Happy Days Are Here Again

By: Kristi N. Zanker

 

Part IV

 

"Where do you want to be?" I asked.

"I've thought about it for a long time and I've made a decision. On my seventeenth birthday..."

"It was your birthday, and you didn't tell me?" I interrupted.

"No, it's okay, I don't want anything from you, just having you as a friend is enough. I know that if I had told you, you would've went out and bought me something."

"You're right, I would have," I laughed.

"That's why I didn't tell you. Anyway, on my seventeenth birthday, I enlisted for the Army. I lied about my age; I told them I was eighteen." Johnny lit up a second Pall-Mall.

I was shocked. "You're going to fight in the war?"

"Yes, I can't win the war here, I might as well try to defeat a man worse than my father--Hitler. Besides, the war could be ending soon. They might not even ship me out."

"Yes, but if they do, you might be killed."

"This is something more important I've got to do. You know what's going on over there? I heard some men by the train station discussing something called Hitler's 'final solution.' I asked them what it was. Those men told me that they're killing innocent people in concentration camps. Whether that's true or not, I still want to get out of here. If it is, I can't let that go on, I must help my country. My mother once told me that 'even if it seems like the whole world hates you, someone out there cares about you.' Part of it, I find hard to believe, with my father and all. But maybe fighting for my country is it. If I can't stop one person, I can try to stop someone else from hurting many others. Do you think I did the right thing?"

Looking at me, he nervously tossed the cigarette butt into the ashtray. Some of the ashes missed and ended up on the coffee table. While thinking about what he said, I helped him clean off the table.

"I think so. But I guess in these times, you don't have a choice. We've been waiting too long for the war to end. I think it's finally happening."

"Yes," said Johnny. "I'll let you know if they accept me."

Johnny and I hugged each other for a long time after that conversation. For both of us, it felt right. In a world where hate was almost everywhere, we needed to feel love.

*~*~

Sure enough towards the end of the summer, Uncle Sam was going to ship Johnny to Europe to help defeat Hitler and the Nazis. When I heard the news I couldn't stop crying. I kept telling him that he was going to get hurt. I didn't want him to leave. But Johnny told me he was leaving in a week for North Carolina where he would go for training.
Just when things were looking at there worst with Johnny leaving for war, his father ended up in jail one night after a bar fight. He had threatened to kill another drunken man with a knife, but ended up stabbing him several times in the arm. I read about it in the papers the next day. Johnny was devastated, but very angry. He wouldn't even go see his father. He didn't even tell him he was going to war, until two nights before he was leaving. There was nothing his father could do about it. His son was leaving and may never come back. Johnny told me that his father looked like a frightened child in jail. He didn't say anything to Johnny when he came to visit. For those two days, it seemed like there was no one there for Johnny, except me.

The day before Johnny was leaving, I found a note in our mailbox that said, "Meet me by the tracks at twelve-thirty in the morning." I knew immediately who it was from. I couldn't tell my parents that I was meeting Johnny in the middle of the night. So, I made it look like it was a normal Friday night. I read Tammy a storybook before she went to bed and then listened to some programs on the radio. My parents always went to bed at 11. Around 10:30, I said good night to them and headed to my room. I waited and listened. My parent's door closed precisely at 11. I read a book by flashlight for an hour and then got ready to go see Johnny. I was in my nightgown and robe because I didn't want to look too suspicious if my parents saw me downstairs in day clothes.
I crept quietly through the house until I made it to the front door. I opened it softly and went outside. The air was humid, with the wind blowing slightly. I ran down our street to the tracks. I saw Johnny with two bags and his bicycle. He was ready to go.

"I can't believe you are leaving already," I said, trying not to cry.

"I have to go. There's no one left for me here. Except you. But I can't live at your house." We laughed.

"What are you going to do with your bicycle?" I asked.

"I spoke to a man yesterday while I was getting my train ticket, he told me he'd buy it. I don't need it anymore. Oh, that reminds me. I have something for you." He reached into his bag and pulled out a record sleeve. It was the record of 'Happy Days Are Here Again.'

"It was my mother's. I want you to have it."
By now I was crying.

"Johnny, I can't accept this, this was your mother's song."

"You have to. All it's going to do is collect dust while I'm away. I want someone to have the record that I know who will take special care of it. When you play it--wait a minute! Do you even have a phonograph?"
I nodded. Johnny brushed the tears away from my eyes.

"Then when you play the song, think of me and my mother. Play it for your sister too. She'll like it. Also, I found another rock for her."

He handed me the rock.

"Does she even know that I'm leaving?"

"No, I haven't told her, but I will soon."

"You better and tell her not to worry about me. You too, don't worry."

"But I have to. You're risking your life, you might not make it."

"Even if I don't make it, I'll be in your heart. I'll always be with you no matter what. You will keep me alive."

I had started crying again and Johnny and I hugged and kissed a long kiss of good-bye.

"I don't want you to go. You are the first boyfriend I ever had."

"And you are the first real girlfriend I ever had." Just then, Johnny put his arms around me, brought me close to him and kissed me again. I heard a train in the distance. Our time was limited. Johnny pulled away from me, got on his bike and stared pedaling towards the train station. I walked beside him. He stopped pedaling for a minute and gave me a final quick kiss. Oh, how I wished he wasn't going to war!

"I'll write to you," he said. Johnny rode faster. "Remember, don't worry, I'll always be with you." I stopped running and stood there with tears staining my face. I stood there until I couldn't see him anymore.

Copyright © 2000 by Kristi N. Zanker

 

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Copyright © 2011 by Kristi N. Zanker

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