I am not sure how I found my way here, having opened these doors to memories normally kept on the other side of the wall, out of the more day-to-day spaces of my mind. It had to do something with this recent snow storm. The end of Autumn for so many. One moment I’m laughing with my father, joking about our warmth and sunshine while figures trudge through heavy, wet snow on the tv - and suddenly, I’m gone. Behind the eyes, my thoughts race through the halls, opening doors to my childhood, my past. Pleasant thoughts at first - warm fires, baseball on the radio, vibrant autumn foliage, my mom baking.
And then, another door is opened.
I am young, around nine or ten. It is an overcast Fall day, and I am busy raking leaves on the front lawn. It is a task I both love and loathe, for it is a beautiful but tedious cycle. Preoccupied with the conflicted feelings I have for the work at hand, I do not notice a sound growing in the distance. Only when it becomes a distinguishable “Thwok thwok thwok” do I turn around to discover the source. A large, black, beast of a helicopter is approaching, flying barely above the tree-tops. The sound is deafening now. Yet I cannot cover my ears, for I am frozen, transfixed. I see the pilots, their anonymous faces, and then I see the long, dark cannon hanging out of the side. The helicopter slowly circles and I feel as if I am trapped in the middle, all radii leading to me. I cannot take my eyes off of the gun, the gun that is aimed at me, for it points where the man behind it points, and he is looking at me and waving. But I cannot wave. I am afraid. I know the reason for this mechanical beast, I know its mission, its greater purpose. It is this very purpose with which I had been fascinated since I could read. Yet that solemn fascination had always led me to far-off places, in far-off times. Suddenly, it was here, before my eyes, above my woods. I stare at the gun, and wonder, “Who has stood here like me, and not been waved at.” Then quietly, under my breath, for the very first time, I curse. “Fuck.”
A door opens and slams shut.
I am in a new place. Once again it is overcast, but now it is March in eastern France. I am ten years old. Staring off into the distance, I see picturesque rolling mountains, covered in a soft winter green. There are patches of fog all around me, slowly trying to ascend the hill, and a gentle mist touches the skin. Quiet weather. Serenity. And then I take in my surroundings. My mother is slightly further down the hill - I can see her walking around slowly, pensively. Behind her are the furnaces. To my back are the barracks. To my side are the gallows, sharing my same view into the distance. All around us are the barbed wire fences, the guard towers. I hear the echos of shouts and screams. I can see past the rotted wood, the rusted metal, to the prisoners and the guards, the uniforms. Material deterioration is not powerful enough to erase the pain that is found here, so permeable in the air that one might think the fog is its manifestation. My mind’s eye passes over countless faces, collected from old pictures I’ve absorbed in books I do not fully understand. I had been given the choice of coming to this place, and I’d said yes. I had to see it, had to face it. But so many others had not been given that choice. Tears begin to well. As I stare back off into the distance, across the valley and to those gentle mountains, I hope, pray, that those thousands for whom this was their very last sight, had found this little piece of serenity in spite of it all.
The door closes. The memories remain. My thoughts race onward, looking for their own little piece of serenity.