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.