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While I Wait: A Journey of Recovery

Memories of Life in a Besieged City

While I wait for the pain of lost time to subside life is quietly slipping through my fingers, just like a handful of water on my palm disappears, first soaked up by the pores of my skin and then the earth itself. Each time I look over the landscape of my memories I become overwhelmed with the sheer size and depth of emotions they bring along, and unable to let myself feel and possibly drown, I retreat. I choose to run away and not look back, nor forward either. Somehow, I fashion myself in a world in which I exist suspended in between moments, not committing to any of them for the possibility of the pain they bring is too great of a burden for me to bear. Instead, I choose to wait until I cannot wait anymore; until the silence offering the seductive solace and protection begins to suffocate and slowly destroy any trace of me. I wait until one of those rare incidents of clarity reveals the true nature of my silence and I feel myself a coward, unwilling to confront the war and fear in order to heal myself.
During these random attempts to capture the truths of my past, I begin to wonder if those of us who survived wars are forever connected with a strong and malleable thread woven out of avoidance of all that might define us as alive. Is it possible that while our stories differ, the complete loss of oneself in fear and pain is an outcome that we all share?
For almost a decade I believed myself to be one of those rare people for whom the war left no traces other than handful of survival stories chosen at random and recycled at family gatherings. I convinced myself that I moved beyond the status of “just functioning” to the one of “successfully healed” war survivor. I cloaked myself in detachment from all that surrounds me in hopes of creating an ideal hiding place, a new universe so deep and uncharted that not even I would dare to enter.
After my escape from besieged Sarajevo in 1995, first to a refugee camp and then to Chicago to reunite with my husband Bill, I began to experience the first symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It all began with my inability to fall asleep and on those rare nights when I was able to release myself to the comfort of non-thinking I would awake screaming. Drenched in sweat, unable to breathe fully for the weight of panic I felt threatened to crush my chest, I would blindly roam the rooms of my apartment until Bill’s gentle touch on my arm would let me know that I was safe. Most often than not the narrative of those nightmares would remain invisible to me, but the fear they left behind would not subside for a long time, releasing the same kind of adrenaline rush that I had experienced daily during the war.
In those first few years after the war I was acutely aware of everything in my environment. Any sudden, loud noise would make me freeze and feel the bile rising in my throat. I constantly scanned my surroundings for a convenient hide out in case of sniper fire or a potential mortar attack. At home I would keep several bottles of water full at all times in a preparation for a possible water outage. Each trip to the supermarket would end with large amounts of powdered milk and canned goods in my shopping cart, again, just in case. Apartment searches always centered around following questions:”How many possible escape routes were there?” “Was there at least one room without any windows or doors where one could use as a hide-out?” “Was there a sheltered, windowless basement in the building?” All of this and preferably a ground floor apartment, please?
copyright Ana Turck

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