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While I Wait: A Journey of Recovery

Memories of Life in a Besieged City

Hana, I and our Highschool Friends Shortly Before the War

For Hana and Friends Lost

There is not a soul that is ever ready for war. Sure, living in a city under siege, we quickly learned the mechanics of survival, and the constant military assault gave us the insight into civil defense. We grew accustomed to the deafening sounds of heavy artillery. Informed by experience, our ability to discern the orientation of attacks became ingrained. Instinctually, we knew when to take cover and when to ignore the whistling sounds of grenades as they crossed the airspace over our rooftops. And, on those days when our attention began to falter, fueled by deprivation of sleep and food, snipers offered a lasting reminder that our lives were at peril.

However, physical destruction is not the only truth about wars. Indeed, the logistics of a military assault is a miniscule part of the organism that is birthed by war. What stays etched forever in survivors are the deaths, either physical or metaphorical. These are the wounds that never heal, and they alter our realities forever. The pain of losing those dearest to us, of our ways of life, begins to unravel our center. Everything that we use to orientate ourselves and to identify with for the sake of clarity and stability disappears within few weeks, and we are left with the fragments of ourselves, alone and destitute.

The day after the protests, my best friend called from the airport. She was in tears, explaining that her mother just announced that she was leaving Sarajevo, packed bags laying already at her feet. “I don’t want to leave my friends, my city, “Hana argued pointlessly. Angry and hurt, she was explaining the situation, assuring both of us that she will return within a few weeks, “once everything settles down.”

This feeling of improbability of war ever coming to fruition was shared by most Sarajevans. We lived in a cosmopolitan city, city of art, culture, computers, and microwaves. Surely, wars only happen to those who are not in control of their national destiny. Wars happened to OTHERS! Furthermore, just a weekend before all the happenings, we were talking about changing the place we usually went out. We were planning to try out a place behind the Art Academy since the art crowd was familiar to us, the art high school students.

These stories of heartbreak repeated all over the city. Those of us who stayed went through a myriad of emotions. At first we felt deserted and hurt by  many departures of our friends and families. They just left, as if nothing mattered to them, or so we thought. Then, after the first year or so, we became resentful. We imagined our departed friends in fancy schools, partying and living the teenage life to its fullest, while we sat in basements, struggling to find food and water and chancing death every minute.

 Many of our friends who stayed were killed. One by one they disappeared in tragic deaths, either blown apart or slowly dying as a result of being wounded by weapons usually reserved for the destruction of physical structures and military vehicles. Snipers fired anti-aircraft bullets that ripped bodies into shreds and detached limbs and heads within a fraction of a second. Some of us witnessed these happenings and some of us heard about them from others. No matter how it was delivered, the information about our friends’ deaths echoed painfully through our hearts.

Grieving for those who had died and those who had left, we fought against the seductive power of loathing and hatred. We still wanted to keep in touch with those on the outside, trying unsuccessfully to explain the anguish and darkness we felt. We asked for the acknowledgement of our struggle and validation of our pain. All that we received in return were justifications of the decisions made and explanations of emotional distress they felt for not being able to reach loved ones and learn of their fate. We were not hearing each other.

Hana and I met after the war, embracing each other in a long hug at the Frankfurt airport, sobbing uncontrollably. Awkwardly we tried to connect as old friends, but the wounds were fresh. Molded by different circumstances we grew apart. Unfortunately, neither of us realized that the war gave us the tools with which we built our own trenches, unable to extract ourselves from perspectives of our own making.

That is the tragedy of war. It never leaves one’s soul and it becomes a main orientating point around which our lives begin to mold. It becomes an organism with demands of its own. And since the pain is so great, silence offers a refuge. Quiet and alone, we hope that the past will become something benign and almost forgotten. This way, our pain becomes our truth and we choose to distance ourselves from those who are a reminder of who we were before.

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