There are so many things that I want to hold on to, so many moments that I hold in my heart because I have no other way to remember them. How can I possibly choose one over another? How can I say this moment is any more or less important than that?
I look back at those few precious years I shared with Danijela and I treasure each second as if it were a diamond of carats beyond measure. I think of the first time I saw her, the first day we spoke, our first date, the moment I proposed, the day we were wed, and our first night as man and wife. I close my eyes as I call each scene to play and wish for the luxury of a photo album knowing that one no longer exists.
As much as I cherish those memories of Danijela, how do I place them as more important than the news that she was pregnant with our first child? I see the beauty she seems to radiate, her joy at becoming a mother, even as she complains over the size of her belly as it swells. I remember my reaction when I first felt our daughter kick, and the plans we made for her birth as we shared the news with our families. How can I place any of these though as more treasured than that actual moment when we welcomed our daughter Jasna into this world, and I first held her in my hands?
I think back on those first years that Danijela and I were parents, and again I wonder how can I possibly choose one moment? If I had the luxury of sorting through a stack of photographs, could I choose just one from so many? Do I pick her first word, her first step, her first Christmas? But, then again, if I choose one here what does that say of how I see the news of Danijela's pregnancy with our son?
If I had thought we knew joy at awaiting the birth of our first child it seemed only to grow as we counted the months until our second would arrive, and then he was here, our son, Marko. All that we experienced with Jasna seemed at times forgotten as we juggled an infant and a toddler plus my going to medical school and then the move to Vukovar. The years went by so fast and before we knew it they were no longer babies and then there was the war.
Oh God, those are the memories I don't want to remember but I always will. I want to hold onto the last images of them as I left the apartment that final day, their excitement at knowing I was going to the market and with luck there would be the treat of cheese and fresh bread when I came home. I want to remember their smiles and the sound of their voices as they yelled, "Good-bye Tata!" I want to remember how it felt to hold them in my arms, and their kisses before I walked out the door. I want to remember the last time I would tell Danijela not to worry, even though I knew that she would until I returned.
Any and all of these moments I would love to hold onto but, the one that comes back with the most clarity is the one I most want to forget. The one when I return to find my son's lifeless hand reaching for help from beneath the rubble that has buried him alive in his crib. The images of my daughter and wife, barely clinging to life, and the hours that I would spend struggling to keep them alive before losing them both. As much as I want to hold on to the memories of their lives, it always comes back to the memory of those three caskets sitting in that snowy cemetery. No matter how many years pass, nothing can change the fact that I failed them, I lived and they died, all because I went for bread and cheese. I left them home where I thought it was safe, and I was wrong.