[Philip Adler finishes his drink, and rises to leave.]
We lost a hell of a lot more than just people when we abandoned them to the dead. That’s all I’m going to say.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL
[We finish our lunch as Jurgen aggressively snatches the bill from my hand.]
Please, my choice of food, my treat. I used to hate this stuff, thought it looked like a buffet of vomit. My staff had to drag me here one afternoon, these young Sabras with their exotic tastes. “Just try it, you old yekke,” they’d say. That’s what they called me, a “yekke.” It means tight ass, but the official definition is German Jew. They were right on both counts.
I was in the “Kindertransport,” the last chance to get Jewish children out of Germany. That was the last time I saw any of my family alive. There’s a little pond, in a small town in Poland, where they used to dump the ashes. The pond is still gray, even half a century later.
I’ve heard it said that the Holocaust has no survivors, that even those who managed to remain technically alive were so irreparably damaged, that their spirit, their soul, the person that they were supposed to be, was gone forever. I’d like to think that’s not true. But if it is, then no one on Earth survived this war.
ABOARD USS TRACY BOWDEN
[Michael Choi leans against the fantail’s railing, staring at the horizon.]
You wanna know who lost World War Z? Whales. I guess they never really had much of a chance, not with several million hungry boat people and half the world’s navies converted to fishing fleets. It doesn’t take much, just one helo-dropped torp, not so close as to do any physical damage, but close enough to leave them deaf and dazed. They wouldn’t notice the factory ships until it was too late. You could hear it for miles away, the warhead detonations, the shrieks. Nothing conducts sound energy like water.
Hell of a loss, and you don’t have to be some patchouli stinking crunch-head to appreciate it. My dad worked at Scripps, not the Claremont girl’s school, the oceanographic institute outside of San Diego. That’s why I joined the navy in the first place and how I first learned to love the ocean. You couldn’t help but see California grays. Majestic animals, they were finally making a comeback after almost being hunted to extinction. They’d stopped being afraid of us and sometimes you could paddle out close enough to touch them. They could have killed us in a heartbeat, one smack of a twelve-foot tail fluke, one lunge of a thirtysomething-ton body. Early whalers used to call them devilfish because of the fierce fights they’d put up when cornered. They knew we didn’t mean them any harm, though. They’d even let us pet them, or, maybe if they were feeling protective of a calf, just brush us gently away. So much power, so much potential for destruction. Amazing creatures, the California grays, and now they’re all gone, along with the blues, and finbacks, and humpbacks, and rights. I’ve heard of random sightings of a few belugas and narwhals that survived under the Arctic ice, but there probably aren’t enough for a sustainable gene pool. I know there are still a few intact pods of orcas, but with pollution levels the way they are, and less fish than an Arizona swimming pool, I wouldn’t be too optimistic about their odds. Even if Mama Nature does give those killers some kind of reprieve, adapt them like she did with some of the dinosaurs, the gentle giants are gone forever. Kinda like that movie Oh God where the All Mighty challenges Man to try and make a mackerel from scratch. “You can’t,” he says, and unless some genetic archivist got in there ahead of the torpedoes, you also can’t make a California gray.
[The sun dips below the horizon. Michael sighs.]
So the next time someone tries to tell you about how the true losses of this war are “our innocence” or “part of our humanity”…
[He spits into the water.]
Whatever, bro. Tell it to the whales.
DENVER, COLORADO, USA
[Todd Wainio walks me to the train, savoring the 100 percent tobacco Cuban cigarettes I’ve bought him as a parting gift.]
Yeah, I lose it sometimes, for a few minutes, maybe an hour. Doctor Chandra told me it was cool though. He counsels right here at the VA. He told me once that it’s a totally healthy thing, like little earthquakes releasing pressure off of a fault. He says anyone who’s not having these “minor tremors” you really gotta watch out for.
It doesn’t take much to set me off. Sometimes I’ll smell something, or somebody’s voice will sound really familiar. Last month at dinner, the radio was playing this song, I don’t think it was about my war, I don’t even think it was American. The accent and some of the terms were all different, but the chorus…“God help me, I was only nineteen.”
[The chimes announce my train’s departure. People begin boarding around us.]
Funny thing is, my most vivid memory kinda got turned into the national icon of the victory.
[He motions behind us to the giant mural.]
That was us, standing on the Jersey riverbank, watching the dawn over New York. We’d just got the word, it was VA Day. There was no cheering, no celebration. It just didn’t seem real. Peace? What the hell did that mean? I’d been afraid for so long, fighting and killing, and waiting to die, that I guess I just accepted it as normal for the rest of my life. I thought it was a dream, sometimes it still feels like one, remembering that day, that sunrise over the Hero City.
I love you, Mom.