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While I Wait: A Journey of Recovery

Memories of Life in a Besieged City

Tag Archives: Posttraumatic stress disorder

“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.” Ray Bradbury

 

Copyright W.C.Turck1993

Sarajevo sniper alley

Each day I work hard on forgetting and every minute I fail miserably. I stay away from writing even though I feel the story is an important one to tell. I sit down ready to craft the mess of emotions into a linear telling, but the panic overwhelms and makes me a coward.

Stop and run away,  I tell myself each day, knowing well that the escape is impossible. Fight back,  I scream out, knowing that I can do this. Be coward, be brave, be anyone else but the one who is not. A decision is to be made and it must be truly mine, made of a desperate need for love and clarity. To destroy my soul daily is not an easy choice to make and I am not looking forward to doing so, but it is the right one for me, Today.

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Copyright W.C.Turck 1994I’ve been silent for a while now, the fact not of my choosing but rather the one of a necessity. Writing about the War is a process rather than an event and as such the rhythm of the written word varies, stops and starts, gushes and restrains. And so my mind and my heart, overwhelmed and in a need of a reprieve, stopped for a while waiting for the healing process to begin.

I weighed the need to tell my story for a long time and I have finally decided to tell it in a form of a book. Not because I feel that it bares more importance and gives a solemn quality to my experience. Rather, I feel that the book is the most natural form to my writing voice and as such it  will truly immerse me in the process of authentication.

Today, my introduction was finalized and I will share it with you, my readers, so that my connection with each one of you serves as a reminder of humanity that we all share. So here it is:

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 any longer; until the silence offering the seductive solace and protection begins to suffocate and slowly destroy any trace of my soul.

 I feel myself a coward, unwilling to confront the war and fear in order to heal myself.
During the random attempts to capture the truths of my past, I begin to wonder if those of us, survivors of 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.

I hope that collecting the displaced pieces of my life into a narrative of war experiences will allow me to reconcile with the destruction of “Me” and begin anew, building on blocks of the past now revealed and demystified. Perhaps I am overreaching and this process of stripping myself pass the skin, muscles and bones all the way to the core of who I am, may leave me broken beyond the repair. No matter what comes out of this process, it is the path that I must take in order to prevent my certain death. This book is my journey towards the truth of my experience, one which I worked so hard on forgetting.Copyright W.C.Turck 1994

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Copyright W.C.Turck 1993

I sat on the cold floor of our hallway, my back against the wall, soaking up the amalgam of fear and love, feeling alive and not wanting to give up. Door opened with a thud, and Mama, winded from the sprint up the four flights of stairs, stood at the doorway.

“What the hell is going in in here?” she muttered still trying to catch her breath and make sense of the situation. “Olja and I are coming up with the most painless way of committing a suicide in case that we are imprisoned,” I informed her calmly. As I spoke, Mama’s gaze fell on top of Olja’s head and slowly drifted towards hands that feverishly pounded a plastic bag filled with pills. Her face, bathed in the slow glow of the candles, softened and she slowly folded herself towards the floor. Crouching in-front of Olja she stroked her hair with one hand as she stopped her hand from making another motion.

“There will not be need for that, I promise,” she began in a same soothing voice that comforted our panic and stopped our fears when we were younger. With hands entwined over a meat cleaver, still hovering in mid-air, Olja and Mama locked eyes. Wordlessly, Olja examined Mama’s face as if trying to confirm the certainty of her words and slowly lowered her arm, loosening the cleaver a bit, but not completely letting go.

“Can we stay here for the night?” I asked. “We really don’t want to go back to basement. We would rather stay here, just us, instead of being surrounded by fear of others.”Image

Not letting go of Olja, Mama shifted towards me. “It’s not safe, but I understand” she added, as she scooted against the wall, pulling Olja towards her side. Flanked by us, Mama pulled Olja and I deeper into a hug. We sat quietly for a while, listening to grenades whistling over the roof. Floor shook with each explosion and a rain of tiny shrapnel showered the buildings and houses around us every so often. We could hear individual gunfire, shuffling of running feet and yelling beneath our windows.  Outside, the world was in chaos. Our hallway,however, seemed to retain the peace and calmness of the days before the War. Three of us clung to each other drawing strength and comfort in silence. “

“I am still keeping this cleaver,” I heard Olja say as I drifted in and out of nap, “…And the knives too!”

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Copyright W.C.Turck 2008“Boom!” A crackling detonation followed by a rumbling sound in the distance jolts me from a deep sleep. Disoriented and ready to dive under my bed for shelter, I jump up, my head almost colliding with the wood floor. Trying to regain balance, I hold with one hand to the metal railing of the bed. Still dazed, I begin to survey the room, taking stock of objects barely visible in the dark , lit only by the diffused light from a lamp  outside. Where am I, the thought echoes through my brain, leaving me unsettled? I panic, lost briefly in the space where nothing makes sense and memories do not exist. It is just me and a vast prairie of emptiness.

“Boom!” Another loud sound, followed by a burst of light radiating through the semi-closed, white blinds propels me forward. I begin to run. I run away from the terror-laden sound, my feet heavy and filled with concrete allowing for infinitely small steps that seem to lead nowhere. I run, cold and shivering suspended in a vacuum where nothing but the confines of the body and physical reactions exist. “I” am not there. The smell of fire permeates the air, the sound of explosions mingles with the blinding light streaming intermitted amid the rhythm of blood rushing through arteries; clogging  my ears with a hissing sound. I run for hours, or so I think.

When it happens, I can’t be sure. Slowly, as if someone moves a dusty curtain, weighed down by a billion moments of amnesia, inch by inch the image of my soul is revealed. I stand  facing the window, my bare feet soothed by the coolness of the floor. I turn my head to the right, locking my gaze on the painting that hangs above the antique, wood dresser. Even though obscured by dark, I know its subject and the light brush strokes of the watercolor by heart. I know the story of my grandfather who purchased the painting of the villa on the coast of Adriatic, hoping to keep fond memories of his youth. I know the story of the dresser. I remember the day my husband dragged the heavy wooden piece home with the triumphal pride of a successful hunter etched on his face.I know that if I reach under one of its legs I am sure to find a rusty nail poking-out ever so slightly, catching the threads of the mop each time I clean.

Comforted by the familiar, memories and stories of the past safely tucked in the far recesses of my brain; I slowly walk back to bed and sit down. Propping my back with extra pillows I listen to the howling of the wind from a thunderstorm unleashed on Chicago. With each thunder-clap I flinch as the loud sounds resembles the sounds of detonations.

How is it that these same sounds offered a pocket of safety for us during the war? We slept through them, lulled by the knowledge that during bad storms snipers and heavy artillery were mostly silenced. Nature and its power offered us a reprieve from fight, allowing us to catch a breath and experience the sense of safety, even just briefly.

As I watch the last flickers of lightening diffuse through the blinds I feel my lips curl in a smile. Each time the flash-backs erase my memories, I cease to exit. And when they come back, even the bad ones I welcome them eagerly as they all make up my soul and that which connects me to life. Calmed by the storm, I slowly drift into sleep, hugging the pieces of my wounded self  as closely as I can.

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