The house was like a tomb.
I was hiding in my room.
As my brother made his way on down the hall.
I didn't want to say goodbye.
And I was trying to deny there was a war,
And that he got the call.
Ludwig was curled up on his bed, listening to his older brother Gilbert's echoing footsteps as he walked through the empty hall. The footsteps stopped when they reached his room, making Ludwig tense.
"Ludwig, can I come in? I want to say goodbye!" Gilbert said softly. Ludwig chose not to reply, burying his face in his pillow and fighting back tears. He didn't want to say goodbye to his brother. To Ludwig, "goodbye" would seem like a finality, an assurance that his brother was going to war, and he was never coming back. He put his pillow over his head and laid on his bed, trying to stifle his sobs. This couldn't be happening! It was all some sort of sick, twisted dream. Ludwig would wake up any moment to the smell of his mama cooking breakfast like she usually did on Saturday mornings. His vati (father) would be reading the morning paper and drinking a small mug of coffee. But deep down, Ludwig knew it wasn't a dream. Germany was going to war and his brother had been drafted. He heard a deep sigh as Gilbert gave up, beginning to walk down the hall again.
I watched him from my window
Walking down the drive.
Then I ran down the stairway
Through the front door and I cried
You come back you hear?
And I let him see my tears
Ludwig got up from his bed and leaned against his window, looking out. Gilbert looked extremely smart in his fighter pilot uniform, a crisp blue shirt with gray trousers and jacket. His cross necklace laid proudly against his chest. He held his helmet under one arm as he dutifully headed towards the German staff car invading their driveway, waiting to take him away. Ludwig suddenly filled with panic and rushed out of his room, running as fast as he could down the stairs and out the door.
"GIL!! GIL, COME BACK!!!" Ludwig yelled, sprinting towards his older brother. Before the elder could react, Ludwig had reached him and wrapped his arms around him in a tight hug. Gilbert looked down at his little brother in shock as he noticed tears welling up in his eyes. Ludwig never cried in front of everyone, especially Gilbert, but he hoped that maybe, just maybe, his tears would stop his brother from leaving.
I said I'll give you my rookie of DiMaggio.
I'll do anything you want,
Clean your room, or wash your car.
I'll do anything so long as you don't go.
But he said, this is what brothers are for.
"G-Gil, don't go! Please! I'll...I'll do anything you want! I'll do all your chores! you can boss me around and make me run errands! I-I don't care! J-Just don't go!" Ludwig sobbed, burying his face in Gilbert's chest and shaking. Gilbert's face twisted as he fought back tears of his own. Kneeling down in front of Ludwig so that he was at his eye level with him, he placed his hands on his shoulders and tried to smile.
"Trust me Luddy, if there was a way I could stay, I would, but...it is my duty as a German citizen to answer when I'm called. After all, this is what brothers and sons are for. To protect our families." And with those last few words ringing in Ludwig's ears, Gilbert gave him a gentle kiss on the forehead and got into the car, driving off with the other soldiers. Ludwig screamed in anger and grief, kicking at the ground in frustration as more tears welled up in his eyes. He couldn't fight off the feeling that he would never see his brother again.
Well I have my heroes,
But the one I love the most
Taught me how to hunt and swing a bat.
And I wrote him every night,
I said I miss our pillow fights,
But lately I just wonder where you're at.
"Ludwig Beilschmidt, your turn to present," the teacher said sharply, her cold voice jerking Ludwig out of his daze. He quickly grabbed the paper sack by his desk and scurried to the front of the room, trying to put a smile on his face. He pulled the pieces of his project he had worked so hard on and set them up on his desk, turning towards his classmates.
"For my hero project, I chose to talk about my big brother Gilbert," Ludwig said, pointing at a picture Gilbert had sent him of him in his uniforms with two other German soldiers. Ludwig heard the class snicker and held back the urge to yell at them. Calming himself down, he pulled out another picture of him and Gilbert hunting together. "This was taken a couple weeks before he left to fight. Vati finally gave him permission to teach me how to shoot a gun. It was the most time we've ever spent together!" Another snicker. Next he pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper.
"We write back and forth all the time. He tells me all of the incredible things he does! He's shot down thirty enemy planes, and Hitler himself has complimented his skills!" Ludwig unfolded the paper and proudly held up a photograph of Gilbert standing at attention next to none other than Adolf Hitler, who was smiling at the camera and placing a hand on Gilbert's shoulder as if they were good friends. An excited murmur rushed through the class as they stared at the picture with wonder.
"So...Gil is my hero because he helps defend our country. He keeps us all safe from the allied powers and he does it willingly. I miss him a lot...and sometimes, when he doesn't write for a really long time, I get scared and I wonder if he's okay, and where he is. But I know that when the war is over and Germany wins, he'll come back home." He pulled out one last picture, a more recent one. Gilbert stood in front of his plane proudly, pointing at the name.
"He called his plane the G. L. Beilschmidt, to represent that no matter where we are, we will always be together," Ludwig said, a slight smile on his face. The class stood up and clapped respectfully, staring at the pictures in awe.
Sometimes freedom makes it hard to live.
When it takes things from you that you don't want to give.
I said you come back you hear?
I miss you being near.
Laugh and fish down in the maple grove
I'll do anything you want.
There must be someone I can call,
And just maybe they would let you come back home.
But he wrote, this is what brothers are for.
I presented my project today. Everyone is class was so impressed! They said you're the coolest big brother anyone could ever ask for. And they're right. Mama and vati are still taking your absence real hard. I hear mama crying almost every night, and vati's running out of money to keep paying for the farmhand he hired. My God Gilbert, you better come back! If you don't, I don't know what we'll do. What I'll do! Maybe I could do something to get you sent home! I mean, there's gotta be someone I can call! I miss you. Please come back!
This is what brothers are for, Ludwig. Remember that. I'll be coming home soon, but not yet. Tell mama and vati I love and miss them. I wish I could write more, but we're forbidden to tell our families what we're doing. Until next time, then.
Ludwig stared at his brother's short letter with disbelief, his hands trembling. Gil's letters were getting shorter and shorter the more Ludwig wrote to him. It was as if he'd stopped caring...
I may never have to face the anger of those guns,
Or lie cold and wounded in my blood,
Or know the sacrifice and what it must of cost
For him to love me that much.
Gilbert clutched his iron cross tightly in his hands, his eyes shut tightly as he laid on the cold, hard ground. Blood pooled out of a bullet wound in his back. The sounds of men screaming, guns going off, and bombs exploding rang in his ears. He was sick of it. He wanted to go home. No, he needed to go home. But Gilbert knew he couldn't do that. He may only be one soldier, but he counted for something. If he died...no. He couldn't think about it. Grabbing his gun off of the ground, he struggled to his feet, pain exploding through his entire body, but he had to keep fighting. For his country, for his honor, and for his family. His love for all of those things kept him going as he cut through the enemy like a scythe, killing allied forces left and right. Fathers...Husbands...Sons...Brothers...just like he was...Gilbert fought back the tears and the guilt and kept on fighting. He needed to do this. He needed to protect the things he love, the people he loved. No matter the cost.
Well, it had been two years,
And I held back my tears
When I saw him in that wheel chair on the shore.
And as I ran and held him tight,
That's when he looked me in the eye
And said I'm sorry that you have to push me home.
And I said hey, this is what brothers are for.
Ludwig, now 14 years old, walked slowly to the creek where he and Gilbert would play when he was young. Gil had told him to meet him there. But the only person Ludwig saw was a tired, broken man in a wheelchair staring out at the water. That couldn't be Gilbert...could it? The man turned his head and Ludwig was met with those familiar crimson eyes, once so full of life and mischievousness, now filled with fear, pain, and sorrow.
"Hey Luddy," he said softly, his voice hoarse and barely above a whisper. Ludwig fought back tears and ran forward, wrapping his arms around his brother in a tight hug. Gilbert pulled him close, cradling the back of his head in one hand while the other was wrapped around his torso, trembling violently as tears streamed down his face.
"Gil, don't cry. It's okay now. Everything's okay. You're home again, and you don't ever have to go back there," Ludwig said, kissing his older brother's forehead and giving him a comforting smile. Gilbert smiled back and let go of him, looking up at him.
"I'm sorry..." Gilbert said softly, wiping the tears from his eyes and looking down at his legs, which had been cut off at the knees. Ludwig looked at him questioningly and Gilbert sighed, more tears welling up in his eyes and spilling down his cheeks.
"I'm sorry you have to push me home. That I can't walk with you..." Gilbert's voice trailed off and he looked away, ashamed. Ludwig smiled and hugged him once more before getting behind the wheelchair and beginning to push him. "Hey, this is what brothers are for Gil."