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Green With Gold Lining
January 1941, a day I will never forget. It was so cold and rainy that my youngest sister and I were shivering. We are never cold; we love the cold actually, but not that day. We were walking to Mr. Jatsen’s, just the two of us. With such a large family we had to travel in pairs to be inconspicuous. Mom and Cloe first, Auntie and Zoe next, Cara and myself, then Uncle Jake and Brittany. Every day two of us would leave at 9:00 a.m. and walk across the city to Mr. Jatsen’s house, our hide out until the end of the war.
The day I left it was overcast. The temperature was so low, even in so many layers of clothing and sewing thread I could feel the chill in my bones. My face was frozen and my ears burned with numbness. My hands felt like ten thousand icicles were stabbing them and needles pricking my toes. The pain continued for what seemed like hours, not just the sharp cold wind biting into me like a piranha, but my shoulders, arms, back even were aching from Cara’s weight in my arms.
When we arrived Cara was sleeping soundly in my rocking arms. Under any other circumstances it would’ve been a delight to visit Mr. Jatsen, but knowing until the war ended I would be inside with eight other people I collapsed on the steps wearily, sobbing. The rising and falling of my breast as I breathed heavily must have woken Cara because soon her sobs joined mine. I wiped away my tears and Cara stopped as well. Instantly I smiled; I was her role model and that warmed my heart. I held her hand and walked her through the door. We looked everywhere, the kitchen first, then the living room, and Mr. Jatsen’s room. Then we walked in the backyard, no one was there. “Well Cara,” I said reassuringly, “they must have gone somewhere. Are you hungry?”
“I’m starving, what can we have to eat?” Cara replied.
“I’m not sure, let’s take a look,” I said opening the pantry door, “and don’t say you are starving because you are not starving, understood?”
“Yes Elizabeth…you sound like mom.” answered Cara exasperatedly.
We had a quick lunch of sandwiches and water and then went in the living room for a nap. We awoke to Mr. Jatsen’s violent shaking. It appeared that Mom, Cloe, Auntie, and Zoe never arrived. He led us to the attic and locked the door behind us hiding the key as a precaution if the Gestapo came. The next day Uncle Jake and Brittany didn’t show up. Everyday we had a piece of moldy bread to share and a glass of water. After two weeks of hearing from no one the three of us gave up hope. How is it that everyone but us got lost or captured? We never knew.
In the next year Cara and I never spoke of mother or our sisters or anyone else we knew. Life as we knew it was over, gone, and to remember it the way it was, was too painful. I was all she had now and she was all I had. I never let anything happen to my beautiful brown-eyed baby girl.
One hot summer day as I was sewing her dress for her birthday, “Cara go have some fun, I need some quiet time,” I told her.
“Okay.” was her happy reply. Normally, I kept my eye on her constantly; she was a sweet girl, rambunctious and full of curiosity. I would sew and she would play with her doll. But that day while exploring the large attic I heard her call out, “ Lizzy, come see I’ve found a chest!”
I replied, “What kind of chest?”
“Its very…what’s that word you said the other day, pecalin?”
“Yes that’s the one and it has red jewels, gold lining and is green. It looks the color of a tree.”
“Sounds magnificent, isn’t green your favorite color?” I replied. Then all at once I heard her screaming, a toe-curling cry, she was screaming for mercy as if a demon was attacking her. My blood pumped at an alarming rate as it flew in my chest making me unable to breathe. The blood was pumping through my veins so fast they were sure to burst! The beating of my heart and her cry mingled in my ears enabling me to think clearly. “Cara where are you?” I called but she stopped screaming and I had no way of finding her. It was a rather large attic so I began to search for a chest matching her description. My mission right then was only to find her, it didn’t matter how loud we were or if we were heard. I moved boxes and opened crates in case Cara had fell in or she was making it all up about the chest, but sure enough when I found her she was beside the chest. She was hugging her knees tight in a ball weeping silently. I gently picked her up from beside the chest, “Shh. Shh. It’s okay baby what’s wrong?” I cooed but Cara never answered. I rocked her back and forth until she fell asleep. I began to sob. She was all right nothing broken, no fingers missing but I sobbed anyway. Imagining my precious Cara being hurt and I not being there to save her made me think of my selfishness. The memory of my selfishness at being denied to go outside on that first day of hiding and how I couldn’t bear being stuck with my family came flooding back to me. When now I would give anything to have my family back, and Cara was denied a mother, father, and a childhood. I sobbed until I fell asleep. Cara in my arms.
Mr. Jatsen’s voice was the first thing I heard when I awoke from my slumber. Two other voices joined with his, both male. They were unfamiliar and speaking fast. Immediately the red flag went up in my mind. I listened intently and dared not move an inch or make a sound. Poor Mr. Jatsen was failing to keep up with the men’s swift speaking and I feared they were the Gestapo. I couldn’t understand them through the muffle of the attic but it was clear they were not having a cheery conversation. I lay Cara beside me and pressed my head hard against the dusty wood floor. They were right under me when Cara awoke. She sat up and the wood creaked. I prayed they didn’t hear. They began to walk questioning Mr. Jatsen. They sounded apprehensive, as if they heard the noise and were afraid of it. As they approached the stairwell leading to the attic door, Cara noticed my nervousness and began to scream. As fast as lightning I clamped my hand over her mouth. They were now running up the stairs, as quickly and soundlessly as I could manage, I carried Cara over to the chest. I looked at the lock, orange with rust, the only thing unappealing about it, and squeezed it with my free hand still clutching Cara with my other. Now they could be heard searching for the key to the attic. The dresser was heard crashing to the floor and the oven door open and slam. They were looking everywhere and I never once heard Mr.Jatsen. Where was he and was he all right I kept thinking. As silent tears ran down my cheeks I said “Cara, darling, I’m going to have to leave you baby girl. Don’t worry I’ll be all right. I promise I’m coming back for you. I hate to leave you this way but it is the only solution. Promise me you won’t leave unless I come back or Mr. Jatsen gets you out?”
“Yes Lizzy, I promise.” Cara replied and she gave me a tight hug. I could tell from her eyes that she understood the desperateness of the situation and she smiled holding back her tears, even at so young an age she was trying to protect me.
Everything that was said that day never applied because the Gestapo never found the key. Mr. Jatsen was taken to a concentration camp, the house was left to us, and we lived there without any complications from the Gestapo. We grew a garden in the back yard and two years later the war was over and Mr. Jatsen had survived the camp. He came back and we lived in the same house for ten years until Mr. Jatsen died. Ever since I’ve lived in that house. Cara moved out at the age of twenty and I never married. Not a day goes bye that I don’t think about our life in the attic. When we got older Cara and I talked about the chest often and she always said she couldn’t remember that day when she was screaming. That will always be a puzzle. The chest was too much to bear and we buried it. Maybe someday, someone will find it, but for now the mystery is there waiting to be found.