Friday, January 30, 2009
I used to think that the most important thing in my life was my goal to become a Doctor. I was raised by working parents and we didn't have much growing up, but we were happy, and healthy. I think I saw medicine as a way to pay back for all I'd received and at the same time I knew I'd be able to provide for my parents as they grew older. When I met Danijela my entire focus shifted and from the moment I saw her, I knew without a doubt, that I would marry her. Danijela and I were both Catholics, as were our families so there was never a question of her using birth control, if God wanted us to have children, then we would have them. It wasn't until I held my firstborn, my daughter, in my arms that my entire purpose in life seemed to shift. No longer was I Luka Kovac, Medical Student and Husband, no, on that day I became, Luka Kovac, Tata, Husband, and Medical Student.
Losing my children left a hole in me that I thought I would never be able to fill again. Oh, I tried over the years, I'd find myself with women who I knew I wasn't really attracted to, or ones who had children already. I told myself that if I couldn't have my own children, there were certainly other children who needed me. It never worked though. Maybe I was fooling myself, but, for whatever the reason, something always happened, I'd no sooner allow myself to become attached and something would happen to yank them away. The last time was the hardest, but in the midst of the pain of that loss I found my way back to Abby.
Neither of us expected things to happen the way they did, I think we still held onto some fear because of the way things had happened the first time we were together. There was no denying though that we'd both changed in the years since then. The fact we'd become friends again first had to have helped. We weren't in the relationship out of desperation, we truly were falling in love, and one day that love was taken to the next level without our realizing it.
I can't explain the emotions that went through me when Abby first told me she was pregnant. I think I was afraid to believe it at first, afraid that if I did I'd lose everything we had already built. I knew how Abby felt about children, her fears that they might end up with the same illness she watched her mother and brother battle. When she told me she'd decided to have an abortion I tried to be supportive, but deep down it was tearing me apart. All I could think of was that once again my dream was gone, and then came the surprise. When Abby told me that she couldn't go through with the abortion I was overwhelmed, in that moment my love for Abby knew no bounds. To think that she would put aside all her fears for that tiny life inside of her, how could I not love her even more than I already did? Abby's warmed to being a mother, and I've watched that blossom even more as Joe grows, every step he takes, every word that comes out of his mouth, his smile, his laugh, what greater gift could anyone ever receive?
Thursday, January 29, 2009
As Abby and I embark on this new chapter of our lives, it's hard not to look back on all I've been through to get to this point, on all we've been through. There were so many times when my life should have ended, so many times when I should have lost everything and everyone. We've both mistakes, there's no denying that, we could have taken the easy way out like we did the first time we were together, but, we didn't. Instead here we are, together. We have each other, we have our beautiful son, and while our marriage may not have fully recovered from all it's been subjected to, neither of us are ready to turn our back on it.
If I go back to the beginning, the very fact that I'm here when my first family isn't says more than I can with words. When I lost Danijela and our children in Vukovar, I thought my life was over. No, that's not true, I didn't think my life was over, I wanted it to be over. I that first week, I went out of my way to put myself in harm's way, hoping that God would answer my prayers and allow me to rejoin my family, and still I survived. When word came that the City was finally falling I was among those few who somehow escaped. Only later did I learn that so many of those I had called mentor and friends, as well as their patients had fallen when the Serbs massacred all those in the hospital.
Even knowing I had made it out of Vukovar when so many others never would wasn't enough to change how I was feeling. In my escape, I'd been shot, and after two days of travel I'd had enough, exhausted, hungry, and in pain, I was ready to go. When I stumbled onto an abandoned house, and then the next morning I found the bodies of those who had once lived there. What kind of animals murder innocent children only to leave then lying in the mud? I decided right then and there I was through trying, I knew I had to get away from the stench, and I walked until I could walk no more, and then I lay down and prayed that when I closed my eyes it would be for the last time.
It wasn't. When I woke I found myself in a Displaced Person's camp with strangers fighting for the life I was ready to throw away. It took me months to change how I felt, and when the time came for me to leave I went to the only place I had left. My father welcomed me with open arms, but, it didn't take long for me to realize that there were too many reminders there of things I no longer had. Too many reminders of the future that was gone forever. I had to leave, I had no choice. If I wanted to ever have any hope for another life it had to be somewhere other than Hrvatska, little did I know it would put a rift between my brother and I that would take almost 15 years to heal.
My being in the United States wasn't a quick fix for me, I made more mistakes then I was ready to admit to, including wasting years that Abby and I could have shared together had I not been so lost in my past. It took my cheating death for a second time for me to finally realize that my life held value if I was willing to see it. Knowing that Sakima and Chance had been willing to risk their lives to save mine, knowing Patrique had lost his, and then having Carter be willing to travel all that distance just to claim my body is that he could return me to my father. How do you thank people for something like that? How could I keep living the life I'd been living without disrespecting everything they'd done?
It took a while for Abby and I to find our way back to each other, we had our tests, our challenges, from Joe's birth and those first month's of his life, then, all of the events connected to Curtis Ames. I thought marrying Abby would prove the end of the bad luck in our lives, we'd been through so much to get there, more than anything I wished my father could have seen it. All of those years he'd told me there was someone out there who would make me feel like Danijela did, and now I knew he was right.
My father never had the chance to meet my wife or my son, in fact, it was his illness that would provide Abby with the greatest test to our relationship, while at the same time healing the rift that had kept Niko and I apart for so long. Things aren't yet back to where they were with Abby and I, but, we're getting there. Boston is allowing us the chance to start all over again. It's a new City, the mistakes we made remain behind us in Chicago, I love my wife, and I love my son, I know know that our future is what we choose to make it, and the past can only hold onto us if we let it. Boston isn't about the past though, and everyday when we wake up and see Joe's face it only confirms that for us. We belong together, and for the first time in far too long I can honestly say I'm looking forward to all my life has to give.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
January Prompt 004: Violence is not the answer, but it is a bloody good guess. Anon/Artistic License
The adrenalin was still pumping as Luka made his way out of the bar. He could have killed the man, he should have. He'd done it before with the mugger, let his rage, his need to protect someone blind him from seeing anything but stopping the person. Even having made the threat that he'd come back for Brian if he ever went near Abby hadn't been enough to squash the deeper feelings. Even now with his hand aching from the blows, he couldn't shake the feeling that he hadn't done enough. Even there, among all those witnesses, the only thing that had registered with him was the knowledge that he wanted the man dead before he could hurt anyone else the way he had hurt Abby. Why then had he stopped? Why had he failed her?
The sudden rush of images flooded his brain with such intensity that it forced bile to rise. Bracing his hand on the building's rough bricks, he gave in to the momentary weakness until he had nothing left to give but dry heaves. Seeing Abby's face for the first time, the bruises, her humiliation at having to go through the rape exam. Brian had stripped everything from her with his attack and in that instant he knew he couldn't just stand by and do nothing. He had stolen the sense of security that she should find her own home and he'd robbed her of the strength that had allowed her to overcome all the obstacles that life threw in front of her. The woman he'd seen sitting on that gurney, the woman whose injuries he'd examined was only a shell of the Abby he continued to love.
Pulling back from the building he found himself staring at the door to the bar as if he expected Brian to come walking out at any moment. What was it going to take for him to shake the emotions this man's actions had reawakened in him. Reawakened. That really was what it was all about. He hadn't been able to explain it when he'd killed the mugger, but he'd known there was more to it then just the mugging, something that had fueled an almost primal rage that was beyond his ability to control. In time he realized it wasn't only because the man had chosen to attack he and Abby that he'd lost his life that night. No, there was a deeper reason, one that he didn't want to acknowledge until he had no choice. That man had died not just for his crimes, but for those done all those years ago to Danijela and their children. He hadn't been able to to claim revenge to those responsible for his families death in Vukovar. No, the ones who had taken their lives would forever be faceless strangers, but the anger he felt toward them was still there, tucked away, waiting for the day it would be unleashed. The mugger was just the first to feel it's wrath, and he died not just for his sins, but, for those committed by those faceless strangers. Tonight had been Brian's turn.
He'd never know why he'd stopped short of killing Brian, just as he would never know if the rage would reappear. No, only time would reveal that answer, and all he could do until then was try to come to terms with the feelings, make peace with them, and hope that if they ever surfaced again he could somehow control them.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
It was hard to deny the fear, all those years he'd begged for death, and now it was here in front of him and he was afraid. Kneeling there in the dirt, he could feel the pebbles as they dug into his skin. It was hard to stay still, to keep their attention from being drawn to him, it was cowardly. Hiding behind the others as they one by one were drug off to meet their deaths until he was the only one left save Sakima and Chance. He couldn't protect them anymore then he'd been able to protect Danijela and his own children.
It as all so real, even after so many years, and it was only Abby's gentle hand on his brow and soothing words in his ear that brought him back from the nightmare.
"Luka, shhh. It's all right. " She waited until his eyes opened to pull her hand away, wanting to hold onto her connection with him until the very last moment.
"It's just a dream." She offered him a smile, though there was little doubt in her mind that her husband was still not fully with her.
"Nothing can hurt you here." She returned her hand to his arm, all the while struggling with her own emotions. Even after so long, there was no denying that his fear was as strong as it was in those first weeks after he'd returned home. No matter how much he tried to deny it when he was awake, in sleep he was always betrayed.
"I'm here, Luka, you're safe, they're all safe." She brushed his bangs off of his forehead with the reassurance, the dampness of them yet another confirmation to the intensity of the dream.
"Go back to sleep, Luka, you're safe." As his eyes closed, Abby allowed herself to finally relax, at least for tonight the worst was over. They both battled their demons, and as he had promised to support her through her struggle with alcohol how could she not support him as he relived the horrors of his past? Their decision to move to Boston only confirmed how determined they were to do what was necessary to reclaim their marriage. If he could support her through her fight to stay sober, she would be there for him through this, she owed him that much and more. Brushing his bangs aside she placed a light kiss on his forehead.
"I'm here, Luka, go back to sleep, you're safe now."
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
He wasn't sure what it would be like, coming back to County, not after everything that had happened. He knew of course that they'd gotten word that He'd been killed. He knew too that without that call John would never have returned to search for him, granted, at the time he thought he was only coming back to claim a body, but, if he hadn't come.
"Luka? Are you okay?" At Gillian's touch on his arm he let the train of thought go even before he had fully taken hold of it.
"Yeah, just tired." It was almost a relief when the elevator doors closed, if only because it meant that at least for the time it would take to travel from the ER to the ward, it shut out all the well-wishers. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate their concern, but, it was just, just too soon.
"Your fever is up." Gillian's hand moved automatically to his forehead before she drew it back. "We'll get you settled in your room and you can rest."
"Yeah, been doing that a lot." It was hard not to roll his eyes with the admission, what else could he do? But, at least he was alive, Patrique couldn't say that. He closed his eyes as the unwanted memory once more surfaced, then blinked back the tears that almost immediately collected on his lashes.
"It'll get easier." Gillian's words were quiet, spoken barely above a whisper. She hated seeing him like this, but, she wasn't yet ready to walk away from him, not even here among those that might think him their friend. It she meant to say more she was saved from it by the bump of the elevator as it stopped on his floor.
"I doubt it." He opened his eyes as he made the comment, only to close them again as he read her reaction.
"You're going to be a wonderful patient, I can tell already." The sound of the doors sliding open overrode his answering "Hrumph," as well as her responding laugh.
"Dr. Kovac, hi, I'm Sarah, I'm going to be one of your nurses, let's get you checked into your room." The waiting nurse reached for the gurney as she introduced herself, if Gillian had wanted to say more, it would have to wait, it wasn't going to be easy.
"I'm tired." The words were the most Luka found himself able to muster before his eyes again slid closed.
"That's to be expected, check-in won't take long, then you can sleep." She shook her head as her words seemed to merit no response from him and instead shifted her attention to Gillian.
"Is this common, the dropping off? The question was only the start of a long line of questions that she would ask before Luka's check-in was complete, and as Gillian answered she found herself wondering just how deep into what he'd been through they'd go. Or more importantly, whether Luka would be willing or able to answer.
Monday, January 12, 2009
He could hear music. There shouldn't be music, not here, not among so much death, but, still, even as he knew it wasn't possible he was sure he could hear it. Luka cocked his head as the notes seemed to swirl around him, the confusion of his already sky-high malarial fever melding with the shock of all they had been through. Could this be the sign that his time here was coming to an end? Could the music be a way for the angels to soothe whatever fears he might have about meeting his own death? As much as he hated to believe that the one thing he had dreamt about for far too many years might finally have found him, he wasn't sure that he was ready for it.
The music brought a sense of calm to him that he hadn't felt in some time. Gone was the fear that had gripped him as he'd watched Patrique fall beside him, instead, in it's place there was a familiarity that drew him back to his childhood. As he struggled to his knees he could easily imagine himself back in the safety and comfort of those days. No longer was he kneeling in the dirt, even the smell of death that had hung thick in the air as the sun beat down on them seemed to disappear. No, hearing the the music changed everything. As the prayers found their way to his lips he closed his eyes, in an instant it was as if everything that had happened since the Mai Mai's first attack became the dream. He could almost imagine he were once more in the Church of his youth, the smell of the censer's incense tickling his nose as the Priest paused to whisper his blessing, touching the sign of the cross to his forehead before moving past.
All too soon the illusion was gone, the spell broken as hurried voices around him destroyed the magic. It was only as he opened his eyes that he was aware of the Mai Mai surrounding him, it took longer to understand why. A priest...a priest? They thought he was a priest. It was only as they crossed themselves that it fully hit home, they pressed closer to him but not to steal his life from him as they had the others, they wanted his blessing. Of all the things he had thought illusions, could he have been wrong about the angels watching over him? It was the only way he could explain what was happening around him. For whatever reason they found his life worth saving, and he drew on their strength as he found the words to continue the prayers for those who now knelt around him.
Friday, January 2, 2009
It's funny how the things you remember are so very often connected to those you most want to forget. I've been thinking a lot about Vukovar lately, not just about the day I lost my family, though those memories are still there. I find myself thinking about our life during the siege, and how desperate the times became.
I remember quite clearly the lines. It didn't matter what they were for, if you saw one forming they became a magnet for people, drawing them from behind the walls where they hid. One could never be sure what you might find at it's end, one day bread, another milk, and oh, if you were very lucky you might even find the unbelievable prize of toilet paper at one's end. Whatever the prize, they came with their own risk, for a line meant something different to the snipers that lay in wait. A line meant a target, another notch on their gun, fresh blood on the street. A line, the difference between life and death, but what choice did we have? We always needed the prize.
The water runs were always the worst, the snipers knew to lay in wait for that line, their targets came in all shapes and sizes, young and old, water was life. Everyone knew the risk, but, what choice did we have? So, we went, we filled whatever we could carry, as many as we could hold so we could stay away as long as possible, we ignored the water that over-flowed, sloshing from one jug to the next, praying for the sniper not to pick us out of all who were there. When we were done the danger really came, our movement made us more of a target, if they'd missed seeing us before they wouldn't as we ran. The race seemed to last forever as we would run across debris strewn streets, trying not to see the bodies of those who hadn't been fast enough, if we could only get to the shelter of the buildings we'd be safe. Safe until we next had to stand in the lines.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
I am a husband.
I am a father.
I am a son, or am I? Do I cease to be a son when I lay my father to rest? I wonder sometimes what kind of son my father thought I was. It wasn't something we ever spoke about. Was he ashamed of how I lived my life, or proud of the choices I'd made? Though I wasn't with my father when he died, I had spent most of the last six months with him, it wasn't an easy time for either of us. We talked a lot of how things used to be, what life was like when my mother was alive, when Niko and I were young, when our family was whole and we had our whole lives ahead of us. My father had always been a proud man, strong, and independent, his illness robbed him of that and I think of all that he lost, it was that which he missed the most. In those final weeks of his life, the cancer stole more than his ability to walk from him, it stole the very essence of who he was.
I left my father's home, and my Country, in the early nineties. After I did my time in the military, five years of marriage, and a stay in a displaced person's camp after the fall of Vukovar, I'd returned to the safety I thought I would find within it's walls. At the time, I was a shell of the man I had once been. I was grieving for the losses of my wife and children, and still healing from mental and physical injuries of the war. In a way, I think I hoped that by returning to the comfort of my father's house, I'd find the safety that I'd always found there as a child, but, nothing was the same, and as difficult as the decision was, I knew I had to find my way alone. My reasons for leaving were ones my brother couldn't understand and proved to be a constant source of argument between us, and by the time I left we were barely on speaking terms.
As difficult as it was for my father to see me go, he knew if I was to have any hope for moving forward with my life I had to do it, and to this day I still remember his words to me before he placed me on the plane that day. He clasped my hand as if he could channel his strength through that connection, and then with tears in his eyes he met my gaze.
"We only part to meet again." As he finished he pulled me into his embrace, kissing both my cheeks, and then it was time for me to go. I remember watching him through the window of the plane, until I couldn't see him anymore, and I found myself wondering if he had done the same.
In the fifteen years since I left, I'd only returned two other times before he got ill, it's a mistake too late for me to correct, maybe that's why I stayed as long as I did, but, it was too late to undo the pain my absence had caused him. Tata will never meet my wife, he'll never know his grandson, never hold him, never sing to him, or read him a bedtime story, those are things I have to live with. Joe and Abby will know my father though, they'll know of his strength, his humor, his love of family. They'll know how much he would have loved to have shared his life with them, I'll make sure of it, and that's a promise I can keep for him.
I am a husband.
I am a father.
And I will always be my Father's son.