Sunday, September 30, 2007

Prompt 4.1 If I should die before I wake..../Writers Muses

Vukovar 1991...

"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep, if I should die..." Kneeling next to his young daughter as she recited her prayers, Luka found his attention wandering as the sound of mortars began outside. How close would they come tonight?

"Tata, you're not listening." Jasna tugged at his sleeve, forcing him back into the room with her.

"I'm sorry, baby, go on." He brushed his hand over her hair, before folding them in front of him.

"If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Mama, and Tata, and Marko...Amen." She turned her dark eyes to her father as she finished, the look of worry on her face meant for one much older.

"Amen." Luka echoed her response before sitting back and pulling her onto his lap.

"What's wrong, Jasna?" As he held her it was impossible to ignore the tremble that ran through her each time an explosion sounded outside.

"I don't want God to take me yet." The five year old struggled to hold back the tears that seemed ready to burst forth at any moment.

"Oh, baby, God isn't going to take you." Luka pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly as he tried to find the words he needed to reassure her of her safety even as he knew it was something he had no control over.

"It's just a prayer, baby, Tata will keep you safe." He tightened his hold, rocking her as her tears broke, then continued to hold her with his cheek pressed against her hair, whispering the words over and over until she finally fell asleep.

"Tata will keep you safe." He could only hope that it would be a promise he could keep for her.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

172.1 Treat your mind like a bad neighborhood - don't go there alone. Anonymous/RotM

How many times would he be forced to endure it?

Luka moaned in his sleep as the dream began to unfold, the imagery growing somehow darker each time he was forced to relive it. Shifting restlessly, he pushed the comforter aside, hearing Joe's cries through the door as Curtis Ames followed him out of the apartment. What if he never saw Joe again? What if his last words to Abby were ones he had spoken in anger? He should know what happened next, he'd already experienced this, but somehow, he was left wondering, the answers dangling in the mist, just out of his reach.

The fear rose steadily as his memories of the night unraveled, from the conversation in Ames' car which had ended in anger with the man slamming his pistol against Luka's jaw. The pain so real, that he was unable to stop himself from crying out in his sleep, his hand cradling his face as if he expected to find it once again bloody and bruised.

Oh, God, his breathing grew shaky as they neared the house, he knew something terrible was coming, if only he could remember what it was. They climbed the steps of the porch, and forced the door open only to be hit with a waft of stale air which reeked of mold and disuse. Luka began to fight against it in his sleep, his moans loud enough that they would have woke Abby had she been there beside him.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl and he no longer heard the words that Curtis Ames spoke, and then it was time. Oh, God, he didn't want to do it...the fear, so strong he could taste it now, the gunshot so loud and he had no choice but to comply. The cold metal against his hand, tighter and tighter...

His scream pierced the darkness of the bedroom and suddenly Abby was there, pulling him close, easing him somehow to consciousness as he cradled the hand that in his mind was newly crushed. His tears dampened her shirt as she held him, whispering words meant to soothe and reassure, words that she hoped would one day allow him to forget. If only he could...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Prompt 197. Is there anyone in your life who you feel is wise?/Theatrical Muse Challenge

I'm not sure what I should be feeling in these moments, the thought that my father could be dying is something I've always known I would have to prepare myself for, but I never expected it so soon.  Why now?  Why couldn't he be allowed to share in the happiness that has finally found it's way to me after so many years of sadness? Why couldn't he be given a chance to spend time with the grandson he was sure he would never know.

I don't know what I will do without my Father's influence in my life, my Tata,I know I wouldn't have made it to where I am now without him.  From the time my brother Niko and I were old enough to be on our own he's always been there for us, imparting his wisdom, offering advice, allowing us to test our boundaries and sometimes comforting us as we dealt with the consequences of our actions when we failed to heed his warnings.

As we became men the advice he offered was so very different, but none the less wise, and while we might not always have agreed with it, we could never fault him his sincerity.  Even after so many years I still remember the words he offered as first Niko, then I entered the military, the advice that was given on the day I wed, and the comfort he struggled to find for me when he learned of the loss of Danijela and my children.

I need my Tata to hold on, if not for Niko and myself, then for my son Joe.  I want him to grow up knowing his Djed, learning from him as my brother and I did.  If that makes me selfish then I'll accept the consequences of that, but I'm just not ready to let him go, not when I know there is still so much he can teach us.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Prompt 29B: Cemetery Picture/Canon Muses

Josip Kovac had been standing by the side of the road since first light despite the danger of it. Today was the day his youngest son would return and nothing would prevent him from being there to meet his bus. It had been almost three years since he had been home, and so much had changed since then, it may as well have been a lifetime ago.

As he heard the sound of an engine coming up the road Josip stepped onto the pavement for a better view, if only he knew what to expect. When Luka and Danijela had left for Vukovar they had such high hopes for what their future held. They had Jasna, their first born, Luka was entering into his residency, and now, all of that was gone.

As he spotted the bus a smile reached Josip's face, and he moved quickly onto the shoulder. As happy as he might be to have his son home, he couldn't forget that the young man was still bound to be grieving his losses. He forced the smile down as the bus came to a stop, and he readied himself for the first sight of his son. If only he knew what to expect.

The waiting had to be the most difficult minutes of his life, and as each person came through the doorway and he discovered they were someone other than his son he felt his stomach seize, what it he wasn't even here? He'd no sooner allowed the concern to surface when the fear was vanquished, Luka appeared in the doorway, far thinner than when he'd left, but finally home. He made his way to the bottom of the steps, and as his son reached the ground he pulled him close, folding him into the hug he wished he could have offered all those months before.

"I'm sorry, Luka, so sorry." He whispered the words in his son's ear as he rubbed his hand over his too thin back.

"I'm glad you're home though, and we'll get through this, I promise." After kissing him, Josip reluctantly broke his hold.

"I'll get your bag, you wait here." The older man quickly retrieved the only bag left on the side of the road, and for the first time took in his son's appearance. He was so thin, but there was more to it then that, he seemed lost...or if not lost, defeated, it was a look that no father wants to ever see in their child.

"Let's go home, Luka." Josip touched his son's arm lightly as he returned to his side.

"Can we go by the cemetery?" The words were the first Luka had spoke and they came so quietly that his father almost didn't hear them over the other sounds as they walked.

"Are you sure you don't want to go home and rest first, we could go later today?" The elder Kovac hadn't been able to ignore his son's increasing limp as they walked, but even as he tried to dissuade him he saw something in his face that told him there would be no delaying the visit.

"You're right, Luka, we should go now." He squeezed his son's shoulder before lapsing into silence, whatever he needed to get through this he would do it.

"Does it ever stop hurting, Tata?" The question came so quietly that he almost didn't hear it.

"Yes, one day, Luka, it's just going to take time." He slid his arm around his son's shoulder and pulled him close for a moment. The rest of the walk was one done in silence, both men lost in thoughts of those they had lost, wives, mothers...their losses still grieved, no matter how recent their parting.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

2.3. Write about a Ceremony /Writers Muses

It was so cold that day.  At first I thought it was because I felt so numb, so alone, how could I possibly feel anything else?  Standing graveside in that cemetery I found myself wishing that some sniper would choose that moment to target me, what did I have to live for? My life stood before me in those three white coffins, and nothing anyone could say to me could convince me that I wanted to be anywhere other than right there with them.  It seemed only appropriate that there was no sunlight that day, it was almost as if the sun itself was mourning their losses. It snowed that day, icy tears carried on frozen winds, cutting into us as if they were tiny daggers, but only to wound us, not to kill.

The white coffins were so stark on that grey day, the only color the little tribute to each occupant that lay on top of them, roses for Danijela, a doll for Jasna, and a teddybear for my baby boy, Marko.  It seemed cruel somehow to offer toys to my children, knowing that they would never again know the joy of playing with them, knowing that I would never again hear their laughter.

It was my choice to stand alone that day, it's a decision Danijela's parents never forgave me for, one my own family never fully understood. Maybe I was being selfish, but, how could I risk any of their lives by asking them to come to Vukovar, how could I take the chance of anyone else dying because of the choices I made?

The regrets are ones I still live with even after all these years, ones I revisit on the anniversaries of their deaths, ones that cost me any hope of a continued relationship with Danijela's family. They never forgave me the choices I made, never forgave me for stealing away the life of their youngest daughter, and the grandchildren they never knew.  I couldn't know this though on that day, all I knew was that the future we had so looked forward to now was sealed tight in those three white coffins before me.

I wish I could tell you that the Priest said all the right things that day, but, in truth his words were lost to me, my grief so great that all I heard were the thoughts swirling around in my own head.  And if I thought those moments were bad, they were only made worse when it came time to lower the coffins in the ground and I knew that my wife and my babies would forever beburied beneath mounds of earth.  As irrational as it seems, as long as those coffins are standing in front of you can tell yourself there are hopes for a miracle, that somehow God can undo what has happened.  Not so once those coffins are placed in the ground, as they disappeared from view, any hopes I might have had for it to be a dream were finally lost, it wasn't a dream.

I can't tell you how long I stood there after the Priest and those who had laid my family into the ground left, it wasn't like time had any meaning anymore. In my eyes, my life was over, everything that made me who I was had died, and all I wanted was to join them.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Prompt 196. You’ve been granted one wish/Theatrical Muse Challenge

Standing in that operating room watching them work on Joe, I felt so helpless. I remember praying, or trying to pray, asking God not to take yet another child away from me, while at the same time we had the Priest there to christen him, just in case. I'm a doctor, I became a doctor to help people, and yet, then, when my infant son most needed my help all I could do was stand by and do nothing.

It's not even that I don't trust those working on him, I know they're doing everything they can.  It's just, I've been here before, well, not exactly here, but, with Jasna, I know I did everything I could and it still wasn't enough to save her or Danijela.  Why would God ask this of me yet again, why would he ask this of Abby, knowing that there will never be another child for her?  What happened to the loving god that is supposed to exist, where has he gone?

Where is the miracle for us? The genie to grant us the wish that will make everything okay? I want to believe, but all I can think about is all that can go wrong. I'm so afraid that after so long you've given us this wonderful gift only to snatch him away before we even get a chance to know him.  Please, I beg of you, I'll never ask for anything again, if only you spare his life, let him have a chance to live. Anything you want, all you have to do is ask.

The truth is...I just don't know that I can handle losing another child...please don't ask it of me.



Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Prompt 25A: How forgiving are you? /Canon Muses

I wish I could say I was one of those people who "forgive and forget," but I'm not. I think those very same things that allowed me to fall in love with Danijela at first sight, that made it impossible for me to walk away from the guilt over her and our children's deaths, are also what make it so difficult for me to let things go. 

I think about the first time that Abby and I were together and the things we said to each other on the night we broke up.  The words we hurled at each other that night were meant to sting just as much as any slap to the face would have.  I think about the weeks and months after that night, the way we tip-toed around each other and how difficult it was for both of us to apologize. 

I'd like to say I learned from the mistakes I made in my early years, but I don't know that I did, Curtis Ames has been the proof of that.  Even knowing he is gone and no longer able to hurt me or my family I still find myself unable to forgive him for what he put my wife and son through on that night. I think I can live with what he did to me only because it was my decision to go with him, he didn't force me, I chose to go to save my wife and son.  Do I forgive him, I don't know, but I can live with it, I have to, what other choice do I have?



Prompt 26A:Do you protect someone? Why do you see yourself as their protector?/Canon Muses

There are some things you do without thought, protecting those you love is one of them.  I remember as a child being told to look out for my brother and having heard him being told to look out for me. Whenever we went anywhere with friends it was the same thing, it was just the way things were done.

When it came time for me to marry it was there in our vows, to love, honor, and protect, but, I failed them.  My wife, my two children, when they really needed me to be there for them I wasn't and by the time I did get there I was too late.

From our very first date the instinct to protect Abby was there.  When that mugger attacked us, I didn't even think about the danger to myself, all that mattered was that she was safe.  I don't even think I knew what I was doing at the time I was reacting to his attacking us, it was almost like I was outside myself, and if Abby hadn't have stopped me I know I would have killed him then and there.  As it was he died anyway and the realization that I was capable of that kind of violence was something I didn't know I was capable of.

I wish I could say it was the only time my anger got away from me, but, it wasn't.  When Abby was attacked by her neighbor, I went to him, it didn't matter that he was in a bar full of witnesses.  All that mattered was that he knew I wouldn't hesitate to kill him if he touched Abby again.

Most recently I was willing to walk away from both Abby and our young son with a former patient of mine who had been holding them at gunpoint.  I knew I stood a very good chance of never seeing either one of them again if I went with him.  I also knew that if I went with him, he couldn't hurt them. They would be safe, and that was the only thing that mattered to me. There was never a point in that entire situation that I stopped to think about the value of my own life in anything, and I can't remember when I stopped placing a value on my own life.  When did everybody else become more important then I was in my eye?

In the end, I was lucky, for whatever reason Curtis Ames chose to spare my life while taking his own, but, not before making me see that I could very easily become him if I'm not careful.  It's not something I'm proud of.

I think I'll always see myself as a protector to my family, I think it's part of being a husband and a father, but, I no longer think it has to be at a choice of them or me.  I'm not saying the old Luka will never surface again, but, I'd like to think I am more in control of him now, for the sake of my family, I hope so.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Prompt 195: What makes a hero? What makes a villain?/Theatrical Muse Challenge

When we're young it's easy to tell the heroes from the villains.  If we are governed by our faith, we're taught that living by the Ten Commandments will assure us a place in Heaven, while going against them will lead us to Hell. It only follows then that Heaven is populated by heroes, while Hell is filled by those who certainly must be the villains. If only it could remain so clear-cut, but it doesn't and as we move through life, that line begins to blur in some people's minds.

Having lived through a war, I have to wonder who judged villain from hero.  Did the sniper sitting alone on some rooftop, taking aim on those queuing for water, see himself as a hero?  What of those who forced sons and husbands to leave their homes only to end their lives at the edge of some ditch?  Did they go to sleep at day's end thinking themselves heroes to their cause?  What of those who roamed the halls of the Vukovar hospital, killing patients and doctors alike?  What kind of hero did that make them in the eyes of those who stood beside them?

What then of the men who tore Chance's mother from her arms, only to repeatedly rape her within earshot of the young girl?  Surely to she and I they were clearly villains, but how did they see themselves? How could either of us miss their bravado as they drug the battered and bloodied woman from the tent and reunited her with her daughter.  How could we ignore  the way they laughed and seemed to congratulate each other for what they had just done.  When they one by one shot those kneeling alongside me I know they didn't see themselves as villains, but did that make them any less one? Whose obligation is it to judge them?

In the end maybe it is our own conscience that has to be the final determining factor in who is called a hero and who is determined a villain. How can it be anyone else, when it is we, the survivors who are the ones who must live with the results of it?

If only we could do back to the heroes and villains of our childhoods...


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Prompt 1.2: Write about an unanswered prayer or un-granted wish/Writer's Muses

I was raised Catholic as was my first wife, faith played a large part in our lives and in the lives of our families, and I don't think either one of us ever had a reason to doubt that the same would be true in the lives of our children.  If someone had told me that I would one day turn my back on the church and question that very faith I would have thought them insane. But then I could not know there would come a day when I would put my faith to the greatest of tests only to see my prayers go unanswered in the rubble of what had been, our Vukovar apartment.

No one plans for war. I know we certainly didn't. We were so young, we had two small children, we thought we had our entire lives to look forward to. I don't think any of us realized how quickly things could change.  We talked about what we should do, I was just starting my residency and Danijela refused to take the children and leave the City without me, then, by the time we realized how bad it was going to get it was too late.

As much as I never want to relive those final hours I had with my family, they are at the same time scenes that can unexpectedly replay when I least expect them to.  Of all of them, I think my first glimpse of my baby boy were the most difficult, if only because it was clear on seeing him pinned beneath his crib, that he was already gone. I pray none of you never have to know that pain, or the worse one of leaving your child that way as you tend to those still alive.

Yes, despite the death and destruction around us, my wife and daughter were still alive, and it was for them that I offered my prayers as I struggled to keep them that way.  For hours I put the skills I had been trained in to use, breathing for my daughter as I did CPR on her, while somehow finding the strength to reassure my injured wife, and call for help.  Hour after hour I prayed for someone to come, I prayed for the strength to keep going when I felt my stamina fading, and in the end I simply prayed for him to allow them to live. He ignored me, or so I thought, and in the end first my wife, then my daughter joined my son in death.  In my mind, my God and my faith in him would be buried with with my family, for the first time in my life, I truly felt alone.



September Prompt: 005. What do you care about most? /Creative Muses

I don't even have to think about my answer, it's there instantly, and I know without question I would give my life to ensure it's safety. The truth is, I almost did.

I never realized how important family was when I was growing up, it was just something I took for granted.  What I mean is, my parents were always there for me, but so were every other kids, and while we were never rich, we were happy, and my brother and I always knew we were loved. We still do.

When it came time for me to think about starting my own family I knew I wanted to have what my parents had, but, I knew too that I wanted more for us.  I didn't want my family to know hardship, I didn't want them to know sadness or pain, and in my innocence I thought I could somehow protect them from that. I was wrong.

It took me fifteen years to finally allow myself to believe that I was worthy of having again the happiness and love I had lost all those years ago.  Fifteen years to trust the feelings I had been denying were real.  Fifteen years to re-open those parts of who I am that I had buried with my family in that Vukovar cemetery.

I can't undo the terrible things I said to Abby that night we broke up, and even though I apologized for them I will always carry the guilt of knowing I was, and maybe still am,  capable of saying such things to someone I claimed to love.  Abby has said she forgives me for that night, and I've said the same to her for the words she hurled at me.  We wanted to hurt each other that night, and the words we chose did just that, but, never again. 

Curtis Ames proved to me that I wouldn't hesitate to give my life up for Abby and Joe, as much as I loved them, as hard as it would be to walk away, if it meant they were safe, I could do that for them.  I don't think I could give them any greater love than that.





Wednesday, September 5, 2007

September Prompt: 005. Pain.

A cry of pain from Luka jarred both he and Abby into consciousness, and almost immediately was followed by the sound of their son Joe's cries as his sleep was interrupted as well.  Pulling his injured right hand close to his body and cradling it with his left, Kovac was oblivious to the chaos he had created, consumed instead by the agony caused by his having inadvertently rolled over onto his hand while sleeping.

"Oh, Luka..."Abby could only imagine the pain he was in, but,after leaning over to give him a kiss she reluctantly pushed her covers aside in preparation of seeing to their still crying baby.

"I need to go see to Joe, I'll bring your pain meds when I come back." If she expected a response from him of more than the low moan that he had subsided into she was disappointed, and she almost wondered if he had heard her at all.

She hated Curtis Ames for what he had done, not just to Luka, but to their family.  He had terrorized them, threatened their baby, luckily he was young, that night would never haunt his sleep like it did hers and Lukas.  But, those were only the emotional wounds, the damage to her husband's hand was something else.  The surgery could only do so much, and now, all they could do was wait to see how successful it was.


Saturday, September 1, 2007

Prompt 193 Forest and Creek/Theatrical Muse

He could feel each breath seeming to shred his lungs as he ran, but he couldn't stop, not with knowing he had to put as much distance between the soldiers and himself as he could while daylight held. It didn't matter that he couldn't hear the sound of them anymore, it didn't matter that the blood from their bullet wound drenched his pant-leg, all that mattered was was putting as much space between himself and Vukovar and the dangers the city still held.

As he heard the sound of the stream, it was thirst that finally forced him to stop. He wouldn't stay for long, he would just quench his thirst. With a groan he eased himself to the ground, the wound in his leg sending a stab of pain as if he needed a reminder that he'd done nothing for it. Stretching his leg out he scooped a handful of water up and dribbled it over the exposed wound on the front of his thigh.

There was a part of him that was ready to give up. It was that same part that had been willing to put his life in danger so many times since his family had died, that he no longer bothered with trying to keep count. This time though there was a difference, this time he had promised someone he would survive.

"You should get out of the City while you still can..." Sitting on the banks of the stream, the Chief's words came back as clearly as if he had only just spoken them and as he stared down into the water he found the entire conversation returning to him as if he were watching a movie playing out before him.

"I can't leave them.." He sipped at the tepid liquid that had replaced the coffee they could no longer come by.

" are alive..they are are still young..go while you can." The man persisted..then turned at the sound of yelling in the halls which caused both men to hurriedly rise...

"They're coming...they're coming..the Serbs..." An orderly almost knocked them down as he made his way through the halls, alerting those still in the hospital.

"Luka..go..there is no time to are young..if they find you they will kill you." The older man pushed him.

"I can't leave you.."He protested...but the man shook his head..

"I have to stay..for the patients..I'm old..I'll be hurry..go to the basement..and out that way..go, before you are seen..go!" He practically pushed Luka down the hall towards the stairs.

"Luka..if you hear anyone..find a place and our voice, promise me?" He grasped his student's shoulder's tightly, fixing his eyes on the younger man until he nodded.

"I promise..." As he got his answer, the elderly doctor kissed Luka's cheeks then released him.

"Hurry now, and be careful." Reluctantly Luka opened the door, and moved to join the others who were already filling the halls, making their way down the stairwells to what they hoped might be their escape.

Sniffing back the tears that the memory awakened, Luka leaned forward and splashed water over his face, why had he promised to do something he knew would be so hard for him to uphold? Cupping his hands, he filled them with water, a last drink and he had to move on, he had no choice, a promise was a promise.

Pulling himself to his feet it was impossible to withhold the groan that escaped as he once again put weight on his injured leg. As he once more began to move through the woods, the enormity of the challenge ahead began eating away at his confidence, how could he possibly hope to succeed? He had no idea where he was going, no guarantee that those he might encounter could be trusted, he had no money, no provisions, and to make matters even worse he would somehow have to find what he needed to treat his injuries before infection set in. But, he had made a promise, a promise to speak for those who very likely were no longer alive to speak for themselves, he had no choice, he had to cover as much ground as he could before he lost the daylight.