We are on our last days of vacation. Tomorrow, the kids and I begin the two day drive home from Arkansas where we’ve enjoyed a week of swimming and playing with family. I’m tired and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.
I’m still plugging away on the novel. It’s coming, very slowly but very surely. Some days the words flow freely. Others days it’s like plodding up Everest with a bag of rocks on my back. Some characters are sure and free and beautiful. Others are chunky and in need of a good editor.
But it is coming along.
This character, Maria, is coming into her own. Her story is heart wrenching and a couple of times I’ve had to stand up and walk away, the emotions have run so high. When I told Lee this he looked at me with narrowed eyes. “You know you’re the author, right?”
Yes. I do know that. But sometimes I’m not writing the story.
Here is one more piece of Maria’s story:
For three full days we rocked slowly along the tracks, all of us stuffed in tight and wrapped in heat and terror. After the first day, when dehydration and starvation began to set in, emotions ran high. We were a car full of teenage girls, all ripped from the ones we loved and forced into a situation of extreme stress. The tears fell freely and emotions ran hot. By the afternoon of our second day on the train, girls were screaming and wailing. Panic set in and several beat on the sides of the train until their fists were raw and bloody.
Others tried to shut out the wailing. Polina and I wrapped our arms around one another and slid to the floor, each a lifeline to the other. After awhile fatigue set in and most of the screaming faded into pitiful wails.
If the sounds of our enclosement didn’t set me over the edge, the smells threatened to. We all forfeited every bit of dignity we had as time went forward. Girls defecated publicly, and threw up repeatedly from stress and heartache. Even I had to finally give in to the calls of nature and with the deepest of sorrow in my eyes I released the pressure on the floor right where I sat.
Never have I felt such a sense of shame.
Polina did all she could to allow me some sense of dignity. She did not mention it and gently turned her eyes away from me when I could resist no more. And she did not complain when together we finally had to sit in the mess.
By the third day, everyone had made a sort of pile on the floor. In an unspoken agreement, we all allowed the smaller girls to lay on top of the larger ones, making a sort of long patchwork of grief and fatigue.
It was this day that I thought we would die. I envisioned the Nazi’s pulling open the door to find us all rotting in our own stench and somehow I took some comfort in this vision.
But it was not to be so.
Instead we finally pulled into a station and stopped. We had made many stops along the way, but this was the first time that the door was opened. The light that streamed into the cabin assaulted my eyes and left me blind. We were all so weak by this point that the Germans who began herding us out the door had to physically lift most of us and set us on our feet. Polina and I did not let go of one another’s hands. We clung tight as they set us upright and both of us, stiff-legged and squinting, followed the line of females into the unknown.
We were soiled, dirty and smelled of human feces and vomit. We did not look like young girls, but old women who had endured years of abuse. What a difference three days made.
There were four girls who did not make it. I watched as their lifeless bodies were pulled from the train car and tossed on a waiting truck with such indifference that I wondered if our captors were, indeed, even human. How can one witness death with no expression at all?
I don’t understand it.
©Kelli Stuart, 2012