And I Haven’t Danced Since He Died

a gift from Mariana to me in the form of a letter on the eve of her return to Croatia for just the second time in nine years…

I know I don’t have to tell you about consequences of war; I lost my cousin – who was like a brother to me – we grew up together and were of the same age. He was the one who taught me how to put eyeliner on and how to dance. And I haven’t danced since he died. His war lasted only 5 days.

He was found with 15 knife stabs in his body and 83 bullets.

The journalists who wrote about his death had to flee Croatia. His commander was found dead under strange circumstances. The young man who found my cousin and carried his body on his back to a ferry boat, on the bus, and then home — had to flee the country fearing for his life.

The five men who ambushed my cousin were Croatian paramilitary — my cousin was in the Croatian Military Police. Those who didn’t die in the war were found guilty of war crimes and sentenced. The military or the government (not sure which one) erected a monument for my cousin on the island on which he died. But his mother still keeps his room the same way as it was 14 years ago, and takes yellow Gerber daisies to his grave every day.

I am going to Croatia on June 11, the first time in 4 years, and second time in 9 years. Our house is 5 minutes away from the beach; there are no signs that forbid trespassing through the vineyards, olive gardens, or woods. Last time I went there, it was to mourn my father. I miss him so much, and that is enough said. In Croatia, there is my closest family (mother, sister, and brother) and relatives — many of them — I think the best point of reference I can give to describe a Dalmatian family is a Sicilian family; temperamental, impulsive, warm, loud, easily offended, nosy, generous, talkative, food and wine loving. They will suck up all the energy out of me, but I am just happy to be able to see them again, to open up my heart the best I can and let them know they are loved.

I will see my ‘old’ friends from college years — Damir — who saved my skin several times; Diana who got me in trouble many times with her lack of judgment and passion for adventure; Silar – who secretly loved me and wanted to marry me when I was already pregnant with my husband to be; Sebastian — who lead me onto a spiritual path and who is possibly the most lovable person on earth, and yet single; Ivo who made me laugh time after time doing private stand-up comedy gigs for me; Zeljka – my friend from 1st grade of grade school, together we dreamed of getting out of the province and doing something grand; Stipe — whom I held with my last power to prevent jumping off the 3rd floor and who was the only one who shared my passion for the grunge music; Ivan – my fellow poet – we used to stay up all night on two mechanical typewriters, making magic…

It will be a whirlwind; but of a good kind.

View Dalmatica’s Flickr Profile or visit her blog Dalmatica: Act Great.