The ship never stood a chance against the storm. In an instant, the calm sea turned violent and the oncoming storm threatened to kill them all. Orders were shouted over the monstrous waves that crashed onto the deck. Men were dragged overboard by the sea. Their death cries were muted as the storm grew in power. A single solitary soul watched as the crew were lost to the ocean. Wide-eyed ten-year-old Thomas Mann had a death grip on the railing as one by one people, men, women, and children, were swept away into the icy water. Their faces were burned into his mind as they disappeared below.
Another wave collided with the ship. The vessel lurched sideways. Thomas’ feet were swept out from under him but nevertheless, he held on. He wrapped his legs around the railing’s post. He refused to join the dead. He wanted to live. Suddenly, a terrible moaning thundered along with the storm. Thomas panicked. The noise sounded like a monster. Was there a monster in the waters? Waiting to eat them? The moan was louder than anything he had ever heard before.
The ship was breaking apart.
Thomas held on tight to his little piece of safety. The next wave was devastating. Thomas caught only a glimpse of it. The wave was as tall as a mountain. It submerged the ship, swallowing it whole. The railing snapped away but Thomas didn’t let go. He was thrown into the sea.
There was no sense of direction underwater. The water pounded against him. Thomas frantically flailed his arms, hopelessly lost and disoriented. He kicked and he fought. Every fiber of his being was struggling to escape the death that awaited him. Through some miracle, he broke to the surface and gasped for air but the storm raged on. The waves came over him, the sea kept dragging him back under, and yet Thomas persisted. He fought with everything he had to keep his head above the water until he had no more. Thomas sank into the sea.
The sound of the ocean filled his head. The waves came over him and washed him onto the shore. Thomas slowly opened his eyes and gasped for air. Sickness overtook him. In long hacking coughs, Thomas threw up. It burned his throat but he could breathe now. The ocean waves crashed onto the beach. He crawled away, not wanting to risk being dragged underwater, and rested on the warm sand. Thomas was surrounded by driftwood, pieces of metal, and glass. Thomas grabbed some driftwood. He tried to stand. The beach seemed to spin under his feet. His legs failed him. Thomas fell onto the glass. He cried out. Thomas laid on the beach, trying to quell the tears that threatened to fall as he picked the glass out from his legs, feet, and hands.
Thomas sniffed quietly and took little gasps. Everything hurt. His head hurt, his stomach hurt, his fingers and toes hurt. It was too much pain for one little boy to handle. Thomas was wracked by heaving sobs. He hated this. He hated everything now. Thomas wished that they had never got on that boat in the first place. He never wanted to come to America. He wanted to stay in Germany, on their farm, with the people that knew his entire life but his parents’ minds were made up. They spoke so highly of America. They said that it was, “The Land of Opportunity”. It was a golden, magical place where people could say what they wanted to say, do what they wanted to do, and live life freely. It was where a nobody could be a somebody.
In short, America was simply better than Germany could ever hope to be. Their move to New York would be the start of a new chapter. His father claimed that New York was a thriving city with automobiles dominating the streets and with buildings as tall as the sky. Thomas hated that. Tall buildings meant no more rolling fields or great big trees to climb. His parents assured him endlessly that he would love it. Everyone loved America and he would too. Thomas stared out to the endless sea. Resentment consumed him.
America wasn’t worth a damn.
Drying his tears, Thomas stood up. His legs were unsteady and his knees knocked together but he didn’t care. He had to find his parents. If he had survived the storm then they had too. They were his parents after all. His papa was the strongest man alive and his mother was the smartest person he knew. She always knew what to do to make any problem better. Everything would be better once he found his mama and papa. Once they were all together, his parents would come to their senses and they would go back to Germany. They would return to their small village it’s beautiful green hills and wonderful trees that he could climb. Everything would be better, it just had to get better. Thomas cupped his hands and shouted for them.
Only the gulls responded.
Thomas was alone on the beach. Where were they? Didn’t they hear him? He looked up and down the massive beach. They could be anywhere. Thomas shouted louder.
Far off in the distance, Thomas heard crying. It was a baby. Thomas recognized it instantly as his brother’s cry. Slipping and sliding down the sand dunes, Thomas raced to his brother, Kurt. He found his brother nestled in seaweed, seemingly unharmed but his face beet red from crying. Thomas picked up his squirming crying brother and bundled him up as best as he could. Kurt cried louder now screeching at the top of his lungs. He squirmed, kicked, and rebelled against being held by his brother. Thomas rocked his brother back and forth as best just like how their mother wou-
Where was mama?
Where was papa?
Thomas frantically looked for them. Where were they? They would never have left Kurt by himself. He was too young to be alone. Mama always got mad at him when he left Kurt alone. Mama never would let Kurt be like this. Thomas wrapped Kurt on his back like Mama carried him. With his brother safely secured, Thomas combed the beach for their parents. Thomas called out for them but he never found them. They stayed on the beach and waited for hours for someone, anyone to find them. As the sun set and the cold night set in, Thomas realized that he and his brother were on their own. No one cared about them.
It was just the two of them against the world now.