Stacking the deck

Stacking the deck

REFUGEE KILLS FORMER COWORKER, SELF; INVURES 3

The headline was dramatic and helps feed an anti-immigrant, refugee scare narrative used as a xenophobic fear tactic in the current presidential campaign. Never mind that it really wasn’t about a refugee gone mad, or a terrorist hidden within Syrian refugees. And while the article finally gets around to mentioning that this conflicted and misguided man had been harassed and bullied at work, and even stopped coming to work because of the harassment, it isn’t until 2/3 of the way through the article before that is made clear. Instead, the messaging is about the quiet refugee turned killer, an addendum to the continuing narrative that refugees, immigrants and minorities are quietly biding their time, conspiring to do unspeakable and unpatriotic acts against the suburbs.

“Fekede,” a Kenyan immigrant, the article finally clarified, “complained about a man at work who would intimidate and pick on him. (A neighbor) said Fekede transferred departments but ultimately quit when the problems continued.”

Proof of bias that has become this sinister and sick and un-American narrative about immigrants, refugees, which have merely become tools in an effort to focus White fear in elections. Nothing is said of the real crisis that manufactured fear diverts attention and resources away from.

There are currently some 60 million refugees, according to conservative estimates from the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, fleeing persecution, war and conflict. They are the consequences of, in no small part, the business models of the largest international arms dealers reaping vast fortunes; the United States, Russia, China and European nations being responsible for much of the world’s arms trade. I personally witnessed the complex nature of that business during the break up of the former Yugoslavia, where an arms embargo was used as a profit mechanism, forcing the cost of arms to rise by as much as 25 times.

Millions of displaced persons, many from US or US sponsored wars, as well as oppressive regimes, have been settled here since the mid-Seventies. The US has agreed to sponsor one hundred thousand, a miniscule fraction of the global total now overwhelming the planet. The current conversation, re: diatribe in America regarding refugees might be better spent correcting the cause of much of that flood, that is unrestricted and unrestrained arms proliferation that makes war profitable for a few, and by holding its government responsible for failed policies that instigate global chaos so that oil and weapons profiteers can operate with impunity.

23 Years Ago Today: Snipers.

23 Years Ago Today: Snipers.

There was shooting in the plaza and around the Holiday Inn. Bullets flew thick and heavy as we neared Saint Josip’s at the edge of the plaza. A dozen or more people were pinned down behind the church. Along sniper alley French and Ukrainian peacekeepers cowered behind vehicles, unable or unwilling to return fire. High above the valley, floating like a vulture in the afternoon sun, a NATO warplane circled impotently. 

Ana wished to get Dom Luka’s blessing for our civil ceremony, but the fighting made it too risky to reach the church. Suddenly she bolted down the alley, hugging the wall. She was half way down the alley before I realized.

Hoping Ana would draw sniper fire, an older woman behind the church took off towards the hotel, running awkwardly in high heels across the glass-strewn lot. She screamed as bullets kicked up dust around her. It seemed forever before the woman collapsed sobbing and exhausted behind a car across the road. I started after Ana. Keka quickly pulled me back.

“She’ll be okay. You’re too good a target. You’ll only get killed!”

An old man dodged across the road. A hail of bullets slapped the ground around him. He tripped and went down hard, covering the last twenty yards or so on hands and knees.

I was frantic and couldn’t just leave Ana out in the open. Just then she reappeared, ducking bullets and racing down the alley. She fell into my arms unable to catch her breath.

“Jesus, Ana! Was that worth it?”

Unable to speak all she could do was nod.

I had to get to the Holiday Inn, and there was no time to wait until the fighting subsided.  I went around the back of the plaza, using the cover of several apartment buildings. Climbing through a bombed-out store front I made the two hundred yard dash across open ground to the hotel.

Out front a French anti-sniper team arrived with a recoilless rifle. For nearly a minute the gun’s thundering whumpf-whumpf-whumpf filled the plaza. When it was over the sniper fire had ended. Some poor lout had just been blasted to pieces, but his comrades had doubtlessly retreated to look for new hiding places. I hoped to make it back before the shooting started again. Already there was new shooting near the Brotherhood and Unity Bridge.

It was dark and cool inside the hotel. The place was empty, as usual. A few journalists kept to the shadows and relative safety of a small bar at the back of the cavernous lobby. Bosnian snipers were firing across the river into Grbavica now. The gunfire reverberated with muffled, hollow reports, like the dull throbbing of a kettledrum.

I hated it there. The hotel was a monument to the hypocrisy of war. The Serbs left the place more or less alone, despite that nearly every other building in and around the plaza had been destroyed or heavily damaged. The upper floors were gutted, and the Serbs took occasional pot shots at the front of the building to rattle and warn the foreign Press and diplomats who stayed there.

The Holiday Inn had always had something of an unsavory reputation. The squat yellow and peach building looked as if it had been dropped by accident among some of Sarajevo’s best known and most beautiful architecture. There were rumors that the owners had made some arrangement with the Serbs and local mafia. The relatively cosmetic damage to the place only tended to bolster its nefarious reputation.

The American delegation to Bosnia was on the third floor. It was called an embassy, but only in the loosest possible terms. Next door to the embassy the Newsweek correspondent, a rather miserable looking fellow, was working on a story. A Bosnian guard slept in a chair in front of the embassy. A fully loaded assault rifle threatened to spill from his lap. I quietly slipped past the guard into the embassy, surprising several intelligence officers who scattered quickly as I entered. A tall blond diplomat stepped forward, blocking me until they were gone.

“Dave Johnson(not his real name), First Secretary.” he said with all the sincerity of a used car salesman. He listened impatiently to my story. “So, you’re getting married. Fantastic! That’s just great. No problem, we can give you whatever you need.”

As he spoke Johnson guided me back towards the door.

“Oh, and they also need something that says I’m not married back in the States,” I said.

“Oh,” Johnson winced. “That might be tricky, if not downright impossible. Tell you what, let me call out consular office in Zagreb. We’re nothing here, just more or less a liaison office.”

I waited while he placed a call to the embassy in Zagreb Croatia. He returned a minute later with the bad news. Sure enough the only way to get proof about my current marital status would be back in Chicago. I sighed, wondering if there wasn’t some other way.  Johnson apologized and said it was really out of his hands.

“You might try asking the Bosnians to forego that requirement,” he offered. I nodded

“But I can get the citizenship paper?” I asked.

“Just tell me what you need and I’ll have it typed up for you.” Johnson flashed a broad Ivy League grin and deftly guided me out into the hall. “I wish you luck, though. Let me be the first to congratulate you.”

Ana was less than pleased with the news from the embassy. Back at Opshtina the woman was less than sympathetic. She refused to budge on the marriage document. We could not get married without it, she said. Ana sank in her chair, utterly dejected.

“Of course,” the woman said cynically, “there are other ways to deal with a problem if one is creative. Perhaps we might think of some way.”

I knew what she was asking, but I had barely enough money to escape the city. Paying a bribe was simply out of the question. My unwillingness annoyed her. Out of spite she began to rattle off various and steeply inflated costs for paperwork, seeming to take joy in crushing our dream of getting married.

“You won’t have enough to get out?” Ana said, worried.

“It’s all within reason,” I tried to reassure both of us.

“Unfortunately,” said the woman, “there is still the problem with your marital status.”

“Everything is possible with money,” Keka offered. Ana rubbed her forehead, tortured by stress.

“I’m not rich,” my temper rose.

“It is the only way,” said the woman.

“I can’t finance the whole damn war!” I’d finally had enough.

Ana tried to calm me as it all fell apart before our eyes. The woman stood and retrieved a file from across the room. She opened it and handed it to me. It was a file on two British journalists married a month or so before.

“This is what we require. It is the law. You must understand,” she smiled cruelly. “It is out of my hands.” Only when she saw that Ana’s heart was breaking did she soften. “I am sorry.”

I caught up to Ana and Keka outside beside the Ali Pasha Mosque. Ana refused to look at me. I took her arms. The instant our eyes met I knew exactly what I had to do.

“Go home and wait for me,” I started back to Opshtina.

“Bill, where are you going?”

“I have something to do.”

I had one last chance, and it was a long shot. In fact, it was unlikely to work out the way I hoped, but what choice did I have? If it failed I knew that I would lose Ana forever.

I barged into the marriage bureau startling the women there. One of them screamed and hurried to find a guard. The others could do little more that protest feebly as I went to the cabinet and pulled out the marriage file on the British journalists. In an instant I had it open and had my journal out.

“You must leave here or we will have you arrested,” one woman complained. I ignored her and quickly copied the citizenship document.

“One document can say both things?” I asked. The blond-haired woman nodded. Johnson at the embassy had already said that I could get the citizenship paper. That was the easy part. Near the center of the page I inserted the line, “In so far as this embassy is aware Mr. Turck is not married.” Nothing about the statement was untrue. I wasn’t married, and the embassy had no idea one way or another. It was a long shot, but it was all that I had.

There was shooting in the plaza again. In fact there was a lot of shooting, but  there was no time to worry about it now. I had to get back to the embassy no matter what, but as I stepped from the bombed-out storefront two bullets struck the wall beside my head. I dove headfirst back through the window and crawled up against the wall.

“Shit!” I exclaimed, my frightened breaths exploding in the empty shop.

Every heartbeat thundered in my ears. I laughed, realizing how close I’d come to being killed. Fear was a weight I could ill afford, that is if I really wanted to be with Ana, but it was a weight that kept me from moving for some time. I fought it and threw myself into the open, letting blind momentum decide my fate. I was immediately at a dead run. Ahead of me, past the hotel and a Ukrainian APC on the road, death stalked from a thousand empty windows. A rifle shot thundered in the plaza. I shouted and strained to cover the last few yards before collapsing against the back of the hotel.

 Upstairs in the embassy Johnson gave the paper a quick review and nodded.

“I’m sure this will be fine,” he said. “We’ll type it up. Why don’t you come back in the morning?”

“Dave,” I said at the door, “do me a favor and get an office in a better neighborhood. Every time I come here I get shot at. I’m starting to get a bad impression of Sarajevo!”

There was a woman I knew in the lobby. Her name was Fahira, an impeccably dressed business-like woman in her mid forties. Her reddish blond hair was flawless, and held in place by copious amounts of hairspray, that must have cost her a fortune to attain through the black market. Fahira was sitting before one of the hotel’s tall windows staring out at the desolation of her city. She was there most days, hoping to make money as a translator, but no one cared about Bosnian much anymore. I sat down beside her, and knew better than to ask her how business was. She hadn’t worked in many months and was growing more discouraged by the day.

“I thought you might have gone by now,” she said, without looking at me.

“Soon, I hope.” I said nothing of Ana.

“I think the war is lost.” She said dully. I didn’t reply. “When the world no longer cares what happens here, when the Chetniks know the world is looking the other way they will come and slaughter us.”

I let the topic go. I was in no mood for politics.

“How is your daughter?”

“She asks for things. What do I tell her?” Fahira pulled a pack of cigarettes from her purse. She counted them and thought better of having one. She put them away and huffed. “I think that I have ruined her. When everyone else was starving, I could still afford food. We always had money, you know? Now we have no food, nothing. I almost wish that something terrible would happen, then perhaps someone will come and I will make a little money for her.”

I sat with her a while longer, though we didn’t say much. She did most of the talking. I stood and looked out into the plaza. The sun was setting and I didn’t want Ana to worry.

“Well,” I said, not looking at her, “good luck to you.” Fahira nodded slightly and looked off across the plaza.

Abortion facts by the numbers.

Abortion facts by the numbers.
The anti-choice crowd is at it again and simply can’t say what they really mean, so I’ll say it for them. But first the numbers.
Anti-choice cultists proliferate the number 1.2 million abortions. There are numerous memes going around in social media. 1.2 million according to the CDC was the average during much of the Bush-Clinton administrations Dropped to under 900 thousand after 1997 and has been in steady decline, with the last reliable numbers at 699K in 2012. All legally performed abortions are tallied by the Centers for Disease Control. The anti-choice people take their numbers from the CDC. They just ignore the ones that don’t suit their agenda.  The numbers before Roe v Wade are suspect since they are estimates before the CDC kept records and does not account for private doctor care or illegal abortions.

Reasons for abortions

Another study, in 1998, revealed that in 1987 to 1988, women reported the following as their primary reasons for choosing an abortion

  • 25.9% Want to postpone childbearing.
  • 21.3% Cannot afford a baby
  • 14.1% Has relationship problem or partner does not want pregnancy
  • 12.2% Too young; parent(s) or other(s) object to pregnancy
  • 10.8% Having a child will disrupt education or job
  • 7.9% Want no (more) children
  • 3.3% Risk to fetal health
  • 2.8% Risk to maternal health
  • 2.1% Other
Donald Trump said that women should be punished “in some way” for having an abortion. the anti-choice propagandists recite the 1.2 million number incorrectly and say that “is okay.” No one said it was okay, ever. The overall statement is offensive to women who had to make a painful and personal decision. The pro-choice and pro-women’s sovereignty side recognize the pain and difficulty in that decision.
What the anti-choice side is really saying is that that prefer those women are punished criminally. There is no other choice if you believe it is murder…
Here are the numbers according to the CDC, courtesy of the CDC:
Note: Not all states reported for each year. See citation for list of states not reporting.[1]

Year Number of Abortions
reported to CDC
induced abortion
ratio per 1,000
live births
CDC Abortion
Surveillance Report
1970 193,491 52 [1]
1971 485,816 137 [1]
1972 586,760 180 [1]
1973 615,831 196 [1]
1974 763,476 242 [1]
1975 854,853 272 [1]
1976 988,267 312 [1]
1977 1,079,430 325 [1]
1978 1,157,776 347 [1]
1979 1,251,921 358 [2]
1980 1,297,606 359 [3]
1981 1,300,760 358 [4]
1982 1,303,980 354 [1]
1983 1,268,987 349 [1]
1984 1,333,521 364 [5]
1985 1,328,570 364 [6]
1986 1,328,112 354 [7]
1987 1,353,671 356 [8]
1988 1,371,285 352 [9]
1989 1,396,658 346 [10]
1990 1,429,247 345 [11]
1991 1,388,937 339 [12]
1992 1,359,145 335 [13]
1993 1,330,414 321 [14]
1994 1,267,415 334 [15]
1995 1,210,883 311 [16]
1996 1,221,585 314 [17]
1997 1,186,039 274 [18]
1998 884,273 264 [19]
1999 861,789 256 [20]
2000 857,475 246 [21]
2001 853,485 246 [22]
2002 854,122 246 [23]
2003 848,163 241 [24]
2004 839,226 238 [25]
2005 820,151 233 [26]
2006 852,385 236 [27]
2007 827,609 231 [28]
2008 825,564 234 [29]
2009 789,217 227 [30]
2010 765,651 228 [31]
2011 730,322 219 [32]
2012 699,202 210 [33]
Total 51,923,070

23 Years Ago Today: A proposal, of sorts…

23 Years Ago Today: A proposal, of sorts…

Great billowing clouds drifted lazily through a cobalt sky. The wind was warm temporarily clearing the valley of soot and dust. For the first time in weeks the air was clean and did not smell of wood smoke or bitter cordite. There was a soccer game in full swing behind the military hospital. Patients and doctors crowded around the protected lot, cheering on a handful of local players.

I went inside and found Emira making rounds. We went up to Alto’s room where he and his roommate were playing cards. He said the letter still wasn’t quite finished. I asked if it would fit in my pack or I’d need a truck to haul it away. Emira suggested we all go down the hall for a bit of coffee so that Alto could conclude his “epic.”

Alto was managing a bit better these days. His foot would forever remain mangled, and with each step he was forced to kick out to keep the front of the foot from bending under. He was walking better, but would always need the crutches. Emira made us all tiny cups of bitter Turkish coffee, while Alto spent more time kidding around than writing. Emira banished him to the far end of the table. She gently touched my hand and leaned close.

“William, you look so sad.”

“The thought of losing her is killing me.”

“She’s a special girl, isn’t she?”

“I know that if I leave I’ll never see her again.” I ran a small spoon through the soupy black coffee.

“That’s up to the two of you, don’t you think?”

“And the war.” I sighed. “But that’s reality, right?”

Emira slowly took my hand in hers. “Bill, do you love her? I mean, do you really love her?”

“More than life,” I answered without hesitation. “But that…”

“No excuses, Bill. Do you love her? Wouldn’t it be nice if she could come to Chicago with you.”

It was an absurd thought. There was no way I could take her through the war with me. Still I couldn’t help but smile.

“Getting her out of here is damn near impossible.”

“Yes, yes, but if you truly love one another then anything is possible. If you were married things would be faster and much easier, once you got out of here.”

The idea of marriage was utterly ridiculous, yet so seductive. Ana and I had only known each other a short time, but as I left the hospital the idea of spending my life with her became absolutely intoxicating. There was no time to think clearly, but by the time I reached her neighborhood I was fully prepared to ask, to beg her if need be. It all came down to one simple proposition. Was I fully prepared to sacrifice everything for her? Was I prepared to sacrifice everything for love? The answer had always been there, seemingly from the moment I had sketched her picture before ever coming to Bosnia. My life was hers to squander, without reservation and without condition.

I hesitated below her window, suddenly filled with misgivings. I feared my reason was slipping, my heart eclipsing the reality of the situation and the war. I was weighing all this when Ana appeared at the window. She was crying.

We met on the stairs. She threw herself into my arms and covered my face and neck with kisses.

“Baby, what is it?” I asked, holding her tight. I breathed in the scent of her hair, believing it might be the last time.

“I’m sad,” she said. “This is the last time that I will hold you.”

I found the world in her eyes. Her voice and crystalline tears answered every question, and made the world much less severe. I wanted her, not in the vain hope of completing myself, but because she was my light and my example. I wished to become more of the person I found in her.

Certain of what I had to do, I led Ana back upstairs. She sat at the kitchen table while I formed the words. From the couch Renata was enjoying a rare moment of peace. Tono was asleep in the pen beside her.

“I was telling a friend about you,” I began. My heart was racing. I might have held less fear for snipers than for what I was about to do. “She thought that if we were married you could come to America faster and easier.”

Ana was stunned, and leaned closer as though she had not heard correctly. Renata, equally shocked, struggled to her feet.

“Is that the only reason you want to marry me,” asked Ana, “because it would be easier?”

Renata’s hands trembled so much that she gave up trying to light a cigarette.

“I want to marry you because I love you,” I replied.

Olja walked in at that moment and exclaimed, “Oh my god!”

Ana ignored her. “Bill, are you serious?”

Olja was elated, laughing through tears. Renata interrupted. She rubbed her forehead and seemed cornered by this unexpected turn of events. She ordered Olja to take me into the war room so that she and Ana could talk.

I collapsed on the small couch in the war room while Olja shut the door to give Ana and her mother some privacy. I buried my face in my hands, certain I had made a terrible mistake. Olja joined me on the couch and threw an arm around my shoulders.

“Relax, my sister loves you, and my mom thinks your great,” she said. “I’m telling you not to worry.”

It seemed a lifetime before Ana called me back to the kitchen. Renata had finally managed to light that cigarette, but there were tears in her eyes. I looked for some clue in her expression but could find none. she tried to smile as our eyes met, but it seemed it was all she could do to hold herself together. I looked at Ana expectantly. She stared back at me for a long moment. The silence was torture. Then, almost too soft to hear she said, “yes.”

“Yes?” I asked.

“Yes.”

We embraced. Olja cheered and danced around the room. Renata limped back to the couch mumbling something about it being impossible for her to have a child old enough to be married. Ana and I kissed.

“So you want to marry me, huh?” she asked.

“I do.”

“Then ask me right.”

Feeling a bit foolish, I bent on one knee and held her hands in mine. I was shaking.

“Ana, I love you more than life and want to spend my life with you.”

Even Olja was crying now. Renata fetched a bottle of “Mostar” cognac from the cupboard. She had been saving it for the end of the war. There was an oddly melancholic smirk on her face. With a heavy sigh she slammed down a shot and let the glass bang loudly on the table. Ana grabbed a couple glasses from the counter. Renata poured us each a healthy amount.

“I am thirty-nine years old,” she said. “Thirty-nine! That’s young. At least I still feel young, so when I heard I had a daughter old enough to get married my first thought was I’m getting drunk. But I’m not drinking alone. Drink up!”

Renata recalled her first love, before she met Ana’s father. His name was Misha.  Renata said we reminded her so much of those beautiful days. They had hoped to marry, her and Misha, but something went wrong and they broke off the relationship over something foolish. Renata met Ana’s father on the rebound and married him partly out of spite, and partly to mend a broken heart. Not long after Ana was born Renata learned Misha had cancer. Before he died Misha confessed that he had never stopped loving her. For that reason, as difficult as all of this was for her, Renata could not bring herself to stand in the way of her daughter’s happiness. With that she downed another glass of cognac. She looked about to cry again.

“Mom, are you okay?” Ana asked.

She looked into the empty glass and frowned. “I’m happy. I’m sad, but mostly I’m happy.” She looked up. “Bill, I’ll give you a bit of advice so that we will always get along. Never call me mom. I am Renata. If you ever call me mom or mother I will have to kill you.” She winked and bumped me with her shoulder. “Now leave. It will be curfew soon and I don’t want my daughter to marry a convict.”

I was afraid to leave Ana that night. I was sure that if I left her for even a second I would awaken to find this was all a dream. We lingered at the door for some time, unable to say goodbye.

“So you are sure you want to do this?” I asked.

“I dreamed that we were married.”

“I almost didn’t ask you.”

“Do you wish you could take it back?”

“What if I hadn’t?”

Ana shook her head. “I wouldn’t have said anything, but I would have cursed you until the day I died.”

I touched her pretty face. “I hope that I make you happy, Ana.”

She smiled and shoved me into the dark hall. “Don’t forget, eight steps, eight steps, eight steps.”

 

23 Years Ago Today: Twist of Fate

23 Years Ago Today: Twist of Fate

Renata groaned and reached for my shoulder as she tried to stand. It was just over a year since she was wounded by a Serb shell that had exploded outside the window. A finger size chunk of shrapnel struck her in the back. Ana found her in a pool of blood beside the kitchen table. Olja, normally unflappable, was hysterical. A neighbor flagged down a passing car and rushed Renata to the hospital. But there was little they could do for her. The wounded and dying were everywhere. An exhausted nurse bandaged the gaping wound as best as she could and sent the family home.

Renata’s fingers dug into my shoulders as the pain reached a crescendo. Her eyes shrank to narrow slits. But the pain was too much and she collapsed onto the couch again. In the war room Tono was crying for his feeding, but there was no food in the house, and Renata was in no condition to move. The thought that she had no choice made her want to cry. Despite the pain she tried to stand once more. Moaning and bent like an old woman she struggled from the room, barely able to walk.

“I don’t think her wounds healed right,” said Ana, almost near tears herself.

At curfew she walked with me to the end of her street. There was fighting on Igman. We watched flashes across the dark face of the mountain. There was worry in Ana’s face.

“You must leave soon, Bill.”

I studied her face, mulling over a thought. “What if I stayed?”

“Don’t be foolish.”

“I love you, Ana. What if we were meant to…”

She quickly cut me off. “If we were meant to be together we would have met in Chicago or Paris or anywhere but here.”

I sighed heavily and looked again at the mountain. She was right, of course.

“I talked with a friend the other day,” she said. “He works on the tunnel in Dobrinja. He says that if you can get there he will help you across to Butmir.”

“Ana, I…”

“It is very dangerous, but if you have no other choice.”

The time had come, and I decided that night, as I evaded the police on the way to Hasan’s, that I would leaving the following night. Ana’s friend would be at the tunnel and, with a bit of luck, would help me across. I would go to see her in the afternoon to say goodbye. It would be quick, like tearing off a bandage.

The next morning I returned to the military hospital for the letters Alto and Emira had written for their family on the outside.  Snipers were dueling in the plaza. The halls of the hospital were crowded with patients and doctors chased there by the gunfire. Above the frustrated curses of staff, protestations and the moans of the sick and wounded, bullets could be heard slapping against the walls of the building, sounding like clapping hands. I found Emira calming patients, but I might have thought I had rescued her. Grabbing my arm she led me quickly up to Alto’s room.

“Terrible,” she said of the shooting, “much worse than I have seen it in some time.”

The Serbs were putting pressure all around the city, attempting to force the Bosnians to divert troops from the mountain offensive.

“Little boys with dangerous toys,” I remarked.

“You will hate me, but I haven’t finished the letter. I simply have not had time, with all the fighting and new patients. We are overwhelmed, you understand. I don’t think that Alto is finished either. I’m sorry, but if you could return tomorrow.”

“I was leaving the city tonight.”

“One more day, if it is not too much of a problem.”

At least I might have one more day with Ana. “No, it’s no problem.”

“It’s funny,” she smiled. “I didn’t know what to write. Is that crazy? After so long I had a million things to say and to know. I could have written a book, but with all this time passed and only a few small pages, what is most important to say? All I could think to say was ‘I love you’ a thousand times.” Emira shrugged and smiled weakly. “So you’re leaving the city.”

“Soon.”

“You don’t sound very happy?”

“I met a girl.” We paused near Alto’s door. The shooting had stopped and he was on his cot working on the letter.

“A girl? That’s fantastic!” Emira exclaimed. “Tell me her name, really you must.”

“Ana.”

“Your Ana is a lucky girl,” she hugged me. “I hope she knows that.”

“If she won’t marry you,” Alto quipped, “I will!”

Emira swatted at him playfully, admonishing him with a sweet smile. “You’re mad! Now finish your letter so this poor man can go home to America.”

“I’m not finished yet,” he said.

“It’s not supposed to be War and Peace!” Emira remarked.

“Just war,” Alto replied.

Two bullets smacked the wall beside the window chasing us into the hall again. Alto hopped around on one foot having abandoned his crutches with the letter in the room.  As more gunfire resounded in the plaza below he thought better of returning for either of them.

“Ah, jebim te…!” he swore.

“Relax,” said Emira. “Bill will return tomorrow.” She looked at me, her eyes hungry for every detail of Ana. “So is this serious with your Ana?”

“It was all a mistake, Emira.”

“Real love is never a mistake.”

“I didn’t plan on this. Really, it was never my intention.”

“Did you think that one day you would just wake up and say, this is the day I will fall in love? When you return tomorrow we will have coffee and we will talk more.”

Twenty-three years Ago today: Hope.

Twenty-three years Ago today: Hope.

If the Bosnians acted desperately it was because they were desperate. They were besieged by former friends, neighbors and countrymen who had come to believe that annihilation was the only solution to their own gilded hate. But the excuses for the war were merely an illusion, a slight of hand by those who profited from war.

There were few sights that spoke of the siege as graphically as the hillside cemetery above the soccer stadium. Then thousand wooden markers, ten thousand mounds of earth, ten thousand dead nearly bisected the city. It was a community in it’s own right, if one defines a community by its common bonds and needs. Bound by death, their only need was remembrance, for they had long ago lost the need for justice. New graves quickly overtook the old ones and replaced the grove of tall willow, pine and maple that once shrouded the cemetery. The bones of those older graves lay scattered on the muddy ground. The city of the dead was slowly taking over the places for the living.

I detoured among the graves on the way to Ana’s. I often walked among them trying to find some commonality among them: between them and me. I read the names, if there were any, and the dates of their births and deaths. Some were decorated with curiously personal trinkets, flowers, poems, letters, children’s toys and more. Many were simply forgotten, or were simple mounds with no marker or name.

Near the stadium I found the grave of IRMA GRABOVICA, born 1982 and died 1993. Nearby lay HUSEIN KAROVICH, born in 1938. Beside the grave of twenty-two year old IZET BEGICH were two anonymous graves. Further on PAVO BLAZHEVICH, A Catholic Croat lay beside ZLATIMIR TEZICH, a Serb, and KASIM MEZHUR, a Muslim. Kasim and Zlatomir’s graves were so close together I wondered if in life they were friends.

“This is such a sad place,” said Ana.

She paused at the rubble-strewn steps of the National Library. The city was silent, lulled into a somber peace by a low shroud of funeral gray clouds. They made the archways and galleries of the bombed-out library as deep and mysterious as a cave.  There was a stillness to the valley, a muddled quality that left the world distant and out of focus, like an old photograph. 

There was a sentry at the corner with a Kalashnikov slung over one shoulder. He looked like a guy from the neighborhood. He watched us curiously for a moment before turning away from the dust thrown up by a passing tank. Ana climbed the steps slowly and went inside without a word. I found her in the shadowy rotunda. Her eyes were closed, face turned upwards to the lattice of the broken ceiling.

I paused beneath an archway, not wishing to disturb such an intimate moment. The air was heavy with the scent of burnt and rotting books. Their ashes lay in heaps among the oriental arches and terraces. Serb shells had shattered many of the massive marble columns and a great pile of rubble stood in the center of the rotunda. High above the thundering wing beats of pigeons disturbed the moment. Ana looked at me, her expression weighted by something.

“Will you tell me now?’  she pleaded. All morning I had teased her about a surprise.

“Let me take a picture of you first.”

“Then you will tell me?”

“Maybe,” I laughed.

“I hate you,” she pouted.

“Be that as it may,” I snapped a picture of her, “but I still won’t tell you.”

“Please, Bill, don’t be so cruel!”

The more insistent she became the more obstinate I became. Not that the surprise was so great. Rather it was more a gift of hope, a way of making the distance between us a little less painful. Ana danced across the rotunda, framed like an angel in the lens of my camera.

“Did you come to this place before the war?” I asked.

“Oh, it was such a beautiful place. It was, it was like walking into someone’s soul, or the soul of humanity. Ideas, truth and history called from every corner, begging them to take their secrets into your heart. There was a huge painting over there, and books there and there and there. I would often sit in those galleries, sometimes reading, sometimes just looking out at the river and mountains.”

Ana turned suddenly and did her best to feign anger. “Bill, I really must tell you that I hate surprises. Do you really wish for me to hate you?”

“Nice try.” I snapped another photo.

“Why do you torture me so? I swear I will never speak to you again.” She found it impossible to keep from smiling.

“You’re like a child!”

“Oh no, I can be much worse.”

I lowered the camera and went to her. “Ana, do you believe in Christmas miracles?”

“Bill,” she protested, “don’t play games.”

“I left some money with Nadja and Hasan. Not much, but it should be enough for something on Christmas.” Tears welled in her eyes. Ana held me tight.

“I love you so much,” she whispered.

“You have come to mean so much to me,” I said. “Leaving you behind, it will soothe my broken heart to know that I made you smile one last time. Just remember me, okay?”

“I will remember you, I promise.” She kissed my neck. Her tears were wet and cool.

We climbed down from the library into the gray blue cityscape. Gunfire echoed as we walked home along the river. A crowd waited for a tram near the Princip Bridge, spread out along the wall should a shell land among them. From Marin Dvor came the fevered wail of an ambulance. A convoy passed an argument in a window. Numbed and shell-shocked soldiers wandered empty streets, as bitter and aimless as the roaming dogs long ago abandoned by destitute owners. A young man missing a leg hobbled along an alley to an uncertain future. Children were being born blocks from the line where men were dying. Young boys and girls learned the thrill and pain of first love, while a Gypsy family lived out of a storefront and cooked over an open flame. A crazy man ran naked down the street. A parent learned of their son’s death, while a couple made love next door. All of this in a world barely one by three miles long. Ana hugged me close and said that she felt like Robinson Crusoe.

So you want a revolution…

So you want a revolution…

So you want a revolution. First understand that there is no such thing as a peaceful protest, but I’ll get to that in a moment…

I am tired of Stupid on the Right and the Left, and the Middle! Trump wants to “impose” term limits? On a separate co-equal branch of government? I also hear this same garbage from the Left too. It isn’t the perspective of Left or Right, but of the lazy. We already have term limits. They are called elections. Problem is, AMERICANS DON’T F%$#ING VOTE!.

Spoiler alert, that’s how your government gets away from you. Here’s a thought America, when it comes to your government, show up once in a while. But you’ve got other more important stuff to do, like football games, trolling shopping malls or being zombied-out in front of the television. live in a very liberal/democrat area, and last election 11% bothered to vote. For that we got Bruce Rauner and more Rahm Emmanuel. They were elected by about 12% of the total electorate-a minority. And if you don’t turn out to vote, you just get to eat someone else’s crap.

Basic maintenance. You don’t have to polish the car daily, just keep it safe and running, and if in some Christine-like satanic possession your car starts chasing the cat around the yard, be ready to put a brick through the windshield, or bullet in the radiator. But if you ignored the engine light for 30,000 miles or never once changed the oil and it stutters and stalls that’s time to get to work not blow up the garage. When you buy a car they give you a warranty. If you don’t change the oil for 50,000 miles, there is no warranty for that. You’re just an idiot. Your country operates the same way.

Voting is not the end all and be all of your responsibility. I made dozens of calls to elected officials this year, small by comparison to a lot of friends and family I know. And protest should be a constant thing in this country. BE at the ballot box and IN the street, and run from anyone promising a peaceful protest at all costs. Whether a protest is peaceful or not isn’t your call. Your task is to rally people to your cause and be in the street and be in their face, per your rights as described in the constitution, but also because you are a person! If there is violence, that is the choice of power choosing the path of suppression and oppression. If you really believe in your cause, your heels are against the cliff. Resistance means you will not be pushed over the edge lightly.