Daytona State College
It all started with a click, and my first thought was “Damn I forgot to check to see if it was loaded.”
It is said that at the ninth hour of his crucifixion, Jesus Christ cried out, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is something that every person of faith has or will struggle with at least once in their lifetime. It is the ultimate test, for only those who are truly faithful can hold true to their beliefs in even their darkest hours. My struggle lasted years, for every time I looked to God for the strength to get me through, there was a time I would curse his name. For a while, I ceased to believe in his existence, thinking, “What God would turn his back on those he supposedly viewed as his children?” And how could I not feel this way? If God were real, then why did he take away my home, my wife, my best friend, my first love? If this was part of his master plan, I wanted none of it.
Upon further inspection, it became apparent to me that the pistol had jammed. It had never done that before, not in the 20 years my father owned it, and not since he passed it on to me. Whether it was divine providence or sheer luck, is in the eye of the beholder, but nevertheless I survived this encounter and decided that this was a chance for me to start over.
A few weeks later, as I sat on a corner begging for some scraps from a passerby, I noticed a tall, blonde haired man walking towards me in a dark black uniform. I had assumed he was an army officer, but upon further inspection, I realized it was one of those political fanatics playing dress-up. They sprung up everywhere after the war, trying to seize power in wake of the Kaiser’s exile. I was content to let him pass without incident to avoid any “misunderstandings,” but just as he intended to leave me unmolested, he abruptly stopped. I froze and kept my head down, terrified that if I made eye contact with this stranger, he would retaliate for some perceived grievance. It was then he said in a curious voice, “Heinz, is that you, old friend?” I looked up at the stranger only to see a familiar face staring back at me. His name was Fredrich Ludwig, an old colleague from my days at the academy. Fredrich and I fought side-by-side during the war, and he was the best man at my wedding. “Ludwig?” I replied, and without hesitation he embraced me in his arms as a long-lost brother.
“It’s so good to see you!” he said enthusiastically and after looking over me with his eyes he asked, “What are you doing dressed like a beggar?”
“That’s because I am one,” I replied, “I lost everything; the house, the car, I even sold my uniform to a young lad last week.”
He was clearly taken aback by this as he gasped upon hearing the words. Fredrich had always been proud of his service and was a true nationalist, so I thought for sure he was going to be furious. Instead of rage in his eyes, however, I found only pity.
“What of Greta? Where is she?” he asked, looking around to see if she was nearby. “Dead,” I replied, “Typhoid took her last year.”
“I’m so sorry Heinz. She was a good woman,” he said, the joy in his voice replaced by a solemn tone.
Fredrich looked at his watch and a worried look came across his face. He looked at me and said, “Normally I would stay and chat old friend but I’m running late to an event. Will you still be here in an hour?” I nodded my head in the affirmative and asserted that he would be back later. He took off, and I proceeded to beg as I had been before he came, certain that like everyone else in my life he would simply vanish. An hour and a half went by and still no Fredrich. I was prepared to make my way to the abandoned building I had been squatting in for the past two months, contemplating whether I would make another attempt on my life. As I began to walk away, I heard a voice call out to me.
“Heinz! Wait!” the voice yelled, and as I looked back, I saw Fredrich running towards me. When he finally stopped in front of me, he was completely out of breath.
After regaining his composure, he said “Forgive me for my tardiness, our meeting ran late. Come, walk with me.” We walked down the street towards the wealthier section of town, where Fredrich and I were able to catch up. Fredrich told me that after the war he had a hard time finding a job, and as a result had been homeless for a few years but landed on his feet writing for a newspaper. He eventually started his own paper company and amassed a small fortune which was enough to catch the eye of some right-wing partisans.
“Is that why you wear that ridiculous uniform?” I asked.
He let out a small chuckle. “What’s wrong with my uniform?”
I said, “Don’t you think it’s weird that you dress up like a soldier, even though you left the army? It seems childish.”
“You don’t understand,” he said sternly, his voice becoming ever more serious, “We’re not playing at war, it’s about being proud of our people. It’s only a matter of time before the enemy comes back to finish us off, and we need to be ready. If it weren’t for those spineless cowards in the capital, we could have won the war. Our people wouldn’t be starving in the street, fighting over what scraps are left. Mark my words old friend, a revolution is coming.”
I chose to ignore what Fredrich said as I had never been too keen on discussing politics, and so we continued our walk until we reached a large house deep in the wealthy district.
“Is this your home?” I asked.
“It is,” he replied.
“Ah, then I suppose I should be on my way, it will be getting dark soon.”
“Or you could stay here,” he said, “I have plenty of spare rooms.”
“You’re joking right?” I said, thinking this had to be some cruel joke.
“I’m dead serious,” he sternly replied, “I want to help you Heinz. We’ve known each other a long time, and you saved my ass more than once. This is the least I can do.”
It was in that moment I felt for the first time in what felt like a lifetime that I had something resembling a home again. I tried to keep my composure in front of Fredrich, but my emotions got the better of me and began to sob like a small girl. He put his arm on my shoulder to comfort me until I was able to regain myself. I accepted his offer, only on the condition that I would pay him back when I had found a job.
The next few months had been the best I had in a long time. I got a job working for Fredrich handing out newspapers at the local town square and was soon able to start paying him back with my earnings. Things were going well, but my heart still ached from Greta’s loss. One night I came home late from work and Fredrich was in full uniform.
“Where are you off to?” I asked.
“Our party leader is in town tonight and he’s giving a speech at the beerhall.” He replied, “Since you are here now you are more than welcome to tag along.”
I decided I would go tonight, just to see what all the fuss was about. Fredrich had become somewhat obsessed with his political affiliations lately, something about a big shot in the party being released from prison. We arrived at the beerhall just as the speech was about to commence and the place was packed. There were people everywhere waving tiny flags and chanting what I assume to be party slogans. All of a sudden, the crowd erupted in thunderous applause as a small man stood in the center of the room. He was an awkward looking fellow, with a slightly hunched and weakly figure, but there was something about him that drew your attention onto him. The whole room was captivated by his presence and then he began to speak. He spoke of the hardships of the people, about how the economy collapsed, and about the feeling of humiliation and anger that had been felt in recent years. He spoke of foreign invaders and how they intended to destroy our way of life, leaving hardship and death in their wake. It was as he was speaking that it felt as though he wasn’t speaking to a crowd, but just me, and I felt a sudden sense of relief wash over me. For so long I had felt alone, that no one understood how I felt, and it was as he was discussing these foreign invaders, everything made so much sense. It was foreigners that destroyed the economy and put my family on the streets. It was foreigners that brought the pestilence that took away Greta, the only thing that mattered to me in this world. As he concluded his speech there was another thunderous applause, and it was at that moment that I had found my purpose. I would dedicate my life to fighting this threat, to save the people of my country from suffering the injustices that I had to endure. It was in that moment I raised my hand in the air and screamed “Sieg Heil!”