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“Listen, I have moments of weakness all the time. That’s not what you had.”
Nick didn’t say anything in return. The screaming was muffled again but still impossible to ignore.
“I wasn’t in the camps, you know,” Schwartz said. “But I’ve known a lot of survivors. They talk about the ones who didn’t make it: say you could see it in their eyes. They gave up, didn’t want to keep going. A few days later they’d be dead. That sort of a place, if you didn’t want to keep living you didn’t have to. God’s mercy, maybe, if not the Devil’s. Who can blame the ones who didn’t want to go on? But that was never my Goldie.’”
You’d almost think he liked it, I said to Nick, chasing her around like that. I hadn’t noticed when he’d finished his Calvados. He rubbed his palms together as if for warmth, though the fireplace had the den nice and toasty.
“You know how I got through med school?” he asked.
“Hard work, I’m sure. And maybe some ass-kissing.”
“Prayer. I was always asking God for strength. Can’t compare it to the camps, of course, but it was hellish in its own way. I was the smart one in my undergrad. In med school, as the saying goes, everyone is the dumb one. Constantly I just wanted to drop out and pluck up a job in research, but I never did. Just one foot in front of the other, like a good soldier, and I made it through. I suppose I should have thanked God. I made it through, after all. But I never felt that God gave me strength. It felt like I just went on and did it anyway, without strength. Is that sacrilegious?”
“The answer of my vestments is you should always thank God. Whether he did something for you or not, thank God. Whether you need his strength or not, thank God. The Maker, The Ruler, et cetera. But really, who knows? Ever hear God say ‘you’re welcome’?”
“I haven’t,” he said. “But maybe tonight.”
He ushered me out, citing an early morning. Never asked me how I got through seminary. Vodka-cranberry, mostly. I hadn’t really meant to go. Didn’t get into art school. They say you can’t escape history but I could never find it, never had a current of it to push me along anywhere, so I drifted and that’s the shore I found. I had to sneak in the booze. I’d buy sixty-four ounce water bottles at the CVS and dump them in the gutter before pouring in a handle of Stoli. Late at night I’d drink alone in my little dormitory, reading a comic book instead of the Bible. I’d sit there thinking “God will strike me down, God will strike me down.” Another form of call-and-answer. Or apropos of all those nights, call-and-wait.
Sometimes I think God’s answers are like a dog whistle, too high for most of us to hear. Nick stood in his upstairs window, watching me walk down his drive. He cocked his head as if he was listening for it. Who could say what he’d hear? You can’t live your life around it, around waiting for God to do the right thing. Just got to keep moving forward. Winter snow was late this year, fine by me. No dirty clumps of it on the shoes, no slippery sidewalks, no shoveling. To a grown man snow’s all inconvenience. When I was a kid I thought it a miracle.