Sunday, April 26, 2009
"Luka?" Abby switched the light on as she came down the stairs. While it wouldn't have surprised her to find him in the kitchen, seeing him standing at the patio doors was something else.
"What are you doing?" As she came alongside him, she couldn't help noticing that he held the small photo of his first wife and their daughter in his hand.
"Did you have a dream?" It was difficult to completely keep the concern from her voice. Was she ready for another cycle of his sleeplessness?
"No, not really." Luka shook his head, while there was a time when he might once have concealed the photo from her, that was no longer the case and he turned it so she could see what he held.
"What's going on then? You're not up for no reason." Sliding her arm around his waist, Abby found herself pulling him closer with the question.
"She would have been 22 today, Jasna, a year younger than Danijela was when she died. I still see her as this little girl playing with her doll." Luka lifted his hand to wipe his eyes as he spoke.
"There's nothing wrong with that, Luka, she's always going to be your little girl."
"Yeah, it's just hard to believe how fast time flies, and I can't help wondering what she might have been like if..." His words trailed off as his gaze seemed to become lost to something outside the window.
"If what, Luka?" As much as she hated pushing him for more, too many years had been wasted in their not talking about his past for her to go back.
"I just wonder what she might have been like if she'd had the chance to grow up." Luka's words seemed to come from a long distance away, almost as if he were talking to someone other than Abby.
"Would she have chosen marriage and a family like her mother, or would she have decided she wanted a career? She was such a bright little girl, and she was so looking forward to the day she would go to school. She never even got a chance to do something as simple as that." The reminders of how much his daughter had missed out on were too much and as his voice broke, Abby felt the tremble run through him.
"Luka, whatever she did, you know you would have supported her in it, just like you would have done for Marko, you'll do for Joe when the time comes. You're a wonderful father now, and I know you were a wonderful father then. You can't go back and change the past, but, you can remember all the things that made your daughter so special to you. You have to know she'll always be part of you, and because of that, she'll always be a part of us, and it's that which will keep them all alive.
The increase in the tension of the robbers had an immediate effect on their hostages and while some simply gave into the tears born of their fear, among most there was a pronounced increase in the level of the conversations among them.
"Shut the fuck up! So help me I'm gonna start shooting people if you don't shut your mouths." The announcement from the robber stunned almost everyone into immediate silence, not just because of the threat but because he was the one that to this point had been the silent one, the one they thought they had least to fear from. Clearly, tensions were rising and not just among the hostages.
Bobby...back off, we need to figure a way out of this." Albert returned to the front window, pulling the curtain aside only enough to get a glimpse of the street outside.
"Why don't you just let everyone go, before things get worse then they already are?" The words were out of Luka's mouth before Abby could stop him.
"You were told to keep your mouth shut already." Whether it was fear or something more that drove him, it was the youngest of the three that reacted to Luka's words and before either of the other two could stop the man he was already in front of Kovac. His first kick doubled the Croat over, the ones that followed would leave him gasping for breath on the floor before Albert could pull his brother off.
"What the hell are you doing? You want to kill him? You were supposed to be checking the back alley, keeping an eye on what's going on out there, and you, get your ass up." After assuring himself that Joey was finally doing as he'd been told Albert nudged Luka with the toe of his shoe, when he made no effort to comply he reached down and grabbed a handful of his shirt and jerked him upright.
"I said I wanted you up, so help me, you're just asking me to turn him loose on you again." His voice held the promise of a threat that he'd have no trouble acting on.
"Can't you see he's hurt...untie me, I'll keep him sitting if that's what you want." Abby offered the compromise without worrying about the consequences to herself. As the robber released his hold on Luka's shirt and he watched the man simply curl into himself again he realized he'd have to make a choice.
"Alright, but you try anything, and I mean anything, and he's the first to die. You got me?" As he finished speaking Albert stepped behind Abby and untied her hands.
"I mean it, you get him up and you keep him up, anything happens he dies first, then I kill that little blond girl there, you make sure he understands that." Without waiting for her response he stepped away from their hostages.
"Bobby! What's happening in the back alley?" This was not how things were supposed to have gone down.
To be continued...
Saturday, April 25, 2009
"No, Mr. Spera. I am certain you don't want to know what I really think." As they walked back toward the lake, Margaret Hall found it difficult to look at the young man beside her.
"What do you want me to say, Mrs. Hall? Do you want me to say I can call all of this off? Because, I can't do that. My partner is convinced the money is there and he is prepared to do whatever he has to do to get it."
"What about you, just what are you prepared to do? If your partner told you you had to beat me up, break my leg, you'd do that for him? Would that get you this money that you seem to want so badly?" The red-head's voice held more frustration than anger at the situation she found herself in.
"I don't want to do any of this, but, I don't have anymore of a choice in things than you do." Alek found it hard not to sympathize with the woman, but how could he possibly tell her what a failure on his part might cost him. Without thinking his hand rose to rub the tattoo on his neck as they continued walking.
"Sure you do, you're young, I would guess single too, you could go anywhere, well, I can't. This is all we have Mr. Spera, we have nowhere to run to, no way to escape this. So, you do what you have to do, but, I don't have the kind of money you want." As she finished, Margaret looked off toward the lake, only to immediately turn back to the house as she heard the call of her oldest son.
"Look, I have to go, I'll try, but, I know we don't have it." Turning she began walking away from him before he could answer.
"What if I see if he'll take less, that would be better, it would help?" Alek hurried to catch up before checking his stride so he could walk back to the house with her.
"I'll do what I can, and call you later, okay? I'll try." His tone held a touch of hopefulness in it and the woman couldn't help but grab onto it.
"Thank you, now, I do have to go." The sense of relief was immediate as she walked away from him, and while she had no guarantee that he would be successful, at least it gave her hope, and that was what she had needed.
Muse: Alek Spera
Fandom: The Deep End
April Prompt: 005. In what ways do you relax and de-stress when you are really tense?/Creative Muses
"Watch 'em, Joe, they're going to get the ball." Luka held the conversation over the football match with his son in Croatian, something he's started even before the boy had been born. From the moment he'd learned Abby was pregnant he'd known how important it would be that Joe be bilingual, not just because he was half Croatian, but for those times when his father would call, or they might one day go to Croatia. Unfortunately, his father had passed before Joe was old enough to really talk, but, that hadn't stopped him from continuing the lessons, and when the two of them were together, he found he rarely spoke to him in English.
"Tata, him running." Joe pointed at the at the screen as he spoke, making sure that Luka was catching what was happening on-screen.
It was hard to explain how important his time with Joe was to him. Maybe it was because he realized how little time he'd had with Jasna and Marko, or maybe it was just knowing that he and Abby would never have another child. Whatever the reason, the moments they spent together were ones he found himself looking forward to. It didn't matter what kind of a day he'd had, or how tired he felt, the minute he walked through the door and heard Joe call his name it all disappeared.
"Tata, him running, see." Joe tugged at Luka's sleeve to drag his father out of his thoughts and back into the soccer match on the television.
"I see that, Joe." What could be better than this?
Friday, April 24, 2009
"What do you think?" Luka looked up from the journal he was reading as his wife asked the question.
"Hmm? Of what?" His expression shifted to one of puzzlement as he realized that he honestly had no idea of what the woman was talking about.
"You weren't even listening were you?" Abby poured milk over the cereal in Joe's bowl before placing it in front of the toddler.
"Um, sorry, I'm trying to get caught up." Reaching for a second journal, the Croat tucked the second inside the first to use it as a bookmark before setting it aside.
"Tell me again." Pushing himself up off the chair, he made his way over to the short counter that separated the living-room from the kitchen.
"I don't know if I'm ready to let you off that easy." Abby tilted her head slightly as she debated how long she wanted to continue the give and take.
"Hey, that's not nice." As he stood beside his son, Luka found himself unable to resist stealing a piece of cereal from the boy's bowl, and as he popped it in his mouth, he gave him an exaggerated smile.
"Well, that's what happens when you don't listen the first time." As Luka settled next to Joe, Abby couldn't help but smile, the moment for the two of them now passed.
"Yum, good stuff, Joe." Pleased at the attention turning toward him, the soon to be three year old, fished another Cheerio out of the milk and offered it to his father.
"Thank you, Joe." Leaning toward him, Luka accepted the bite, then reciprocated by offering a kiss in return.
"That's enough for me, now, you eat your cereal."
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
With the patrons secured, their haul piled out of reach on the bar, the three moved back to the front of the restaurant, leaving their hostages alone for the first time since they had entered. Not surprisingly, most began to talk among themselves immediately, some simply to offer comfort to spouses, others to complain, though wisely not loud enough to be overheard. Abby's concern chief concern was on Luka as he struggled again to sit. She couldn't ignore the force of the blow the man had delivered to him, and as she observed his movements, she looked for signs of a potential head injury.
"Luka, are you all right" She kept her voice low, barely above a whisper as she spoke.
"I don't know." Once he was fully upright, he shook his head, only to instantly regret it as the room seemed to spin forcing him to close his eyes in response.
"I think my head's going to explode, if I don't throw up first." He winced as he tested the restraints on his wrists and found himself rewarded with a tightening of them.
"I'm sorry, Luka." Abby's concern was written clearly on her face as she studied his face for changes from her earlier exam of him.
"Sorry for what?" He shifted his full attention to her as he picked up the change in the tone of her voice.
"For not listening to you earlier, when you said you felt like something wasn't right, I should have trusted your instincts, and I didn't." Abby dropped her eyes from his face with the admission.
"Abby, look at me." Luka waited until she was looking at him again before continuing.
"You couldn't have known this was going to happen, I didn't even know what was wrong, don't blame yourself." He glanced toward the entrance where the men were gathered then back to her.
"They've got what they wanted, there's no reason for them to stay, they're probably already getting ready to leave, you'll see." The words were no sooner out of his mouth then there was a yell from the door.
"Damn! Joey, go check the back, son of a bitch, there are cops outside." Albert had drawn the curtain back to look over the street and now let it fall as he turned to his brother with raised hands.
"What are you waiting for? Would you check the back."
to be continued...
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The man was crazy, Abby was sure of it, but, as much as she wanted to tell him that, her fear for what he was capable of held her back.
"Move." Albert shoved Luka in the direction he wanted him to go, paying no mind to the fact that the man was still dazed and disoriented, and causing him to stumble as he lost his balance.
"Get down on the floor, hands behind your back, now." He glanced over to where the other two men had begun securing the rest of the patrons, before bringing his attention back to Luka and Abby.
"You too, what are you waiting for?" He momentarily shifted his attention away from Luka as he sprawled on the wood floor, more concerned with making sure that the woman didn't try to escape. He needn't have worried, as Luka lost his balance Abby quickly moved to his side, kneeling next to him before laying a hand on his shoulder.
"Luka, look at me." She barely had time to register the size of his pupils let alone whether they were equal before Albert was jerking her away from him.
"That's enough, I said sit." He pushed her to the side before laying his rifle on the bar so he could concentrate on tying Luka's hands behind his back.
"Your turn." Albert grabbed one of the collected ties before turning to Abby, and yanking her arms sharply behind her back. His actions finally prompting a response from Luka as he tried to stop him by butting him with his shoulder."
"You don't have to be so rough with her." He shook his head, trying to clear the dizziness as he spoke.
"Bad move Cowboy." Without giving it a second thought Albert backhanded Luka with enough force to knock him again to the floor.
"That's two, next time is going to be a hell of a lot worse." With the warning given he turned his attention back to securing Abby.
To be continued.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
How do you thank someone for giving you your life back?
For the longest time John and I were adversaries I guess you could say. I'm not sure how it started, or even why exactly, though I know it was at a time when Abby and I were first dating and things weren't going too well.
At the start, when Abby and I were together, she and John were simply friends, when things started to change it couldn't help but bleed into the relationship we had. Maybe I was jealous because I saw that he could give her a life I couldn't, or maybe it was just the relationship that seemed to exist between them. When we finally did break up, we both had our reasons, and where she used my continued love for my wife against me, I hurled her feelings toward Carter at her. I'd had enough, I told myself I was done with the games, I was done with the fights, I told her that Carter could have her. I didn't realize at the time what a mistake I was making and what that decision would cost me.
Over the next year and a half it seemed things only got worse, it wasn't just that I still held feelings for Abby, I know I did, but, I'd lost my best friend, and seeing her everyday with Carter, it became a nightmare for me. I began to hate Carter, and that hate started to change me, ultimately affecting how I did my job. I became someone I no longer recognized, and often someone I couldn't stand, and while it was easy to blame John, in truth I know I knew it wasn't his fault.
It's funny how time changes things, how things that once seemed so huge become insignificant. When I decided to go to the Congo my life was in ruins, I hardly recognized the person I'd become, and was to the point where if I had died, I was sure no one would even have noticed. I'd made my peace with Abby, and while things between us weren't perfect, we had at least become friends again. It took going to the Congo though for me to see just how much things had changed between John and I.
I'd worked in a war-zone before, I'd seen the devastation, the grief on the faces of parents as they held their bloodied children in their arms. I knew what it was like to work under the worst conditions you could imagine, with little to no sleep, but, you can't explain that to someone like Carter. The first time I saw him there, I knew he was shocked by the conditions, but, what was I supposed to say to him? It wasn't like it was going to get any better. It wasn't like he could buy a way to fix this. Then, after our encounter with the Mai Mai there was no doubt of he and the others leaving Matenda.
Saying good-bye, that day on the steps of the clinic, I think I knew it very well could be for the last time, but, I had my patients, and for the first time in far too long I felt like I was doing the right thing. I don't think any of us could have anticipated how much worse things would get, or the lives that would be lost in the process. More importantly, I never would have thought that John would endanger his own life to recover my body upon learning of my death.
My death. They thought I was dead, killed with so many others, Patrique among them. County had received the call, and for whatever reason ,John decided he had to come back back for me. He didn't have to, he didn't owe me anything, we weren't even friends, or so I thought, but, he put his own life in danger and he found us, Chance, her Mother, and I, in a filthy mud hut. I was barely clinging to life when he got there, in a day, maybe two I could well have been truly dead. Yet, there he was, and somehow, he convinced them to release us, and to this day I'll never know the how or why of it.
My relationship with John has never been the same since that day. I can now honestly say, he's my friend, and I owe him my life, and so much more, and I have no idea how I will ever repay him for all that he gave me when he gave me back my life.
Friday, April 17, 2009
"Luka, you are not giving him a paintbrush." It took every ounce of willpower in her for Abby not to stop what she was doing to prevent just that as she saw Joe hovering close to Luka while he readied the paint for the living-room wall.
"He'll be fine, I'll give him a bath when we finish. Right, Joe, you want to help Tata paint, don't you?" As he asked the question, Luka handed the 3 year old a small brush.
"Joe, paint." The boy gleefully waved the brush before eying the bucket in anticipation of what was yet to come.
"Oops, before we do that, we better put this on you." Reaching for the adult tee shirt that lay next to the bucket, Luka pulled it over his son's head, only to smile as he saw that it very nearly touched the floor on him.
"Maybe I should have used one of yours instead of mine." He joked as he shot a glance to Abby all while still keeping his eye on their son.
"Funny. You do realize we're planning to be in this home for some time, are you sure you want his handiwork on the walls? I can find something else to keep him busy." Abby couldn't hold back the grimace as Joe got closer to the paint.
"Abby, you worry too much, we've got it covered. Isn't that right, Joe? Let's get you some paint." Guiding his son's brush into the bucket, Luka put just enough paint on it to allow him to feel like he was helping before dipping his own.
"Okay, Joe, paint just like Tata, up and down, back and forth." He guided the toddler through several cycles before coating his brush a final time and turning him loose on a section of wall.
"Up, down." Joe echoed his father's words as he slapped the paint on the wall before him, oblivious of the paint that dripped onto his hand and down to the drop-cloth he stood on.
"Joe, paint." His smile spread rapidly across his face as he grew more confident with what he was doing and it wasn't long before he was even dipping his own brush.
"Good job, Joe." Luka reached over to ruffle the boy's hair as he offered the praise, who would have thought it would have gone so well.
The apartment in Chicago had always been his, people came and went, but this place, this was a home, a family lived here, and when people saw it, there would never be any doubt of that.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I killed a man tonight. And while I see death on an almost daily basis, I know this one will haunt me for the rest of my life. This wasn't a death I can write off to fate, or even injuries too severe for those of us treating him to stabilize. The truth is, this death was preventable. Tonight's death came at my hand, and for one single reason. I lost it.
Abby and I had gone out for the evening and instead of taking a cab after dinner, we went walking down by the river. Out of nowhere we were attacked by this mugger and I remember hitting the ground. When I came to, Abby was screaming and I went after him, but, instead of simply stopping him, I laid into him, sending him to the ground. It wasn't enough that I hit him, or that I kept hitting him, I also shattered his skull by repeatedly pounding his head against the pavement. If Abby hadn't stopped me I'd have killed him right there, I'm sure of it, as it was, they ended up taking him to the hospital, but, it was too late, his brain was already mush.
I came to America, to Chicago to find myself and hopefully start a new life, but, now I wonder if that's even possible. Do I want to know the person capable of this? Maybe the bigger question should be, will anyone else here want to have anything to do with me once the word gets out about it? Who knows what it might take to make me snap again. What if it were to happen at work, or worse, to someone I knew? My God, what kind of an animal does this make me?
I look at this City and I think I could disappear into it so easily, but, the truth is, I never could because the one person I most need to escape from is myself. Maybe Niko was right, maybe I am running away. Maybe my not being able to deal with all that happened back home is only going to keep building up in me until I'm left with these unexplainable rages that I can't control. How am I going to be able to live like this? It's not like I can justify my actions, so, what do I do? Run away again? What would that accomplish? Do I find yet another place to bury this as I've tried to bury so many other things in my past that I'm not ready, or not able to face? I don't know how much more of this I can take before it's too much.
As much as I know it's not possible, I still find myself clinging to that thread of hope, and so, I close my eyes and I wish, no I pray for that miracle that will make all of this go away. I pray for that miracle that will give me back those I've lost and the life that we used to have, but, it never does. No matter how often I try, I open my eyes and I'm left instead with the view of the City and all of those hopes that I fear will never be fulfilled.
Albert Falbrizzo remained silent for a long moment, truth was he was taking perverse pleasure in watching the woman's anxiety rise the longer he delayed her. Finally, he released a smile and lifted the gun from Luka's chest.
"All right, but, I want his wallet and cell phone before you do anything." He remained close as the small woman rushed to the unconscious man's side, dropping to her knees she fished through his pockets.
"Take them." She handed first her husband's phone, then his wallet upward, they were just things, none of them mattered as much as he did.
"Luka...come on, time to wake up." Abby dipped one of the napkins in the water before wiping the blood from his brow. When her actions prompted a soft moan from him as consciousness returned, she couldn't stop the smile from surfacing.
"That's it, you're all right." She applied even pressure to the gash, only to find she had to fend off his hands as he tried to stop her.
"No..." He started to sit, then groaned as she put her hand on his shoulder, pushing him back.
"Stay still for a minute, let me look you over." With Luka awake Abby felt a weight lift, the first hurdle was cleared, she held two fingers in front of his face.
"How many fingers?" As she waited for his response she gauged the size of his pupils, looking for differences in the size that might further indicate a head injury.
"Two." Luka raised his hand again, intending to rub his eyes only to find his efforts stopped yet again.
"I have a headache." He offered the complaint as if that might sway her.
"I'm sorry, but, you need to keep your hand down, I mean it." Her tone held a threat of implied violence, though both knew none would follow.
"What happened?" For the first time Luka looked past Abby, and as he caught sight of the man with the rifle he again started to sit up.
"Luka, stop, just lay still." Abby barely got the warning out before Albert intervened.
"He wants to sit up, the two of you can join the others, he's a big guy, he looks like he can handle it." Moving to Luka he grabbed his arm, yanking him to his feet before Abby could protest.
"Come on, let's go."
to be continued...
Sunday, April 12, 2009
"I need a towel, a napkin, something to stop the bleeding." Abby forced herself to look away from Luka long enough to try and get what she needed to address his visible injuries. "Please?"
"Get it yourself, but, you try anything, just remember first I kill him." As if to bring home his point the man moved closer.
"Then that little blond girlie there." He glanced fleetingly to the still crying teen before returning his full attention to Abby, who had yet to move from her husband's side.
"Now, if you're going to get something you'd better get what you need, this is the only time you're moving except for when you go back and join the others over there." He used the gun as a pointer, jerking it around toward the bar where his partners were busy tying up the other patrons and staff.
"All right, all right, just don't hurt him." Abby slid Luka's head from her knee and eased it back to the floor before scrambling to her feet. She only had one chance, what would she need for him? Her thoughts were racing, what if she missed something? Heading for the closest table she grabbed several napkins, then almost as an afterthought she began emptying the table of everything else so she could take the tablecloth as well. Once she had what she thought she'd need in hand, she looked back at the man who still hovered over Luka. God, it wasn't nearly enough, but, what choice did she have?
"I need to get a glass of water, for when he comes around, to clean the wound." She shifted the items in her arms as she pointed to one of the recently vacated tables, but remained where she was until she received his nod of approval.
"Get it, that's it though, you've stalled long enough." As if she needed a reminder of the risk he posed to Luka, he nudged the still unconscious Croat with the toe of his shoe, prodding him in the stomach.
"Don't." Abby the word was out before she could stop it and she quickly grabbed the closest glass of water before hurrying back to Luka's side.
"I wasn't going to do anything else, don't hurt him anymore." Before she could move her captor grabbed her arm, pulling her close enough that she could smell his breath.
"You don't tell me what to do." His finger's bit into her arm, causing her to yelp in pain. "You got me?"
"Yes." Abby nodded her assent, willing to say anything if it would get her to Luka's side sooner, this was taking too long, Luka needed her, and she needed to see to him.
"Please, let me see to him." She was willing to do whatever it took...
to be continued...
Saturday, April 11, 2009
I Thought I Knew Fear
I thought I knew every kind of fear. I'd lived through a war. For weeks I had dodged the gunfire of snipers as I went for water, queued for food, or simply covered the distance from our apartment to the hospital where I was undergoing my residency. Too suddenly though I learned there was a much greater fear, a fear that tears through you, one that leaves you powerless in it's wake. The day that the mortar struck our apartment, I was forced to face that fear. When I found my wife, and my children buried in the rumble of what had once been our home, only to learn that my son was already gone, I couldn't even stop to grieve for him. How do I begin to describe the fear that consumed me as I struggled to keep my little girl alive while praying for someone to find us in time? They didn't though. Find us in time. I lost them all that day, and a part of myself with them. In the days and weeks after, I prayed for a sniper's bullet to find me. I prayed for the next mortar to hit in the place where I just happened to be, but, they never did. Even as Vukavar fell, and the Serbs were nearing the hospital doors I was one of the few who were chosen to survive, all the while wondering, why me?
Survive. That's all I did over the next thirteen years. Though I'd managed to escape from Vukovar I was shot in the process, and after several days of travel with no treatment of the wound, and little food I'd had enough. Infection was setting in, hunger was tearing at my insides, all I wanted to do was close my eyes, go to sleep, and hope I'd never wake again.
I did wake though, and instead of being once more with my family as I'd hoped, I found myself in a Displaced Person's Camp. I begged them to let me die, and when that failed, I tried to will myself to death. I refused the food they brought, I ignored the attempts they made to talk to me, and still they wouldn't leave me alone. I couldn't understand why these people who knew nothing about me were so determined to keep me alive when it was the last thing I wanted. In the end they won, for despite my best efforts I found myself growing stronger and while I might not have wanted to hear it, I learned that what I was feeling was all too common among survivors. The feelings were ones shared by many, and they alone were not enough to call death to me.
I spent several months in the camp, and when I left it was to find myself filled with a new fear, the fear of returning to a life that was no more. It was a fear I would never conquer and it would in fact eventually drive me from not just my family and friends, but the land I was born in. It took only days for me to realize how hard it would be for me to be back in my father's house. To wake everyday and find him trying so hard to make me feel that there was still a life possible for me. Worse yet, seeing the look on my father's face when I caught him watching me when he didn't know I was. How can I explain what that was like? While I was grieving my family, he was grieving not just them, but, also the loss of the man I had been with them, for there was no longer any doubt to him that he had died on that day as well.
As difficult as things were with my father, they were far worse between my brother and I. Whatever love had once existed between us seemed to be lost amidst daily arguments and ugly words hurled at each other in unbridled anger. It soon became clear that if I was to have any hope at all of surviving my losses it would have to be done somewhere else. Somewhere far from the constant reminders of those I had loved so much, far from the reminders of those who were stolen from me forever. On the day I made that decision to leave Croatia, Niko and I had our final fight, a fight that would rip away the bond that had existed between us since childhood. He wouldn't understand why I felt as I did, or maybe he couldn't, he accused me of being selfish, of running away, of not caring about anyone but myself. If only he had understood what I'd already accepted, I knew that if I had any hope of healing I had to first find out who I was again, and I couldn't do that amongst all the memories of the past that was no more. I had to go away, I had to start over again.
I didn't find my way to Chicago immediately, and once I was there it wasn't easy to undo the safe-guards I'd set in place to protect myself from people getting too close. In time I did though. In time, I gave myself permission to trust again, to love again, and along the way I even made mistakes, terrible mistakes. I admit, when that happened, I came close to running away, to self-destructing. I turned to all of those things I knew I shouldn't do, and when I found no peace in them I did the worst thing I could imagine, I put myself in harm's way all the while hiding behind the mantle of doing good. Funny thing how life has a way of paying you back for your actions, and my lesson came not just with the facing of a new kind of fear, but at the cost of another's life as he tried to save mine.
At the time I went to the Congo I know I was thinking that my actions might somehow be seen as my way as making amends for the mistakes I had made. Mistakes that had led to Erin's being injured, and worse, to Rick Kendricks death. They never would of course, but, I couldn't see that then, and I certainly couldn't see the dangers I was walking into. If anything I taunted them, placing myself in harm's way more then once out of both arrogance and stupidity. Remembering John's final words to me on that day he left Patrique and I in Matenda, I can't help feeling now that he must have known, or at least suspected, that he might very well be saying good-bye to me for the very last time. How could I blame him?
What happened in those next days and weeks comes to me now in pieces, lost mostly to nightmares brought back from the haze of the untreated malaria that I had existed in for so long. In a way that again makes me the lucky one, for unlike Chance and her mother I'm not forced to relive those horrors day after day. Unlike them, I'm given the luxury of forgetting, a respite that they will never know. There are somethings though I will never forget, most importantly the sacrifice made by Patrique as he gave his life to spare mine. The very same risk that Sakima made when she too pled for my life, ignoring the risk to herself and her young daughter. How can I begin to understand what they saw in me even as I had already given up? But I lived, we lived, and somehow, in the midst of all of that carnage and death, John found us, and he brought us home.
When John found the three of us in that tiny hut, I was near death, and where once I might have given myself up to it, I knew this time I no longer had that option. No more did my life belong to me alone, I owed all that I was, and all that I would be to others now. From Patrique, to Sakima, and even to little Chance, from this point forward, my actions reflected not just on me, but on how I felt toward what they had done for me. Their sacrifices had ensured I remained alive, and the gift they had given me was one I could no longer waste.
So many years have passed since that day I was placed on the plane back to Chicago. I remember asking John where I was going and him telling me I was going home. On that tarmac, he saw what I couldn't, and after years of uncertainty, I can honestly say, I do now. It's not come without one final test though, and with it another glimpse of fear, a fear far beyond anything I could ever have imagined. You see, I'm a husband again, and a father, and if I fear anything more than the loss of my family, it's the affect my own death might have on my wife and small son.
As a doctor you always try to do the best you can do for every patient you treat, but, we're only human, and despite those best efforts we can miss things. Curtis Ames was one of my patients where I missed something, and instead of accepting that what happened, he became obsessed with getting revenge. It wasn't enough that he sued me and lost, he began stalking me, and worse he began stalking my family. I tried to warn him off, and it only angered him more. I should have realized then what would come next, but, I didn't, why would I? When I stepped into our apartment and found him there with that gun on Abby and Joe, I knew what I had to do. As hard as it was not to run to them ,to wrap my arms around them and comfort them, I had to be careful, I had to keep my distance. I couldn't let him know how much they meant to me. If anyone was to be hurt, it had to be me, not them, they had to live, as hard as that would be for them. It was all I could do to look at Abby's face, to see the pain written so clearly there and know she was begging me to stay. How could I expect her to understand that in leaving with Curtis Ames I was doing what I had to do to protect her and Joe, to save them?
I wouldn't know until later the agony that Abby went through in those hours I was gone. How the not knowing was far worse then anything I could have imagined. I couldn't know the fear she felt when she heard the sound of gunfire from his house, how those minutes between when the police stormed the residence until I came through the door seemed like hours instead of the minutes they actually were. I couldn't know how all of these things would change us, but they did, and in many ways they still are. We're working through it, and in time, maybe we can put all this behind us as I have managed to put the worst of my past behind me. I'm not saying it'll be easy, or that reminders won't surface, but we have each other, and if anything can save us that'll be it, or at least, I hope so.
Friday, April 10, 2009
I don't understand, it should have been me, not Patrique. If he, Sakima, and Chance had only left with the others that night in the jungle, none of them would have suffered the abuse that they did, Patrique might very well still be alive. He had his whole life ahead of him, why did he feel that his was any less important then mine?
If I go back to the very beginning, to the very reason I went to the Congo, I can't even say that I went because I wanted to give back something for all that I'd received in my life. No, that wasn't the reason I left Chicago when I did, the truth is, my life was falling apart, it had been for far too long, and I knew if I didn't do something I would lose myself. Even before I left I had been throwing my life away, everything I'd been doing went against all I believed, all I'd based my entire life on, and it made me sick to even look at my reflection in the mirror. I knew that I had to do something when it started to affect how I treated my patients, how I saw them, or rather the way I no longer saw them, I'd stopped caring about them as people, and without compassion what kind of doctor could I be? I thought going to the Congo might help me find the man who'd become lost to me, but, instead I seemed to only sink deeper into a hole I couldn't find my way out of.
I didn't plan to continue with the drinking and sleeping around once I arrived at the clinic, but there was little else to do at the end of a long shift, and there was no shortage of nurses who were willing. I certainly never planned on starting up anything resembling a relationship with anyone, but, I guess that's what you'd call what happened between Gillian and I, even if we did have our ups and downs.
I know I didn't expect my time in the Congo to pull up the memories of my work in Vukovar, but, that's exactly what happened as day after day I found myself coming face to face with the innocent victims of war. It was hard not to draw parallels between what I saw as a young resident and what was happening almost in front of me, and the worst part was realizing that despite the number of years that had passed, so little seemed to have changed. If it were not for the color of their skin and their language, they could have been the same, and all of them were as just as innocent as those I'd been unable to save all those years ago.
I don't know at what point I decided that I was ready to die, maybe it wasn't until the Mai Mai came into Matenda that day. I know now that I couldn't have been thinking straight when I challenged then, almost dared the man to shoot me. When he held that gun to my head, in that instant I swear, I remember thinking, just pull the trigger, I dare you, and when he didn't, I think I was disappointed. Then, seeing him threaten John, and knowing that Gillian might suffer an even worse fate at their hands, I just knew they had to leave, all of them.
I'll never know why Patrique stayed that day or why he, Sakima, and Chance stayed that night in the jungle when all the rest of those from the clinic fled, but, I can't help but feel responsible for what they went through when the Mai Mai took us captive. Patrique's death is a burden I will bear for the rest of my life, not just because I know he stayed to help me, but, because his life was taken while he was pleading for them to spare mine. After all I had been through, I don't understand now, anymore then I understood at that moment why he thought his life was worth less than mine. I can't look at Sakima without thinking the same thing. Here is this woman, with this beautiful little girl, and she put both of their lives at risk to remain with Patrique and I, and even after they had raped her, even after she'd seen what they did to Patrique, she too pleaded for them to spare my life. I don't understand what they saw in me anymore then I understand what John saw that would make him risk his life to try and find my body when word reached him of my death.
Understanding the whys may never happen, but there's no denying that the experience did change me, and I owe it to not just those who survived, but to Patrique as well to pay them back for the good they must have seen in me. It'll take some time for me to recover from the malaria and return to work, but, I know when I do I'll be seeing both my patients and the work I do differently. I plan to go back to the Congo when I'm well enough, this time I'll be going for the right reasons, and in a way it'll allow me to feel as if I'm repaying the debts I owe those there. For the first time in a long time I'm looking toward the future with a sense of hope and promise, I hope it's a feeling that remains for a long time.
"What's going on?" Archie Morris dropped the chart he was carrying into the rack as he reached the Nurse's Station and noticed the cluster of people around it.
"Chicago police just notified us, they have a hostage situation, they want the Hospital to be on call for potential casualties." Frank filled the attending in on what little he knew while continuing to listen to the officer on the other end of the line.
"Somebody turn the tv on, see if they have coverage of this." The red-head was already prioritizing the cases they had in the waiting-room, deciding who could wait in the event that the situation turned ugly in a hurry.
"They have any idea on what they're looking at for numbers?" He turned his attention back to the desk clerk with the question.
"Not yet, sounds like it's only just started to play out." The desk clerk shook his head.
"There's a live newsfeed." Gates announced from in front of the set as he tuned the station in.
"All right, we need to get this place triaged, if they have no idea what we're looking at for numbers then we have to be ready for the worst." Archie glanced up to the board as he began formalizing his own plan of action.
"Do you want me to call extra people in, just in case?" Frank held the phone away from his ear, obviously finished with his call and waiting for the other man's direction for his next course of action.
"Not yet, let's see what happens first, if things have just started maybe they'll be able to talk 'em out without anyone getting hurt." Morris pulled the nearest chair closer to him as he shifted his attention to the television screen.
"Yeah, right, you still believe in the Easter Bunny too?" Tony glanced over with the crack.
"Go clear a room, Gates." Reaching for the closest pen Archie heaved it at the man. "And turn the sound up before you go."
to be continued...
Monday, April 6, 2009
Luka had no sooner reached the cashier then the door to the restaurant slammed open with a crash as it hit the wall and three men brandishing guns entered.
"Get back, everybody, back!" The first of those started immediately shouting orders as they burst inside. The sight of the tall Croat at the register was unexpected and his immediate reaction was purely defensive. The man was too close. Rather than firing his weapon he brought the butt of the rifle he held up and slammed it into the man's temple, dropping him where he stood, instantly.
"Luka! Abby screamed as her husband went down and despite the threat of danger to herself she knew she had to go to him.
"I said stay back!" Luka's attacker dropped the barrel of the rifle to his victim's head, the unspoken threat instantly stopping her in her tracks. As the others locked the door and began herding the rest of the patrons to one side of the room, Abby was left to try and determine just how badly he was injured without even the luxury of an exam.
"Everybody, down on the floor, we want wallets, purses, jewelry...now" The men began barking orders, each shouting over the other to be heard over the voices of the terrified customers. For Abby it were as if she were watching it from the outside, while she found herself complying, she couldn't help but keep looking back to where Luka still lay on the floor, as yet unmoving.
"Please, can I see to him? I'm a doctor." It took everything in her to retain her calm as she handed over first her watch and then was forced to add her wedding ring to the growing pile on the tray held by the man before her.
"I know you didn't mean to hurt him, he just surprised you. He's my husband, please?" The oldest of the men leveled his gun on her, delaying a response as he looked first to his partners then to Luka before returning his full attention back to her.
"All right, you can check on him, but you try anything and I'll kill him and then that girl there." Using the weapon as his pointer, he chose the pre-teen from a family who had been celebrating her mother's birthday. As if the gun alone had not been enough to convince her, the tone of his voice left no doubt as to the seriousness behind his words, and while Abby appeared to remain calm, the girl and her family were far from that.
"Will you all just shut up, I swear, one more sound." The man snapped as the noise in the room grew steadily louder fueled by his own words.
"We want cell phones, Ipods, anything else like that...better get those ties and belts off too, going to need something to tie you up with." They continued manhandling their way through the other patrons, yanking off necklaces and tossing threats when someone moved too slowly to suit them.
"Joey..get everyone down on the floor by the bar...line them up there, we'll use the railing to secure them." The man who stood over Abby glanced away long enough to issue the order to the youngest of the three before turning back and nudging her with the end of the gun.
"Go if you're going, but so help me, I'll kill him where he lays and then that girl, if you try anything, you got me?" He issued the threat with the barrel still trained on her.
"Yes, I understand, I won't do anything but check on him, please just let me go to him." Her voice trembled despite her best efforts to control it.
"All right." Motioning her to stand up with the rifle, the man watched her make her way over to Luka's side, even going so far to walk across the room and stand beside her as she sank to the floor beside him.
"Luka?" Abby lifted his head onto her knee as she brushed his bangs back, feeling the sticky wetness of blood on her fingers. "Luka, come on, I need you to wake up now."
to be continued...