Monday, November 30, 2009
When Abby and I first dated, it was during a time when I very rarely spoke about my life prior to my arrival in Chicago. Most knew I came from Croatia of course, a few who worked in the ER knew that while I had survived the war in my home country, my wife and children had not, only one, Carol, knew the full story. I'll never know what prompted Abby to open the door on my past that early morning all those years ago, but, I've often wondered if she regretted the decision.
The year was 2000 and we were lying in bed talking about a number of things from our relationship to a patient of mine at the time who was a Catholic Bishop. While I at first resented having to treat Bishop Stewart because of my feelings toward the Church and God left over from Vukovar and the loss of my family, before he died the man enabled me to find my way back to both.
I was a little surprised at first when the conversation settled into silence, then figured it was still early, it was just likely Abby wanted more sleep, and then very quietly she asked the question that started it all.
"Can I ask you something?"
"What was her name?"
"Did you love her very much?"
To some it wouldn't seem like much, but, for Abby and I it was huge. Everything to that point had always been about Abby, her life, or her problems, this was the first time she had asked about my life. Over the years there have been other times. She's learned more about Danijela, of our children, of our families, and most unsettling for her, of the war that separated us forever. But, those times would come later, we both had to grow first, to part ways and then find our way back again.
Friday, November 20, 2009
What haven't I forgotten? There's been so much over the years or at least I thought there was.
For a long time I was sure I had forgotten how to smile, how to laugh. I had forgotten that any kind of joy existed because all I knew was death and sadness. I wanted the world to be dark place, because I needed to live there as my punishment for surviving when my family did not.
I'd forgotten what it meant to have a sense of family, of belonging, of home, and that too was by my own choice. All of those things were reminders of those who were no longer with me and while I still had my father and Niko, even being with them became too much, I had to leave, I had to abandon everything and everyone that reminded me of Danijela and my children if I was to have any hope of moving forward.
Moving forward, that's a joke in itself, it was more like running away. I couldn't set down any roots, and I didn't dare allow myself to form any serious friendships. Having friends meant they would ask questions about my past, questions I didn't want to answer, it was easier to just pick up and go, so, that's what I did until I got to Chicago, then everything started to change.
For a while I forgot about my past, I began to think I might be allowed to start a new life, okay, maybe I was slipping into someone else ready-made family, but, it was still a family, and I was all right with that. How could I have been so gullible? By the time I remembered the damage was done.
I can't say what made me try again and when that too failed to work I found myself losing my hold on not just my personal life, but my professional one as well. For so long work had been my escape, and suddenly I seemed to have forgotten why I was doing what I was doing. Nothing mattered anymore, not the patients, not the job, I simply put in the hours and when I wasn't there I drank myself stupid, and became a person I hated to look at in the mirror.
It took my own near death for me to finally find my way back from the darkness, and as I stepped into the light I rediscovered life, love, joy, I found my wife, I became a father again. I've learned that everyday may not be perfect, but, that doesn't matter, because I can handle it and if at the end of the day I can hold my son, and kiss my wife, then nothing else matters.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Be all my dreams remembered.
Danijela and my children have been in my thoughts a lot lately. I shouldn't be surprised of course, they're always in my thoughts at this time of the year, but for some reason, this year is different. For the first time in seventeen years I'm not finding myself awakened in the middle of the night by Danijela's cries for help, or the sight of my baby boy's lifeless hand reaching for the help that didn't reach him in time. Even my failed efforts to keep Jasna alive have not visited me, and I can't help but wonder why this year is so different than all those that have passed before.
I can't go so far as to say that my nights have not however been dreamless, and as much as I understand Abby's increasing worry as night after night I find my sleep interrupted, I've been unable to share the nature of this year's dreams with her. I can't explain how I feel when I wake and traces of the dreams are still lingering with me, but, then I see Abby's face, and I wonder if she somehow knows. Have I said something in my sleep, and if so, does she see my reaction to them as a betrayal of the vows I made to her when we were married? It's at that point that it becomes too much and I know there will be no more sleep for me, so I flee the bed, and her, choosing instead to wander the still dark house in hopes of reconnecting with some of those memories that the dreams touched on.
Unlike in years past, jarred awake, only to be left wondering about what the dreams that woke me are about. Instead, It's like nightly I'm being led through a movie meant to remind me of the good times that my wife and I shared.
It's hard to believe that we'd have been married for 22 years now had Danijela not been taken from me that day in Vukovar. From the moment we met there was a connection neither of us could deny and neither the two years we were forced to wait to marry, or my time in the military were enough to change how we felt about each other. Even now, I still feel it at times, and these dreams seem to be reinforcing that bond we shared.
In previous years, the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the death of my family and the fall of Vukovar have always been filled with dreams. No, check that, not dreams, nightmares. Nightmares that not only woke me, but more often than not had left me drenched in sweat and shaking, with few memories of their details. I could generally guess about the contents of those past nightmares though, nightmares have haunted me for longer than I want to remember, and while for the most part they have faded, there are times of the year, like now, that they've always returned. So, again I ask myself, why is this year different?
For so long I dwelt on that final day to the exclusion of everything else it seemed, and in my mind it was as if my life had ended with the loss of my wife and children. I think too I had reached the point where I didn't want to relive the joy we shared because I felt I didn't deserve that anymore, and by only remembering that last day I could punish myself for failing them. Maybe this was God's way of saying that I had punished myself enough, or maybe Danijela herself was sending the dreams to me as her way of showing that she's forgiven me.
Reliving the first time we met and those early times together, it shocks me when I remember how young we both were. We had no idea of what our future held, we didn't care, all that mattered was how much we loved each other, and how long we would have to wait before we could be married. Daniejela was only 16 when we first professed our love to each other, I was 18, there was no question of her finishing school and I had to serve my stint in the military, it made sense to wait, but two years seemed like forever.
We survived it though, and when we married I was sure there had never been a bride more beautiful then Danijela was. After years of having the image of her bloodied body burned into my head, these dreams have given all that and more back to me, and I can't help but be thankful to whoever is responsible for sending them to me.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
006. Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death. --General Omar Bradley
"Luka, we have to go!" While the gunfire outside the small African clinic made Carter jump, it seemed to have little if any affect on the tall Croat as he continued with the amputation of the leg of the small girl on the table in front of him.
"Not yet, take the others, I can finish up here. I'll follow with Chance when I'm done." Despite his efforts to conceal it, the tremble in his voice betrayed his own fears on the danger of their current situation.
"We're not leaving you." Carter stood firm even as he spotted several soldiers, with their rifles at the ready, cross the yard outside the window. "We won't have long and they'll be inside."
"I know, Carter, but, if I don't get everything closed before I move her, I risk losing her. I'm not taking that chance if I don't have to." Kovac's irritation toward the younger doctor was growing as the man persisted. Did he really think he wasn't aware of what was happening outside and the risk he was putting them all in by not stopping the surgery immediately? Hell, if Carter could get past his own fear he would see there was no choice in finishing, he reached for more gauze in an attempt to clear the field of the rapidly pooling blood.
"Luka!" Carter reached of the IV as the gunfire and yells outside signaled that they were now directly involved in the battle. "It's now or never, we take her as she is or they'll kill her and us."
"Damn." Kovac tied off his last stitch before hastily wrapping what remained of the young girl's leg. It would have to do. "All right, I've got her, give me the IV and let's go." After wiping his hands on the already bloodied towel on the cot, he scooped Chance up into his arms.
"Run!" As he hit the back-porch he heard the sound of the clinic's front door being forced open, it was all a number's game now, for all of them.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Nov Prompt Qc) What do you think is the most amazing thing that anyone has ever accomplished? /Creative Muses
As a doctor, as someone who survived a war, and as someone who has chased death more often than any one person should have to in their life, I suppose the expected response would be for me to say it is having the ability to hold someone's life or death in your hands on a daily basis. You would think I would say that, but, I can't, because for me, there is one greater accomplishment that I didn't realize the importance of until I thought it had been lost to me.
I married my first wife, Danijela, when I was 20, and she was just 18 and within a year of our beginning our life together, we welcomed our first child, a daughter, Jasna. Within three years we welcomed our second child, a son, we named Marko. I loved being a father, and though work and classes often kept me away from them more than I liked, when I was home, when I wasn't studying, I wanted nothing more than to spend my time with my wife and children.
And then they were gone.
I thought my life was over. I wanted it to be. I prayed for the next mortar that fell to strike the building I was in, for a sniper's bullet to find me as I walked the streets of Vukovar in the days and weeks after they were laid to rest, but, they never came. Even in those final days, as the City fell to the Serbs I was left to wonder why I would be one of those spared when so many close to me would perish.
Danijela and I were only married for 5 years, but, it may have well been a lifetime for the love we shared, and without her and our children, I was nothing. I was lost, I was alone, and I couldn't understand why God refused to allow me to join those I loved in death.
It took years for me to learn the reason behind his sparing me. Years that would lead me far from the memories that still sometimes visit my dreams. In time I discovered I was able to love again, and with that love I rediscovered the one thing I thought I would never know again.
Parenthood. Fatherhood. The day I looked into my baby son, Josip's face I knew there was nothing more amazing, no greater accomplishment in fact, than the ability we have to create new life and with it to become a parent. To this day, I hold my son, and he seems to have a power over me that I can't explain. It doesn't matter what my day has been like, one look at his face, seeing his smile, and everything pales in comparison.
In the beginning I was worried that Joe would be taken from me as Jasna and Marko had been, but as the years pass, those fears have faded as well. As I watch him grow from infant, to toddler, to this amazing little boy who wants to know and do everything I can't imagine not being here to share those experiences with him, and I thank God for not answering my prayers all those years ago. More then anything though, I want to teach him all of those things I wasn't able to give to the brother and sister he will never know. I want to be the father to him that I would have been to my first children had they not been taken before they had a chance to experience life as he now is.
Her name was Valerie, and she walked into my life at a time when it seemed like everyone else was walking out of it, or at least everyone who mattered that is. I suppose I couldn't really blame them, I'd become someone even I didn't want to be around, and as much as I wanted companionship, I was doing nothing that made anyone want to spend more than a few hours with me at most.
I met her in a bar. I was sitting at the bar alone, doing my best to drink myself into a stupor before finding my way home, a habit that was becoming far too common at the time, when she approached me. I wasn't surprised when she stopped to talk to me, women hit on me all the time, and back then I was taking advantage of it more than I want to admit. I needed to be with someone, I needed someone to hold me, to show me I could be loved again, even if it was only for an hour, and even if it was a stranger.
I guess what made her different from those that came before her, and even those that would come after, was that she was the only one I ever paid. Don't get me wrong, I didn't immediately jump at her offer, if anything my ego was a little bruised by it. Why should I have to pay a woman to spend time with me? But at that moment, in thinking about it, I knew I was alone, and I needed so very badly not to be, so, I said yes, and that night became the first of many I spent in her company before I found my way out of the darkness that I was living in.