Chicago Illinois, Hyatt Regency, Room 1214, December 31st 1999, 11:59
Another year is about to come and I’m alone again. I wonder why things like this always happen. Good people are plagued while the bad people live in luxury. My whole country is feeling the effects of this. The Serbs are living happily, while the Croats are struggling for their lives.
It’s because of the Serbs I am alone today. Because of their hunger for control, because of their longing for ethnic cleansing. Because they couldn’t be happy with what they had. That is why I’m watching the festivities alone today.
Look at all the happy families. I used to have a happy family. The four of us together: Jasna, Marco, Mathilde, and me. We were happy. Even in war we were happy. It was incredible to watch them grow. Jasna’s first words, and Marco’s first steps… They were magical moments, moments one can only have once. Life was good. Too good.
I was a doctor in Croatia too. Mathilde once asked me why I worked in the Emergency Room. I told her: “Someone has to do the job. If no little boys or girls aspired to be president, there would be no one to lead a country. It’s the same with emergency medicine.”
We had to keep the children inside. It was safe that way. They could easily be snatched up and taken. We hated to do that, lock them up like they were common criminals. They hated to be kept inside too. They often got cabin fever; they couldn’t wait for the day the war would end. The war was making them age too quickly.
We were going to leave the country. Both the Croats and the Serbs were looking for every able bodied man to fight. I didn’t want to fight. I had promise myself I wouldn’t. I had seen to many people come into the hospital with wounds inflicted by the war. I didn’t want the same thing to happen to me. I had a family to provide for.
That day was the one we were planning to leave on. To avoid suspicion, I would go to work as planned. We almost made it too. I was walking home when I felt the ground shake. I recognized the feeling, I had felt it often. A bomb had been dropped. I saw smoke rising from the target. It was our apartment building.
Sirens were wailing loudly by the time I got to the apartment building. The air reeked of burning brick, plaster, and flesh. I climbed the rubble looking for my family. Perhaps they had escaped. My hopes were in vain, as I found their bodies. I also found a picture. It was a picture we had taken on a vacation to the Mediterranean. It was burnt half way down the middle. Mathilde and Jasna’s picture remained, while mine and Marco’s was destroyed. My heart broke; and I remained there on that pile of bricks, waiting for something that wouldn’t come.
I don’t know how many survived the bombing. I don’t know if anyone did. I left Croatia, and never looked back. I bought a boat and sailed for a while. Finally, I came to Chicago. I don’t know why but the city seemed like the right place, and I stayed.
Now I am here. I live in this hotel, and I am about to cross into the new millennium – alone. Perhaps some day I’ll be happy again. And perhaps that happiness will be found here. In Chicago.
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year Mathilde, and Jasna, and Marco. Wherever you are.
In honor of all those who are victims of social and racial discrimination, all the victims of the war in the Balkans, and all victims and veterans of 20th century wars.
May We Remember…