Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
I wish I could say this has never come up, but, if I did it would be a lie. The truth is, we came too close, close enough that I had to move out of the house for a period of time in order to get a better perspective on how I felt about the situation. I suppose, in all fairness, I should go back to the beginning of things because the blame can't fully be laid on one of us over the other.
Things started shortly after Abby and I were married, we were planning where we wanted to go for our Honeymoon when I received a phonecall from my brother in Croatia. Niko and I had not been on speaking terms since I'd made the decision to leave Croatia for the United States so I knew immediately that something was wrong, and it was. Our father has always been the strength of our family, when our mother died, during the war when I lost my family, and in the time after. As much as I knew the time would come, I still wasn't prepared to get the call saying his health was failing, but there it was. Tata, my father had been diagnosed with cancer, I had to go to him.
When I made the decision to leave, I didn't know how long I'd be gone. In a perfect world I would have liked to have had my wife and son with me, Tata had never met Abby, he'd never had a chance to hold his grandson. Unfortunately, we weren't expecting to travel out of the country so soon, and we still didn't have a passport for Joe, we decided I'd go alone. I thought I'd go there, find out how my father was doing, and convince him to come back to Chicago with me for treatment. I'd forgotten how stubborn he was.
My father refused to leave his home. He refused to leave his friends. My father had spent his entire life there and nothing I could say could convince him to leave. I had no choice but to stay as we first went through the beginning of his treatments, then a worsening of his condition, by the time a surgery robbed him of the ability to walk, I had been there almost six months.
I never wanted to be away from Abby and Joe that long, I certainly didn't plan for it to happen, and I understood how difficult it was for Abby to juggle her work at the hospital and Joe's care even with the nanny. I didn't realize at the time that the stress of my being away and the extra pressures were going to cause her to relapse on her drinking, and it was that relapse that caused the additional problem.
We reached a point with my father's condition where it seemed that his condition had stabilized and I thought it would be safe for me to fly home for a short visit. In the time that I'd been in Croatia I had managed too to rebuild my relationship with my brother and we thought it would be a nice surprise for Abby if he flew back with me to meet her and Joe. Unfortunately the reception wasn't what we'd expected, and Abby was angry at my bringing him back without talking to her first. We'd only been there a couple of days when the call came that our father had died, and at the same time Abby told me that she'd started drinking again. I wasn't as supportive as I should have been, I'll admit to that, but, I had to go back to Croatia to bury my father and settle his affairs. We decided that Joe would go with me, and she would go into rehab, and when she finished she'd fly over and join us. I never realized at the time that she was hiding a secret far worse then the fact that she'd begun drinking again, far worse than the fact that she had put Joe's life in danger by driving with him in the car while drunk. It was only when Abby arrived in Croatia that she broke the news to me that she'd slept with her boss during one of her drunken binges.
When we returned to Chicago things weren't the same between us. It wasn't just that I no longer had my job at County, though that was part of it. I couldn't get past the fact that she'd betrayed our vows, and I couldn't wake up every day and face her until I came to terms with what I was feeling, I decided I needed some time and space to work things out, so, I got an apartment and moved out.
I found a new job at a hospice, it was a huge change from working in the ER, but, I think it allowed me a chance to really come to terms with my father's death. Abby and I remained friendly and Joe shared time between both apartments during the separation. Eventually I realized that I still loved Abby and despite what had happened I was willing to try and forgive her, to do that though we both decided would require that we make a change. As hard as it would be for both of us, Abby and I decided to leave Chicago. We decided that a new city, new jobs, new friends, would allow us to fully put what had happened behind us and move forward. It's not easy, but, for Joe, and for our relationship we have to do this. I love my wife, and I love my son, and if this is what it takes to salvage our lives then this is what we have to do. I can only hope that it works because I don't know if I can survive losing another family.
Monday, December 29, 2008
"Want me to give him his bath?" Luka glanced up from where he sat on the couch as Abby started gathering Joe's toys and dropping them into a nearby basket.
"No, that's okay, I've got him, you look like you could use the rest anyway." The day had been long for both of them, but, more so for Luka who had been forced to pull an early morning shirt due to his lack of seniority at the Boston Hospice.
"It hasn't been too bad, he's more worn out then I am." gesturing to where Joe lay on the floor, Abby couldn't help but laugh. Not quite ready to admit to being ready to quit, the toddler lay on his side by the Christmas tree, his head resting on one arm as he drove one of his new cars around in front of him.
"It's been a good day, hasn't it?" Without thinking he patted the spot on the couch beside him, inviting her to join him.
"Yes, it has." Seeing how contented Joe was, and knowing how close they had come to losing everything because of her mistakes while he'd been gone, Abby hesitated only a moment before taking the seat beside him.
"We made the right decision, didn't we, leaving everything, everyone we knew to start fresh?" Luka slid his arm around his wife, drawing her closer with the question.
"I think so." Abby bit her lower lip, considering for a moment if she wanted to say more, or simply to let him talk. Finally, as the decision was made, she took one of his hands before she laced her fingers with his .
"Luka, can I ask you something?" Instead of looking into his face as she spoke, her gaze remained on Joe.
"Sure, what is it?" Whether he was picking up something in the tone of her voice, or her manner, Luka wasn't sure, but, he found himself inwardly bracing himself even as he gave her permission to continue.
"I'm just curious about something, and if you'd rather not talk about this, I'll understand." She wasn't sure why she gave him a final chance to withdraw his permission, though if she had to come up with a reason she would probably attribute it to the rocky ground their relationship was setting on at the moment. Did she dare jeopardize the gains they'd been making by digging into things that really weren't her concern?
"Abby, it okay." Luka reached over to touch his wife's chin with his free hand, bringing her head up so that she had no choice but to look at him.
"It's okay, really." Once he had her attention he dropped his hand to cover the other.
"Luka, you never talk about your children with Danijela, and maybe it's none of my business, I just wondered." Abby's words trailed off as she struggled for the best way to say what was on her mind. When he showed no sign of stopping her, she continued.
"I was just wondering, when you look at Joe, does he remind you of Marko? Does he look like him, or have the same personality?" The longer she spoke the harder it became to look at him and by the time she finished her eyes were back on their hands.
"Joe, come to Tata." Luka wasn't quite sure why he called his son to him. Abby's questions were not ones he hadn't asked himself, in fact he had asked himself far tougher ones, and there would likely be many more as the boy grew into manhood. Joe had already passed his first milestone, and while he hadn't said anything to Abby about it, it had felt like a weight had been lifted from him when Joe had moved from 18 to 19 months of age. There would be yet another of course, and he knew the fear of history repeating itself would hang over their heads until Joe successfully marked his 6th birthday.
"Up, Tata." At Luka's invitation, Joe scrambled to his feet, grabbing a couple of the cars he'd been playing with before joining them at the couch. Once he was lifted up, he wasted no time in crawling onto his father's lap.
"Those are kind of tough, physically, they don't look anything alike. Danijela was dark like I am, so both of our children were dark as well." With his son settled, Luka slid his arm around him and kissed the top of his head. As he forced his thoughts back to his wife's question he idly ran his fingers through the boy's hair.
"Marko was just starting to walk, and he was talking very little, but, he had no trouble making known what he wanted." As the memories of the small boy who lost his life so many years before were unburied, Luka's voice grew quieter.
"He had one of those smiles that filled his face, and a way of laughing, it was almost like it filled him up and then over-flowed, he'd start giggling and you couldn't help but join him." The memory instantly brought an image of the small boy to his thoughts.
"Tata, cry." It wasn't until Joe touched his cheek that he realized that tears had followed it and he swiped at the wetness before kissing his son on the top of his head.
"It's okay, Joe, Tata was just thinking about something." He glanced over to Abby and offered her an apologetic smile.
"I guess it's a little harder then I thought." He wiped again at his eyes before gathering Joe into a hug as the toddler turned fully, clearly bothered by what he was seeing.
"Luka, we can do this later." Abby no sooner started to speak then she was interrupted by Joe.
"No cry, Tata, no cry." Luka tightened his embrace on his son, then kissed him again before addressing Abby.
"I want to tell you about him, but, you're right, maybe later is better. Thank you, Abby." Leaning toward her he gave her a kiss before boosting Joe up to his shoulder.
"How about I give Joe his bath, then we'll read him his story and we can talk about Marko after he's gone to bed, is that all right?" As he settled on his father's shoulder, Joe slid his arms around the man's neck.
"Go, bed?" The question came quietly, more for Luka then Abby.
"Yeah, after your bath." Luka kissed Joe again as he waited for Abby's response.
"That's fine, I'll go start the water, bring him up when you're ready." Abby leaned over and gave first Joe, then Luka a kiss before standing.
"I'll get his pajamas too, see you in a few minutes, and thank you, Luka." The image of Luka and Joe was one of those she knew would stay with her for a long time, he was meant to be a father. If she had ever had any doubt of it, she only need watch him with his son to know that of all the things he was, this was what he was most meant to be, more then a doctor, more then a husband. She could only imagine how losing his first two children must have affected him, and while Joe could never replace them, he had given him that gift of fatherhood back again. In a way, Joe had given him his life back. Who would have thought that good things could have come in such a small package?
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Christmas in Boston
As he sat in the darkness of the livingroom, staring at the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, Luka found his thoughts drifting.
For so long the coming of the holiday season had been a time that he had dreaded. It wasn't just because their approach followed so closely on the heels of the anniversary of Danijela and the children's deaths, though he knew that likely was part of it. For so long he had held those few brief years that Danijela and he had shared as a marker, a marker that in his mind nothing would ever again equal. All of the memories of those short years they'd shared together he'd cherished for so long, capturing each fragment as a snapshot in his mind, that he only needed to close his eyes to see again. It didn't matter how many years had passed, they were there as a reminder of what he had lost, the life he was sure he would never again find.
He'd tried of course, tried only to fail. In those early years he'd foolishly thought he could reclaim the feeling by going home to the things that used to be safe. Abandoning Vukovar and then the camp that became his home in the months after it fell, he'd returned to live with Tata. He'd somehow thought that if he were with him and Niko, surrounded by the familiarity of traditions he'd grown up with he'd find again what he'd lost, but, it was too soon and the pain was too great. There were far too many reminders of Danijela there, too many memories of Jasna's smile, and later her excitement as she discovered all the holidays had to offer. There were memories too of Marko, but far too few, as he lost his life before he'd even had a chance to live it. As difficult as it was to leave Croatia and those he would leave behind, it would have been even more painful to stay. He had no choice, he said his good-byes and hoped one day Tata would understand why he had to go.
It wasn't until he found his way to Chicago that he gave myself permission to start living again and even then it wasn't intentional. He went into County expecting it to be like every other hospital he'd picked up shifts at, another place to escape his past, another place to hide, and then he met Carol. Even now he couldn't say he thought about there ever being anyone else in his life but Danijela until he met her. Looking back on that time now, it was clear he'd never seen what developed between us as anything more than a friendship until it was too late. In Carol he'd found someone willing to listen as he relived the parts of his life that were lost to him, and he liked to think his presence in her life filled a need she had. She allowed him to laugh again, and through her daughters he was given the gift of fatherhood even if it was only for an hour or two a day. Sharing that first Christmas with her and the twins allowed him to believe that maybe Tata had been right, but, then she was gone and he was back where he started, or so he thought.
His thoughts were brought back to the present as Joe's laugh drifted down the stairs. Listening more carefully he heard the splash of the bathwater, then the give and take of first Abby's, then Joe's voices as they talked about the evening to come. This would be his son's first Midnight Mass, and while Abby wasn't Catholic herself, she had agreed to share this moment with them. Turning back to the tree, he allowed the lights to draw him back into his thoughts...
He never could have predicted what came next, Abby was so different from Danijela, so different from Carol, and maybe he'd needed that. He couldn't help wondering if things might have turned out differently had they not been attacked by that mugger on that first date. He had no doubt that his actions that night changed him, they had to, He had another man's blood on his hands, he took someone's life to protect theirs, to protect Abby. He'd replayed that night so many times and he'd wished it could have ended differently, but, the fact remains, he'd killed him, and his death forever bound them together. He wanted things between Abby and him to work, but, the truth was, he wasn't ready for a relationship, she was right, He was married to a ghost, and until he could come to terms with his past he couldn't begin to think of a future with anyone else.
It was easy to see his mistakes now, he couldn't then and because of that his life had begun to spiral out of control. It wasn't enough that he became someone that even he no longer recognized, he became someone that he was ashamed of. He was out of control, in every sense of the word and he'd reached the point where his actions began to affect those around him. If there was any bright spot in all of those months of darkness, it was seeing Abby happy, because, as hard as it was knowing they'd had their differences, it couldn't change the fact that he still had feelings for her. He was sure that was why he bought the snowglobe that year, there was something about the world inside of it that gave him hope and there'd been so little of it during that time. Abby wouldn't know it came from him until much later, but he would know, and it gave him something to cling to in the weeks and months that followed.
When he'd left for the Congo, he honestly believed he had gone as low as he could go in his life. Everything he had worked for, everything he had believed, he'd betrayed it all. If he were to look back on the man he was then, it wasn't just that he didn't recognize myself in what he'd become, it was how much he hated him. While he hadn't even admitted it to himself, he welcomed the threat of danger he was going to face, and went so far as to taunt it, without even caring about the consequences. In his mind, he had nothing to lose, he had already lost everything and he was ready to die. If only he could say he knew the moment that everything changed, but, he didn't. It might have been when Patrique sacrificed his life to save his, it could have been when Sakima risked the lives of both herself and her daughter. He honestly didn't remember much about those last days, those last weeks. There was no question that he was there, or that it changed him. It was only that he owed far too many people to begin to thank them all.
Could he ever have imagined that he would be where he now was? The question lingered as he climbed to his feet, Joe's laughter drifting down the stairs, too much of a draw to avoid any longer.
"What are you doing Joe?" The words were out of his mouth before he reached the stairs, and it took barely a moment more for the toddler's answering squeal of delight to reach him.
"Tata...Tata! Escaping his mother's hold as she tried to finish dressing him, Joe darted to the stairs, only to wrap himself around his father's legs as the man reached the landing.
"Joe, come back here." Abby appeared in the doorway, the boy's coat and tie in her hand.
"You're not helping you know?" She gave Luka a look of exasperation as he picked their son up.
"We've got time yet, but, if you need to finish getting ready, I'll take over here." Shifting Joe to his hip, he extended his hand for the boy's coat and tie, then, as Abby came close, he leaned in to kiss her.
"You smell nice." He gave her a smile as he straightened again.
"I smell like bubble bath thanks to your son's joy of splashing." The smile on her face betrayed the anger in her words.
"Well, I like it. I'll take him downstairs with me. You want to go down and see the tree, Joe?" Ducking Abby's answering swat, he turned his attention to his son as he carried him down the stairs.
"Tree." As he caught sight of the blinking lights Joe pointed to it, then attempted to wriggle free of his father's hold. "Joe, down, Tata."
"Okay, but, let's finish getting you dressed." Setting the almost 3 year old on the ground in front of him, he knelt so he was close to his eye level.
"Stand still now so Tata can do this." As he caught his son's eye, Luka clipped a red and green striped tie to his shirt, then helped him into a red double breasted suitcoat.
"Go bye-bye?" Joe pointed to the door as Luka finished and released him.
"Pretty soon, we're waiting for Mama. Do you want to get your book while we wait?" He pointed to a chunky book that sat on the coffeetable.
"Book." Joe offered the word as confirmation before picking up the treasured picturebook, but, stopped short of carrying it back to his father as he noticed something new on the table. Almost simultaneously Luka and Joe both seemed to register the appearance of the compass, though the toddler couldn't know the significance of the object. As it caught his attention he let the book drop. though as he went to grab for it, he found his efforts thwarted by his father.
"Mine..." The wail went up as soon as the item disappeared from view, and he moved closer to Luka in an attempt to snatch it away from him.
"No, Joe...it's Mama's."Luka tried first to hide the compass behind his back, then slid it away from view into his pocket, as Joe continued his attempts to get it away from him.
"What's Mama's?" Abby's voice on the stairs announced her arrival, while at the same time providing the distraction Luka needed to move the compass out of his son's reach.
"Mama!" As Joe saw Abby, his interest in the item was forgotten, and he ran to greet her as if it had been hours instead of minutes since he'd last seen her.
"Hey, Joe, did Tata get you all dressed up?" As her son stretched his arms up to her, Abby picked him up before giving him a kiss.
"Are you ready to give Tata your surprise?" Abby leaned her head closer to the boy's to whisper in his ear.
"Santa, Santa...down, Mama." At her son's demand she set his feet back on the floor before going to the bookshelf and retrieving a brightly colored paper bag which she handed to him.
"There you go, Joe, give it to Tata." Abby's smile began before she finished the instructions, as her husband knelt so he was at Joe's eye level it only grew broader. When Luka pulled it from the bag she lost it, they had come so far, been through so much, and now, to experience this moment. It was hard to know if the tears that were wetting her cheeks were ones of joy or ones drawing off the sadness of how close they had come to losing it all. Watching Luka now as he hugged his son, the child's gift in his hand, she was left to wonder, could their life be any more perfect?
Joe's Gift to Luka...
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Give a little love to a child, and you get a great deal back. - John Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive, 1866
It's hard to believe that we finally have Joe home, but, here he is. After all those weeks of worry, of the endless hours spent listening to the hissing and beeping of the monitors and vents in the NICU. I can't stop thinking about all of the times that I kissed him good-bye and wondered if it might be for the last time. Or how many sleepless nights I spent worrying over whether his fate would be the same as Jasna and Marko's? But, here he is, all of my fears were for naught, he's finally home, and he's healthy, and happy, and that's all that matters.
Sitting here, now, in the quiet darkness of the early morning, with him in my arms, it's hard to believe he's real. I've dreamed about moments like this for so long, and now that it's here, it's hard to explain how it makes me feel. I keep thinking I should pinch myself to make sure it's not a dream, but, then he smiles at me, or coos, or he grabs my finger and whatever thoughts were in my head are gone and all that remains behind is my love for him. How can someone so small command so much power over me? But, he does, and I think he always will.
As much as I love Joe, I worry for him. God, please tell me how do I get past my fear for him? I look into his eyes and I can't help but wonder if he knows that as much as I love him, there's a part of me that is still afraid of losing him. I look back on those weeks he spent in the NICU, I look back at his surgery, and I have to force myself to believe that he will never know anything worse then that in his life. I never want Joe to know the sacrifices that Jasna and Marko were forced to make, I never want him to know that kind of hate, I never want him to experience that kind of fear. A father's supposed to protect their children from harm, and while I know what happened to Jasna and Marko wasn't really my fault, I still carry the guilt of having failed them. I don't want Joe to feel like a caged bird, I want him to experience everything life has to offer, but, there will always be that part of me that wants to shelter him, and to keep him safe. Please, God, help me know when to stop, I couldn't bear it if at some point my over protectiveness were to chase him away.
I want to believe that my need to protect Joe will fade as he gets older, as he passes the ages that Marko and Jasna were at their deaths, maybe then I'll be able to finally let them go. As I look at my son's face, and into his eyes, I realize that we have so much to learn from each other, and this time, I know that we'll have a lifetime to do it in. Please God, please don't let me be wrong.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
A Sweet Surprise
"Mama...there's nothing to do." Despite the consequences that she knew would come from her actions, the five year old's voice altered to more of a whine as she gave in to the frustration that had been building for far too long
"Jasna, lower your voice before you wake Tata." Danijela offered the warning to her oldest child with barely a glance up from the laundry she was sorting and folding.
"You've got plenty of things you can do, if you can't figure something out yourself, you can come help me or play with Marko." At the mention of her youngest child, she immediately glanced to where the toddler was sitting on the floor, an assortment of cups scattered around him.
"I don't want to play with Marko, he's a baby. I want to go outside." With her anger peaking her chair very nearly toppled over as she shoved it backward in her haste to vacate it.
"Ou'si'" Marko almost immediately echoed his sister's word, and as a smile spread across his face he abandoned his own play to scramble to his feet so he could follow her.
"Jasna...now look what you've done. You know you can't go outside." Danijela's voice held mixed emotions in it, as angry as she might be at her daughter for fueling things, she understood only too well how hard it must be for the children to be confined to the small apartment day after day. With a sigh she lay the stack of clothing on her lap to the side before rising.
"What's going on?" Danijela had just scooped Marko up, when she heard her husband's sleepy voice over her young son's protesting cries.
"Tata, we want to go outside." Jasna immediately changed her target, and before Luka had even sat up she was climbing onto the bed where he was.
"I'm sorry they woke you, Luka." Danijela offered the apology as she continued with her efforts to calm Marko.
"It's all right." He gave his wife a tired smile before turning his attention to his daughter as she finally settled beside him.
"Tell me what's going on, Beba?" After wiping the last of the sleep from his eyes Luka sat up and slid his arm around her.
"I just want to go outside, Tata, we don't get to do anything anymore." Whether it was because of her closeness to her father, or simply because the anger that she'd seemed to hold had been released, the girl's voice no longer held it's earlier anger.
"Jasna, we've talked about this, you know it's not safe for you to be outside. I wish it was different but, it's not. How about if I get dressed and you can take your jump-rope into the hallway, would that be okay?" As he offered the compromise, Luka idly stroked his daughter's hair.
"It's not the same thing, Tata." Even as she voiced her discontent, the five year old realized that what her father was offering her was likely going to be the only option open to her other then playing in the apartment.
"What do you say, Jasna?" Luka dropped his hand to her shoulder as he asked for her final decision.
"I guess that's okay, but, just me and you, not Marko, right?" In that moment it seemed equally important that her escape from the apartment be something that she alone experience.
"Marko can stay here with Mama, besides, I have a surprise for both of you." Tossing aside the blanket that still covered him, Luka climbed off the bed and went to retrieve a small bag from the pocket of his coat. With the sack in hand, he motioned for Danijela to join the as he returned and took a seat on the side of the bed closest to his daughter.
"Tata, Marko, up." As soon as he got close to his father, the 18 month old's mood brightened.
"What do you have, Tata?" Jasna's curiosity grew as she saw the bag, and by the time he had it open she had almost draped herself over his shoulder to get a better look. As he withdrew a red sucker she elicited a squeal of delight, which was echoed by Marko.
"Let me give this one to your brother, okay?" Pulling the cellophane off he handed the sucker over to the toddler before reaching again in the bag and producing a second one.
"Here you go, Beba." Luka handed the second one to his daughter and wasn't surprised to see that it went immediately into her mouth. Realizing almost as quickly what she'd forgotten, the girl removed it and rose up to kiss her father's cheek.
"Thank you, Tata." She followed the words up with a smile, then, with the sucker back in her mouth, she climbed off the bed and coaxed Marko to follow.
"You're welcome, Beba." With the children now occupied, Danijela moved to the spot her daughter had just left.
"Where in the world did you find sweets?" She found herself trying to steal a peek in the bag as she questioned him, but, as he had with the children, Luka was being equally secretive with her.
"No peeking." The chiding came with one of his quiet laughs and it was only after he'd secured payment of a kiss from her that he revealed the chocolate bar that was her surprise.
"Luka, where did you find it?" Danijela's smile grew as broad as those of the children's when she saw what he'd found. After so many weeks of sacrifice, to have found something like this, she didn't even want to think about what it might have cost him.
"Did you get something for yourself? Take part of this." She'd already begun to section the bar off when her husband stopped her.
"We'll talk about what I want tonight, after the kids are asleep, you just enjoy it, I'm fine." It wasn't until he said them aloud that he realized how much truth the words held, despite all the sacrifices they were living with, in this moment, they were truly happy, and they couldn't ask for more than that.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Ever since I lost my family I've dreaded the approach of the holidays. I'd see the decorations and the displays starting to appear and all they would do was remind me of what I no longer had. How was I supposed to celebrate anything when my children and my wife were gone? Once I left Croatia I made sure that the few times I went back were never close to the holidays because of all the memories I had of my family, those were the most painful to remember.
Just about three years ago all that changed...first with the news that Abby was pregnant and then our marriage. It's funny how much things change when you have a child, a family to share the holidays with. I see everything through different eyes now, maybe because I'm not just seeing them through my own. I watch Joe's face light up as he sees the houses with their twinkling lights, I listen to his laugh as we look at the holiday displays in the store windows. Sometimes if I listen carefully enough I think I can hear two other voices laughing with him, and if I close my eyes, just for an instant I think I can see Jasna and Marko's faces as if they were seeing through his eyes.
I don't dread the holidays anymore, though I admit that there are moments of sadness in them for those who are no longer with me. I don't doubt that this year there might be more of those than with the last, if only because it'll be the first year without Tata. I'll get through it though and I know with each year that passes it'll get easier. I never want to reach the point though that I forget, for those that are gone are as much a part of me as those still here, and I never want to completely lose them.
I wish I could say that Abby and I have been able to plan for all of the things we've been forced to face, but, I can't. I'd be surprised to learn if anyone could. From the first time we were faced with something like that, to the most recent, we can only accept that they've happened and find a way to learn from them, and hope our relationship is strong enough to survive them. It isn't even that some are welcome surprises, which is what I would have considered the news of Abby's pregnancy. We see things so differently though, and as much as I wanted that child, there were several days when I wasn't sure if Abby was going to keep him. At the time I'd told Abby that I would accept whatever decision she made, but, after having him in my life, I wonder now if I would have stayed had she chosen to abort him, and then I realize it's best not to go there.
We're facing the challenges of something completely different now, and I can only hope that we'll survive it as we did Joe's birth. I want to believe it's possible, I know we're doing everything in our powers to make that happen, and that includes both moving and changing jobs. I'm not sure that either of us thought something like this would happen to us, but, who does? Who wakes up and says today I'm going to cheat on my husband? That's what Abby did though, and we can't undo her mistake, all we can do is accept that it happened and try to move forward. We're hoping Boston will allow us to do that. Away from the people and places that offer constant reminders, we're determined to give our marriage another chance, I can only hope that it's not too late.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Looking at how much my son has grown in the last six months makes me realize how much I've missed by being gone so long. It's not just the changes in his size, it's missing his first steps, hearing him say his first real words. In those six months he went from being a little baby to a toddler, and I missed all that came with those changes.
Standing here now on the front porch of my father's house, holding him in my arms, trying to soothe him as he fusses over new teeth that are working their way in, I'd be lying if I said it doesn't bring back memories of days long past. I look at him and it's impossible for me not to make comparisons between Marko and Joe. I know he's older now then Marko was at the time I lost him. Still, I can't help but find myself wondering if my first son would have been more like Joe if he'd had the chance at a normal childhood, instead of one that seemed to revolve around war. If he'd had the freedom to run and play outside, to know something as simple as going to the park, instead of being cooped up in our small apartment in Vukovar, with only the hallway as his playground. Would he have had Joe's sense of humor once he really started talking? Would he and Jasna have argued like Niko and I do, or would they have been inseparable as we were when we were young?
I think back on the times my father spent with Jasna and Marko, the days we spent at the beach before we moved to Vukovar, and it makes me so sad knowing Joe will never know that. He'll never know his grandfather as Jasna and Marko did, he'll never get the chance to sit in his lap as he reads him a story, or hear him sing the songs Niko and I grew up with. It's not fair, for either of them. He waited so many years for me to find someone. No matter how stubborn I was, he refused to give up on me, he knew I would have a family again, even when I didn't. Why couldn't he have held on just a little longer?
"Shhh, Joe, I know they hurt, baby, let Tata put some medicine on." Fishing the tube of Orajel out of his pocket, Luka squeezed a small dab of the gel onto his finger then rubbed it over the gum where his son's molars were starting to come in.
"This is going to make it feel better, let's go inside and get you some Tylenol and some juice, too." Shifting the still fussing boy to his shoulder, he patted his back as they headed inside. The teething process was one that was unavoidable, but, lucky for Joe, he was nearing the end of the cycle, once his molars were in he was done until the baby teeth themselves began dropping out. It was only after his son settled in his highchair and his needs were taken care of that Luka allowed his thoughts to again wander.
The guilt over having waited so long would likely remain for some time, he couldn't change that, and at least his father had been able to see pictures of Joe. But, why now? After all these years, why was he taken now, before he had a chance to meet the grandson that for so long I had denied would ever exist? The questions were ones he would never have answers to. He couldn't continue to dwell on them though, his father would never forgive him him for that. No, this time he would do what he hadn't been able to do when he'd lost his family, he'd keep living his life to the fullest. This time, he wouldn't retreat from the world, for Joe, for Abby, but, mainly for his father, he would show him that he'd heard the words that the elder Kovac had imparted on him, and when Joe was old enough he would pass what his father hadn't been able to, on to him as well. Joe might not physically know his grandfather as he was growing up, but, Luka would make sure that he would know the man in every other sense of the word. With the decison made, Luka felt the sadness that had been hanging over him lift, and as it did he was sure it was a sign that his father was giving his blessing to his decision. They were going to be all right, he was sure of it.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
What's a daily activity you must do that's not one of your favorite activities?
Since moving to Boston, Luka and Abby had made the decision to stagger their work schedules as much as possible. If they were going to salvage their marriage things were going to have to change and one of those changes had been their decision to cut back on hiring a nanny. When they had started interviewing for positions, they had decided that Abby would work early days and Luka would aim for overnights. The new schedules would leave them with plenty of time in the middle of the day to spend not just with each other, but with Joe as a family, and after almost a year of only having one or the other parent in his life, he needed that.
The mornings belonged to Luka. Once home after finishing an overnight shift at the hospital, he'd spend some time alone with Abby before she left for her shift, once she was gone, it was time for him to wake Joe.
"Hey, little man, you ready to get up and have some breakfast?" As he approached the crib, he wasn't surprised to see Joe already on his feet, his arms stretched upward, ready to start his day.
"Eew...stinky boy." The teasing came after a good morning kiss, and he wrinkled his nose as he got a whiff of his son's full diaper. "Better get you cleaned up first, huh? You ready to try your big boy pants today?"
"Big boy." Joe echoed his father's words with a smile that only broadened as Luka sat him on the changing table and handed him a pull-up instead of a diaper to hold. "Car."
"That's right, there's a car on Joe's big boy pants, no diapers this morning, Joe's going to use the potty like a big boy." As he carried on his conversation with his son, Luka started the process of cleaning his son up before getting him dressed.
"Big boy, potty." Joe parroted the words happily before his attention was captured again by the image before it was hidden away under his jeans. "Car."
"That's right, okay, let's get your shirt and socks on, arms up." Luka eased the boys tee over his head, then finished up with his socks and shoes before lifting him up off the table.
"How about you sit on the potty before we go eat?" As he made the suggestion, he cleaned off the changing table, depositing the soiled diaper in the trash, and the boy's pajamas in the hamper next to it.
"Eat." Joe latched onto the most familiar of the words as he pointed to the doorway.
"After potty." Luka carried the toddler into the bathroom before letting him down in front of the small blue chair. The day was the start of a new adventure for all of them, he was sure of that, but, if it got him out of changing diapers, it was worth it. No matter how many trips they had to make to the little blue chair.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I already see them, see her, especially now as the holidays approach, not intentionally of course, they usually come to me in my dreams, or when it's quiet and my thoughts have begun to wander. I wonder sometimes if Abby understands that she will always be sharing me with Danijela, because no matter how many years pass she'll always be my wife and my love for her will never fade.
When Abby and I first dated, our parting was not a good one, we both said things we knew would hurt the other. I remember one of the last things she hurled at me was that I was married to a ghost and while I know to her it was meant as an insult, to me it was all too true. My family had been taken from me almost ten years earlier and I still grieved for the loss of them as if it had happened yesterday. In all of that time I hadn't even really looked at another woman. Granted, I'd spent quite a bit of time with Carol and her daughters, but, she was alone, and so was I, and while the father of her twins wasn't dead, she felt his absence in much the same ways that I felt Danijela's. I think initially though what drew me to them was my need to be a father, and if anything more came out of it, then I was all right with that. In the end, nothing did, Carol decided that what she felt for her daughter's father was the same as what I'd felt for Danijela, he was her soul-mate and she had to go to him and see if he felt the same about her. I can't begin to describe the sense of loss I felt once they were gone, and I really did question whether I wanted to open myself up to going through something like that again. By the time Abby did come along, I was hesitant, and it was she who initiated the first date.
Having made two attempts to find again what I'd had with Danijela and failed, left me bruised, and I suppose it made me fall back to the habits that had enabled me to survive the loss of my family in the first place. I found myself pulling out the small black and white photo of Danijela and Jasna more frequently, and if I could have done it I would have stepped into it myself. I missed my family, I wanted to hold my wife, to tell her how much I loved her. I would give anything to have her back in my life for even five minutes if only so that I could kiss her once more and thank her for giving me two beautiful babies, and sharing herself completely with me in the time we had, however short it was. More than anything, I wanted us to grow old together and instead, we had only a handful of years, and our babies had even less.
large graphic by Jana
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Maybe it's the nature of my work, or the amount of hours I put into it, but, it seems most of the women I'd seriously dated since arriving in Chicago were employees of County. I say seriously because I did go through a stretch a few years before my wife and I got back together where I was dating outside of the hospital as well as inside.
Dating within your workplace does come with it's own problems and I've suffered the consequences of those relationships and one night stands on more then one occasion. I guess the worst of those was after I'd spent a night with one of our nurses and even though I'd warned her that nothing was going to come of it she didn't believe me. The next day at work was a nightmare, it didn't matter what I said to her or how I said it, she just wanted to bite my head off. Of course that wasn't good enough for her, then she turned around and filed a complaint against me for my poor attitude, and after getting the other nurses to sign a petition supporting her, she got me suspended for several days. It was not long after that happened that I started looking outside the hospital for companionship.
It took my going to the Congo for me to get my head back where it needed to be with regard to what I was looking for in a relationship, and I realized that I needed more then just nameless sex. I realized I was finally ready to start thinking about having a family again, and it wasn't too long after I'd recovered and returned to work that Sam and her son, Alex came into my life. Sam was another nurse and I really thought we could be happy, we could be a family, but, the things I wanted, she didn't want, and one day she decided enough was enough and moved out. It was hard for me after that, I didn't understand what I had done to make her want to leave, and it was while I was trying to come to terms with the failure of our relationship that Abby reappeared.
When I say that she reappeared, I don't mean that in the physical sense, she was always there, but, she somehow realized that I needed someone to talk to, that I needed to grieve again. I guess in a way I saw losing Sam and Alex as losing another family and that was hard for me to accept, but, Abby understood. The time we spent apart did wonders for both of us, and we found a strength in our relationship that had been missing the first time we dated. Neither of us realized it at the time, but, that would continue to grow as we were forced to face all the challenges yet to come. So, yes, I would, I did, date someone I worked with, and eventually we married, and I don't regret one moment of it
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Even though I'm here to support my wife in maintaining her sobriety, I'm finding that those very same tools in place to help her, are forcing me to look at myself in ways I never have. I'm a Catholic, I was raised in a country where the majority of those living there are Catholic as well, so, from the time I was old enough to understand what was being said, I was taken to church. My mother was very devout, she often went to Mass twice a day, and while she never demanded it of us, either my brother or I would often go with her. As was the case when we would ride the train with our father, this was our time alone with her, and even as young as we were, we understood it meant as much to her as it did to us. I don't think either of us realized how much those times with her meant though until we lost her and suddenly it was just Mass again.
When I met Danijela, I again found a woman who's greatest strength could be found in her faith, and when the time came for us to have children, it went without being said that they too would be raised as we had been. Looking back on it now, I am almost certain that it was Danijela's faith that enabled her to face all of the hardships that we confronted during the war. Looking back on it now, I realize how much time she was left alone while I was at the hospital. Not only was she left to spend all those hours essentially imprisoned in our small apartment with our two young children, but she did so much of the time without electricity, and running water, and with only the most meager of supplies.
So, why now, do I feel it important to talk about this, especially as it seems it has nothing at all to do with what I've been asked to talk about?
Even though I had turned my back on my faith when Danijela and our children died, I think I always felt an emptiness without it. It wasn't until I met Bishop Stewart, until I acknowledged those feelings, that I began to admit the truth to myself. It took several more years and my near death in the Congo to fully find my way back. When I did return to the Church I realized how much comfort I found there, but, where once my faith was something to be shared with those I was close to, this time it was almost a secret. My return to the Church, my participation in Mass and communion were things I did alone and it took the birth of my son for me to finally speak openly about it.
When Abby gave birth to Joe, we weren't sure he would survive, and I knew I needed my faith more in those days then I had at any time since the day I lost my family. I remember not just praying to God for my son's life, but asking him to see Abby safely through all she was facing, and I realized how important it was to me that Joe be baptized, just in case. I didn't want to think the worst, but, he was so small, and there was only so much the doctor's could do. I just couldn't take the chance that something might happen, and despite her own feelings Abby finally agreed.
Which brings me back to where we started, or where I meant to start. I have always believed that we know when we do wrong, as a Catholic, we're taught to admit those to ourselves and to God so he can forgive us and we can forgive ourselves. It isn't always easy, but, it's the way things are, however, admitting wrong-doing to someone else, that's something completely different, and that is by far the hardest of the three. It's one thing to know your own weaknesses and flaws, but, quite another to admit them to others, and I suppose that's what causes us to fail in the long-run, especially if we have no one or nothing to turn to once it's known.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Happily ever after. Is that possible, or is it a dream that can never be achieved no matter how much you wish for it, no matter how strong your faith, no matter how hard you try?
Danijela and I were convinced our marriage was the thing dreams were made of, how could it have been anything but? From the first moment I saw her I knew she would be my wife, she would bear my children, and we would spend the rest of our lives together. I was 18, she was just 16 and we thought we had a lifetime to learn all there was to know about each other. We knew without saying it that our children would be raised as we had been raised and how they themselves had been raised. We would have the support of family, the comfort of our faith and our Church, and when the time came, our children would know the same or so we believed. If only it hadn't been for the war. In a matter of months it was gone, they were gone, and with them all my hopes and dreams.
For more years then I want to think about I allowed myself to believe that I no longer deserved those very things that Danijela and I had planned. Having lost not just the woman who had stolen my heart, but our children, I was convinced that I would never again know the joy of being a father again. I prayed for God to take my life as he had taken those of my family. I begged him to allow me to be with those I loved even if it meant ending my life, and when he didn't listen I turned my back on him and the Church that had meant so much to us for so long. Turning my back on my faith wasn't enough for me though, everything brought painful reminders and so, I ended up leaving the only things I had left, my family and my Country. I gave up on life, I gave up on any hope for happiness, I simply moved from day to day waiting for my time to come to an end so I could be reunited with those I loved.
It's funny though, while I was simply existing life found me again, and after more then a few missteps, Abby and I found our way back to each other. We'd tried once before, too many years ago, but, the time must not have been right. I guess we still had some lessons to learn, maybe we're still learning them now. This has to work, for Abby, for Joe, for us as a family. I hope, no, not hope, I have to believe that this move to Boston will allow us to overcome all the mistakes that we both have made in the last year. I want to grow old with Abby, I want us to raise our son together, to be there when he graduates from high-school. I want us to one day see him marry and have children of his own.
Is being happy too much to hope for? I want to believe it's not. I pray it's not. I'll do whatever I have to to make this work, because I just don't know what I'd do if I were to lose everything again.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
As I stand here watching Abby say her final good-byes, I can't help but look back at all that has happened to bring us to where we are at this moment. There's no denying that we've reached a crossroads in our lives and as hard as it was for Abby to sever that final connection we knew that it was something she had to do if our marriage was going to have any hope of surviving.
Abby and I both owe so much to County, not just for the jobs that we were provided with over the last nine years, but for the life experiences that came with them, both good and bad. In my case, my first shifts at the hospital were as a substitute and in the beginning I made no real effort to get to know anyone because I realized I would only be there a few days before I moved on to another hospital and as the weather changed, another city. Even as I say that I know it's more an excuse then the actual truth, because if I were being completely honest, I know that I kept to myself for another reason. One based far more on a selfish need to protect myself from reopening the very same wounds that had forced me to leave everything I knew and come to the States in the first place.
I became very good at keeping secrets in those early months, early years in America, and even better at running away when my efforts failed, and while on the surface I might have appeared happy with the life I was living, in fact I despised it. No one ever knew any of that of course, this too became another secret to be hidden away, tucked safely in a box with the memories of the family that was no more. For all intents and purposes my life in America was everything anyone could want and when I would call my father I would share tales of the wonders of the Cities I saw, the foods I had eaten, anything but that which might reveal the truth. I'll never know if my father saw through the lies, if he did he never said anything about it to me, and maybe that was for the best, with me so far away he could almost pretend Danijela and the children were still alive if he wanted.
Eventually, there came a point when I realized that the life I was living wasn't really much of a life at all and I needed to find a way to change what I was doing. Knowing and doing are two different things though and as easy as it was for me to isolate myself from people, it became much harder for me to try and find my way back. I made a lot of mistakes before I realized and in fact accepted that I wasn't ever going to be able to reclaim the parts of myself who had been husband to Danijela and father to Jasna and Marko. It wasn't for lack of trying of course, no, I desperately wanted to be that person again, he just wasn't there. In time I would discover someone similar, but, it would take many years, and many more mistakes.
As I was trying to find my way, I guess you could say that Abby was doing the same and while we dated for over a year not long after she started working in the ER, neither of us were capable of a serious relationship. For you see while I was mourning the loss of my family due to their death's, Abby was coming to terms with the failure of her marriage. As ugly as our first break-up was, we somehow managed to salvage a friendship from it, not immediately of course, but, gradually, once the anger and hurt had faded away.
I can count on one hand the number of people at County I would consider true friends, and Abby is one of those, it took me a long time to realize that. It took me even longer to realize that if I was ever going to get past what had happened to my family and move forward in my life, I was going to have to open up about them. I'm not sure that either Abby or I planned for our relationship to move back to the romantic stage, it was just one of those things that happened when we weren't looking, and by the time we realized it was there, it was too late to go back. When Abby discovered she was pregnant, it could well have put an end to things had we not both been able to make some compromises in how we felt about things, and maybe that was the start of our realization that what we had between us might just work. If we had any lingering doubts, they were gone with Joe's birth and all we went through in the months after. The threat of losing him made us realize just what was important to us, and our decision to marry once he was safe seemed a natural progression of where our lives, where our love, needed to go. Maybe we were blinded by what we were feeling, or maybe we just lost sight of something and God felt we needed a reminder, I don't know, but, our happiness was short-lived.
The call about my father's illness came before we even went on our honeymoon and it's what has led us to where we are now. If that call had never come, if I'd stayed in Chicago, none of what came after would ever have happened, but, it did happen, and I left my new wife and our son to take care of the father I hadn't seen in years. If I had known then what my leaving would do to my marriage I can't help wondering if I would have gone. If I could have prevented Abby from making the mistakes she made, would I have stayed, even if it meant I would never see my father again, or reconcile with my brother? I don't have answers to any of my questions, I only know that Abby and I have reached a crossroads and we've decided we have to try and save our marriage, even if it means leaving everyone and everything we know to do it. So, that's what we're doing, I've resigned from the Hospice, and Abby has finished her last shift at County, we're going to Boston, I hope we're making the right choice. I hope we'll find there what we need to survive this.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
In a perfect world this would be an easy question to answer. In a perfect world, I could toss off a trivial answer about a busy shift in the ER, or maybe one of those never-ending days that every med-student was warned about on that very first day of Pre-Med. I don't live in a perfect world though and I'm finding it far too hard to narrow things down to just one day, so, I've decided I've no alternative but to include the two that seem to consistently jockey for dominance in my thoughts.
I don't think it would surprise anyone to learn that the day of the bombing in Vukovar holds one of the spots, for from the moment I heard the sound of the strike time might as well have stopped for me. Even after all these years I can call up the details of that day with amazing clarity. I wonder sometimes if that in itself isn't more of a curse rather than a blessing but, then I remember that without those memories I would have nothing of Danijela and my children to hold onto except the small black and white photograph of my wife and daughter taken at Jasna's fourth birthday. If I have any regrets about the memories of that day, it's that they almost always begin with the bombing and that means that while I can remember my last words to Danijela, and the feel of Jasna in my arms, my memory of Marko brings no comfort. For while both Danijela and Jasna were still alive when I reached them, my baby boy was not so lucky, and my first sight of him was merely one small hand which he'd freed from the debris that had buried him alive. I try not to think about how long he was trapped in the darkness before death claimed him. I try not to think about the thoughts that must have been going through his head, though I know he had to be wondering why his Mama and Tata didn't free him. Mostly though I simply pray that he went quickly, I don't want to think about what it would have been like for him if he didn't.
Equally memorable for me is the day of Joe's birth, and the events that led up to it. From the moment I was paralyzed, then intubated, and bound to that gurney I honestly thought I might not live to see my son's birth. Adding to that fear was the moment when I saw Abby outside the room, when she steadied herself on the door before her fall, and knowing that not only could I do nothing to help her, I couldn't even call for help. Worse though was seeing the blood and not knowing if she and Joe were dead or alive...it seemed to take a lifetime for someone to find her, to find us. Even then the nightmare wasn't over, from the long delivery, the struggle to get control of the bleeding and Abby's surgery, and Joe's fight for life. I have to wonder what we did, what he did, that would prompt God to put us through so much, and then in the next breath, I'm left grateful beyond words because both Abby and Joe made it through that day despite our worst fears.
There have been other days which came close to these, my captivity with Patrique in the Congo among them, but, I can't dwell on the past when I have so much now to look forward to. I have a future now, a wife and a son who I love and want to spend the rest of my life with. That's not to say there won't be days when my thoughts won't return to those days, on birthdays, Danijela and my anniversary, but, it's not like it used to be, Abby and Joe have seen to that. My life is here now, with my wife and my son, and while we may have our bumps in the road, I can honestly say this is where I belong, and that's a feeling I never thought I would know again.
Monday, October 27, 2008
When I first met Danijela she was only 16, and she was still living at home, and going to school so, the times I saw her was limited to some evenings or weekends, and holidays. Another thing that separated us for a time was my obligation to complete my required stint in the military, something I wanted to do before Danijela and I married.
When I was in college, I was friends with several other students. We'd all met when we were pre-med, and our friendship continued through med school. I don't know if it was because our studies were so intense, or if it was just because we were all taking such heavy loads of classes, but, when the weekend hit, it was our time to unwind, and that usually meant consuming large amounts of alcohol. Because Danijela was younger then the rest of us, in the beginning she wasn't always included and that was the case on this particular weekend.
Tomo, Stipe, Gordana and I had driven to Vukovar one weekend right after finals were over, we had ended up partying the biggest share of it, and on the way back we hit a goat that was standing in the road. We jumped out of the car and I started to do CPR on it, but Stipe refused to do mouth-to-mouth, when that didn't seem to be working, Tomo wanted to put a chest tube in. It didn't happen, and despite the our best efforts our patient didn't make it, of course, we weren't quite so hungover that we were going to overlook the secondary outcome of our failure either. I have to preface this by saying that Gordana did try to talk us out of what came next, but we out numbered her three to one, and besides, the three of us had slept off quite a bit of our hangovers and we knew that by the time we got back to Zagreb we were going to be seriously hungry. We drew straws and Tomo lost so we wrapped the goat in his coat and loaded it in the back of the car, lucky for us the damage to it wasn't too bad. To the car I mean, not the goat. The rest of the drive was uneventful, and it wasn't long before we all fell asleep again, leaving Gordana to do the driving with only the radio for company.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
In a way, my best gift, wasn't really a gift in the conventional sense, but, I can't imagine anything I could ever receive that will mean more.
When I lost my family, I lost more then just my wife and children, I lost parts of who I was. In one day I went from being a husband, a father, and a doctor, to being simply a doctor, and the emptiness I was left with was something I never was able to shake. I could try and tell you what it felt like, but, no amount of words can ever begin to describe the emptiness left after you have buried your children.
In the years I've been at County there have been times when I've found my my need to parent drawing me into relationships that I might not have entered otherwise. At the time they happened, I don't think I even realized what I was doing, however, I do know the pain I felt when they ended and one again I was faced with the loss of children I'd allowed myself to get too close to.
Which brings me back to the gift, how do I begin to describe what I felt when Abby told me she was pregnant with Joe? I knew I wanted that child more then anything I could have wanted in my life, I also knew how she felt about being a parent and how delicate our relationship was at that time. As hard as it was for me to do, I gave her the option of terminating the pregnancy if that was what she felt she had to do. Waiting for her to make that decision was harder than I could have imagined, but, as much as I wanted to once again be a father, I knew I couldn't force her to be a mother unless it was what she wanted too.
Abby did finally make the decision to carry Joe to term, and along with that choice we saw a strengthening of our relationship that eventually led to our marriage. Unfortunately, Joe's birth was a difficult one and left Abby unable to have anymore children, but, I'm okay with that because her gift and what came after have made me whole again, and for that, I'm forever grateful.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
For a long time my brother and I didn't talk, we'd had a falling out years ago over my decision to leave Croatia and come to the United States. I wish I could say that it was no more then one of those stupid arguments that happen between brothers, arguments that are forgotten after a couple of days as quickly as they began. I can't say that though. The words my brother, Niko and I hurled at each other all those years ago caused wounds that ran too deep for any quick fixes, and it took our father's illness to even prompt us to talk.
I left Croatia in 1997, it had been six years since I'd buried my family and I still missed them as much if not more then the day I had lost them. As hard as I'd tried to move on with my life, I finally realized that it wasn't going to happen unless I was able to get away from the constant reminders of them, and I couldn't do that in Croatia. As difficult as it had been for my father to lose his daughter-in-law and grandchildren, he was willing to accept my decision to do what I needed to do to rebuild my life, but, my brother was different. Almost from the first day that I broke the news of my decision to go, Niko began to accuse me of running away instead of dealing with my losses and no amount of talking to him could change his mind. I think that's what eventually proved to be the end of things between us, we stopped talking entirely. It didn't matter what subject we started the conversation with, it all came back to my decision to leave and by the time we were finished all that we were doing was yelling at each other. I think that was the hardest thing for my father to accept in all of it, for in the end my leaving was to him was as if he'd lost all of us in Vukovar.
When I received word of my father's illness, I'd been living in the United States for close to ten years, and in all that time I'd only been back to visit twice. There was no question of my going back of course, even as I knew it would finally mean dealing with the distance that had developed between Niko and I, my father's health took priority and as his son I was willing to do what I needed to do. It's funny how time softens things, what once seemed like such vast differences between us, seemed so small as we both sat together worrying about our father's fate. Maybe that's how things are supposed to work out, I don't know, I just wish it hadn't taken something so serious to make us realize our mistakes, and how important the support of family is. Over the six months I ended up being there, Niko and I reached the point that when our father showed slight gains in his condition we felt it would be safe for us both to leave and allow me a chance to go home to see my family. I can't help but wonder if our father planned things for this end, if he held on just long enough to make sure Niko and I would have each other when he was gone. We'll never know of course, but, I just wish we hadn't wasted so many years, and I can't help but feel sad for Joe when I realize he'll never have the chance to know the man he was named for.
Friday, October 24, 2008
My wife is an alcoholic. This isn't anything new, and for a long time I thought it was up to me to dictate if she could or couldn't drink. I guess I thought if it wasn't a problem in our relationship it was her business, or her problem. I know that I never believed that it was so bad that it would affect her work or the kind of mother she was to Joe, or the kind of wife she was to me. Funny how much can change in such a short time...
When Abby and I got married we thought that we had finally conquered all of the obstacles that life had thrown in our way. We were so happy, and then I got that phonecall that changed everything. I know now that I couldn't not go to my father's side anymore then I could expect Abby to have left Joe behind to join me, so I have to be willing to accept partial responsibility for what happened even if I couldn't have known about any of it. Neither Abby or I expected that my father's illness would keep me in Croatia for six months, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for her juggling work and caring for Joe alone, but, I still can't fully forgive what she did.
I've tried to understand how Abby thought drinking would help anything. I've tried to understand how she could put Joe's life in danger on more then one occasion because she was too drunk to realize what she was doing. I've tried to understand how she thought sleeping with her boss could change any of what was happening but, the truth is, I don't understand. There is a part of me that feels betrayed by her actions, another that is hurt, and yet another that is sickened by it, mostly though I'm confused. I had thought the vows we made to each other meant something, I know they did to me, maybe I was wrong. Maybe she saw things differently and while I was worrying about my father's health and whether he would live or die, she was looking for an escape.
When I came back to Chicago with my brother Niko, I saw it as a chance for Abby to finally get to know some of my family. Neither of us could have known that in those few days between when we left Croatia and when we arrived in Chicago, our father's condition would deteriorate, and we certainly never expected to hear that we had lost him. I naturally assumed that Abby would go back with us for the funeral, she was my wife after all. Was it wrong for me to think she should be at my side with my son? When she broke the news instead of her drinking and her decision to enter rehab, what was I supposed to say? No, she couldn't go? The rest of her news would come later, when her rehab was finished, and she joined Joe and I in Croatia. Unfortunately, what should have been a time for us to move closer instead added more distance.
I wish I could say we had worked everything out by the time we returned to Chicago, but, we hadn't, and in fact I made the decision to move out for a while we both tried to make sense of all that had happened. Eventually, we came to the decision that our marriage was worth saving but, in order to do that some changes would need to be made. Both Abby and I have quit our jobs, and we've made the decision to relocate to Boston, this is our chance to put everything behind us and start over. We can make our marriage work, I know we can, our vows were more then words on pieces of paper, and I'm determined to prove that to her, I can only trust that she feels the same way.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
How do I begin to describe what it was like? We had all been through so much already, we'd lost families, friends, we'd seen everything we'd worked for taken from us until all we had left were the clothes on our back and still they demanded more. We all knew now that anytime we ventured out onto the streets we very likely risked it being the last thing we did, but, what choice did we have? We couldn't stay sequestered in the hospital forever, someone had to make the runs out for water and food, not just for ourselves, but, for those patients we were trying to provide care for.
Trying to provide care...that says so much about those final days in the Vukovar hospital. I can't remember when we'd last had electricity or running water, the supplies we had were so limited and we struggled to provide the best care we could, and still the patients kept coming. For too many of us the hospital had become our home, a safe haven amid the death and destruction that made up the insanity of the world outside it's doors. We should have known that it couldn't last, that the time would come when the little safety that it provided would crumble away, leaving one more pile of debris amidst the ruin of what had once been such a beautiful city.
There'd been no warning on that last day, out of nowhere word reached us that the City had fallen and as the Serbian soldiers made their way through the streets, chaos took over. Those who were mobile were encouraged to flee, if they were lucky they might be able to get out of the City...if they were lucky. Did luck even exist anymore? As a doctor we swear an oath to care for our patients, how could we think about leaving them, but, the youngest of us were told to do just that, someone had to make sure that people knew what had happened, what was still happening.
Even as we were fleeing out of the back of the hospital we could hear the gunfire, we could only guess at what was happening, the truth would come later and it would prove to be far worse then any of us could have imagined. The only hope for survival in those first hours
was in looking out for yourself and my first thought was that I had to find somewhere to hide, at least until dark. The fear left me shaking, I knew that at any moment a soldier could spot me from a window or I could become a target for some sniper's bullet, but, I had no choice, I had to keep going.
I'd no sooner left the hospital then I took shelter in the ruins of a bombed out apartment house nearby, with some digging I'd discovered a pocket of space under some fallen wallboards and plaster. While it wouldn't give me much room to move, it would hide me until the soldiers were gone, I had no other choice, already I could hear the trucks on the street, and behind it all, the sound of gunfire. I crawled into the space and had barely pulled the boards back over the opening when I heard the soldiers voices as they entered the building.
How do I begin to describe the terror I felt as I listened to the sounds of the debris and broken glass crunching under their boots? I could smell the smoke from their cigarettes, hear their laughter as they joked of those they had killed, and I knew it would only take one cough from me and I would be next. When the boards over my head creaked, and the dust rained down on me I felt my breath threaten to choke me, I was sure my time had come. I'd almost resigned myself to my fate when from somewhere in the distance came the sound of fresh gunfire, and just as quickly they were gone. A scream soon after announced the success of their pursuit, but, I, at least for now, seemed to be safe, they didn't come back.
I lost track of how many hours I lay under the rubble. I could hear them in the streets, the Serbian soldiers, but even worse, I was sure that I could hear gunfire from the hospital, and screams, so many screams. I hated myself in those moments for leaving my patients, hated myself for not having the courage to stand up to my mentor and stay for the sake of my patients. Listening to those sounds, I wondered if I would ever be able to forget them, and then I knew I couldn't, I had to remember, I had to be the voice for those who no longer had one, I owed them that much, and somehow with those thoughts circling my thoughts, I slept.
Note: This is based off an actual event, read more on The Vukovar Massacre here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vukovar_massacre
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I knew my return to Croatia to nurse my father would stir memories of the past I had left behind. It wasn't just that I knew my brother Niko and I would finally be forced to deal with the things we had said all those years ago when I'd left Croatia for the United States. No, as much as I knew we'd have to resolve the differences between us, or at least find a way to set them aside for our father's sake, it went far deeper then that. I think I knew coming back for more then a few days would mean I'd encounter people I hadn't seen since medical school, people who likely had last seen me while I was still consumed by grief from losing my family as well as the horrors I'd witnessed in Vukovar.
In those first weeks home, when I wasn't at my father's side, it seemed every place I went stirred some new memory of my past. How could they not? Even something as simple as a trip to the market offered reminders of times I'd spent with Danijela. It was so hard, and there were days when I questioned my decision to return even though I knew I really had no choice. While not as frequent, I was finding too that some places would call up remembrances of Jasna when she was very small and that surprised me even more then the recollections of Danijela. For so long all my memories of my daughter have centered around those final hours of her life. Out of nowhere I found myself being asked to push those memories aside and remember happier times as I was confronted by snapshots of her life that, in some cases, I'd forgotten completely. It wasn't easy, worse though was realizing how much of her memory I had lost because I chose to dwell on those final hours instead of the five years leading u to them.
I've had these images of Jasna frozen in my head, memories of those hours when I knelt next to her small body, trying to keep her alive, images that play out like a movie. They always start with me seeing Marko's hand as I entered the apartment that day. I knew he was gone, but I can't help wondering how long he survived buried under the rubble. He was such a tough little boy, but not tough enough to survive being buried alive, and even after all these years I wonder if he called out for me, if he understood that he was going to die there, that his Tata and Mama couldn't save him. It was so hard leaving him there, stepping over his body as if he were nothing but more of the debris, but, Danijela and Jasna were still alive, and I thought I could save them, that's what doctors are supposed to do.
Jasna's condition wasn't good, and she needed cpr to keep her alive, I needed to get her to a hospital, but, as I started to pick her up, I saw that Danijela was seriously injured as well. How was I supposed to chose between them? Danijela gave me no choice, I started to breathe for our daughter, if I could keep her heart beating until help came, but they never did, and I lost them both. I don't remember how many hours I stayed with my family after they were gone. I remember laying Jasna beside Danijela before finding the strength to free Marko from the prison that had taken his short life. It was only after I put him in his mother's arms that everything finally registered with me, and as I lay down beside my family, I gave into my grief and prayed they would forgive me for failing them.
The memories of that day have been my constant companion for over 16 years, to suddenly find that other memories are taking their place is something I never thought would happen. I'm not so naive as to think that they'll ever disappear completely, but, after all these years, I'm finding that it isn't the first memory that surfaces when I think of my family. Who would have thought that it would have taken something so serious in it's own right to create such a positive change in my life. How do I tell my father that the same thing that may well be taking his life has given me back a part of mine that I thought was lost forever? How do I begin to tell him how grateful I am for having my family back in a way I never thought I'd know again?
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
This is a difficult question for me to answer right now, not because I don't know the answer, but, more because I know in answering it I'll sound as if I'm faulting Abby for her recent transgressions. The truth is, I know that in some ways I've fallen much farther then Abby did, with the only difference being that I was single at the time and her slips came more recently and so she betrayed not just me, but, the vows we made to each other.
So, with that in mind, I guess I see the answer to the question much the way it was taught to me as a young child. A moral person abides by the laws of God, and those set by the legal system, they remain true to their word, and to their spouse. I know, it seems so simple but, I know it's not, and even knowing that, it doesn't change the fact that I know Abby holds me somewhat responsible for all that happened.
When I first got the call about my father, there was no question about my going home to Croatia to be with him. My first thought was that I would bring him back to Chicago with me so I could oversee his care, but, my father was old, and stubborn, and quite set in his ways, and no amount of coaxing, or bullying would make him leave his home, his friends, or the land he was born on. I wanted Abby and Joe to go with me when I first went over, but, we still didn't have a passport for Joe so, we had no choice but for Abby and him to remain behind.
I hadn't planned on being gone for as long as I was, and looking back on it now, I realize how hard it had to have been for Abby, but, it wasn't easy for me either. Knowing that though, doesn't relieve her of the blame of putting our young son's life in danger with her drinking. Of course, I only learned of this when I came back to Chicago, and even as she revealed the truth of her drinking there remained another secret that she'd keep to herself until much later. I'd only been back in Chicago a couple of days when the news of my father's death reached me. I had to go back to Croatia, and this time I wanted my family with me. As hard as the decision was, Abby decided instead to enter rehab, so Joe and I said our good-byes to her on the street in front of our apartment with the hope that within the next 30-60 days she'd be joining us there.
I hadn't realized just how much I'd missed Abby until I saw her at the airport in Dubrovnik, and in those moments I thought I could forgive her everything that had happened up to that moment. If only she hadn't decided to reveal that remaining secret, if only she hadn't revealed that she'd not just started drinking again, but, that she'd slept with her boss as well. How was I supposed to forgive that? I'm a Catholic, I vowed before God to stay with her for the rest of our lives, but, how could I when she had betrayed everything we had between us? Everything that I thought we had suddenly seemed to crumble around us, and by the time we returned home to Chicago, I knew I had to have some time to try and make sense of things.
I wish I could say that things between Abby and I were perfect now, but, they aren't. We are trying to work things out, and as part of that I've moved home again. We've decided to leave Chicago, in the hope that a new start will make it easier to let go of the past. We know it's not going to be easy, Abby will have to work hard to maintain her sobriety, but, for the sake of our son, for me, and for our marriage, she's determined to overcome this. I wish I could say I believe everything Abby is saying now, but, with all that has happened, regaining my trust is something that will take time. I'm not ready to give up on her though, especially knowing how far I'd fallen at my worst. Maybe that in itself will prove to be the secret to Abby's success in overcoming all of this...strength of family, or at least that's what I want to believe. That's why I'm here.