Saturday, February 21, 2009
How were they supposed to make a decision like this? Their families were here, Jasna wasn't even two, and still, he was expected to take them away from everyone and everything they knew so he could go to school in Vukovar. He'd brought them to the beach as a treat, a way of making up for all of the hours he'd left them alone already. At least here Danijela could call her sister or mother when she needed company, or when the baby became too much for her, at least here she had her friends.
Watching the two of them now as they stood at the water's edge he couldn't help but feel selfish. What right did he have to demand so many sacrifices of them? Maybe he should talk to Danijela about staying behind, she and Jasna could move in with either of their parents, and as hard as it would be to be away from them, he could go to Vukovar alone. How long would they be separated, a few years? They'd have a lifetime to make up for that, and in between he would find a way back to visit as often as he could.
"Luka, aren't you coming down to the water?" Danijela's call drew him out of his thoughts and he looked up in time to see his daughter running to him.
"Yeah, I'm coming." Shaking off the remainder of his concerns he rose and scooped Jasna up as she reached him, holding her high over his head as she squealed her delight. The discussion would be there when they they got home, today was meant for happier thoughts. As he settled the toddler on his hip he gave her a kiss.
"Ready for a swim? Let's go see Mama." His smile broadened as he reached his wife and as soon as he embraced her it was as if his earlier worries were nothing more then smoke, gone with the wave of a hand. As he lowered Jasna to the sand he was sure whatever decision they made would be the right one, they were meant for each other, they'd known it from the moment they'd met, and nothing could change that.
(Set in 2004/season 10)
He hadn't been sure what to expect from his arrival back at County. Despite the time he'd spent in the clinic in Kisangani, he was still weak, the Malaria, while starting to come under control, still robbed him of strength he didn't have to spare. If he'd had his way, he'd have gone straight home as soon as they'd arrived in the City, but, even knowing Gillian had flown back with him hadn't been enough for them to budge on his admission. Whatever arrangements that Carter had set in motion in the Congo seemed unbreakable and so, here he was, at the mercy of the doctors and nurses entrusted with his care during his recovery.
As he lay in the hospital bed, he'd almost convinced himself that the worst part of being back was dealing with all of those who kept coming by to see how he was. Each time one of them knocked on the door, he was forced to face reminders of his behavior before he'd tried to find his escape in the Congo, even if they never brought it up.
Today though was different. For some reason the symptoms of his malaria had worsened through-out the night and despite adjusting his medications to counter the changes, they'd so far seemed to have little effect. With his immune system already compromised, a "No Visitors" sign was placed on his door, so, with the exception of his doctors and the few nurses assigned to his care, he would be left alone. Alone, with only his thoughts for companionship, in his eye the prospect was almost as dangerous as dealing with all of his well intentioned visitors.
"Good morning, Dr. Kovac, I hear you had a rough night." As she entered his room, his nurse, Elyse approached his bed, moving first to refill his pitcher with fresh water before continuing.
"Morning, yeah, pretty bad." Even as he answered Luka found himself struggling with the worsening symptoms.
"Can you tell me what all's been going on?" Pulling a small tablet from her pocket, she readied herself to take notes on his complaints.
"It started about 7 or 8 last night, just, um, headache and chills for starters, oh, um, yeah, I guess dinner didn't stay with me either, but, I didn't think it was anything to worry about at the time."
"What about now?" She quickly jotted notes about his complaints on the pad then raised her eyes to him as she waited for him to continue.
"I'm tired, and still have a headache, kind of hard to focus on specifics, I feel congested too." As he relayed the short list of his complaints, Luka knew that he was fighting even more that he hadn't mentioned.
"Let's get your vitals, and I have a couple of pills for you to take. Someone will be in to draw blood too so we have the results before the doctor comes in to see you." Setting her notes aside, she started first with his temperature, then pulse, and blood pressure. As she finished she tucked his blankets around him.
"Do you need another blanket?" Her concern for his deteriorating condition crept into the question and before he could answer she had already retrieved one from the closet.
"I'm okay." While he tried to wave off the woman's fussing, she, clearly was not to be swayed and after covering him, she took a few more minutes to tuck the sides around him.
I want you to try and rest, I'm going to call the doctor and see if he can see you sooner. I'll be back to check on you in a little while. I don't want you getting out of bed on your own, so, if you think you need to get up, use your buzzer. I'll leave a basin here on the bedstand, in case you can't wait, all right?"
"Yeah." As nice as the nurse was, it was almost a relief when Elyse left, he wasn't sure how much more of the hovering he could handle, and he didn't want to hurt her feelings since she likely didn't even see it as that. Truth was, as the morning progressed he was finding the similarities to how he'd felt in the clinic too close. As his brain made the connection he grabbed for the basin and within seconds was at the mercy of his purging stomach, by the time it subsided, his shirt was damp with sweat, and it took all his remaining strength to simply return it to the bedstand before retreating under his blankets. He needed to try and sleep, but the continued pounding of his head was making that almost impossible, and despite the instruction to call if he needed anything, he knew, there was little that could be done except for him to ride it out. As his stomach rose yet again, he snaked a hand out to secure the basin. On second thought, maybe he'd be lucky and die first.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
(You've been visited by three ghosts, in one night. Past. Present. Future. Tell the story.)
Three Ghosts Cometh
The first vist...
"Luka, can you hear me my love?" It was Danijela's voice that woke him, inching him toward consciousness in the darkness of the tiny hut. For a moment he was convinced he could feel the touch of her fingers as they trailed along his jaw, the action familiar enough to bring tears to his eyes even after all the years that had passed without his knowing it. When it was followed by the brush of her lips against his he couldn't help but question whether the malaria's fever was leading him places he'd rather have avoided.
"Luka, open your eyes, it's been too long since I've seen them." Even as he knew it was impossible, Luka was sure he felt his wife's lips once more touch his skin as she touched a kiss to each lid. As hard as it was to give into the dream, he knew he could no longer resist the chance to see her face again, and as she drew back he finally gave in.
"Danijela." How was it possible? In that moment that his eyes caught hers nothing else around them existed, all he could think about was how much he loved her, how much he'd missed her, and how much he wanted to feel her in his arms again. As weak as he was he forced himself to sit, ignoring the wave of dizziness that swept over him he pulled her close.
"Danijela, I've missed you so much." It was his turn to kiss her, to inhale her scent.
"You're so beautiful." It was only as she wiped his tears from his cheeks that he realized he was crying and as his wife smiled at him, he found it hard not to do the same for her.
"Don't be sad, Luka, we don't have much time, I want you to remember our time now with love, not tears." Frozen at the time of her death, Danijela still held the innocence of her 25 years of life mixed with the joys of motherhood and the knowledge that she had found her one true love.
"How is this possible?" He hated asking the question and as soon as the words were released he found himself gripped by the fear that whoever was permitting them their reunion would snatch it away from them before he was ready to let her go again.
"Don't ask, I can't answer that, I just know we don't have much time, and I have to talk to you." After so many years away from him, it was as hard for Danijela as it was for Luka, and she leaned into him, finding safety in the comfort of his arms once again.
"Danijela..." A finger to his lips silenced him before he could say anything more. As her eyes swept over him, it was impossible for her not to notice the sheen of sweat on his skin, and the paleness accompanying it.
"Lay down, Luka, you need to rest, we can still talk." As she coaxed him back down onto the pallet she couldn't not curl against him before beginning to stroke his face.
"Luka, I know you love the children and I, you always will, but, you have to start living again my love. You can't stop your life because we're no longer with you, and you can't keep blaming yourself for our not being with you." It was Danijela's turn to cry, but, without knowing how long they had, she knew she couldn't stop.
"You couldn't have known what would happen when you left the apartment that day, I know that, and Jasna knew you did everything you could to save us. Our lives are over now, but, you still have yours, live it for us, my love, do all of those things we always wanted for our children. Luka, you were such a wonderful father, you still have time to know that joy again, please find someone, for me, for our children, don't waste everything that makes you who you are." By the time she finished they were both in tears and she again silenced him with a kiss.
"No more talk, Luka, just hold me, and know I will always, always love you, now, sleep." It might have been minutes, more likely though it took only seconds for the slow stroking of her fingers at his temples to lull him back into sleep, and in that moment before she vanished, she placed a final kiss upon his lips.
"Farewell, my love." The words remained behind as she vanished, little more then particles of dust settling around him.
The second visit...
"I think I'd rather we met in the bar than this place." The smell of the prostitute's perfume filled the hut, and as much of a shock it had been to wake earlier to find Danijela at his side, it was even more of one to now see Valerie. How could he have possibly explained the woman to his wife, explained to her what he had done, and the man he had become since her death.
"It really is disgusting here, and I'm charging extra for the conditions, I expect better than this, I'm not some $20 an hour crack whore after all , I thought you understood that. The blond had somehow found a chair and as she now crossed her legs, she smoothed her skirt across her lap.
"I've never seen this side of you, I'm not sure I like it." Opening her purse, she withdrew a cigarette, and after sliding it between her perfectly lined lips, she proceeded to light it.
"Would you like one?" She offered the pack, only to return it to her purse at his refusal.
"Fine, have it your way." Reaching for the one she held between her lips, she removed it only long enough to release a slow stream of smoke.
"I've been thinking about you, this place isn't for you, if you ask me, this humanitarian crap is over-rated, we'd have more fun back in Chicago. You do have fun when you're with me, don't you?" As she asked the question, Valerie rose and walked over to the pallet on which he now sat. Despite a brief lapse where she wrinkled her nose at the smell, the woman settled down beside him as if she were taking a seat on the finest satin comforter.
"We could set up regular play-dates, drinks, dinner, and then I'd treat you like you deserve to be treated, you'd like that, I know you would." Her voice grew quieter the closer she got, until it was little more than a whisper before she caught his earlobe between his teeth. Using that as a distraction she trailed a hand down his chest before stopping as she cupped her hand around him. When the action elicited a gasp, and was immediately followed by a stirring from him in response, she couldn't help but laugh.
"See, you do want me, nothing has to change, all you have to do is go back to Chicago and we can pick up right where we left off." Taking advantage of his show of weakness she cast her cigarette into the dirt before pushing him back with her free hand so she could straddle him. You don't have to listen to anyone but your body, this is all you need, the rest means nothing." With him pinned under her weight she slid her hands inside his pants so she could stroke him.
"What could be better than this?" At his groan in response she again laughed, yes, this was all he needed, she was sure of it, and in time he would come to realize it as well.
The third and final visit...
"They said you were dead, but I didn't believe them, not you, not after everything you've been through." Luka moaned softly as the words crept into his head.
"No more...no more." Rolling to his side he drew his knees up before tucking his head down to touch them. He couldn't take anymore of this, he wanted nothing more now but for it to stop.
"I'm not going anywhere, Luka, you should know that by now." It took him longer to identify the speaker's voice, and as it registered he raised his head before rolling to his other side so he could see her.
"Abby?" He blinked several times in disbelief, deciding her appearance made no more sense then had those of Danijela's and Valerie's. If he touched her, would she too seem as real?
"You have to come back to me Luka, you may not see why now, but in time you will. I have to warn you though, it's not going to be easy, but, when has it been for us? Do you remember our first date? Nothing will ever be as bad as that, but you have to want to leave this place, you can't just lay here and give up." For the first time Abby reached over to touch him.
"What have they done to you?" She touched each bruise and cut on his face as if she could somehow heal them before letting her hand drop.
"I told you not to come here, but, you wouldn't listen, you have to listen now, you have to want to come back, if you don't, you'll die here. Carter's looking for you, Luka, you have to hang on until he finds you, promise me you won't give up. Promise me." To emphasize her words she took his hand in hers and squeezed it as tightly as she could.
"Say it, Luka...say you won't give up or so help me I will haunt you." She could feel the tears building as she demanded the promise from him and at the same time she felt the pull that signaled her time with him was almost at it's end.
"I'll be there for you when you come home, but, you have to hang on, now, promise me you won't give up." She caught his gaze as she tried to force him into the promise she knew he would honor once it was made.
"I promise." His words came quietly and even as he made them he wondered if he was making them for her or for himself, it would only be later that Danijela's words to him would return and he would remember she'd asked him to live for her and the children as well.
"I'll be waiting for you, Luka, no matter how long it takes, just hold on, Carter will find you, I promise you that." It was only then that Abby gave in and fully approached him, then, using her words as permission she kissed him.
"Don't give up on him, Luka...don't give up me." Abby was allowed one more kiss before she too was gone, and in the darkness of the tiny hut Luka was left wondering about the vividness of the dreams that had touched him as he drifted back into his fever fueled sleep.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Nothing, and everything, at times I wonder. I start to think that I've figured things out, that I've done what I need to do in order to get my life back on track and then something else happens to derail it. I'm hoping that this move to Boston that Abby and I have made will be the final step in that process.
There's no denying that we've both made mistakes in our relationship. There's no point in going back and pointing fingers, saying one of us is more responsible than the other, or that what she did was any more destructive then the results of my actions. What would any of that have accomplished except to have caused even more harm than had already been done?
I think that's what made us decide that we had to leave Chicago and all that was tied to our life there. It took some time to make that decision, and it wasn't easy, but, we knew our marriage and what we were building was worth saving and we might not be able to do that with the constant reminders that were there.
Was it the right decision, only time will tell. Leaving Chicago meant more than walking away from our careers, it meant saying good-bye to good friends as well, friends who had seen us through the ups and downs of our relationship even before we knew we wanted to make it forever.
I can't think about leaving though without thinking about those who left before us, some by choice, and some through fate, taken by God's hand whether they were ready to leave or not. Nothing can take away the impact they had on helping us become the people we are today, and if we're lucky we'll find people just as valuable in Boston. People who will guide us as we embark on this next stage of our lives and onto the future we'll be setting in motion for Joe.
Life is all about changes, some good, some bad, and as certain as day turns to night they will always be there. I hope that those Abby and I face in the future will be ones of our choosing made out of desire rather than need, but, if not, then we'll face those as we have faced these lessons, and hopefully we'll learn from them. We can't ask for anything more.
Monday, February 16, 2009
I'm not sure how much I ever believed in talismans until I went to the Congo and found my life spared by something as small as the crucifix that Sakima had insisted I take with her gratitude. She and her daughter had nothing but the clothes on their backs, yet she demanded I take something so personal, and I was at a loss for how to refuse her.
For so many years I had turned my back on the church and there, in that place, seeing what I saw, knowing that Patrique sacrificed his life in an attempt to save mine, how could I do anything less than grab for it again. I was raised to believe that my faith would protect me, but, there, in that place, it seemed so impossible to believe. I tried to sense God's presence, but, all I could feel was the fear around me, and as one by one those kneeling with me were led to their death's I began to doubt he was near. And then I was alone.
How do I begin to explain the dread I felt when I realized that I was the last one there in that compound? It didn't seem to matter anymore if I remained kneeling, what more could they do to me then what I knew was to come? For the first time in hours I simply sat and tried to resolve myself to what was to come. I was beyond thinking about what would happen to Sakima and Chance, my own death was imminent, and I needed to make my peace with it.
It was only as I once more climbed to my knees that I began to hear the music, and somewhere deep inside of me I found comfort in that. Despite all my years away the prayers came back to me easily and as I whispered them for my comfort, the world around me seemed to fade away. I was sure then that it wouldn't be long and I would once more be reunited with Danijela and my children and we would once more be a family. How could I have have known that a simple crucifix held the power to change everything.
I wasn't aware that I'd drawn the attention of the Mai Mai, I wasn't aware that the sight of the crucifix around my neck would prompt Sakima to put my life above that of her own life and that of her daughter's as she fought to save me. I only know that one moment I faced death, and then sometime later I woke in a tiny hut, fevered, amid stifling heat, but, somehow still alive. I'll never know for sure what might have happened to me if it hadn't been for that crucifix or for those who put my life before theirs, I only know I will never be able to repay them for the sacrifices they made to save me. I'm forever in their debt.
How do you put into words the emotions that run through you in those moments just before you say those two words that you know will change your life forever?
When I'd asked Danijela to marry me all those years ago, we had both been sure that we would be together for the rest of our lives. We were so young, so innocent, and all that mattered was our love and being together. We couldn't wait to welcome children into our lives, to show them the love our parents had shown us, to impart the wisdom that we'd been given, to know the joy that our parents must have known as we watched them grow. Little could we know that few of the dreams we had for our life would come true, that the years we'd thought we would have to look forward to would be cut so short. I lost my first love, my wife Danijela after little more than five years of marriage, our daughter, Jasna was only a few months younger, our son, Marko, had barely reached 18 months of age. I was sure my life was over, sure I was destined to die alone with only my grief for companionship.
When I left Croatia, my brother accused me of running away, in truth I knew that if I had any hope for a life it had to be somewhere far from the reminders of those I had lost. Even then, for the longest time I from myself drifting into relationships that I thought would allow me to recapture what I'd had with Danijela. Some saw it for what it was, others, like Abby the first time we were together, realized that I wasn't ready to give up my love for Danijela, that I needed more time, even if I wasn't able to see it.
Over the years that passed, Abby and I formed a friendship that hadn't existed between us when we'd first dated. It took time, but I finally understood what she had seen in me, and I finally saw that the need that I'd been trying to fill with sex never would have allowed for anything more because there wasn't any room for anyone but Danijela. It was only when I could let her go, that we stood a chance, and while she may never have said it, she knew when the time was right we'd both feel it.
I don't think either of us expected for her to get pregnant before we knew where our renewed relationship was going, it was just one of those things that happened. I dreaded the time it took for her to decide if she'd keep him, I wanted Joe from the moment I knew he held life inside of her, but, it was her choice, and as hard as it would be, I had to support her decision. The months that followed were trying, but we grew as a couple and once Joe was born and we had him home, I knew I wanted to make Abby my wife. It took longer for Abby, but the day finally came. While once I might not have believed it, the day did come when I asked her to marry me again and when she accepted, I knew I had found love again, and this time it would be forever.
They keep asking me how I feel and all I can think to wonder is how am I supposed to feel? I nearly lost my life, as did Abby, and my son still struggles for his. None of this should have happened, and all I can think of is how much I hate those responsible, and how if they weren't already dead I would kill them myself.
It's hard to keep these feelings to myself but, with everything else that's going on it doesn't matter what's going on in my head. I need to keep my focus on Joe, and Abby, and somewhere in there I have to concentrate on my patients, and I'm starting to wonder if I have enough room in my head to keep the hatred hidden away.
Standing in the NICU, seeing my son laying there, so fragile, his tiny body swallowed up by tubes and wires, it's not fair. If Steve and his friends had never come here none of this would have happened. If they had never escaped he'd still be growing safe in his mother's womb, protected from harm until it was his time to be born.
They forced this on him, forced this on all of us, and I worry about what his future holds with his having been born so early. I'm a doctor, I know the risks, and as frightened as I am of what all this could do to him I know I'll love him with all my heart no matter what.
How do I keep all of these fears from Abby though, how do I keep my anger at bay when all I want to do is scream at the top of my lungs or break something? I hate having no one to confide in, I hate having to be the strong one all of the time, but, what else can I do? Abby needs my strength more then ever and whatever I'm feeling has to feel worse to her. I promised her I would be there for her, and when she needed me most, where was I?
Even as I know that all of this was beyond my control, I can't help feeling like I've failed not just Abby, but my son as well. If I couldn't protect Joe before he was born, how can I be sure I'll be there when when he needs me in the future. Maybe that's my greatest fear, that I'll fail him as I failed Jasna and Marko. Maybe I've misplaced my hate all along, and instead of Steve and the others it's really my own actions that I'm holding responsible. Maybe one day I'll be able to put it to rest and forgive myself, but, for today, all I can do is hit my knees and pray that he'll make it one more day, because each day brings more hope that he'll live.