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In desperation I moved on to another soldier and asked him, pleaded with him, to let me pass through the gates; I told him that I just wanted to get to my family. It was no use. He just shoved me off and laughed. I didn’t know what to do, so I just sat down on the ground and wailed. I wept for myself, for my family, and… Maria…. I remembered that Maria was with me. I stopped crying and looked around for Maria. She was still standing at the first soldier we had talked to. She looked pale and frightened.
I ran to her and put my arms around her. I had almost forgotten that Joyce, Maria’s sister, was over there too. “But at least Maria gets to live with all of her family except for Joyce,” I thought. “I don’t have any of my family here at all.”
Maria shook herself a little and blinked. “Greta, I… I think we had better go tell Mama and Papa.” I agreed.
We walked slowly back to Maria’s apartment. Maria’s mother was making breakfast.
“Are you alright?” Maria’s mother looked concerned when she saw our faces.
“Mama,” Maria began, “There’s…” she couldn’t finish her sentence. Maria started crying. When I saw her crying I started crying again too.
“What’s the matter girls?” Maria’s mother looked bewildered. “Are you hurt? Was someone mean to you? What? What is the matter?”
We didn’t have to answer, for just then Maria’s father burst into the house, boiling over with anger.
“Those Soviets! What are they trying to do to us?!”
By this time Maria’s mother was fairly frantic with curiosity. Everyone had just come into her peaceful home and started going crazy! Finally, Maria’s father calmed down enough to explain to her what was happening.
“Those Soviets have built a wall around West Germany to keep us from escaping. We not only can not get to freedom if the situation gets worse here, we will not be able to go to the shops and cities there were we go to buy food at good prices. And…,” his voice became soft and faint “we we won’t be able to see Joyce.”
Maria’s mother looked horrified. Her daughter was gone. She was so close, yet so terribly far away.
No one felt like breakfast. No one even pretended they were hungry. We sat down, spooned the oatmeal on to our plates, and let it get cold without even touching it. Any other time Maria’s mother would be scolding us and telling us not to waste good food, but this time even she couldn’t eat.
Maria and I moped around the house. On one of my many pacings of the parlor, I had a great idea. I wondered that we didn’t think of it earlier. We could call our house by telephone! I ran joyfully to Maria’s mother. She, too, wondered why we hadn’t thought of it before. It wasn’t as good as actually seeing my family, of course, but at least I could hear their voices. I dialed their number and waited breathlessly. The wait seemed endless. In fact, it was endless – the Soviets had cut the phone lines! Now I was completely and utterly cut off from my family. And I couldn’t help thinking, “This is all because of the sleepover. If we wouldn’t have had this sleepover I would still be trapped by the wall, but I would be trapped with my family.”
It was a terrible day.
In the years that followed Maria’s family informally adopted me, seeing as I was basically an orphan with no way to get to my parents. I learned to call Maria’s mother “Mama” and her father “Papa.” It was hard for me to do at first, knowing that my real parents were still alive, and that they still loved me as much as ever, but I got used to it with time. It was nice to have Maria as a sister. Of course, I missed Korrie very much, but Maria was a good substitute. We didn’t always get along as well as we had when we were cousins, instead of sisters, but we formed a deep and lasting friendship.
Life in East Germany was hard. I realized that when I started actually living there. I had never known before how privileged I was to live in West Germany, where the people were free to do what they chose instead of working for the Soviet government.
One time I asked Maria’s mother why they hadn’t moved to West Germany before, while they had the chance.
“I suppose because we live in East Germany – that is our home.” she replied. I thought it a rather unsatisfactory answer, but I supposed it was true. I wouldn’t want to move from my house or my country unless it was absolutely necessary.
Life went on despite the wall. The wall was actually torn down several times, but a new wall, always stronger and more fierce than the last, was quickly put up in its place. The people of Germany didn’t always resign themselves to their fate: some tried to escape. But their bravery almost always ended in failure and death. The soldiers guarding the wall were always on the lookout, and they had orders to shoot whomever they saw trying to escape.
The years passed quickly – my thirteenth birthday came and went, then my fourteenth. Time kept passing on. One day I celebrated my twentieth birthday. When I was twenty-two and so was Maria, Maria was married one of our neighbors’ sons. His name was Kristopher. They didn’t have much money for a glamorous wedding, so they had to content themselves with a very small ceremony. They didn’t mind too much, though. At least they had each other.
One day in April, after I had just turned twenty-two, I had a sudden thought: I had been apart from my family for 10 years. That seemed like a very, very long time. Suddenly, I had the sudden urge to escape, to flee from this horrible life and to find my family again. I knew that it was practically impossible to escape through the gates of the towering wall, but… there must be some way! I was determined to find a way, somehow, and to escape, whatever the cost would be.
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