“My throat was tight. I could barely breathe. Like watching a storm, I stood in frozen silence, waiting, listening. Seeing my parents collapse into each other's arms, I wanted to run and save them but could do nothing. Since my brothers left for war, I had been choking back my tears trying to be strong, but rage welled up inside me. I wanted to throw something, break something. I was angry at the world, at God. Whose sins were we paying for?” – Lilia
• November 11, 1942 •
“Mail! Mail! Meneguzzi, you have mail!” hollered the village postman as he pulled up to the wooded gate on his bicycle.
“Berto! Good Morning! Heavy bag today, I see. Come inside, take a rest. There's a fresh pot of coffee,” said Maria as she welcomed him in.
“Hello, Maria! Yes, too heavy,” he laughed. “I have a telegram here from City Hall. Could it be that one of your boys wrote?” He looked at her apologetically. “Maria, I would love to stay, but I’m late on my rounds. Give my love to Virginio. Next time. Ciao, Maria.”
“Ah, yes, right, OK,” she replied, distracted by the envelope that had been placed in her hands. Maria broke free from her dazed state and looked up and waved goodbye to the mailman as he rode away.
“Yes, yes, next time. Ciao, Berto.”
Maria’s trembling fingers fumbled as she ripped open the envelope, hoping to find positive news from one of her sons. The telegram was from the Italian Military Forces. As Maria scanned the message, words seemed to magnify and ink appeared to grow darker, blending letters and bleeding through the paper and onto her skin. The light grew dimmer and dimmer. Maria’s heart raced, her arms tingled, and chills rippled up and down her body. She began to feel weak and unsteady, as if the earth was spinning beneath her feet. Sweat beaded on her brow as Maria lost her balance and sank into the gate. The telegram slipped from her hands and floated to the ground.
As she clenched the iron gate, she cried out: “Virginio!”
Lilia heard her mother’s anguished cry from inside the kitchen, and she immediately called out, "Papa!" As she pressed her hands on the window and saw her mother collapse outside, Virginio burst through his bedroom door and scrambled down the stairs.
“Papa, something’s wrong with Mama!”
“Lilia, stay inside with the boys.”
Running in a blind panic to the gate, Virginio exclaimed, “Maria! Maria! What happened? Did you hurt yourself?”
Trying to catch her breath, Maria leaned up against the gate while still holding onto the bars for balance. She could only give her husband a sullen, resigned look, which made him feel even more panicky.
“Maria, tell me!”
With disdain, she pointed to the telegram on the ground. “There, the letter, the letter.”
Virginio prepared himself for traumatizing news about one or both of his sons. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the telegram. Battling hope and fear, Virginio closed his eyes for a moment in prayer.
“Please God, let them be alive. I'll give you anything; just let them be alive.”
Smoothing the hair from his eyes, he allowed the words to penetrate. He blinked hard in disbelief. The words felt as if they were gripping his head like a vice, and soon, he stopped reading. The light and love drained from his face, as anger took over like a raging fire.
Feeling his soul shift in and out of his body, Virginio dropped to his knees, pulling Maria into his arms. She buried herself into his chest in silent agony.
Their love for one another could not heal the wound that was now painfully seeping into their hearts.
Lilia watched from the kitchen window, witnessing her parents’ silent dissolution. Her own heart felt cold, and the pit in her stomach grew. She knew what was happening without their having to say a word.
Her world was crumbling. One by one, her family was being ripped from her life.