Monday, December 15, 2014

Chapter 21, part 1: Somber Reflections

A night full of dreams of dancing and more with Brad left me feeling empty and ashamed. So much for getting brownie points in heaven for resisting temptation. I knew the routine, confess and repent and the shame would go away, at least temporarily. Today it didn’t seem worth it. Perhaps God was as tired of hearing the same old lines as I was of saying them. I didn’t want to pray. Instead, I gave into the lingering melancholy that flooded my soul, feeling it was a sort of penance.
Brad didn’t make it down to the lobby on time for our departure, and true to his word, Dr. Eberhardt left without him. I wondered when we would get our chance to talk.
The sun blazed hot that August day at the Dachau memorial, but the hard gravel and cement outlines of the barrack foundations stood under a perpetual chill. The very air hung heavy with dread and fear. The remnants of the train tracks that had once led into the camp seemed haunted. I could almost hear guards barking orders to the masses of people as they climbed from the overstuffed cars. In the center of the dank room where bodies had been piled for cremation, tears slid down my cheeks.
Finally, we made our way through the former administration building, which now housed a museum. Dr. Eberhardt said he would meet us at the museum exit. He mentioned the pastor of the Church of Reconciliation at the rear of the camp was a personal friend of his.
“I'll see if he's available to talk with us,” he added.
Indoors, I followed Zoey and the others through the exhibits. Zoey was flirting outrageously with the guys. From the sound of things, their evening at the nightclub had been quite eventful. Every other sentence was a cryptic comment or an inside joke. Once I asked what was so funny.
Zoey stared blankly at me. “I guess you had to have been there, right guys?”
Fine, I would just ignore Miss Queen Bee and her new entourage. It was easy with so much to take in at each exhibit. Fresh tears came as I absorbed the details of the tragedy that had occurred there and saw the faces of the victims.
At the exit, Dr. Eberhardt’s eyes were bright, and a grin twitched at the corners of his golden moustache. “Good news. Wilhelm is here today, and he will be pleased to give you a short talk. I hope it will help you process what you have seen.”
We trudged once again across the gravel of the yard, past the 14 rectangles of cement that were all that remained of the former barracks. At the back corner of the camp, an austere concrete structure both rose and sank into the ground—a study in contrasts. Wide angled stairs led into a sunken courtyard. The thick swaths of ashen grey concrete were almost oppressive, but the curves and sweeps of the walls drew the eye upwards, toward the heavens.
Pastor Wilhelm spoke to us of reconciliation, redemption and hope. His words rang hollowly against the stark panels of concrete that formed the sanctuary. I tried and failed to suppress the question that had been rising like bile throughout the morning. Where was God when these things happened? Why didn’t He stop it?
And in modern times, why didn’t he stop me from repeating the same mistakes over and over even when I prayed for help? He hadn’t even answered my prayer for something as simple as having a pleasant trip. Doubts stubbornly circled. The senselessness of it all buzzed around the fringes of my mind like flies on a carcass.
The somber mood clung to me even as we rode the train back to Munich. Finally, during a late lunch at the Hofbrauhaus, the cheerful music of the oompah band ended my introspection.
While munching on a pretzel and white sausage and occasionally sipping a lukewarm Sprite, I waited for an opportune moment to join the group’s conversation. Across the table, Zoey leaned toward Tom and Owen, speaking in hushed tones, glancing at me, then giggling. I tried and failed to talk myself out of surging paranoia. Suddenly this felt far too much like junior high. Jet lag and the emotional workout of the concentration camp memorial had taken their toll.
In a last ditch effort to regain sanity, I tried to indirectly approach Zoey that afternoon when we got back to our hotel room.
“Hey, we didn’t get much of a chance to talk today. I hope you weren’t avoiding me or anything,” I said.
Zoey rolled her eyes. “Giselle, Giselle, Giselle. There you go again with your ‘poor me’ act.”
I laughed, thinking Zoey was joking. “You’ve got me. Miss Melodrama herself here.”
Zoey didn’t even crack a smile. “Tell me about it,” she said disdainfully. "Everything’s so serious with you. You didn’t have a bit of fun today, did you?”
“Wait a minute. How could anyone not take that place seriously?”
“Brad was right. You really do think you’re better than the rest of us, don’t you?”
If Brad had really said that, something was very wrong between us. I excused myself and went to find him.
In response to my knock on the door to room 305, I heard a rustling behind the door and muffled voices.
At last the door opened. Instead of the bright smile I’d expected from Brad, it was Josh wearing a dark scowl. “What do you want, Giselle?”
“To talk to Brad.”
“Not going to happen.”
“He missed the outing today. Is he sick or something?”
“Yeah, sick of you,” he said, and slammed the door.
Back in the room, I hid in the bathroom for a while so Zoey wouldn’t see me crying.
I tried to keep to myself as much as possible for the remainder of our time in Munich. The excursion to the BMW factory and Olympic Park that afternoon, and the gorgeous architecture of the palaces and the spectacular art in the museums the next few days only partly distracted me from the hollow ache that lingered, a feeling of total rejection by both God and man. At meals, I sat stiffly in silence, worried that any comment could result in renewed scorn from the others. Better to disappear into the background, to let everyone forget I was there.
Zoey and Brad seemed to grow closer. She couldn’t keep her hands off of him and he didn’t seem to mind in the least.

As we boarded the train that would take us away from the Bavarian capital, I clung to one hopeful thought. Zoey’s parents had paid extra for her to have her own hotel room when possible, so I’d have a single too by default for the remainder of the trip. What a relief it would be to have my own space again!