I'll never forget you (part 2)

U.S.A. 2010

Why had I agreed to speak here? The vice principal, who was giving the students some background on the French resistance, was barely in control of an auditorium packed with high school freshmen. When I was in school, teachers had no problem keeping a room full of students silent. What had happened to teaching? What had happened to respect for elders?

“Here to speak to us today is Mr. Andre Devereaux. He will be talking about his own experiences as a member of the French resistance. Please give him your full, undivided attention.”

I almost laughed at that. Half of the teenagers were asleep and the other half seemed just not to care there was a speaker in front of them. Those who were attentive were the minority.

“Good afternoon, students.” I began my talk.

The students didn’t even look up at me. A few even snickered at my accented English. I hoped that once I began talking, it would be different. If my story doesn’t make an impression on them, I thought angrily, what kind of people are they!

“As Ms Lewis told you, I was a member of the French resistance as a teenager, when I was the same age you are now.” I paused. The speech my son and daughter had helped me prepare would not go over well with this unruly audience. I’d have to tell the entire, sad story. “This is true, I hope, for most of you so it won’t be too hard to imagine this, that you have a nice life. You have lots of friends and no cares in the world except forgetting your homework done on time. And then suddenly it all changes. The Nazis have taken over your country and there are German soldiers in your town. You don’t want them there. This is your country, not theirs. You know what their aims are and you don’t want them to achieve those aims.” I paused again and hoped this would sink in to the still whispering crowd, “I decided, when I was fifteen years old, to fight them.

“I learned about the resistance through my older brother, Daniel. He said I was too young to join but I pleaded and he gave in. We soon became partners and distributed illegal newspapers and blew up factories or railway lines important to the Nazis, to name a couple things we did. But when French Jews started to be persecuted my entire family did something even more dangerous than what Daniel and I did for the resistance. We hid people until other resistance fighters could smuggle them to neutral Spain and Switzerland.” Yet again I paused and strained to hear if there was anymore whispering from the assembled teenagers. Unless I was going completely deaf, it had definitely gone down. I continued from there, “the first two people we had were Jews fleeing the Nazis. We hid them in a small room that was once a servant’s room long ago. If anyone came to our house we would move the bookshelf snugly in front of the door. Usually Daniel did it since he was bigger and stronger than me.

“Those first two times were an amazing success! The Nazis didn’t even bother us once. The next two times we hid fellow resistance fighters on the run from the Gestapo. Yet again, we kept them safe until other resistance fighters came and got them. The fifth time, though, we were not so lucky.” The entire room was silent. Completely silent. How had this happened? I took a deep breath before I kept going. “Ella, like the others was on the run from the Gestapo. I found her in the woods on a routine patrol and took her home as quick as I could. One week later, the Nazis came to inspect our farm. Daniel let me move the bookshelf to cover Ella’s door. I must have not wedged it completely into place because one Nazi noticed something a little off with the bookshelf. Within a few hours, the Gestapo had arrived in our home. We were completely unprepared. The bookshelf wasn’t even in front of Ella’s door. They found her within five minutes of their arrival. From what I learned later, they questioned and tortured her for another two weeks before finally executing her. Her death,” I paused, swallowing harder, “was my fault. I should’ve let Daniel move the bookshelf. He was bigger and stronger than me and wouldn’t have let the doorknob show. I continued my work in the resistance because I knew Ella would’ve wanted me to. Shortly after the war, though, I moved to the United States where I live now. I couldn’t bear to live in France anymore after all the horrible things that went on. It wasn’t just Ella. The Nazis had destroyed my memories of my beautiful country.” I swallowed hard again before continuing, “At this point I will let anyone ask any question they want. Don’t call out, raise your hands.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Devereaux?” said the first student I called on, a thin boy with very messy hair, “did you kill Nazis like in Call of Duty? I play that game on my Xbox every day when I get home from school.”

There was a sharp intake of breath from the vice principal seated behind me. “Mr. Devereaux,” she whispered to me, “you don’t have to answer such a rude question.”

“Though I can see where you’re coming from,” I answered, trying not to sound too angry at how casually this boy talked about war and killing, “it’s not a question you should ask. We did not kill because we wanted to, in the resistance. We killed because we had to. If they were not dead, we would be. I hope this answers your question.”

The boy sank low in his seat, embarrassed. I hoped my message had gotten through to him. Too many children nowadays were treating war and killing like they were nothing. Maybe my answer would change this boy’s feelings towards it.

“Yes?” The next person to raise their hand was a girl seated a few rows back.

“I’m sorry about Ella,” she sounded like she actually meant it, “was she pretty? Did you, well, love her?”

“With Ella,” I smiled sadly, “it wasn’t about love or about how she looked. My job, and my family’s job, was to protect her from people who would torture and kill her. Just because we were teenagers doesn’t mean we were in love. It didn’t matter weather she was pretty or ugly, fat or thin. The Gestapo would still kill her if they found her. I hope this satisfies you.”

The girl had gone from bright red to completely pale. Maybe after this she wouldn’t judge people’s behaviors by their looks alone. Maybe she’d look a little deeper into a person next time. So many people judged others on the silliest things and hopefully this girl would no longer be one of them.

Another student raised their hand. I called on them.

“Mr. Devereaux, I’m glad you came today.”

“Why?” I was curious why this student, another girl, was happy that I came. Most students couldn’t care less about some speaker, even if that speaker had been through horrible things in his lifetime.

“Because so many people are horribly rude to teenagers. They say we won’t amount to anything and all we do is get drunk, get high, have unprotected sex, and be rude to our parents. When you were a teenager you were risking your life to defy the Nazis. I wish people would think of that when they think of teenagers.”

The atmosphere amongst the students quickly changed. Suddenly I was answering many intelligent questions about my life as a resistance fighter, about Ella, and mostly about how my life as a teenager was different from theirs. To my surprise, I was sad when my time to speak was up. As I exited the auditorium, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the girl who had made the comment about teenagers.

“Mr. Devereaux, could I tell you something?”

“Yes?” I wondered what she had to say.

“Thanks for coming! I think you made a huge impression on my grade and they’re not exactly impressionable.”

“And you made one on me,” I smiled, “more teenagers should be like you. What’s your name, by the way?”

She blushed, “Ella.”

“Ella, I’ll never forget you.” I smiled once more at the girl as I made my way through the throngs of students. I was tired. It had been a long day.

Join the Discussion

This article has 19 comments. Post your own now!

TheMusicalFaery said...
Jan. 30, 2011 at 2:39 pm
Together, part 1 and part 2 make a great story! I love how each part was written from a different perspective- it's enough to give you chills when you read part 2 and find out that the girl you just read about a few minutes ago died two weeks later. Great job! 
SecretNonConformist replied...
Jan. 30, 2011 at 3:26 pm
Like I said on the first part, I'm so glad you read this and I'm so glad it made you feel. There's a whole long story behind why I wrote it and that could be a whole article in its self. Maybe I'll do that.
AgnotTheOdd said...
Sept. 10, 2010 at 6:34 pm

I thought this one was an improvement to the last.  I really liked how you jumped forward about 60 years.  It was cool to look back on it.

However, I did think that you tried to squeeze a few too many morals into a piece when there wasn't enough room.  As a result, though I can see what you were trying to get at, those morals came off a little shallow.

However, I loved the last two paragraphs.  Definitely sent a chill.

SecretNonConformist replied...
Sept. 10, 2010 at 8:55 pm
Thanks for the feedback! It was interesting hearing your opinions. Good luck on your writing!
AsIAm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 31, 2010 at 3:39 pm

The good:  This was amazing!  It really spoke to me, and I love the real, raw, way you portrayed the war.  I'm close to crying right now.  Never stop writing.

The bad: The only thing bad in this story was the Nazis.  I mean that.

The random: This is me exclaiming "wow"

SecretNonConformist replied...
Aug. 31, 2010 at 7:05 pm
Thanks so much for reading! I'm glad you appreciated it ("like" is not the right word for this kind of story). If you also read other historical fiction about this time period check out Lisa's War and Code Name Kris by Carol Matas. I think you'll like those. Thanks again for reading!
AsIAm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 31, 2010 at 7:07 pm
I just might check them out! :)  Have you read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas? 
SecretNonConformist replied...
Sept. 1, 2010 at 6:59 am
No I haven't. I heard it's really sad but I'll probably read it soon.
AsIAm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Sept. 1, 2010 at 7:21 am
It is sad, but really good.
Irene_Adler said...
Aug. 19, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Wow! The girl at the end, with her name being Ella... that was perfect! And what she said about people thinking about teenagers as irresponsible, rude, drunks was totally acurate--and, as she said, people SHOULD think about the teenagers who do good things. This story was great! I very much enjoyed both parts.

Ella, I'll never forget about either of you.

SecretNonConformist replied...
Aug. 20, 2010 at 9:47 am
Thanks again for the feedback! I'm glad you read this part because I think it's just as important as the first. Most people just read the first and don't look at this one. Also, I'm glad you liked it :)
wild-free said...
Aug. 7, 2010 at 11:03 am
I really enjoyed this part. I love how you decided to have the two different time periods. I never would have expected the second part to be in Andre's POV in modern day United States. Also, I really enjoyed the ending.. it was very sweet. You did a great job! 
SecretNonConformist replied...
Aug. 7, 2010 at 3:25 pm
thanks so much! I'm glad you liked it :)
thepreechyteenager said...
Aug. 3, 2010 at 11:12 am

The beauty of this piece was incredable.  I loved how you had it in two time periods and two perspectives.  The ending was very moving and I loved the retelling of the previous part.   I thought the part when Andre was thinking to himself that maybe he was transforming the teenagers lifes was a little cleche.  But I sort of liked how you played on common flaws in a teenager's phyche, like vanity and violence.

There was one gramatical error I found.

You h... (more »)

SecretNonConformist replied...
Aug. 3, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Thanks again for reading! Why Andre hoped he was transforming the teenagers' lives was a typical "old man" thing. Many older people that I've known want to help the younger generation understand what life is all about. Andre, a very idealistic person, really wants these teenagers to understand that.

I still understand, AND respect your opinions on the story. Thanks again for the feedback :)

A_Dreamer said...
Jul. 26, 2010 at 2:15 pm
Aweee, that's so sweet what he did! At first, you made it very suspenseful, and at the end when she said her name was Ella, it was so sad! Keep up the excellent writing!
SecretNonConformist replied...
Jul. 26, 2010 at 6:38 pm
Thanks again for commenting :) You keep up YOUR excellent writing.
PorcelainShadow said...
Jul. 10, 2010 at 7:28 pm
THIS made me cry! not kidding! when i heard that girls name, i just broke down. that was well written, and SO SO SO very strong. you have such a talent(:
SecretNonConformist replied...
Jul. 10, 2010 at 7:42 pm
Thank you so much! I'm glad this story made you actually feel. Andre would be proud (he's not real but still... you get my point)
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