Spot to Gone
was nervous. I was in Solvang, on the side of a dirt runway, just
outside a trailer that was the main office. I'm always nervous before
I get on a plane. This one had no engine. A glider. That's what
they call it. I imagine you're supposed to be comforted by that.
As if it's someone's paper airplane. They never really crash badly,
if you think about it. I wasn't much comforted, but waited my turn
as my friend went before me.
was towed over the hills going from plane, to shape, to spot, to
gone, in moments, and I stopped watching. I looked down just in
time to see him coming toward me - well, toward his glider. I was
just sort of in his path. A small, aged, man in an endearing one-piece
gray flight suit. Somehow he looked even smaller close up. He asked
if I'd gone up yet. I answered no and asked if he flew. He pointed
to his glider leaning on one wing tip behind me. We talked about
its weight, its price and the furthest distance he's gone in one
long have you been flying?"
a long time. Since I was fourteen. I flew planes for the Nazi Youth."
came out effortlessly, like when you ask someone their name or where
they live, without an ounce of apology or regret. And, it was laced
with a German accent that I had detected earlier, but had not one
thought about until that moment. I wondered if he always said it
like that. There must have been a time where he had to hide this
fact, and it bothered me that he thought that time was over. I felt
this rush of disgust build from just underneath my lungs and climb
toward the back of my throat. And all of those things that you might
fantasize about doing or saying to a member of the Nazi party poised
themselves right next to where my disgust settled. But, nothing
my eyes back to his and wondered if I could actually learn something
from this man, or if I should just walk away. I stayed and struggled
with the feeling that maybe, by continuing to stand there, I was
a part of some larger problem with the world. But, I figured, if
he can say it so casually, I am allowed to ask questions.
years, until the end of the war. They got you when you were young;
they attracted you with these planes. What young boy doesn't want
to be around planes? So, we flew for them."
was hope for him yet.
can't be easy to deal with. I mean how did you reconcile that?"
looked at me as if he didn't understand the question. Or, he just
didn't want to answer. He was, to his credit, not of the therapy
generation and I knew that going in.
you relieved when the war ended?"
we lost. No one wants to lose a war."
lost? I thought. I wasn't aware anyone lost when Hitler was taken
you were fighting for the Nazi party. That's not a bad war to lose."
weren't really aware of what we were doing, we weren't really told."
you learned what was really going on, how did you deal with that,
how did you deal with what you were a part of?"
wasn't easy. I just did."
he didn't. It crumbled from his mouth with no history behind it
at all, like it's what he made up so people would stop questioning
him. He continued.
were brainwashed. We are all brainwashed, by our governments."
know. I agree, to a certain extent."
are a lot of stories you heard here in America that weren't true.
A lot of things that you heard about that didn't really happen."
oh. There it was. What a person must believe to remain sane.
really." With anger now. "Like what?"
he said, infused with some of his own anger, "you were lied
to, we are all lied to."
But, about what, specifically? What's one thing we were told happened
talked around an answer, not really saying anything and putting
on a tone that suggested I was a little girl who didn't understand
much. I came back at him with the same question a few times, and
he, naturally, had no example to back up his claim. I could see
him staggering between justifying his life and knowing what he had
done. It's a delicate balance, I guess.
I pushed, he got more defensive. It became more important for him
to be right than admit that there were atrocities that he was a
part of. It was a patchwork 71 years in the making that I didn't
expect to pull apart that day.
you held as a prisoner after the war?"
you treated well?" Hoping the answer was no.
the food. You know you see all those pictures of those people
looked like those people."
done. Infuriated. How dare he compare himself to victims in the
concentration camps. How dare he be alive and well in America, how
dare his wife love him, how dare he be free, how dare his mind be
strong enough to protect him from the way he should really feel.
I imagined his brain all folded in on itself like an old deflated
football, as if the part that knows the truth, that can reason the
truth, had been sucked out by denial.
to lay into him then, but I saw something familiar. A sore on his
arm, those sores older people get when even their skin starts to
fail. They are caused by nothing, about the size of a quarter and
they bleed. It was fresh, glistening, and I notice a swipe of blood
on his clothes from where his arm brushed against the fabric as
he walked. I see these on my dad all the time; he was about my dad's
age. I'm not sure where the justice is in that. A man the age of
my father, who contributed to the death of millions of innocent
people, can live his life in Solvang and have his only misfortune,
on this particular day, be that he forgot to put a Band-Aid on and
stained his jumpsuit. I felt as if he should be living a long life
of apology shuffling down the street with only two words coming
out of his mouth ever. I'm sorry.
friend's plane landed, I was standing speechless, my anger now snagged
on that shiny red stain.
turn." I took a slow step away from him and toward the runway.
My weak attempt at an exit.
you enjoy it, you could take lessons. I'm sure there is a good ladies
flying club nearby."
least he was consistent.
bye." I said, and officially turned away.
toward the plane I could think of only one thing: My friend Jeremy's
dad. While courting Jeremy's mother in the fifties, he sewed her
a dress for every date they had. And he was the only one in a family
of five to walk out of his concentration camp. Had Hitler's power
held for one more day, his father might not be here, and no Jeremy,
and no hand-made dresses.
been too nice, too forgiving. My questions didn't have enough fuel
behind them. I gave him the space to speak and the dignity of a
to talk myself down as I got pulled into the sky. The area where
we spoke shrunk beneath me. It didn't exactly look like a place
of change, but maybe it could have been. I could see him, too, just
a spot moving around its glider in a pre-flight check. I wondered
about other Nazis living in America, maybe their only concession
to their guilt is the small, out-of-the-way places they live.
we should make them wear armbands.
certainly, when given that kind of chance, we should walk away with
no regrets. My chance went from a spot, to gone, in moments.
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