphoria and despair reach levels that can only be comprehended on an experiential or perhaps spiritual level.
I turn off the now-cold shower.
G-d grant this night that I may sleep in peace…