"That's something I think is growing on me as I get older: happy endings." -- Alice Munro
I remember the day Danijela and I were married, we were both very young, and we thought we had our entire lives before us. Standing at the front of the Church as her father walked her down the aisle, I remember thinking that I had never seen anything, or anyone more beautiful then she looked in her wedding dress. I couldn't believe how lucky I was, not just to have found her, but, to know in just a few more minutes our long wait would be over and we'd finally be husband and wife. Because Danijela was just 16 when we met, we both knew we couldn't marry right away. It made perfect sense to us, she would finish school, I could complete my required military service before the marriage, and it would satisfy both sets of parents, assuring them that we weren't rushing into something that we might regret later. So, almost two years later that moment had arrived, all that remained to make our dream complete was the exchanging of our vows and rings, and we'd be together for the rest of our lives. I remember wondering what I had done to deserve being this happy, and then I realized that it wasn't just me. As I looked around the Church every eye was on Danijela, and their smiles said it all. Seeing her in her wedding dress, her smile seemed brighter then any diamond money could buy, In that moment it dawned on me that our happy ending was at long last about to be realized and as I made eye contact with her, I couldn't help but wonder if she saw it too.
As much as Danijela and I loved each other when we married, it would only grow stronger once we discovered she was pregnant with our first child. We'd only been married about three months when we got the news, and we couldn't have been happier. Danijela and I had talked about having children even before we were married, boys, girls, either, or both, we didn't care, we only knew that it was something we both wanted. That our first was coming so soon meant that things were not going to be easy for us. I was in Pre Med, and we were living in a small apartment, the money we had coming in wasn't a lot, but, we were close to our parents, and with their support, we knew we could make it.
Jasna's arrival nine months later was an experience I'll never forget. She was so tiny, and as beautiful as her mother, and yet again I found myself wondering how we could have been blessed with being so lucky. From the minute we brought her home anything outside of school and my family seemed to stop for me, why would I possibly want to be anywhere but with these two women who held my heart so completely?
For Danijela and I, life had become the fairytale we had only dreamed of. All we were missing was the little cottage we could call our own, the little cottage that would give us our true happy ending, or so we thought.
Shortly after Jasna turned two, we moved to Vukovar so that I could begin my Residency. It wasn't easy for either of us, it was our first time away from our families, away from our friends. We were living in a very small apartment in the City, and the hours I spent at the hospital were long, but, we made the most of it, and somehow in the midst of it all, Danijela once again discovered she was pregnant.
Danijela's second pregnancy was hard on her, but, she never complained. She did it all, caring for Jasna and running the household without family and friends to fall back on. We would have given anything to have shared those months with those we loved but my residency took priority, and so it was left to us to do on our own, and our relationship only grew stronger for it.
When I saw my son for the first time he took my breath away, with his full head of dark hair, and eyes that seemed wise beyond their years. In those early days I would come home from the hospital to find Marko lying awake in his crib, as if he was waiting on me. I cherished those times alone with him. While Danijela and Jasna slept, we would sit near the window, and I would rock him. It was in those moments that I realized, if we had no more children Jasna and Marko would be enough for us. Looking into my baby boy's eyes, I knew that everything we could want for our lives had been granted and I could never offer enough thanks for the blessing that had been bestowed upon us.
I never could have anticipated that the happiness we were living, the happy ending we'd thought we'd found would be ripped away from me in less than 18 months, but, that's exactly what happened. In one day, everything that made me who I was, everyone who gave me a reason to live, they were all gone. For the longest time I questioned why we didn't heed the warnings when the war first began, why didn't I force Danijela to take the children and go to her parents, or mine. Then I realized that the thing that made us so strong as a couple is the very thing that cost me their lives. Nothing I could have said would have made her go, we had waited two years to marry, and the idea of being separated, even for a short time was more then she could endure. I think too that neither of us believed it would get as bad as it did, and by the time the realization hit it was too late to act. How could either of us know that our love would cost them their lives? The guilt I felt over surviving when Danijela and my children did not is something I will always struggle with, just as I will forever live with the images of that day. From my first glimpse of Marko's hand reaching upward through the rungs of his crib as he lay buried beneath it, to my beautiful Jasna as I forced air into her lungs until I had no more breath's to give her. As hard as it is for me to live with the those images though, the far worse memory was my telling Danijela that Marko was gone, and knowing that I couldn't even take the time to free him from the rubble that had claimed his young life. If I could have given my wife anything in those final hours of her own life, it would have been the gift of holding her baby boy one last time, of allowing her the chance to touch his face, of kissing him, of saying good-bye. Danijela died without seeing Marko again, she died without knowing if Jasna would live or die, and when it was all over I was left to bury all three, knowing our happy ending was no more.
It's been over seventeen years since I buried my family, I have a new wife, a new son, and while I love them both with all of my heart I don't know that I dare allow myself to dream of a happy ending with them. Call it fear, call it paranoia, I don't know, I want to believe that it's possible, that one day it will be there for us, but, deep down inside me there is that little voice whispering to me...
"What if." it says...and I'm not sure I'm willing to risk the lives of these two to believe it's possible, I just don't know if I could survive if I were to lose Abby and Joe too. Maybe happy endings are only possible in fairytales.
Muse: Luka Kovac