By S.I. Lee
Croatian National Museum of The Homeland War
Experiences of War
Received August 2002
We met in a shelter in the summer of ’92. It was hot, and there was very little space. I tried to shift so my back was straight, and I elbowed the person next to me. I apologized. He shook my hand and introduced himself. I told him my name. I did not think I’d see him again.
I woke up early one Tuesday a few weeks later and decided to go for a walk. I walked around the outer edge of the park and as I was passing a hollowed tree, I heard someone calling my name from behind. He caught up with me and we started walking together. We walked all the way around the park and when we reached the beginning again, we stopped. He asked me if I had a phone number, and I said I did. He asked me if he could have it, and I said he could not.
He started waiting for me by the tree every morning. We’d meet just before sunrise and walk around the park together. We did this for weeks.
One Friday I asked him if he had plans that night, and he took me to a bar on the other side of the city. We left the bar and on the way home I asked him if he often stayed out this late. He laughed. He said when we’d first started meeting, waking up so early had been “unbearable.” I asked him why he’d done it and he rolled his eyes. We were walking down an alley when he stopped, turned to me, and asked me if he could kiss me. We just kind of stood there for a while. Then I said yes.
We got to the block before his building and stopped at the corner. I took a piece of paper from my pocket and wrote down my phone number. I told him to call me sometime.
He called me on Saturday morning and said his flatmates were going to be gone overnight. He asked if I wanted to come over.
It had started raining early that morning and someone had gone out with the umbrella. I waited for them to come back, and when they didn’t, I put my coat over my head and ran. By the time I knocked on his door, I was soaking wet. He laughed, and I stood on a towel while he went and got me some clothes from his room.
He’d made one of his only forays into baking and there was a tart on the counter which we sat together and ate on the couch. We listened to some music and he showed me his room. We sat on his bed and talked. He asked me again if he could kiss me. He asked for another kiss, and I told him he’d better space them out.
I slept on a thin mattress on the floor of his bedroom, and he took the mattress off his bed and laid it down next to me. We were lying a foot apart. I was completely in the dark, but the curtains were open and the faint light from the street was shining through the window onto his face. He was looking at me, his head turned to the side. He kept smiling. I asked him what for, and he said he’d finally found my light.
We woke up early the next morning and I left before anyone could get back.
He asked me out again for the following Friday night, and I countered with a cup of tea. So we sat in a café and he drank coffee and we talked. He said his sister’s family had left. He pulled out a
camera and took a picture of me mid-sip. I said it was only fair that I took one of him, and he posed with coffee in hand. He later printed a copy and gave it to me, and I put it in a little frame on my dresser.
I woke up early one morning in late November and everything outside was covered in snow. I met him in the park for a walk and watched the trail of footprints we left behind. Someone was out with
their dog, and he stopped to pet it. My feet got cold waiting for him.
We went out again one night sometime later. We stood in the alley behind the bar, kissing, for some time. Then we went inside and the first thing he did was ask me to dance. I said no, and he started
doing the waltz on his own. He looked ridiculous, and I joined him out of pity.
He walked me home and we parted the customary block before my building. When I went in, all of my things were in the hallway. I waited until I thought he’d be home, then I called him and he walked all the way back. He said I could stay with him until I found someplace new, and that his flatmates wouldn’t mind. I’d never met any of them before, but I carried my things with him to his apartment. It took us almost two hours.
His room was not meant for two people to live in and there was very little space. We kept bumping into each other. I had nowhere else to look when I was brushing my teeth. I decided I wanted to live with him for a good long while, and I asked him if it would be all right if I looked for somewhere for just the two of us.
We spent a considerable amount of time apart when I returned to my hometown in the spring of ’94. My mother had been severely injured in an artillery attack, and I stayed with her for several months.
When I returned, he had moved us into a new apartment and had taken the liberty of decorating without me. The pictures of us from the café had been framed and hung on the wall.
After the war ended, we visited his sister in Germany, and it was while we were there that my brother called me to say that our mother had been readmitted to the hospital. We both traveled back to see her. When she saw us together, she told me she had no son. She died a few days later. It was the first funeral I’d attended since the war ended.
We returned home and I found a steady job. He found a stray cat that sleeps on our bed and waits by the door for me to get home so I can feed her. He makes me tea and reads to me. We live together quite happily, except for the smell of tuna in the morning. That is dedication, he says, to cats everywhere. I roll my eyes, and he whacks me over the head with his book.