Chapter 27: ANTON
Only 170 days left . . .
Dear Anton and Josef, 21, March 1963
I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to receive your letter. I do have to warn you though, even now our correspondence could be read. Please be careful in whatever you say, for my safety and yours.
I was removed from the house on Bernauer but live with a wonderful woman called mama G. She is good to me. I also work as a maid for a rich family who runs a mortuary. It’s very strange to be around people who have much when most of Berlin has so little, but they have been successful despite the challenges. I have made some good friends finally. It shouldn’t surprise you it took me awhile. I even went to a café for fun.
I’m happy to hear about your employment and your good circumstances. Keep working hard, but don’t send money. It will never reach me. Just know I am looking into many things.
Josef, keep working hard at your studies. It’s hard to believe you are almost 13. I’m proud of you and love you dearly.
Anton, thank you for looking after him as family. I wish I was with you, but until then delight in the memories . . . I do!
All my love,
It was hard to actually let go of the letter. I envisioned Anton’s hand as he received it. How long would it be before I would see them face to face? I ached to be in their presence again and feel the closeness we shared.
About a month before they left, before papa got really sick and before the threat of the wall was realized, life seemed good. Even now, looking back, I never comprehended the extent of how much I meant to Anton until that July day in 1961.
Anton went with me to deliver a package to Herr Krzinsky. It was fairly common for papa to send me with correspondence, and it wasn’t unusual for Anton to accompany me. This particular time, something had changed.
“Anton . . .” I tugged at his shirt. “ . . . why are you walking so slowly?” I teased. Normally he bounced all over the place, but for some reason, today he was distracted. “Are you well?” My hand naturally rubbed his cheek; his skin glowed from all the time he spent outside.
He shrugged his shoulders but kept very quiet.
“You don’t have to come with me,” I suggested. “You probably want to get back to Geoffrey’s, huh?”
Geoffrey was a bricklayer who had taken Anton in. He offered to teach him the trade. Only his long days often started before sunrise to avoid the hot summer heat later in the afternoon. It was during this time we walked.
“I’m fine. He had to go to Kopenick for supplies today.”
“Are you tired?” I asked as I watched his broad shoulders slightly bend forward as we walked.
“You still don’t have to come.” I tried to make it easier on him.
“I want to.” His smile lifted partway. I knew Anton nearly as well as myself and there was definitely something wrong.
We dropped off the package. Herr Krzinsky insisted we take some Pfannkuchen for our trouble. It was Anton’s favorite pastry. I suggested we eat them as we walked near the Spree on our way home. Anton didn’t disagree.
I found an empty bench and soaked in the warm sunshine. I removed my shoes and let my bare feet sink into the grass. Anton sat next to me but kept his shoes on. Generally, I could get him to smile under any circumstance, but today he remained distracted.
“Anton!” I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “Tell me what’s going on!” He looked at me briefly then scanned our surroundings. “Anton,” I insisted, “this isn’t like you, please talk to me.” His face flushed. A bead of sweat rolled down his cheek.
“Ella . . .” he whispered, but he was looking at the river.
“What do you think of me?”
“What do you mean?” I was confused. Anton had to know my world wouldn’t function without him.
“When you see me, what do you think?”
I thought for a moment. I glanced at his anxious face and spoke up. “I see one of the greatest people I know. I see my best friend.” I smiled.
“Friend?” Anton looked at me. His darkened eyes squinted from the afternoon sun.
“Not just a friend, Anton.” I nudged him playfully with my elbow.
“You’re my best friend.”
He leaned back on the bench and rubbed his short hair with one hand. He kept it the same way since he left the orphanage.
“Do you love me?”
I scrutinized him like he was crazy. “Of course, Anton, you know this already.”
“No, I mean . . . really love me?” His voice was very serious.
A couple of girls walked by and giggled his direction. In the last six months as Anton worked with Geoffrey, he had grown. Not only in height but the width of his shoulders as well. Everywhere Anton went, girls smiled at him, but I looked at him the same way I always have, my Anton.
“Are you sick?” I cried, surprised at how strange he was acting,
“ . . . or drunk? Geoffrey gave you some vodka, didn’t he?”
I moved closer to smell his breath. I leaned in and teasingly pressed up against his chest, when he pulled me even closer. Both his hands went to my shoulders and squeezed. He met my lips with his. They were warm, but conveyed an intensity I was unfamiliar with. For some strange reason, I didn’t pull away until I needed to catch my breath. Even then, I didn’t want to.
I had never been kissed before, it surprised me how natural it seemed . . . especially with Anton. I remained still, only inches away. I gazed at his face. He was so impassioned. His eyes clearly focused only on me. His arms wrapped around me like they always did, but this time, everything was different. The flutter I suddenly felt in my chest, the pounding I was sure he could hear, and the irregular breath that escaped my lips, which now felt unexpectedly numb.
I nuzzled my head against his neck and rested my cheek comfortably on his chest. My arms folded around him as well. We just fit. No words were spoken. They could have ruined the moment as we sat on the bench and watched the sunset’s reflection against the water. It may have been the most perfect night I’d ever had in my life.
It was less than a week later that papa fell ill. Little did I know everything would change soon after.
I often thought of that day. Anton and I actually never talked about what happened or repeated it. I wasn’t even sure as I reflected on it, what it was. I know I love Anton, but with us separated, our future looked unclear.
And for the first time ever, another man’s face came to mind and
added perplexity to an already uncertain situation.