A broken home. A shattered love. Same old story. A new twist. You can’t make this up.


It was a broken home split, splintered, and gone awry.

Nothing new. It happened all of the time.

It was love found and love lost and love shared with another.

A good wife gone bad.

A husband tormented by images of his wife lying with another.

Nothing new. It happened all of the time.

Michael Navratil had tried to make his marriage work, or so he said.  He tried to give his wife the love she desperately needed, or so he said. He worshipped the ground beneath her feet, or so he said.

But Michael Navratil had finally had enough. He couldn’t take it anymore. He walked out. And he left behind two small boys. Losing them was what hurt worse. They were his life. And he feared he might never see them again.

A wife could be vindictive if she wanted to. That’s what he said. That’s what he believed. Michael Navratil was awash with loneliness.

Nothing new. It happened all the time.

The custody battle became a war.

Survivors of the Titanic
Survivors of the Titanic

Sure, Marcelle Navratil said, she might have committed adultery, but that would not prevent her from being a good mother, and children, more than anything, needed their mother – good, bad, or otherwise. They had come from her womb. There was a mother’s bond that could never be broken.

That’s what she told the judge.

He tended to agree with her.

Michael Navratil could feel himself being shoved farther and farther out into the cold. Being a father, the court said in so many words, was merely incidental. His contribution had only lasted a few seconds. She had carried the babes for nine months. A mother had the unmistakable right to keep what was hers.

The gavel slammed.

Case closed.

Nothing new. It happened all the time.

Michael Navratil awoke one morning and realized that he had one chance, perhaps one final chance, to right the wrongs in his little boys’ lives, care for them, hold them, tuck them into bed at night, watch them grow into manhood.

By the time the sun touched France, he had made up his mind. He knew exactly what he must do. And he did it. He stole his two boys and ran. The judge be damned.

Nothing new. It happened all the time.

He had his escape carefully planned. He would be gone and out of the country before his wife realized anything had happened. Michael Navratil smiled to himself. His plan was perfect. Nothing could go wrong. He and his two sons would never be separated again. He fled from his home in Southern France to Monte Carlo, then reached London with four-year-old Michael, Jr., and two-year-old Edmond safely in his custody.

He bought three tickets: one for himself in the name of Louis M. Hoffman and two for the boys, listed on the ship’s manifest as Loto and Louis.

The names would belong to ghosts, he thought. They could never be traced. America was his refuge. In America, he and the boys would begin anew, and the past would remain hidden in the past where it belonged.

Michael Navratil stood on the deck and watched land fade into the mist. He was free at last. He hugged the boys tightly. He had everything he needed.

A new life.

A new chance.

A new name.

He turned around and looked at the grandest ship of all. Michael Navratil grinned broadly and could not stop grinning until two days later when, in the dead of night, the magnificent vessel struck an iceberg.

The Titanic was going down.

Michael Navratil frantically carried his two boys to the last remaining lifeboat leaving the ship. They knew that something was dreadfully wrong but had no idea what it was. There was no room on the boat for him. Women and children first. Only women and children. Men were on their own. Those were the written and unwritten rules of the sea.

Michael Navratil hugged his two boys for the final time and whispered to the oldest one, “My children, when your mother comes for you, as she surely will, tell her that I loved her dearly and still do. Tell her I expect her to follow so we might all live happily together.”

He knew she would never join them them. But, for the boys, it was the thought that counted. He stood on the deck, his hands gripping the rails, and watched his sons until their boat disappeared into the darkness. He tried hard to remember their faces. He tried hard to recall the sound of their voices. Perhaps he was still staring into the night that held his boys when the cold Atlantic sea swept him from the deck.

The boys survived and became known as the Titanic orphans. The body of their father was found by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett, and he was buried under the name of Louis Hoffman in a Jewish cemetery in Halifax.

The boys did not speak English, were lost, frightened, confused, and placed in a private New York home by the Children’s Aid Society.  They became celebrities overnight – nothing reflected the tragedy of the ship’s sinking more than the fear and sadness in their little faces – and their photographs began appearing in newspapers around the world.

Their mother had no idea what had happened to them or where they had gone. Then one morning, she stared down at the front page of the newspaper and saw her boys staring back. The photograph was black, white, and grainy.  It made little difference. She would have recognized them anywhere.

The White Star Line, who owned the Titanic, brought her to America so she could once again be reunited with her sons.

“Papa said to tell you he loved you,” the older boy said.

She nodded.

“He’s gone,” the boy said.

She nodded.

“Will we see him again?” the boy asked.

“No,” she said, and that was the last thing she ever said about Michael Navratil. She remained bitter to the bitter end.

Nothing new. It happened all the time. Not even a curious juxtaposition of love, hate, fate, and misfortune could make it any different.

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