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The Missing Piece in My Heart
I am Teddy, Teddy Börgerding. I am ten years old, and I wish my life would change. Most boys my age would wish for a car, or a toy gun, or a watch for Christmas. All I want for Christmas, or should I say Chanukah, is a family that cares, and my true identity. Just yesterday, I found out that I was a Jew. Until then I had thought I was a Christian. A Christian who was going to get killed for hiding Jews in their basement, not a Jew who was going to get killed for being who they really are. I live with my parents, or rather, my foster mother. No doubt that I love them, but I feel a missing piece. A missing piece in my heart.
Ever since I was four, since my parents left me on a train, I have had a hole in my heart. I knew I needed to find the lacking fragment, but what it was, I was yet to find out. I don’t remember much about my actual family. Nothing actually. I only remember the song that my mother sang to me before I went to bed. As I was pondering about my life, I heard Rosa, my foster mother, call me.
“Teddy, it’s almost dinner time. Why don’t you go outside and play like the other kids? You have spent a lot of time in your room today.”
“No! I don’t want to go outside,” I screamed. “I want to stay in here.”
Then to myself I mumbled, “So that I don’t get myself killed by dancing under a sky that was raining bombs.”
But Rosa never let anything go. She was a very kind lady, but her ways just never suited mine.
“Te-d-dy, you never go outside anymore. Why won’t you go?”
“Í don’t know! I just don’t feel like it.”
“Okay, but please try. When you get bored, please, please go out! You need some fresh air.”
Under my breath, I said “Not gonna happen. Not in a million years.”
That night I went to bed wondering who my parents were, and what my true identity was. It was then that a sudden thought struck me. What if my parents were Jews who were running away from the horror of the Nazi armies? What if they dropped me on the Börgerding’s doorstep so that I would be safe? What if they were taken to concentration camps? What if they were still alive? That was the big question. I couldn’t wait till morning. I would ask Rosa immediately.
The next morning I woke up as usual. I lay in bed for a couple of minutes. I slowly placed my feet on the floor. As I got up, I heard a huge explosion. Then I heard a cry.
“Teddy! Help me! Are you okay?”
That was the cry of Rosa. Her voice sounded hoarse. Like something terrible had happened. Sprinting towards the door, I looked up. When I looked up, I could see the sky straight through the roof of the building. I rubbed my eyes. I wasn’t sure if this was for real. Then, I heard it again.
“TEDDY! Please help me!”
This time it was Maia. My ‘sister’. She was seven. I ran towards the sound, but also towards dust and powdered cement. Maia was standing there crying. Crying over the body of Rosa. If only I had come a few seconds earlier, I might have been able to save her.
“Teddy? What is going to happen to her? Will she go to heaven or will she go somewhere else? She was a good mommy. God won’t be mad at her. But I will. She left me and went somewhere. Will I ever see her again?”
I didn’t know what to say. Her eyes were shining with tear drops, her face- solemn. Tears started rolling down my cheek. For me, for Maia, for Rosa, and for the rest of the world that had to go through this. I was upset—why were we chosen out of all the people, to go through this. What did we do to deserve this? Maia especially—she hasn’t done anything wrong, I was always the one who talked back and was (slightly) rude. Maia never did anything to hurt anyone. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. I was afraid I was going to have an emotional break down. I concentrated hard on happy things. Maia was already distraught and if I (her elder brother) started crying, neither of us would be able to get it back together for a long time. I was upset for two reasons—one, we don’t have a mother, and two; I would never now who I really am. I never got to find out about my past, and my future is going no where now.
“Maia, I’m not sure of the answer to any of those questions, but I do know that she loved you a lot. She would have never chosen to leave. She was forced to leave.”
“She didn’t even say goodbye.”
“Deep in her heart she did. Now, why don’t you and I go outside. We can take a walk. Where do you want to go?”
She pointed to the sky. The entire time she was crying, I was trying to soothe her, but I was in as bad of a state as her. I was thinking about my parents. My real parents. Now, I would never be able to find out what I wanted to know about them. Now, I was left with a girl of seven who couldn’t stop crying. Did anyone care for me when I was left on the doorstep? No! Okay, maybe they did, but when I cried they wouldn’t comfort me until I stopped crying.
I heard Maia again. This time in a very timid voice she asked, “Where is Papa? Is Mommy going to meet Papa?”
I knew the answer to this one. Papa had joined the Gestapo. He had helped create the mess we were in.
“No, Mommy isn’t going to meet Papa. Why don’t you go take a nap.”
“Can you sign me a song?”
“I can’t sing very well.”
“That’s okay. You can still sign me the song.”
So I sang. I sang the song my mother sang to me when I was a little boy. Memories flooded back. I felt light. Lighter than ever; but I still hadn’t figured out why there was a missing piece in my heart. I needed to figure out what it was.
The next day, I started looking through all of Rosa’s things. Maia helped me. She knew where everything went. We looked all day. Maia found some things that she wanted to keep. I couldn’t say no. Finally, we came to a pile of pictures. The first one on top was a group photo.
I asked, “Maia, do you know who these people are?”
“Of course. Don’t you recognize them?”
I looked at the picture more intently. I could only recognize three faces, “This is you, that is Rosa, and that is Papa, right?”
“Yes, but what about the others? Don’t you know who they are?”
“Am I supposed to?”
“It would help if you did, but since you don’t, would you like me to tell you?”
“The one in the middle is Mrs. Schemlic, the one next to her is Mr. Schemlic, and the one in her arms is Theodore Schemlic.”
“Who are they?”
“Theodore Schemlic is you!”
“Yes! You never knew that?”
“No, Rosa never told me anything.”
“I guess she was afraid that you would find out.”
Now I was really confused. “Find out what?”
“I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I am your sister.”
“Of course you are my sister.”
“This is going to be hard to explain.”
“I’m seven. You’re ten. You don’t know anything about your past.”
“I know everything a seven year old can know.”
‘What are you waiting for? Tell me!”
“Okay. I am your sister by birth. Mrs. Schemlic is our mother. Mrs. Börgerding is our fake mother. We are Jewish. Our real mother has ten other children. We are in the middle. Teddy, Teddy!”
“Huh, sorry. I was listening. Continue.”
“Our actual mother couldn’t handle twelve children. Mrs. Börgerding didn’t have any children. Our real mother gave her a Christmas present. The Christmas present was us.”
“How come only you know all of this?”
“I read Mrs. Börgerding’s diary.”
“Do you know where Mama lives?”
“#57 Herwick Lane.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just told you, I read Mrs. Börgerding’s diary.”
All of this took some time to sink in.
“Maia, do you think we could go there?”
“You’re the older brother. You’re supposed to tell me, but if I had the choice, I would.”
“Do you know where Herwick Lane is?”
“Five blocks from here.”
“And may I ask how you know this?”
“Unlike you, I have friends, who I play with, outside.”
“Sure, why not?”
“Okay, but let me get something first.”
An hour later, Maia and I left the house. We packed whatever we really wanted into a small suitcase. Once we reached Herwick Lane, I saw a sign that read ‘Jews Only’. I was about to tell Maia that we couldn’t go onto the street, but I remembered that I was a Jew too. We cautiously stepped onto the side walk, careful of the Gestapo. We walked down the street.
Maia started whispering, “29, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41…”
“Sorry! I’m just nervous.”
Finally we came to #57. It was a decent house, well painted from the outside. We walked up the path and rang the bell. A young man answered the door.
“Sorry, we don’t buy cookies.”
“W-w-we aren’t h-h-here to s-sell c-c-cookies,” Maia managed to say.
“Then whadya want?”
“We would like to see Mrs. Schemlic please,” I said in a timid voice.
“Hold on. Mama.”
“Yes,” We heard a soft, gentle voice. “Is it for me?”
A woman came to the door. She looked from Maia to me, and then to Maia again.
“Theodore, Maia, is that really you,” our mother asked.
“Mama, don’t be crazy. We don’t even know these people,” the young boy continued to stare at us in disgust.
“Yes, Mrs. Schemlic, it is Maia and Teddy.” I said.
“Where is Mrs. Börgerding,” she asked.
“Ummm….. she is dead.”
“Yes, a bomb dropped on our house,” continued Teddy regrettingly.
The young man looked at his mama like she was delusional.
“Mama, look at them. I have no idea of who they are.”
“Son, these are your siblings.”
“My siblings, yeah, right. I’m supposed to believe that there are two more kids that are going to be added to this family. Which insane parents would have 12 kids?”
“This insane mother and your insane father.”
“You mean to say that these children are really, truly my actual brothers and sisters?”
To us she said, “Welcome back to our family.”
Family. The word seemed so short, yet so special. As I savored the word I felt the piece in my heart come back. It was family. My real family. A family that cared and loved me and Maia. How special the word ‘family’ was.