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Piercing sirens consumed the caliginous horizon of Benkovac, Croatia, abruptly awakening Marija. She rushed through the dark apartment to the crying infant that lay frightened. Picking up the newborn she whispered words of reassurance, calming both herself and the newborn. As she turned toward the living room a cacophonous roar was heard overhead. Marija darted to the television. The horrific images on the screen portrayed what was happening to her beloved city. She stood petrified clenching the infant, lost in time. When she turned around I was sitting on the couch clenching my teddy bear, with my eyes fixated on the images. With one swift motion she moved toward me, embracing me into her arms. Marija had to think fast as she only had an hour to evacuate the city, to evacuate her home. She laid down Jovanka next to me and told me, “Be a good girl honey, watch over your little sister.” All I could do was nod my head. She sprinted throughout the small apartment in a frenzy grabbing as much as she could. With one small duffle bag in hand, she picked up Jovanka, securing her in her arm, and grasped my hand. We headed for the door. Marija hesitantly grasped the cold doorknob and stepped into the black bleak city she once called home.

The chaos closed in on Marija, it swallowed her up into a pit of darkness. She walked in what felt like slow motion, as the world around her sped by in a chaotic frenzy. She stopped walking and in front of her stood a luminous bus in the middle of all the darkness. Marija knocked on the door, but the driver would not let her in, “The bus is full, no more passengers” he said. Marija’s heart stopped. Burning tears filled her green eyes; she shut her eyes tight and prayed for a miracle. When she turned around and opened her eyes she saw her miracle standing in front of her, her eldest son, my half-brother. He overheard the conversation between my mother and the bus driver. Engrossed with anger he charged at the bus driver. In one swift motion he burst the window with his fist; punching the driver. The bus driver sat frozen in fear as my brother grabbed his collar, “You’re going to let my mother and my sisters on this bus or I will bash your whole face into the door” said my brother. The door immediately opened. My mother, sister and I stepped onto the bus knowing that we would never see our home again.

As the bus slowly left the city, bombs were heard overhead. Our fifteen-day journey from Croatia to Serbia began. The bus was filled with mothers and their crying babies. The voyage was enduring; many mothers lost their children on the trip due to lack of food and had to bury their babies on the side of the road when the bus stopped. When we finally reached Serbia, we were greeted by welcoming people with warm smiles and plenty of food. My family and I were placed in a large building with mattresses laid out on the floor. I had left my teddy bear on the bus and was crying for it. My mother tried to calm me down, but was unsuccessful. Anna, a kind doctor, saw my family on the news; she rushed down to the shelter and brought my mother a stroller with a blanket inside for my younger sister, Jovanka. I immediately grabbed the blanket out of the stroller and grasped it as hard as I could. Even though I was only three years old, I still understood that things were different. I understood that I would never return to my home again. All I had to remind me of my life in Croatia and what I had been through was the soft fluffy blanket. Tears began falling down my face as I sat on the mattress watching other families cope with what had happened to their beloved homes.

After a year, we settled down in a lovely home in Serbia, we even bought a dog. My sister and I made friends; my mother was reunited with my half-brother and sister. We were all finally happy and enjoying life. My family and I lived in Serbia for the next three years, until I was six years old. My father, who was in the military when we escaped, feared that Serbia was unsafe too. We built a new home, a new life and we had to once again leave, this time for America. Through the assistance of the United States government, we arrived in the United States in the Spring of 1999.

One night a year after settling in Chicago my mother and I were talking, “Mama I feel like everything is going to be okay”, I said. “What do you mean”, she replied. “I feel safe here and I don’t think we will leave for a very, very long time”, I said optimistically. “We’re not going anywhere”, my mother replied smiling. I squeezed her as hard as I could and ran off to bed. That night as I lay in bed hugging Yogi, my blanket that Anna gave me, I was no longer upset about leaving my home because I knew that I was safe in America. That night I fell asleep smiling.

Since that night once in a while I would think back to my life in Croatia and Serbia and remember the friends I had, but it was not until my senior year in high school that I truly looked back and was forced to reminisce. I sat waiting in the dark arctic auditorium, swallowed by the anxious commotion of teenagers. The first day of senior year was finally upon us. A tall, slender man emerged out of the shadows; he swiftly turned on the glaring florescent lights and introduced himself. “Good morning everyone, my name is Mr. Smith and this is Theater Arts”, he said enthusiastically. “Good morning”, everyone one replied in a unified zombie state. The class was filled with meaningless introductions and our plans for college. At the end of class he assigned us to perform a speech on our most prized possession. Instantly I knew I was going to speak about Yogi; I’ve had that blanket since I was three years old, it was the only material thing I treasured. That night I sat down at my computer to write my speech. I sat there unsure of what to write or how to begin. Finally, without even thinking, I just started to write. The words poured out of my heart and into my hands as I sat typing. I typed for what seemed seconds, but when I stopped, I realized that I had written two pages filled with all the emotions I had ever felt about leaving my home. I sat in my computer chair crying, lost in time. For the first time since I was six years old I realized what my family and I had gone through. We left our home. We rebuilt our lives, built a new home only to have to leave once again. We had to start all over in a strange land, but we overcame all that. We survived.



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