Sarajevo – Daughter, wife, mother

She had no way of knowing that going back fifteen generations every one of her female ancestors had been raped into pregnancy. She didn’t know her biological mother and so hadn’t guessed at her residual ways—the intense but fractionally ambivalent love, the night sweats, the fear of elevators.

Her childhood had been happy; the war had brought much emotional pain and little adventure to her teenage years; college had been a revelation; and her first three boyfriends had been supple, generous, respectful lovers. Her fourth affair was with an older woman, slightly damaged in an enduring way but nothing that caused our young lady any lasting harm. Her fifth was her first love. After a year she was married and pregnant and happiness trembled within her with such youth that the cheeks of the passing elderly shone.

Her obstetrician, however, was an ass. On a crisp Sunday morning with the windows to her hospital room thrown open she handed her newborn baby to her adoring husband and thanked her adoptive mother for helping her put on a robe and brush her hair so she could thank the doctor properly. One sharp knock at the door—less than one almost—barely preceded the brisk entry of the white-haired physician with a nose like a door knob. He straddled the center of the room and struggled not too hard to suppress his total scorn for a marital union between a Serb and a filthy Bosniak. He thought back to this young woman’s mom, who had sat in this same room and cried like a barn animal after giving away her daughter.

“Con-grat-u-la-tions,” he said to the ceiling before turning his giant ochre eyesteethface in the direction of the baby he’d touched before anyone. An unfiltered cigarette traced a familiar arc, fit a familiar groove, combusted into many different things but especially preordained regret. He exhaled twice. “I was your mother’s obstetrician.” The room held its breath and seemed to throw up its pleading hands. “I asked her why she gave her daughter away and she said that she’d been raped. That’s what she would call it.” The husband, afraid of hurting the baby, willed the new and considerable tension in his being into his brow and jaw. “She told me this too: every woman in her line going back as far as anyone could remember had conceived out of rape. She was no less than the fifteenth consecutive rape victim. I tell the truth, unaltered. I’m glad your child is a son. Had it been a girl I hope she’d have had the sense not to marry the rapist.”

With that he pivoted and left with what he supposed to be total dignity. That he wasn’t punched in the neck owed less to the fact that the husband was holding the baby than to the way she laid two timeless fingers on his wrist and sent two of the loveliest, most plaintive sounds he’d ever heard up from her depths. Recently abandoned, newly filled depths. With something close enough to completion to call completion, she gave herself to an embrace of her husband and baby. And with an absolute poem of meaning her arm stretched out to her adoptive mother, who had been looking out the window and seeing nothing. Four lovely souls holding tight to a swirling bundle of feelings that has all but never been experienced in this or any other time. Lovely.

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