Time passes so slowly sometimes. Other times it speeds by. Other times one barely notices how it passes just that it passed. That was the case for the von Trapp family as they made their final escape from Austria.
That day, nearly a week before, seemed so far away to some family members, and so painfully close to others.
The Captain would forever remember that event like it was yesterday. He'd never forget hearing Maria shout his name, turning to see her face, or hearing Friederich call his name. He'd never forget his son's weight against him, the sound of the gunshots, or the sight of his son, his own child lying dead across his chest. He'd never forget the sound of Wladyslaw Skinner's voice telling him his child was dead, killed by a bullet meant for him. He'd never forget Maria's cry, Louisa's scream, or Liesl's solemn nod when he told them. But most of all, he'd never forget the pain or the guilt in his own heart.
Maria was worried about her husband. True, he'd lost his child, a loss no one should ever have to experience, but it seemed to her that he hadn't felt it. Maria sensed a silence, a cold distance from her husband. She'd encountered the same steel wall when she first came to the family and eventually had battered her way through. It seemed now she must do so again.
The family was staying in two small rooms in Geneva, Switzerland due to sail for America in two days. Once on the ship, Georg could avoid her, dodge her, but her in the dead of night on a closed off balcony, he'd have no choice but to face her.
Every night since Friederich's death, the Captain left Maria to the children while he sat alone on that balcony brooding, grieving, and punishing himself in a silence that only truly punished his loved ones. Tonight would be different though. Maria would no longer allow him the space he begged for. Now she would confront him, do whatever she had to do to batter down the walls he'd erected against his heart.
Liesl took responsibility for the older children, reading aloud with them. They would keep an ear out for the younger children that Maria had set to bed early so that she could confront Georg. She knew he'd be cold and unresponsive at first, but she also knew her husband was aching for her to make things all right again.
"Beautiful night," she said as she came out onto the balcony.
"Are the children in bed?" was his reply.
"Lucas, Gretl, and Marta are, yes. The others are still awake. Liesl is reading Swiss Family Robinson to them. Well, Brigitta's reading The Republic, but all the same..." Maria replied.
"Shouldn't you be reading to them?" he asked.
"I've read Swiss Family Robinson," she answered. "Besides, I thought it would be nice for us to talk a bit. We really haven't' since we left Austria."
"We've talked plenty since we left Austria," he countered.
"Talked, yes," she admitted. "Communicated, no."
"Maria, I'm not really in the mood to..."
She cut him off. "You may not be, but what about me? What about if I'm in the mood to communicate? What if I need to communicate?"
The Captain rose from his seat. "Maria, I can't right now."
"You can't, but I have to Georg. There's more than one person in this marriage, in this family. I need to talk to my husband, the father of my children..." Maria pressed.
"Some father," he mumbled so low she barely heard it.
"What?" Maria asked. She thought she heard him, but hoped she didn't.
"Never mind," the Captain replied. "If you want to talk, talk."
Maria sighed; he wouldn't make this easy for her. She remained silent while she gathered her thoughts in her head. She had to gather the words she needed to use and choke down the feelings of guilt that were plaguing her.
"What do you want to talk about?" he asked.
"You know what I want to talk about, Georg," Maria replied. "We need to talk about it."
The Captain turned her back. "I can't."
"You have to," she pressed. "Georg we all lost him. You're hurting, I realize that, but you have seven living children who need you. They are hurting too."
"Maria, you don't understand, all right? You'll never know," he said.
"Maybe not," Maria admitted. "But try me. Tell me what you're feeling. Let it out. You need to let it out," she begged.
"Don't tell me what I need," he snapped. "Don't you dare! You're the reason…" he stopped realizing what he had just said. He looked at her face and he could see in that instant that she had felt that same way.
"I'm the reason what?" she queried. "I'm the reason we're here now? I'm the reason Friederich is dead? I'm the reason we didn't leave Austria when the orders first came? Don't you…" she trailed off as her voice caught. "Don't you think I know that?" she asked on a sob. "Don't you think I know this is my fault, of course I know that. But it's not Liesl's fault or Louisa's fault or Kurt's or Brigitta's or Marta's or Gretl's or Lucas'. It's not even your fault or Dr. Skinner's fault. It's mine, only mine," Maria sobbed. "And the children are the ones being punished."
One may wonder about Maria's emotional outbreak. Was it a clever tool to open her husband's heart? Anyone who'd observed Maria since Friederich's death would think so, but anyone who truly knew her mind and heart as her husband did would know her tears were completely true.
Maria had gone over that moment so many times. There were so many what ifs and if onlys. But she realized the result was in God's plan for the family and now they all must deal with the aftermath.
The Captain watched as his wife broke down. It was only the second time since he'd known her that he'd seen her come unraveled like this. Seeing her showing this much humanity, this much weakness still shocked him. He'd never really thought Maria would blame herself for what happened at the abbey. He'd never thought that he, on some irrational level, would blame her.
Maria had stopped talking and started sobbing. He couldn't let that continue, not over such a malicious untruth. He wanted to comfort her, to tell her there was no one to blame, but first he had to believe that.
The Captain had been over and over the events, and no matter how he sliced it, either Maria or he were at fault. If she hadn't called his name, if he was paying more attention, there were so many if onlys. He realized though, that there was only one person who he could truly hold accountable, and that was the Nazi that pulled the trigger.
He closed the distance between them and pulled her trembling form to him. "Maria I'm sorry. In know it's not your fault, Darling. It's my fault. I'm…I was his father, I was with him, I should have protected him," he whispered.
Maria sniffed, "Georg, if I hadn't called out to you…"
"If I hadn't offended the Nazis, if we didn't have Lucas, if we never got married..." Georg vocalized some of the ridiculous things he'd thought over the past week. "We can't do that Darling. I know, I've been doing it every night," he admitted.
"I can only imagine how much you're hurting. You were his father. I only wanted to be there for you, and let you know that I'm…It's just I miss him so much and he's not even my blood…"
Georg cut her off. "You loved him as your own child, Maria. I should have realized that," the Captain admitted. "I should have realized how upset you'd be."
She nodded. "I miss him so much. All of the children miss him. They have missed you too Georg. They need you, they need their father."
He nodded. "I know. It's not the first time I've been selfish. I only hope they can forgive me that as well as their brother's death."
Maria sighed. "There's no forgiving involved for Friederich's death. Only God can forgive the man who fired the shot. As for the other, there's only one way to find out." She nodded towards the door.
"Things will never be the same again," he whispered sadly, kissing her temple.
"I know that," Maria whispered. "But we can get through this. But only if we stop playing around and blaming each other and ourselves and work on moving past it."
He nodded, his jaw quivering with emotion. "It should have been me," he confessed, tears falling from his eyes.
Maria held him tightly, "No, Darling. No. This is the way it should have been. This is the way God wanted it to be, this is the way that it is. We can only deal with it."
They held each other in silence for a few more moments, and then Maria pulled gently on Georg's hand. "We have to see to the children we still have, my love. We have to learn to keep Friederich a part of us, without letting the ones we still have get lost in the grief."
The Captain nodded and gestured for the balcony door. "After you, Baroness."
When their parents walked in, both with tear stained faces and red eyes the children guessed what had taken place on the balcony. They were glad; both of their parents needed the healing they could only bring to each other.
When their parents walked in, Liesl paused in her reading. The Captain, who loved to read to his children, took the book from her and took a seat in the center of him family. He found the spot where Liesl had stopped and resumed reading from there.
That conversation on the balcony was the first step in sending the von Trapps on their way to healing. Neither Georg or Maria would ever get over what happened, neither one would ever forget it, but they would learn to deal with it, live with it, and stop looking for someone to blame it on.
None of the von Trapps ever forgot what their brother's sacrifice for them, nor what their American hero did for them. Maria and Georg had their second child on their second anniversary, a boy named for their American savior. When Liesl married in late 1946, and gave birth to her son, she named him for her fallen brother, to keep his memory alive for ever.
The children did well in America, they prospered, they learned, and they stayed together as a family. They all grew up well under the loving sternness of their father and the gentle guidance of their mother.
At the end of the war, in 1945, the von Trapp family was reunited with their hero, at his wedding to another OSS agent, a female who'd been working in the office. Maria and Georg were both glad to see him so happy, especially after all he'd been through and all he'd done for them.
There wasn't a day that went by when Georg and Maria didn't miss their fallen son. There wasn't a day that went by that they didn't wish things had turned out differently. As time passed, and hearts healed, however, it turned out that there was not a day that went by when Georg regretted the sacrifices he'd made for the sake of his family, for as always his family is the most important thing in his life.