Fear is one of the strongest feelings in the world


Amber Tillman

Fear is one of the strongest feelings in the world. No one has ever been crippled by anger, or gone along with the killing of millions based on sadness. Fear… oh the things I've done in the name of fear. The people I've betrayed. And not for money and not even for the freedom I was granted. It was the fear that made me leave him, and it was cursed fear that made me sell him. I was Judas Iscariot to the man I loved, because the thought of dying cold and alone, dying cold and alone like he did, dying like that frightened me enough to betray him. It frightened me enough to let him die.

My parents were Irish. They were born there, and they grew up there. Yet for some reason they chose Germany to start over with each other. I never knew why they chose Germany over any other place, but it was Germany they chose, and it was in Germany where I was born, in Bockenem. It was dear mother Germany who stole the lives of both my parents when I was a boy, nearly nine years of age, and it was Germany who raised me. And Germany, she was a cruel mother by any man's standards.

I escaped from the Bockenem Orphanage when I was ten, and discovered a love for running. When you're an Irish boy in a country so nationalistic, so proud of their German heritage, so distrusting of ones not like themselves (that is, not full-blooded German), and your accent screams Irish boy, living from day to day was a constant struggle. Ten is much too young an age for any boy to ask any man to take an apprentice, not to mention I was scrawny by nature, not just because I was underfed. And no one wanted to take in a foreigner. The fact that I had never been out of Germany meant nothing to them, just my red hair and silly voice. So I learned to steal. I'm almost positive I became the best thief in Germany. I could pick any pocket, break into any house. And, if for some reason someone saw me, I could run. I could run fast, and I was small, so I could weave in and out of any crowd with ease.

My need to steal and lust for running is what saved me from spending an entire lifetime on the streets and in poverty, guessing about meals from day to day. One blessed day I met my match.

It was a frigid cold day in December. I was freezing, and a few coins to buy Kohl und Pinkel sounded like heaven. I was thirteen at this time, and I saw a man and his son browsing the windows of the shops. Parents are easy targets. They pity street urchins, even foreign ones, and are too busy loving their own children to watch out for their possessions. Mothers with small children are always best, if you can get close enough to them. They believe we all have fleas.

But this man and his son were too busy pining for their stupid materialistic "needs" to pay attention to me. Inside myself, I hated them for no other reason besides they were happy and warm and well fed, and I was constantly hungry, constantly cold, and constantly miserable. To me, this man didn't deserve the warm coat around his shoulders, or the money snug and contented in his pocket. Almost unconsciously, I gravitated toward the man and his son. Stealing had become an art for me. Picking marks and picking pockets was the only occupation I had known up to that point.

Closer now, I saw the man's son wasn't much older than myself, maybe fifteen or sixteen. I backed away slowly, and then approached them quickly, running into the man.

"Oh, excuse me!" I exclaimed as he wobbled. I grabbed his arm to hold him upright, and my other hand quickly slipped in and out of his pocket, and into my own, like an animal retreating back into its dwelling.

"That's quite alright my boy." The man smiled at me, and I froze. One of my first rules of pick pocketing is to get away as quickly as possible. Yet I stood there. I stood staring into the brilliantly emerald eyes of this man, and I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. This man was beautiful. I'd never considered any man beautiful before. Not even handsome. But this man was so gorgeous to me, that he took my breath away. He made my insides crawl.

The smile never left his face as he grabbed my arm.

"Now then my small friend, I'm hoping you'd be kind enough to return my billfold. I'd hate to have to call authorities."

Now my insides were frozen for an entirely different reason. The few times I'd been caught stealing before, I'd run off and escaped. But there weren't many people on the street due to the cold, and I didn't want to run from this man anyway. Then my senses kicked in, and I wrenched my arm from the man's grasp and ran. I ran away like the hounds from hell were after me. I wasn't even running away from the man, but I was running from the feelings he gave me. I was running from the attraction I had to him. I was running from myself. But, I was caught.

I turned down one of the alleyways, slowing down slightly. I heard someone behind me, and as I turned, I was tackled. I hit the paved ground hard, kicking out. My foot connected with something, and someone cursed. I squirmed, trying to free myself, and then found myself face to face with the man's son. His eyes were the same emerald as his father…

The boy grabbed both my arms and pinned me down, and I fought with a wildcat's fury. We fought, violently, me fighting dirty and scratching and biting, him hitting me in the chest and stomach.

"Now then boys, this doesn't seem like any sort of fun rough and tumble!" the jolly exclamation shocked us both out of our bray. The boy let go of me and stood up, dusting off his pants.

"Did you call authorities?" the boy asked, and his voice was disdainful.

"No, I haven't. I'd like to talk to the boy first, granted you haven't scared him out of his wits." The man looked down at me, smiling again.

"Herr, please, please don't call the authorities on me. I'll return the billfold, I swear I will!" Hating having to beg, tears leapt into my eyes, increasing my embarrassment. The boy scowled at me, his eyes not warm like his father's are.

"Let the urchin beg, Vater. I'll go get them."

"Wait a moment Adler." The man's eyes locked into my own. "Where are your parents, son? Bit chilly to be out without a coat."

"I…" I stopped, staring at the ground. Without parents, they would send me back to the orphanage that I fled from.

"My parents aren't feeling well today Herr, on account of the weather. They sent me out to get Kohl und Pinkel. I lost the money on the way to the shop, and I didn't want them to starve…"

"Ah. I see then. Well, it would only be appropriate for Adler and me to escort you home, since it is so very cold and you are so very alone. Have we properly introduced ourselves?"

I shook my head.

"In that case-" he lowered his hand down to my own, and I clasped it. He had a firm hand, a hand that was used to labor. It was not a spoiled hand.

"My name is Emeric. This is my gloriously arrogant son, Adler. Now you never really told us where you live."

My brain froze entirely. I could lead them into an unknown alley and then ditch them, but they would not only be lost in an unknown location, they would also be prime targets for anyone to mug them.

"I… I don't live anywhere sir. I'm an orphan, and I've been living these streets since I was ten."

"Liar," Adler spat. "He already said his parents were sick."

"Well, isn't it just like orphan boys to lie, my son?" Emeric smiled at me. "Besides, isn't spoken of to do unto others? Doesn't God reward those in heaven who help the helpless?"

"You and God again…" Alder hissed. "God does nothing but get people killed!"

And he was right, in a sense. Here in our wonderful Germany, anti-Semitism was reaching a peak. But I doubted Alder and his father were Jewish.

"Obviously not, since through God we are saving this boy's life. He can live with us, if he doesn't object strongly."

"What?" Both Alder and I exclaimed this at the same time, but for opposite reasons. A place to live, for more than a night or so? A bed to sleep in, and food to eat regularly? Any street urchins dream come true. Except Alder wasn't as excited.

"We… we have enough to feed ourselves! We can't just take in a kid off the streets for nothing!"

"It won't be for nothing. I've needed an apprentice for a bit now, and since you've refused the job…Before I forget, young one, what is your name? It isn't fair that you know ours."

"Caden," I whispered. I was still in shock.

"That's probably a lie too," Alder snarled.

"Silence Alder! Try to get to know a soul before you judge."

And we walked to Emeric's house in silence, Alder glaring at me the entire way.

And isn't it ironic, that Emeric was the man that stopped my heart, but Alder was the one who stole it? He eventually warmed up to me, to say the least. I stayed a blacksmith after our dear sweet Emeric died, but it was Alder who moved on to bigger and better things. He became a professor at the local college in Bockenem. A few times the government harassed Alder for his strong beliefs in equality and his open homosexuality. Times like that, with death threats and swastikas drawn on our door, those were the times I wished Alder had taken a less prominent job. If he had, I never would have had to write my name in blood. Is it fair to blame him, place any sort of blame on the man I betrayed and loved just for a piece of paper signifying my dedication to a country I despised? We love the ones we hate, for the ones we hate decide whether we live or die.

Of course this was much later, years later. It was 1935, and I was 22. Alder was 25, and his prestigious career was sliding. Even though his views and beliefs were controversial, many other professors supported him. But his supporters were quickly turning their backs and slandering his name, in the hopes of saving themselves. For, you see, Germany was being cleansed. And anyone imperfect in the eyes of Adolf Hitler, our glorious leader, was "fixed." And those included were men who didn't follow the same sexual orientation as Hitler himself, as well as many, many others. People would be stopped on the streets to show their German citizenship card, a thing that I did not possess. Alder and I lived in constant fear of one day coming home and finding the other gone, or shot dead on the floor. I rarely went to work anymore, for fear the Gestapo would rush in and demand me prove citizenship. Not many knew of the house above the blacksmith shop we built. I spent most of the time staring out the window, waiting for Alder to come home. Hoping that Alder would come home. We talked of fleeing, once. And only once. I remember the conversation, the words spoken. It was night, and we were in bed. I remember turning to him.

"We should flee. Back to Ireland, if we can find a way. No one searches the ones fleeing!"

"You can easily flee Caden. But I'm known, and I'm wanted. They watch the ports for anyone trying to flee from Gestapo. We'll be caught in a heartbeat if we both go"
He stops here, and sighs, and I see the tears. And I'm afraid.

"I love you Caden… more than I ever expected to when I first met you." He smiles, and oh dear God what a sad smile.

"I hated the idea of sharing my father with anyone. It had been so long just him and me. But I grew to like you, and then to love you, and then loving you meant so much more than just being able to love you… now it means my death, and yours too."

He turns to me now, so close our noses are touching, and I can taste his breath.

"Eventually they'll find me. They will kill me, or send me to Poland. They'll kill you too, just to have one less der Schwule in Germany. There's a law against us now! And 8,000 of us sent to the camps. Not 8,000 of us were seen as threats!"

And it was true. The Sterilization Act, passed barely a year before, stated that all "unclean" Germans and non-citizens were to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

"You go to Ireland. You have no ties to Germany. This isn't your home, and it's been nothing but cruel to you. Besides, no one can tell you have no card, if you are careful to avoid Gestapo. And no one knows you're gay, since you have no card."(The Germans are clever, you see: all German citizenship cards must show you are a "clean" German. All gays, Jews, Gypsies and anyone else must be identified on their card.) Go to Ireland, be happy. I could die knowing you are safe."

I kissed him then. With our lips touching I said, "Germany has been kinder than Ireland ever was. Germany gave you to me."

The tears overflowed from his face then, and he whispered hoarsely, "If Germany had never given me to you, then I would've lived my life without you. Then I wouldn't feel the pain I'm feeling now, asking you to leave me."

At first I told him no. I told him I would never leave him, and we would die together like lovers and with no shame. Hopeless romanticisms I spewed, only because I knew he would persist. And I knew I would cave. But I made him promise to attempt to escape to Ireland, and attempt to find me. And he did promise.

And the Gestapo came the next day.

I never imagined myself a coward. Yet, here I sit, shrouded by a veil of treachery. I live comfortably in my home in my country Germany; I hail Hitler like every other German worshipping citizen. I have a wife, who also escaped the grips of a concentration camp by luck, and also by signing the death certificate of the one you love. Me, oh of course, how did I sell Alder to the Nazis…?

Well, one day I was, as usual, staring out the window, waiting for him. I never expected him to make it home anymore. I expected Gestapo every single time I looked out the window. And one day, looking out of the prison Germany had cast me into, the Gestapo came. Marching up our street like executioners, I thought they were there for him. I planned on lying, saying he no longer lived here. But then I knew, that if they had finally found him, they knew he had a lover. For Alder never hid me, even after the Nazis took over everywhere. He lost his job, and we relied on the kindness of our friends to bring us food and supplies. All because he loved a man. Every day he went to work for a dear friend of ours, Lynda, at her shop. She was the only true German in my eyes.

And because I loved myself more, I feared for him. Feared for him, because I thought they came to tell me he was dead, or to kill me too. Really, the persecution against the gays was more for people the Nazis found threatening. I was no threat, but I was a foreigner. With no citizenship card. Yet it was Alder I feared for, because I thought he was already dead and I had no other choice. I thought I would open the door to a gun in my face, and meet my maker very soon after.

When I heard the violent knocks on my door, I didn't even try to run. I would've, in a heartbeat, if I thought I might live through this ordeal. But I saw no hope, so I didn't. I opened the door to death. So I thought.

"Caden Flynn, I presume?" (The Gestapo have oily voices. If a snake's skin could talk, the first thing it would say would be Seig Heil!)

I nodded.

"We're here about your… friend,"(the sarcasm was obvious) Adler Schmitt."

"He isn't here." The words could barely escape my mouth.

"Good." This response terrified me. Why was it could he wasn't here? Did he escape from death?

"Is he dead?"

"No." This response frightened me all the more. Would they kill me first and show him my dead body before they killed him as well? Or kill me and take him to the camps, and use his mind until they tired of it?

"We've come to offer you a choice besides death, der Ausländer. A choice much better than any you'll be offered. And we'll only offer it once."

And they sat me down and told me. They would give me, yes give me German citizenship and not send me to the camps if I gave them Alder. My lover was lying to me, you see. He was speaking around Bockenem against the Nazis, speaking in concealed meetings. He was speaking of rebellion, and at this time rebellion of any sort was against the law itself. All I had to do, was confirm I heard him speak of it.

But who hadn't, by this time? I did, every day! How could I turn in Alder for a crime I myself committed!

So I opened my mouth to say no. And then the cowardice snuck in and landed on my tongue, and coated it like honey. I was leaving for Ireland anyway… Alder would be caught on his own for his own stupidity, which was only a matter of time. And just last night, he himself said he could die knowing I was safe. I'd be more than safe with a citizenship card. Maybe I could rescue him once I was safe…

Oh the things I thought. I never tried to rescue him. Not once. Instead, I looked at these Gestapo, these murderers and filth, and said,

"Alder speaks against Germany in every breath. Just last night, he called Germany a cruel mother and Hitler the devil."
The Gestapo nodded, eager.

"I am not a homosexual. I've stayed with Alder because he is a friend, and nothing more. I am a foreigner, and I decided no title could be worse than that, even der Schwule!"

I spat the last words out, homosexual man, like venom. And it was venom. Cowardice.

But it pleased the Gestapo. I don't know if they believed I was not gay, but my tone in reverence of Mother Germany was enough for them. They produced my citizenship card. And then I hid upstairs, and watched from the window as they dragged Alder away.

Sometimes I find myself looking out the very same window, of the very same house, waiting for Alder. And then my wife will come in, and tell me dinner is ready. Then I'll remember Alder is never coming home. I'll remember it's thirteen years later. I'll remember that Alder has no home to come to, because I gave it to a woman to hide my orientation. To hide my shame.

My wife doesn't expect much from me, not even sex. She expects just enough to buy the groceries, and company when her pain hurts too much. She's a wonderful woman, and Alder would've enjoyed her.

Oh, Alder. He'll never get to meet Jaelle. He'll never get to hear me say I'm sorry, and he'll never get to see how much I mean it. Maybe he'll meet her daughter, Nadya. Jaelle sold her to the Nazis for citizenship as well. Allegedly Romani children are wanted by the Nazis. She had a problem, a severe random twitch. They wanted her mostly for that. And Jaelle gave her to them.

But who am I to cast blame? Fear is one of the strongest feelings in the world, you see. It's one thing to go along with the killing of millions in the name of fear. Your death for the lives of people you don't know? 12 million people died in this bloody experiment of Hitler's. 15,000 to 50,000 of them were gay men. Der Schwule. A name I spat with vicious venom.

When you take the life of the ones you love the most, when you sacrifice their life for your own because you are simply too cowardly to take the pain they would easily take for you, it is then that you are controlled by fear. It is easy to claim you will die for the one you love, until it is asked of you.

And even now you judge me, and hate me, and hiss coward under your breath. And good for you; continue. Because you cannot comprehend the hatred I have for myself, when I look into my soul and see human nature at it's finest. The hatred and shame I hoard, simply because I know, if the same situation came again, or if I could go back in time, and sacrifice my life for his, I wouldn't. Even the loathing now isn't as bad as the death then.

Do you not see, though? Fear is one of the strongest feelings in the world. We're all controlled by it, even you.

Just wait.

Even you.