My 18th birthday was supposed to be a joyful day for my entire family. My older brother managed to get a three-day pass from the CDF and I managed to get a few days off from the university. We were a very close family and it had been a few months since my parents had both of their children in the house at the same time.
Everyone woke in a cheerful mood the morning of my birthday. My brother left the house early to visit his sweetheart, my father sat in his favorite chair to read the morning paper, my mother and I went into the kitchen to start breakfast. I no longer remember the exact reason, but, my mother and I started bickering about some unimportant thing that soon turned into an epic argument. Maybe she made a comment about the Russian boy I was dating at school, maybe I said something sarcastic in return. The fight grew in intensity as my mother said things that hurt me and, of course, being my mother's daughter, I responded in kind. You know the type of things you say you later regret, well we said them that morning.
Our voices grew so loud my father put down his paper, got up from his favorite chair, and headed to the kitchen. Just as he was about to intervene, my mother shouted, “You are not even our child. We couldn’t have any more children, so, we adopted you.” Then she promptly started crying and my father ran to her and wrapped her in his arms. I just stood there. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t talk, and I couldn’t breathe. I could do nothing but stand and stare at my parents with my mouth agape.
And then with tears in their eyes, they both turned and started walking towards me. My father and mother reached out as if to pull me into their arms. I called them liars and told them not to touch me. I ran into my room, grabbed my suitcase and began packing. But, before I could finish, I broke into tears and started to shake. I could hear my mother’s crying grow louder as my parents slowly walked down the hall to my room. I sat on my bed and buried my head in my hands just as they entered my room and my father said, “Anna we love you. We have always loved you. We are so sorry, we should have told you this a long time ago.” My mother cried so hard she couldn’t say a word.
Then my father knelt next to my bed and put one hand on my knee and, with the other, held my mother’s hand. My mother sat beside me on the bed, reached up and gently stroked my hair. We sat like that for what seemed an eternity. When we had all calmed down, they told me how I came to be their daughter.
The next day I headed back to university, but, for some reason, I couldn’t focus. By the time the term ended, I decided I needed a break. A friend of mine told me about a job in Kabanino. The next day I applied over the phone and within two weeks was working at Kovar's Market. And the rest is history.
Well, if you really want to know, I’ll give you the short story. I fell in love with the owner’s son, got married, had twin children Olive and Oliver, and survived a civil war. And through it all, both families, the Kovars, and the Novaks, remained close and visited each other often. And then one morning all hell broke loose.
Ah, my sweet and lovely twins. My daughter Olive died shortly after the infection broke out. No, she didn’t succumb to the infection. Oh, no, that is not what happened at all. Instead, she died at the hands of man. Two men to be exact: The first man fed her poisoned meat, and the second man, a doctor, sealed her fate when he gave her a transfusion with the wrong blood type. In my head I know the doctor did his best under the circumstances, but, I fear there will never be any forgiveness in my heart.
When my son Oliver learned of his twin’s death, he became absolutely inconsolable for he had never been without his sister at his side. My husband and I tried and tried to help our son, but, we were also dealing with our own grief. In the end, we failed Oliver. My husband and I woke one morning not too long after Olive’s passing to find our son’s room empty. He had run away in the middle of the night. We followed lead after lead for weeks trying to find him and bring him home. But each lead led to a dead end. We have not given up hope, though. We are certain one day we will find our son. This hope and my love for my husband are the only things that keep me going through all this darkness.
My entire side of the family, the Novaks, died or were killed soon after the initial outbreak. At least that’s what we’ve come to believe after speaking to our dear friends, Mr. and Mrs. Bilek. After the VDV, the Russian military, forced all civilians to move to the southern coasts, we reopened our market in Chernogorsk. It was there that the Bileks found my husband and me one day and told us what happened to the residents of Kamensk. They told us they had all been rounded up and moved to the nearby military base, the very base destroyed by Russian bombers a couple days later. I said to them, “What are you talking about? Why would military round up people of Kamensk? It makes no sense.” They told me that while they didn’t know why it happened, they were certain it did happen. A few local boys from Nagornoe and Kamensk were playing in the tree line when the military arrived. The Kamensk boys went into town to greet the soldiers while the Nagornoe boys stayed in the woods and watched. When it was all over, the Nagornoe boys ran home and told their parents what they saw. Their parents didn’t believe them until the soldiers arrived in Nagornoe.
As for my husband’s family, well, his father Stanislav and his two American cousins went missing not too long after the outbreak. We don’t know to this day what happened to them or whether they are dead or alive. Through it all, through all the darkness that became a part of our daily lives, my husband and I tried to keep the market going. But, it quickly grew to be too much of a burden. We shuttered the market doors a couple months after we lost our families and our beloved twins.
My husband and I found the best way to deal with our overwhelming sadness and grief was to completely avoid it. I’m not sure that’s healthy for either of us or for our marriage, but, for now, we are still together. And together we wander our homeland.