I soon recovered from my bout of tears. The next morning I was sure that I loved Franz, with all my heart. And that day I received a letter from him. I walked, very fast, through the ward rooms with it, on my way to my room.
“A letter, Adele?”
“Yes, from Franz,” and I smiled in joy. I only heard Frederick sigh in return.
My dearest Cathie, we have been so busy, this was the first chance I got to write you. My apologies if it was late. What have you been doing, without me to talk to? I am sure the war will be over soon, it can’t go on much longer; there aren’t very many more Germans for the Brits to kill. I am afraid Germany doesn’t have much hope, but then, we’ve done all we could. But my dear, I can’t stand the idea of surrendering to the Allies, unconditionally. It simply can’t be done. It is too degrading and painful. Me and the others here have sworn to keep fighting until we don’t have the strength to raise our arms up to shoot. Then, and only then will we give in. Doesn’t it just make you so angry; to think of those Brits, Russians and Americans smashing us to smithereens and making us admit to the whole world that we lost. And we will have to pay back everything too. It is just crazy. As long as I can breathe, I’ll keep shooting. I am sorry this isn’t very long, but I haven’t got much time, just a little here and there. I’ll do the best I can. It is horribly rainy and muddy here. It isn’t warm either. The rain is like ice, and the mud like frozen dirt. But we’re doing the best we can. All my love to my little nun, Franz
It was the first letter I had ever received from someone, excepting my parent’s letters, but they weren’t addressed to me. I didn’t know what to expect from Franz. It was a nice letter, but I had hoped it would be more like a love letter, not all about that awful war. Yet I suppose it would be hard to write a love letter while you are in the trenches, sitting in ice water and filth.
I sat down to write him back.
Franz, my dearest, I thank you ever so much for your letter. That was the first time in my whole life I’ve gotten a letter from someone! I manage to stay pretty busy around the nunnery, even without you to talk to. I didn’t want to tell him I spent nearly all my spare time visiting with Frederick, he wouldn’t be happy. I am sorry to hear how bad it is for you. I am sure you must want to come back to this ‘tomb’ now…after seeing what war life is like again. Don’t you think we would force the Allies to unconditional surrender, if we had the chance? The victors only want to make sure there is no way for the losers to win ever again. Dear, are we going to have a home, out in the country, to raise our family? I’ve lived in this gloomy nunnery for so long, I’d love to live out in the sunshine and space. We’ll have peach trees, and cherry trees, and a huge garden with fruit and vegetables, and a cow with fresh creamy milk every day, and lots of chickens for eggs, and stews, and oh! I can’t wait until this dreadful war is over. I must go now, like you, I am busy all the time. I love you, my dear, dear Franz, and am thinking of you throughout the day, and night. With all my love, yours affectionately, Catherine.
After I sent the letter off I went to see Frederick, and apologize for not staying with him earlier. I did pity poor Frederick; he didn’t have any high ambitions for life. It just seemed like he sat waiting for life to come to him, instead of snatching at happiness.
“Frederick, I am sorry I rushed off in such a hurry. I was so eager to read the letter from Franz.”
“Was it worth all the waiting?” He said, and I felt he meant, was it worth the rudeness and neglect of him. I did not know what to say. I treasured the letter, but it wasn’t like what I thought.
“Oh, Frederick, he is so busy, in those terrible, dank trenches he can’t write like he would like to. But I’ve never gotten a letter, and so even though it was a bit boring, I am glad he sent it.”
“I’ve found that things in life have a habit of not turning out as nicely as you expect. But I am happy for you, that you received a letter. Spoken words are nice to hear, but they fade sometimes in our mind. No matter what, you can always read a letter again.”
I didn’t tell Frederick this, but I sure I was never going to read that letter again. There was no deep meaning in it for me to remember. Simply words on a paper, like his smile…hollow.
“Adele, what do you remember from your childhood? I’ve told you my memories, now it is your turn.”
“All I remember is living here.” I smiled, tried to make it a little less serious sounding.
“Yes, but aren’t there any vague memories of your parents? Anything of your life before coming here? And you must have had thoughts and events in your childhood. Even people in prisons think, they have ideas, they have feelings and emotions. They might not physically do anything, but in their mind they are all over the world. So, what was your childhood like?”
“It was boring.” I laughed, and then wanted to pull the laughter back. Frederick did not want sarcasm, he wanted sincerity from me. “I do remember my parents, just a little. I remember that we would sit together around the fire, father reading, or doing something like that, and mother holding me or trying to sew. We would sit, and they would talk about what they did during the day, or the things we would do together someday. Father had such high hopes for becoming rich. We were going to move out to the country, and get out of the dirty crowdedness of the city. But they died, so suddenly, and all of our dreams came to naught. I was sent back here, to Germany, and my aunt put me here. I wanted other children to play with. I never played any games with children my age. I don’t know how that would feel. But I grew up very solemn and religious. The other nuns were so much older than I that I think I grew up long before my age. My aunt came to see me once, but that was it. Until I turned sixteen. Then I went to stay with her, to experience the world.” I paused.
“And how was it?”
“The world?”I asked.
“Yes, how did you like the world?” He questioned eagerly.
“I didn’t like it. The world was so violent and terrifying. When I was at my aunts our house was searched, and I was horrified. I think I understand what you meant about hate. I didn’t like the world because the people, and even the air was full of hate…and it was frightening. So I came back here.”
“Did you come back to serve God?” He looked so searchingly at my face; I knew I could not lie to him. And why lie? He would not condemn me. Frederick would understand fear.
“No, I came back because I was afraid. I wanted to escape from the horror of the war, and the worry of hunger.”
“And so you came back, as a coward? Don’t misunderstand me, I know how you feel. I do not blame you. But Adele, just as I had to let go of my memories, so must you. Get it all out, and move on with life. You cannot spend your whole life pondering things you did long ago. And I think that no matter how careful you are, you will always do something you will later regret. But you must simply forget the past and look towards the future.”
He said that in such a kind and gentle manner I nearly began crying. Frederick seemed to understand me better than I did.
“Thank you, Frederick, you have made things very clear. It is a relief to say things you’ve thought, but not dared to put into words.”
He said nothing, but took my hand and kissed it. I was afraid he was going to say something more, something that would make Franz very angry if he heard it. But I should have known better. Frederick knew I was engaged, and he did not go any further. I got up, and he didn’t kiss me again after that.