May the good lord be with you
Down every road you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
Surround you when you’re far from home
And may you grow to be proud
Dignified and true
And do unto others
And you’d have done to you
Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you’ll always stay
Forever Young, Forever Young
Forever Young, Forever Young
All of my life I’ve wondered what the whole point of the leaves falling off of the trees was. They just come back again as soon as the snow melts and birds come back. I guess it’s just one of those things I never understood, there were always a lot of things I never understood. Like why the clouds always look like some sort of object or person, why we can never elect a president with enough intelligence to run the country the way it should be, or why love is so difficult at times, and so easy at others.
When I look back over my life, all 76 years, I often can’t believe some of the things I have endured and put up with. There are lots of things that if I could go back and fix, or change I would. But I guess everyone feels that way when they get to be my age. I shudder at even thinking of some of the things I used to do, those things were incredibly stupid.
But there are things that make me smile and laugh, making me glad I put up with the difficult things. If I hadn’t, I would never have gotten many of the best things in my life. I remember back when I was a teenager, all of my friends, myself included thought that once you reached the age of 30, life would be over. You’d be old then, getting wrinkles, going to work everyday to a boring job, acting a lot like the adults we knew. Never did I think my life would actually start at 30.
I still remember that first night like it happened hours ago. He ordered a draft, and I had a club soda. We played foosball and he couldn’t play if his life depended on it. I told him over and over you couldn’t spin the players and he couldn’t keep them from spinning. I still remember the feeling of warmth as he slipped his hand into mine as we walked by the lake, and the feeling of terror as that man attacked us.
He blamed himself for the man’s death for months. He became secluded and distant, god knows I tried to stay close to him. He was the only thing important enough in my life to try and remain close to. My mom and I were never close, Eric lived 2000 miles away and we hardly ever spoke. Carter and I were good friends, but it still wasn’t the same. Luka had something that made me feel worth it, he made me feel wanted. I longed to feel that way.
That is probably my biggest regret. I regret pushing him away from me. My mom came back and I couldn’t take it. I started running to Carter with my problems, afraid if I told Luka, it would only push him away. I pushed him further away, and he tried to get closer. Then Carter told me he wanted to be more than friends, though he didn’t use those words. I wanted him as my friend, I didn’t want him as a boyfriend, I already had one of those.
“You don’t need to wish bad things for us! Carter, why can’t you understand I want to be friends?”
“Abby, I watch you two. You two never act like you care, and every time I talk to you, all you do is bitch about him!”
“No, I tell you what happens! I don’t bitch, and we do care Carter. No, we don’t show it here, but a hospital is not a very romantic place!”
“Whatever, like I said weeks ago. I don’t want to be your friend; it’s too hard. I fell in love with you a long time ago and not being able to act on it makes our friendship too hard.”
“Ok, fine! I never said I didn’t love you Carter, but I love you as a friend. Maybe, once you realize Luka is a good man and won’t hurt me, you’ll realize that.”
It took weeks, but Carter finally started talking to me again. Once he had, we had a long talk. I told him that I did care about him, but I didn’t love him the way he wanted me to. After hours of polka music blaring from a jukebox, cold coffee, and pizza, we left better friends than we had been before.
Once Carter accepted that Luka and I were serious, they slowly became friends. It was hard at first for the both of them, but they worked at it, both of them. It wasn’t long before Carter was at my apartment on Sunday nights watching basketball games with Luka, or both of them teaming up with Dave to play practical jokes on Dr. Weaver.
One joke that sticks out in my mind is one they played on her after work. She was in the lounge with me, pulling her coat on, getting ready to leave. She had plans to go out with Kim Legaspi, and we were discussing a new restaurant that had just opened. I could hear Luka outside the door as we talked, and saw Dave’s head pop up into the small window every few seconds. Carter was out there too, I can remember hearing him telling Dave to shut up. The three of them together meant trouble, when they were together, it was like being in a classroom full of junior high school boys.
Kerry had just said goodnight and was walking toward the door as Dave’s head appeared one last time, and then all of their voices disappeared. She pulled the door to the lounge open and was suddenly soaked with a bucket full of ice water. Her shriek could be heard up on the 5th floor. Dave, Luka, and Carter were hysterical, all high fiving each other and being congratulated by Malik on their great prank.
Back then, I hadn’t laughed much, partly because Dr. Weaver and Dr, Romano both decided, two weeks worth of suspension was their punishment. But thinking about it now, it was funny.
Luka always had a thing for surprises. I think he got a thrill out of them because he knew that I hated them. He surprised me by staying around even when I shoved him away, he surprised me by becoming friends with Carter, and he surprised me with a trip to Disneyland because Carter told him I never got there as a child. Then in February of 2003, he surprised me again.
I had never been a fan of Valentine’s day. Probably because when I was a teenager, if I had a boyfriend, it always seemed to end right before the holiday. Then, when I was married to Richard, it was a rarity he remembered, and if he did manage to remember, he got me a card, and maybe some candy. Then when Carter and Lucy Knight were stabbed on Valentine’s day, and Lucy died, it lost even more appeal. But Luka, he had to go and change that.
It was dark outside, and the wind was blowing hard. It was a bone chilling cold; I’ll never forget that. Luka had asked if me if I wanted him to cook us dinner. Now, I loved Luka with all my heart, but he can’t cook. He tried helping me make a cake once, and it collapsed like a sinkhole. Then he tried making chicken for dinner one night, and not only did he burn it black, but he set a box of rice on fire. I told him I would cook, and was all set to go home and do just that.
I remember getting back to our apartment and finding it dark. As I pushed my way through the front door, I found all the lights in the apartment off, and heard Luka call out to me from the bedroom. I found him inside, surrounded by dozens of candles, sitting on the bed with a goofy grin on his face.
“What are you doing?”
“Waiting for you.”
“Are you trying to set the apartment on fire?”
“I am trying to save money on electricity.”
“Very funny, what are you doing?”
“Abby, come here.”
“Luka, what is with you tonight? You’re letting this holiday get to you.”
“Sit here, I need to talk to you.”
“Abby, we have been dating for over two years now, right?”
“You love me, right?”
“Luka, you know I love you. What is going on?”
“I love you more than anything Abby, and I would do anything in my power to make you happy. I have been thinking about this for a long time now, and I want to get old with you. When I wake up next to you everyday I wish that I could lay there forever. I know that things have not always been easy, but we always manage and when it is over, we are closer than before. But Abby, I mean this when I ask you, will you marry me?”
“I am serious. I love you Abby, I want to marry you.”
“If you need to think about it you can, I understand.”
“No, it.. I mean.. I’ll marry you Luka.”
I think my reaction to his question was torturous. I knew as soon as he asked if I would marry him that I would, I just couldn’t form the words to tell him I would. It was like the connection from my brain to my mouth was cut.
The whole way he set the proposal up, I never expected it. He had set the candles all around the bedroom. On top of the dresser, atop the headboard, all along the windowsill, I’m surprised no one down in the street called the fire department thinking the building was up in flames. I can still remember the way my heart jumped when he dropped to one knee in front of me. Then when he pulled the ring box from his back pocket I thought I was suffocating. He was shaking as he spoke to me, and he never stopped looking at me. I didn’t stop looking at him either, I thought he was going to pass out he was sweating so hard. I had never seen a more beautiful ring than the one he gave me. It must have cost him an entire year’s salary and more.
Everyone at the hospital was really excited when they found out. Carter hugged me so hard I thought he would crush me. It was really weird, considering how against Luka and I he had been only a year before. Susan and Jing-Mei had wanted a word for word recap of what had happened, and how he had proposed. Dr. Weaver had to pry them away from me to get them to go back to seeing patients. Randi even wanted to design my dress, she told me it could be the first of many; I could make her famous. All Dave wanted to know was if Luka was having a bachelor party, he wanted to take him to a strip bar.
Dr. Weaver was polite, but she hadn’t been in the best of moods for awhile. After Dr. Greene died that previous May, she had changed. She was no longer the bitchy Dr. Weaver everyone was accustom to, she became Dictator Weaver. I think she blamed herself to some degree, she hadn’t always been easy on him during his final months. It was a shock the day we got news he had died, nobody had expected him to go the way he did. He had been to work only two days before, in high spirits. Then Dr. Romano came down not 48 hours later to tell everyone that he had gotten a call from Dr. Corday. Dr. Greene had died in his sleep during the night.
Things had been odd for awhile. People had left over the years, and we noticed they were gone, but this time it was different. I had never been close friends with Dr. Greene, but knowing he had died made it strange. It wasn’t like Lydia or Dr. Benton who had moved away, Dr. Greene wouldn’t be coming back, ever.
Luka and I didn’t want a big wedding. Neither of us had much family, and we both pretty much shared the same set of friends from the hospital. We finally decided to get married in church, but our reception was small and intimate. Luka’s father and brother flew in from Croatia to be there, and Eric came up from Florida with his girlfriend. My mom came down with Gina, I was actually happy to see her. Ever since she’d left for Minnesota she had been ok, no more episodes, she had been holding a job and doing ok. Luka asked Carter to be his best man, and Jing-Mei was my maid of honor. We held the wedding that summer in July.
“I never thought I’d be standing up here, congratulating Abby and Luka on getting married. But I learned my lesson a long time ago, and these two really are everything each other needs. So, Abby, Luka, I want to wish you all the best!”
“I always knew these two would get hitched. Remember that time I caught you guys necking in the supply closet? Yeah.. you remember. Luka man, you had that hickey in your neck for over a month!”
“Abby, I’m so glad that you and Luka are happy. Ever since you were born and I held you in my arms all I wanted was for you to be happy. I just hope you two stay happy and remember I love you.”
That next December, Luka and I went to Croatia to spend Christmas with his dad. Every time he would tell me stories of the country, he always told me how beautiful many parts were, but I never realized what he was talking about until I got there.
That Christmas was wonderful. Luka’s father was one of the sweetest men I knew, and he welcomed me immediately. I had been afraid of what he would think of me, after all, he had known Danijela for years. Even before Luka had married her. But he welcomed me and wanted to know everything about me. We spent hours the day Luka and I arrived talking, although Luka had to play translator.
He even gave me a bracelet that had once belonged to Luka’s mother. He told me I was a very special woman, and that anyone Luka loved as much as he loved me deserved to have it. I’ve worn the bracelet since the day I opened it, it has never left my arm.
Luka took me to the cemetery where Danijela, Marko and Jasna were buried the day before we left. It was on the outskirts of the city, surrounded by a large wall of bricks and stone. It sunk in as we walked on the snowy grass just how many people lost their lives during the war. There were what seemed to be thousands and thousands of rows of graves; many of them I noticed were young children. We stayed for a long time, just standing by the graves. Luka prayed in Croatian as he left flowers near the headstones. I remember the cold air as it hit our faces, and the way it stung my skin as the snow blew with it.
During the next year and a half, lots of things changed. Luka and I moved out of my apartment and bought a house. We flew to Florida for Eric’s wedding and the birth of his daughter Gabrielle. Dr. Finch left for Texas where she got a job in a Children’s hospital, and Dr. Corday left with her daughter Ella. She moved back to England, she never was the same after Dr. Greene died.
But none of that even began to compare with the shock Luka and I received. We had just celebrated our second wedding anniversary and I had just been promoted to the position of charge nurse. The change of title never mattered to me, I didn’t really care what I was, I was still cleaning puke and taking my orders from Dave Malucci. But then I started getting headaches, really bad one’s. I brushed them off as migraines and continued on as normal until I stopped to look at a calendar in my date book. I almost dropped to the floor when I realized what was probably wrong.
Luka almost started a conga line when I told him what I had realized. He let out a big whoop and kissed me so hard I thought he would swallow my lips down his throat. He was ecstatic and I was scared to death. The last time this happened so many years before I had been terrified. He knew what I had done; I had gotten an abortion.
He started right in, assuring me that the baby would be ok, that if it were sick we would still love it. He started listing the medications we’d make sure the baby would take, that we’d watch to make sure it stayed healthy. I hadn’t even been sure there was a baby and he was planning a college education. I knew that if I were pregnant, there would be no chickening out this time.
“Did you finish?”
“Yeah, the box said it takes five minutes.”
“Blue means yes right?”
“Blue is yes, pink is no.”
“Ok…. It will be ok Abby.”
“How do you know? If I am pregnant, it will be my fault if the baby is sick.”
“No it won’t. There is no saying the baby will be sick. And there is just as good a chance the baby could be handicapped or mentally retarded as it is it would be bipolar.”
“I’m still scared.”
“So am I. But it will be our baby Abby. We will love it no matter what.”
“You really want this, don’t you?”
“I have wanted this for a long time. Don’t you want it?”
“You would be a great mother.”
“You will, I know you will. And we will have a beautiful baby.”
“How much longer?”
“Two minutes. Have you ever wanted a baby Abby?”
“I.. when I was younger I did.”
“What about now?”
“I think everybody wants a baby at sometime in their lives Luka. But I don’t want to make my baby sick.”
“You won’t make it sick. I promise Abby, the baby will be healthy.”
“What if I get sick?”
“You are not bipolar. You are healthy, our baby will be healthy, and you will make the best mother in the world. Trust me Abby, I would not lie to you.”
“Time is up.”
“Abby? What does it say?”
That night changed me forever. Luka finally convinced me that night that it wasn’t my fault if our baby was bipolar. After I read the test and told Luka, he broke into a grin that I can still see every time I close my eyes. His eyes got bright and he jumped up from his chair. He ran over to me and wrapped me in his arms, whispering in my ear before he left go and took the test in his own hands. Looking down at it, his grin grew wider before he dropped it on the bathroom counter and took my face into his hands. Then he kissed me for a time I think set a world record. When he finally broke free, he wrapped me in a hug again and then got on his knees and kissed my stomach. I remember him being on his toes the rest of that night and the next day, bouncing around on cloud nine.
Luka insisted on taping each sonogram photo we got to the refrigerator. He never missed an OB appointment, no matter what time it was or what day it was he managed to get there. I have to admit, I was probably just as excited as he was. Every time he would go out to the store, he would come back with a new baby item. Clothes or shoes or pacifiers or bibs, he always managed to find a new one he liked more than the one before.
He wouldn’t go to sleep at night without talking to my stomach first. He would make up these ridiculous stories in his head and tell them, or he’d talk about me or himself. Then he would wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and talk some more. I swear, If I’d of known getting pregnant would have caused him to talk as much as he did, I would have bought a pair of socks just to stick in his mouth.
Neither of us wanted to know the sex of the baby before it was born. It made looking forward to the birth all the more exciting. By the time I was eight months, Luka was counting the days until my due date. I think I scared him to death when I beeped him two weeks before my due date, after I started having contractions.
“Abby, did you page me?”
“Yes, you have to come home now.”
“Are you in labor?”
“No, I wanted to go to dinner. Yes I’m in labor!”
“You aren’t due for two more weeks.”
“Well unless you want to hold this baby in it’s coming now.”
“How many contractions have you had?”
“I don’t know. They’re about six minutes apart.”
“Ok.. ok.. ok.. um, I will be right home.”
“Luka, don’t rush here, we have time.”
“I won’t. Let me go tell Kerry and I will be right home.”
Luka made it home in less than twenty minutes. It took him about two more to get me in the car. I thought he would kill us as he drove back to the hospital. By the time they admitted me it was over two hours later. I was in labor for the next 13 hours.
The entire time I was in labor, Luka kept trying to convince me to have an epidural, and each time he did I told him no. Looking back, I think he wanted it more for his sake than mine. I can’t remember everything I said to him during my contractions, but I know they couldn’t even run some of it on cable TV.
By the time I was pushing, I was ready to kill him. I wouldn’t even let him talk at one point because the sound of his voice was making everything worse. He was trying to help, I know he was, but I was in no mood for it at that point.
“Ok, push again.”
“I told you to shut up!”
“Good, keep going.”
“2,1.. Do it again.”
“Pull the damn baby out! I can’t do it!”
“Yes you can, the head is almost out.”
“You will pay later Luka.”
“Ok, push again.. harder.”
“Abby you are almost done.”
“Oh Abby… Abby.”
“I’m going to kill you!”
“Get the shoulders out and you’ll be done.. you’re almost there.”
I’d been an OB nurse for years and dealt with women in labor all day. But dear god, until I myself was in labor, I never knew or understood just how much pain they were in. I thought my body was being torn in two. Luka was great through the whole thing though, even if I acted like a total ass toward him. And as soon as I heard the baby cry, I couldn’t even remember the pain.
“Good Abby, almost..”
“It’s a boy.”
“Oh god.. Luka.”
“Abby, he is beautiful.”
“He has a good strong cry.”
“Luka… is he ok?”
“He is great Abby.”
After they placed him on my chest and let me hold him, my years of worrying about making my children sick were gone. Luka had started crying right after he came out and was standing over me, staring down at us. I’ll never forget that moment; it was probably the greatest moment of my life.
It only took us a few minutes to name him. Matthew Stephen Kovac. Both names Croatian and American. I never wanted them to take him from my arms after they first gave him to me. I fell in love instantly, so did Luka.
The next years flew by so quickly I cannot believe it. It was Matthew’s first birthday, then it was his tenth, and then he was sixteen. Before we knew what was happening he was driving and dating. Our house was a constant whirlwind of friends stopping by, eating our food, using our phone and sleeping on the couch.
Another regret I have is not watching him closer. I should have known my smoking would have an influence on him. I caught him one day after school smoking with a group of his friends. I yelled and punished him, but I still can't help but feel bad. I was just as guilty as he was; I’d been smoking since I was fifteen. But he was my son; I didn’t want him making the same mistakes I did.
Before we knew what was happening he was graduating. Matthew was accepted to the State University of New York at Cortland. Ever since he was little his dream had been to teach school. He was actually going to attain his dream. I don’t think Luka and I were ever as proud as we were the day Matthew walked across that stage and received his diploma. I pull out the video every so often just to watch again.
His graduation was so long ago. So many things have changed and happened since then. Carter moved away and got married three years after Matthew was born. He opened his own practice out in California and got married soon after. He had three kids and still lives out there. He calls every once in awhile to see how I’m doing, catch up on things.
Luka died last summer from a heart attack. That was the worst day of my life. I still have nightmares of when I woke up and found him hunched over the kitchen table, unable to speak. He died later that night at the hospital, his hand wrapped firmly in mine.
I still find myself crying a lot whenever I think about him. Luka changed my life in a way no one else possibly could have. He loved me, and showed me he did. He was always there for me and never gave up on me. He was the one person I knew always believed in me. I keep pictures of him throughout the house; there are tons of them spread all over. My favorite photo is one I took of him and Matthew after we brought him home from the hospital. He’s sitting outside on the front porch, rocking Matthew in his arms. His smile is wide enough to reach the moon I think, and his eyes are gleaming in a way only his could.
“Mom?” I hear a voice call, breaking my train of thought.
“Hey..” I say, looking up to see Matthew dressed in a green scrub top that seems all too familiar.
“It’s a girl.” He tells me, grinning a smile that reminds me of his father. “Rachel Marie Kovac.”
“Matthew.. Congratulations.” I say, getting up from my seat in the hospital waiting room and wrapping him in a hug. He’s over a foot taller than I am now, and I still want to rock him in my arms. Pulling back, I push his dark hair from his eyes and smile. “Get back to Jenna, go be with your daughter.” I tell him, smiling.
He kisses my cheek and starts to walk away; swinging his arms like Luka used to do. “I love you mom.” He says, turning around.
“I love you too.”
My baby has a baby now. It’s hard for me to believe. As I settle back into the waiting room chair, I find myself staring out the window into the dark night. The moon is bright in the sky, glowing on the trees below.
“You’re a grandfather Luka, we have a granddaughter.” I find myself whispering to myself. I’m alone in the waiting room, a room I use to visit all the time, announcing baby news to waiting family member’s decades ago. It feels like a home to me, it is a comfort, like Luka always was.
And when you finally fly away
I'll be hoping that I served you well
For all the wisdom of a lifetime
No one can ever tell
But whatever road you choose
I'm right behind you, win or lose
Forever Young, Forever Young
Forever Young, Forever Young
Forever Young, Forever Young
For, Forever Young, Forever Young