I woke up at six o’clock on that Tuesday morning in August. I was stoked! I was going to Germany with my best friend Mike and twenty other people. It was a trip for the incoming second year German class. Herr and Frau Berghoff were our chaperones. They grew up in Germany and promised that we would have the times of our lives!
I got downstairs at six-thirty and Gram had my breakfast cooking. Dad was at the table talking with his mom and drinking coffee. My mom walked in and asked if I was excited. Duh! I was so excited that I could hardly think. My brother Steve came down in his running shorts and muscle shirt. He slipped me an envelope and said it contained the names and addresses of the best places to see in Munich. He went on the trip just two years before. In fact, the way he talked about the trip is what got me interested in learning German in the first place. Steve graduated from high school last June and will be starting at the local community college “while I decide what I want to be when I grow up,” as he would say. I know the feeling.
We had plenty of time. The plane didn’t take off for four hours yet, so we ate leisurely and still had time to spare. I was supposed to meet Mike at the airport two hours before our flight time. I kissed Mom and Gram goodbye and I even hugged my older sister Sam (Samantha). I was going to miss them, but the trip was only ten days. Dad and Steve came with me to the airport. Steve kept going on about how great the trip was going to be. He was hoping that someday he could make the trip again. When they dropped me off, Dad wanted to give me a hug, but I told him (and Steve backed me up) that it was very uncool to do that in front of your classmates. Instead, we shook hands and Steve and I fist bumped, which seemed to annoy Dad.
The Berghoffs set up the trip this year, just as they had for my brother’s class. We were leaving on Tuesday and returning on Thursday of the following week. They said it was cheaper to fly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We were flying on United from Raccoon City to Chicago and changing airlines to Lufthansa to Munich. The Berghoffs kept a close watch on us and shepherded us every step of the way until we got to Munich. On our first day there it seemed that everyone but the Berghoffs were tired, but our body clocks caught up the next day. Mike, the Kern twins and I shared a suite with two bedrooms. The Kerns got one and Mike and I got the other. We were looking forward to going to a Gasthaus and seeing if we could get served. Steve told me that you have to be eighteen in Germany, but younger kids can drink with adults. Dad pretended he didn’t hear us.
Friday afternoon we were supposed to have some free time. We were warned about what to do and what not to do, so we were in our suite waiting for the Berghoffs to release us on Munich. That didn’t happen. We were watching the U.S. Military TV channel, AFN (American Forces Network), when a news bulletin came on. We were getting ready to change the channel until we saw the crawler at the bottom of the screen: Raccoon City Destroyed in Nuclear Power Plant Explosion.
We froze in whatever position we were in and stared at the screen, waiting for the news anchor in the military uniform to speak! It was true. Raccoon City was gone! Gram, Mom, Dad, Steve, Sam. All of them are gone! They no longer existed! Mike tried calling, but the call didn’t go through. Then the Kern twins and I tried, but with no better luck. We were in shock.
Our room phone rang. It was Frau Berghoff. She asked us to stay in our rooms until she or Herr Berghoff arrived. We said we would and hung up and waited. Ten minutes later we heard a knock on the door. It was Frau Berghoff. She looked as though she had been crying, but she remained very businesslike and asked each of us in turn if we had any family or close friends outside of Raccoon City. The Kerns had their grandparents in Cedar Rapids. They gave their names, address and phone number. Mike gave his Uncle Pete’s name, address and phone number. I didn’t have anyone! What would happen to me? I couldn’t imagine going to an orphanage! Mike said to tell his uncle to sponsor me and not let me go to an orphanage. “We will see.” Whenever a grownup has said that before, it meant ‘no’.
When Frau Berghoff left, Mike called his uncle, but it went to voicemail. We left an urgent message for him, but we didn’t know if he got it. Frau Berghoff called our room again and told us to pack our bags. We would be flying out soon. When we checked out, the hotel knew our circumstances and refunded not just for the days we had left, but all of our money, including all our meals.
The flight home was long and lonely. Mike and the Kerns and I were together, but we were so busy with our own situations that we couldn’t relate to each other. Finally we landed in Chicago. We picked up our bags and went through Customs. Once through, we walked out to the waiting area. Mike’s Uncle Pete called out to me and Mike. Wait! He called out to ME too! Could it be true? It was! Uncle Pete hugged us and told us not to worry because he was Mike’s uncle… and he was my godfather! I still had a family; Mike and Uncle Pete!