August 21, 2014 by Melanie L.
“It was 1930 something, and I remember my shoes.”
They were solid black, heeled, wing-tip Mary Janes. Despite my best efforts to polish the scuffs, those shoes showed their wear. It embarrassed me. I feared those scuffs marked me as “other” in my affluent neighborhood more so than the yellow star pinned to my sleeve.
I sat at the corner bakery waiting for my order. It was unusually crowded. I sat with my feet crossed at the ankle, gloved hands clasped in my lap, trying not to look so uncomfortable in such a crowded space when a shadow fell across my lap. I looked up and saw my friend, Hilde Eckart, smiling weakly. She took a seat next to me. She hugged my arm and chatted.
At some point, though, I noticed something wasn’t quite right. The bakery never filled any orders, yet the customers kept piling in. One woman twisted her kerchief and knotted her brow. Others shuffled their feet and checked the wall clock. Before I could mold my unformed suspicions into cogent thought, Hilde and I heard a thunderous bang followed by lots of male voices shouting clear commands that did nothing but create chaos.
A great swell of people shifted from the area near the entrance toward Hilde and I. We promptly stood. The swell pressed us against the wall while Hilde maintained her grip on my arm. Armed men in green uniform surged through shouting and separating the female customers. When the green police pulled Hilde from my arm, she ripped my sleeve and pulled it with her. I then lost sight of Hilde in the melee.
I couldn’t defend myself against all the pushing and shoving. At some point I felt a hard elbow in my rib cage. I looked in the direction of the source but could not determine from whence it came. Someone stepped on the back of my shoe. My foot broke free despite the strap’s valiant protest against my skin. I reached down into the abyss to find the shoe.
That’s when a violent thump landed on the back of my head. Immediately, I felt a radiating sharp pain that cut through the nape of my neck and down my spine. I blacked out.
Sometime later, I awoke to the feel of stiff sheets under my palms and the sound of a faint electric buzz overhead. I opened my eyes slowly. One eye wasn’t cooperating at all. The other opened with occluded vision on account of some dark crust. I looked around the room. Was this a hospital? I couldn’t tell. It didn’t quite seem like the pristine, sterile environment I would expect. If I just opened my eye all the way, maybe I could figure it out.
“Kristel, can you hear me? You’re in the hospital,” a man boomed nearby. Who was Kristel? Was she my roommate in this place? Whoever she was, she didn’t answer.
Rather than try to open my eye wide, I looked down the bed at my feet. I pulled the sheet up exposing them. They looked dirty. I tried to roll my ankle. Nope, not dirt, but deep purple bruises covered my naked, tattered feet.
“Ruth,” the same man whispered, his breath moistened my ear, “Ruth, it’s me, Dr. Eckart. Listen to me. Hilde sent me to find you. She said you lost your papers and your star in the commotion. From now on, you will answer to ‘Kristel.’ Understand?”
I tried again with all my might to open my eyes fully.
“It worked, Ma. That’s when I woke up for real. What do you think it means?”
“I can’t be sure what it means, Honey. But, when I was a little girl, my mom told me that she helped great-aunt Ruthie give a medal to a man named Dr. Gunter Eckart and his wife,” mom paused, remembering. “I wish you had met great-aunt Ruthie,” she continued, “you’re named after her, you know.”
Thank you to Sarah Ann, Tienne, and Cyn for helping me with this post in the bronze lounge. In fact, Cyn asked me a question about this story that really helped give me some new direction. Thanks all!