The History Of The World
by tahlia

His father was barely 22 when he shipped out to Germany, just in time to see the Allies liberate the millions of Jews imprisoned in Hitler's concentration camps. He used to tell Bobby that the stench from the crematoriums was unbelievably, just like all of the other thousands of veterans remembered. (When he was fifteen, Bobby snuck out to the back porch and lit up the cigarette a friend had given. His father could smell it from the kitchen, though, because he was never the same around smoke, and slapped him so hard it left a red mark for two days.)

His mother was just 16 when that handsome, young American and his entire regiment marched into her town. Some of the officers were dragging her neighbors up to the camp when they swore that the Nazis would never do anything so hideous, and when they came to her house, Lieutenant Frank R. Goren managed to convince them that she believed. (That, and the fact that he socked the guy clear across his jaw.) Later, she took him up on a nearby hill to thank him, and in his rusty German with that horribly hidden Brooklyn accent, he asked, "How could you sit by and let something like this happen?" And in her broken English (picked up from the few American movies she had seen), she replied, "Because we believed." And then, as Sarah Vaughan would say, he taught her to love, the American way.

Five months he stayed, and the day before he was supposed to leave, he came to say goodbye and she told him she was pregnant. And he was sure he loved her and she was sure that her parents would disown her when she finally started showing, so he gave her all the cash in his pocket and bought her a ticket to New York. He took her from the dock to City Hall and made her Mrs. Anika Goren. Three months later, she gave birth to a baby girl-- Elizabeth Mary, seven pounds, six ounces, and stillborn.

Bobby never knew what his father did, exactly; but then, he never knew much about his parents. He envied his father's way of always going away on business trips when his mother got particularly bad, when she would mumble more often or when she would forget to do the simple things like wash the dishes or make dinner or take out the garbage. It was a culmination of many things, the doctors told him years later: all the miscarriages, the trauma of the war, and something they were just discovering, called post-partum depression. Later, they put her in a padded cell, restricted her visiting hours, and called it paranoid schizophrenia. But no matter what sanitized medical diagnosis they assigned to her, she would still slam the door and his father would look at him, and Bobby could see it in his eyes: this is all your fault.

In college, he worked hard to hide his father's accent in his own voice, and couldn't explain why he signed up for the Army after graduation. Yet somehow, in some ironic twist of fate, he ended up in Germany at age 22, the same age as his father. And even after his tour was over, he stayed, refining the German he'd picked up from his mother all those years ago and visiting old friends of hers. He showed them pictures, listened as they crooned over how much he resembled her, and never once mustered up the courage to tell them that she had been institutionalized-- twice, actually-- or that the "sweet, young American boy" had abandoned his aching family when he was ten. Bobby finally left when, one night, he looked toward the remains of the barracks in the distance and swore he could smell what had tortured his father for years.

(On the plane ride back, he dreamed about the first time he'd huddled in a corner and listened as his mother called him Der Teufel, the devil.)

Now, he'll come home after an exhausting interrogation and realize that the garbage has been piling up for days, and that he never noticed.


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