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BIRDS OF A FEATHER

I hung up the telephone. Tears escaped the corner of my eyes. My best friend, Leo, gave me the devastating news. His Father, Bernie, had passed away in his sleep last night in the nursing home. I had lost my Father, Vartin, only a month ago. Bernie and my Dad were best friends since they both immigrated to America in 1951. Our little row houses were side by side in a predominately Irish-Catholic section of Brooklyn.

Dad and Bernie were always together. Neighbors would shake their heads when the Armenian Christian and German Jew walked down the street to get a beer at O'Brien's Bar. Our mothers, God rest their souls, would send Leo and I to fetch our fathers when they lost track of time. They often had one for the road, one for the telephone pole, and one for the fire hydrant. For the last two years Dad and Bernie were together in the nursing home.

The radio was playing "Surfin' USA" by the Beach Boys. I remembered that same song playing on a hot Summer day in 1963. My Dad, Bernie, and Leo were doing a transmission job on my Mom's car. It had to be almost One Hundred Degrees. My Dad was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and baseball cap but Bernie wore a long sleeved shirt. Sweat stained the underarms of Bernie's shirt.

Finally, when the heat of noon was at it's worst, Bernie stripped off his shirt revealing salt and pepper chest hair. There was so much hair that it ran down his arms like a carpet. That must be why he never wears short sleeves. Bernie asked me to hand him a tool. I placed the tool in his hands. Then I saw it! Just beneath the hair on his arm was a tattoo. It was a tattoo of a multiple digit number in black. Bernie noticed when I did not let go of the tool and caught me staring at that number. I never saw a tattoo like that!

"Auschwitz," Bernie stated as he met my gaze. Then he went to work under the hood.

It was not until many years later I had learned what Bernie meant by "Auschwitz." To this day I cannot remember what tool Bernie had wanted but I can remember his tattoo like my own telephone number.

Recently I watched the movie, "The Killing Fields." I realized a couple of things. First, that my Dad and Bernie might have been raised in different religious faiths in two different countries but they shared a common bond. They were both targets of Genocide. Bernie was a victim of the Jewish Holocaust, which cost six million lives, and my Father was a survivor of the Genocide that slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians. Secondly, that the vicious cycle of Genocide repeats itself throughout history. The Khmer Rouge killed 2 million Cambodians. It still happens in other countries.

My Father, like Bernie wearing long sleeves over the painful reminder of Auschwitz, also hid his physical reminders of Genocide. My Dad wore a baseball cap to hide his head. The Turkish in 1915 tortured him by pulling his hair out and sending him on a Death March out of Kharpert to the Syrian Desert. All that remained were a few patches of hair and deep scars on the scalp.

As the song ended, I touched the Armenian Cross at the base of my throat. My Dad and Bernie were like a dove reaching home after a long journey. Leo and I would remember the victims of the Genocides every time we looked in a mirror and saw a resemblance to our fathers.

I wrote this short story, work of fiction,to illustrate that there have been Genocides throughout history, not only the Jewish Holocaust. The characters are fiction but the Genocides are real.

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