I knew a woman in Boston who scolded me for being careless about my safety. She saw me one night walking home down Commonwealth Ave from the subway stop near my house. I told her that I’d met friends downtown and was just getting home. She told me it wasn’t safe for me to be out so late alone. I laughed and told her that as a widow, I had no choice but be alone. She told me I could stay home at night. She then sighed and shook her head. She told me one day, I would understand that I should not ask for trouble.
I listened to her but promised myself that I would try to have faith and not live in fear. I understood her fear but it was not mine. She had been the victim of a home invasion when she was younger. Thugs had broken into her home and shot her father and grandfather. Her mother was crying and trying to quiet the baby in her arms. The men had forced the women outside and one man grabbed the baby from her mother’s arms and holding it by the leg, swung the child against the back of their truck. He then tossed the lifeless baby into the woods. Her mother started screaming hysterically and they shot her. They took my friend and abused her terribly but she survived. So, now she jumped when a few stray snowball from kids outside hits the building. She’d grab my arm in terror and I’d comfort her.
“You are wrong and silly.” She said. “You need to know that some people have a fierce hatred inside them; it is so powerful that it controls them and they make many excuses for their anger. When times are hard, the jobs are scarce they will give their anger control over their lives. They will look for anyone to blame, then turn it on you, so you must be careful. Bad things happen to good people.”
I knew this. I was still a young widow, the smell of my husband’s blood still haunted me in the mornings. He tried five times to kill himself and failed each time. He had a brain tumor and did not want to die an undignified death. His last attempt was full of rage at his failed attempts. He thrust a nine inch hunting knife into his throat and I found him in a pool of blood. A week later as he recovered from emergency surgery in the hospital. I had to clean four liters of dried blood from my kitchen floor. The smell stayed with me for years, I woke to that smell. So, I understood a tiny bit of the trauma of my friend and her memories.
It’s been over twenty years since that day I sat with her. So much has changed. She passed away many years ago and I am remarried. I no longer smell the blood when I wake but I am now understanding her fear. I now remember of her warnings.
Her blue eyes full of terror and tears had reminded me of a glacier melting. Her legs were broken and healed badly. When I saw her limping towards me with a beautiful smile on her face, I marveled at all she had survived. She was a treasure in my life, she gave me hope but she also taught me a lesson I have only recently learned.
When gunmen in other countries kill children at school, people leaving a temple or sitting on a subway, I pray for their souls. When a gunman kills people in an Atlanta Church or my neighbors talk about taking back the South through armed revolution, I think of my friend. Has the time has come for me to be afraid? People bluntly ask me if I am a Jew, an Arab or an Italian, I hesitate to answer because there is nothing wrong with being anyone. The fact that my DNA says I am 99.6% Scandinavian and Northern European only makes me wonder where in my DNA is hidden the blond hair, blue eyes and long legs like my old friend and yet they didn’t save her family.
My friend survived Aushwitz. She married an American G.I. and came to raise a family in Boston. I was a Catholic girl who treasured knowing her and pray that the world wakes up soon from the fear and anger driving it..