nikolas kovac
thirty four
25 posts
5 points
i won't burn out, i'll just burn up and i was raised on excellence, always taught to look my best
warning: instances of death, abuse, and extreme injury

having been deserted or cast off

You are two hours old when you are found on the doorstep of the church. The priest's wife had forgotten something after the Friday evening service and had run back to get it, only to find you and forget all about the scarf sitting in the pews. You weren't swaddled in anything and, although it was summer, it was still cold for a little babe as small as you were, and so she clutched you to her chest to keep you warm and brought you home. There was no medical centre in your home town. In fact, there were less than five hundred people - none of which were your mother, no less, as none of the women were pregnant and then not. The lady had looked and looked for two weeks, caring for you and laying you to sleep in the crib her son had outgrown a few years ago. Eventually, her husband simply told her to stop. That you would be theirs, a brother to Danilo.

That was your first word, too - your brother's name. Or, at least, an attempt at it. It came out more like "an-ee", but it was something and you swear that, in the back of your too-full mind you can still see Dani's little grin and how he would jump with excitement whenever you spoke to him or about him, or whenever you reached for him. He always loved being your brother, was made for it you might say. He was gentle and loving and good. But he was too good, and nothing too good ever stayed in your life. Why would it? You were always destined to leave disaster in your wake. You should have been forgotten on that rural church doorstep and picked up by wolves. It would have been easier on everyone.

having no one else present; on one's own

You are five years old (five years, ten hours, three minutes, to be exact) when it becomes clear to your tiny child's mind that you are not meant for good things. It is your birthday and your mother is baking a cake and some baklava for you, your dad is whittling away to try and frantically finish a beautiful carving of galloping horses for over top your bed, and Danilo is determined to take you out for a trail ride. You don't ride the family horse alone yet, except at a walk with someone leading her, but he tosses you up onto the saddle and then climbs up after you, wrapping an arm firmly around your waist. He isn't large, not really, but to you he's practically an adult, a good five years, eight months, three days, and twenty two hours older than you. It doesn't help that he is tall and lanky, while you are still short, even if you don't really have any baby fat anywhere but your cheeks. It doesn't matter, though, because he is your favourite person in the whole world and he's determined to make today the best day ever for you, as he is every birthday.

It had rained the night before, so the ground is wet, the dirt turned to mud, and the grass slick under the mare's feet. You remember each vivid detail, can relive it in your own personal movie theatre in your head whenever you wish and often even when you don't. You have only ever seen this gift as a curse, but not because of that specific moment - rather, for every moment that comes after it, beginning with the long stretch that you've seen Dani gallop the mare down more often than not. You beg him, pretty please, let her go faster. You are happy, but a walk is boring and you don't need Dani with you to stay on at a walk. You peer up at him with your big, blue eyes and a little pout and even though he knows it's not a good idea with the footing, he doesn't say a word to you, grins back, and gives the mare a kick to push her to a trot. Before long, you're cantering across the field, grinning and giggling and nearly bouncing right out of the saddle, only held in place by Dani's arm securely around your waist.

And then the mare slips. The whole world turns to slow motion and you fly through the air, Dani flying further and soaring right over you. You hear a crack, but you don't register what that crack is as you hit the ground with a thud. You are scared and bruised, but barely hurt, just having a little trouble breathing, so you scramble to your feet to try and catch the mare (dad will kill you if you lose her) and you manage in time to slip yourself, the dragging reins catching around your throat as she panics and bolts. You are pulled free by a rock that lodges in your side, but you are too desperate for air to feel the pain. The rock comes dislodged, stuck more firmly in the ground than it is in you, when you stand, whimpering instantly as the pain sets in, but you stumble to Dani's body, laying in the grass and not moving. His head is next to another rock, but you don't see the red of the blood, collapsing next to him. You shake him and scream at him and cry. You keep going until you pass out and you wake up without a voice from all the screams. You are in a hospital bed, all stitched up and on the road to recovery. Dani, on the other hand, is in the morgue.

Your mind latches onto the idea that you killed your brother, and it never quite lets loose of that guilt.

abandoned or deserted; cast aside

Your are six and you haven't seen your mother - no, not your mother, Anika - in a few months. You have suffered through harsh words from Luka (your 'father'). You aren't sure how many to believe, but you believe him when he says you are not theirs. You are just a charity case, sent by God to test their faith as you destroy their family. Anika has been in and out of the hospital and the drive is too far for Luka to bother with bringing you. You don't deserve to see her anyway, he says. Instead, you stay home and look after little Marica. She was only a few months old when Danilo died, so she'll never remember him, but you are determined to be the same sort of brother to her that Dani was to you, even if you aren't her brother at all. She smiles and laughs when she sees you - she laughs a lot, it is the only thing you live for - so you figure you must be doing something right.

Of course, when her first word was 'ik' for Nikolas, that was the first day you felt the sting of a hand across your face, so not everything associated with her is good. But you try to make it all okay anyway.

You are only eight when you first feel the burn of a cigarette on your skin. You scream and cry at the pain, so you are forced to endure another, and another, and another, until you suffer through it in silence, tears streaming down your face, but your teeth gritted to keep them closed. You don't want to wake Mari, Luka whispers in your ear. You know then that it will not be the last time, but that you must be quiet or it will be worse. You duck your head to avoid his eyes, glossed over with the stupor of whiskey, and murmur a soft 'yes, sir', before you scurry off to go cook the lunch you were late getting done for him. It should be on the table when he gets home, you know, but Mari hadn't wanted to have her nap, and that had delayed you. Luka didn't like excuses; you didn't bother telling him any of them ever again.

came into forcible contact or collided with

You are sixteen and you have fallen behind in school, as someone has to stay home to care for Anika now that the money has run out for hospital bills. Luka still preaches, but all of that money is spent on alcohol and cigarettes except the little bits you steal from the coin jar and the small allowance he gives Marica, which you pool to get groceries. Usually you don't get much, because Luka eats a lot and you don't want to take away from Mari or Anika's plates because Mari is still growing and Anika never did anything wrong to you besides mistake you for Dani sometimes. You don't blame her for that, though; she hasn't been there, mentally, since his death and you're pretty sure she never actually accepted that he was gone. She was doing okay with her medication, but you don't have enough money for that now either. Luka still hits you and burns you when you do something wrong (you do something wrong a lot), but you have also been target practice for a few years now and your back bears the scars of bottles that sliced open your skin. He laughs when that happens. You aren't sure how it's funny, but if you laugh too, he doesn't ask you to bring the bottles back so he can throw them again, so you learn to laugh.

You aren't sure how much more of this you can take, even if you're certain you deserve most of it, and so you pack a small bag with ragged clothes that don't quite fit and a bottle of water and a box of cereal and you head out across the fields. Maybe you can find a job in the city, you figure. You just have to get there first. You haven't been often, but your mind never lets go of anything and you still remember the way you came home from the hospital when you were five, Mari crying beside you, Anika sobbing in front of you, and Luka swerving a little because he wasn't quite sober and shouldn't have been driving, but didn't actually care. You just have to trace that path the other way and you'll be there. You can live under a bridge or in a youth shelter (somewhere that someone doesn't hit you every day) and you can find a place to work and you can earn money and eventually get out of this hellhole. You aren't sure where you'll go - probably just catch the first flight available, the sooner the better.

You don't quite make it to the city, though you come close, before a storm rolls in overhead. There are no trees in sight, no shelter, so you press on, at least at first. You don't have time to think about what is about to happen when a stray lightning bolt arcs down to you, the tallest thing for miles. In fact, it is so fast that you don't even see it coming. All you feel in a searing pain, your muscles seizing and your chest feeling tight. You try to move, to scream, to shout, to do anything, but you can't and then everything is black.

in low spirits from loss of hope or courage

You are still sixteen, but two weeks older, when you finally awake in a hospital bed again. You momentarily wish that it was all a bad dream and you're still five, but the pain isn't in the right places, so you know it isn't true. This time, you are far more limited in your mobility. Your whole right shoulder and upper arm is immobilized - shattered collarbone - and your left ankle is in a cast - cracked, but not as bad as your shoulder - and beyond that your muscles are so weak that lifting a finger feels like lifting a bag of bricks. You are later told that you were clinically dead for a minute or two, but luckily someone had been driving by and spotted you. You kept coding the whole way to the hospital and for a bit after, apparently. You wish they hadn't brought you back at all. The darkness that you found in death was peaceful, the first time you have experienced peace in your life except when Dani was alive. Maybe it was because you were with him again, you think. You'd like that, joining him. It would be easier.

You don't get many visitors as you lay in your bed, in pain and wanting it to end, but you do get one. A British professor who had been in town for work; the man who found you and saved you. He brings his son, sometimes, an energetic young man named Nigel who will eventually become your best friend, but for now he is nothing more than a nuisance who never lets you get away with flipping off your physiotherapist. When he catches wind of the fact that you aren't cooperative unless he's there, he is sure to be there every day, and eventually you are actually getting better - physically and mentally. He is good for you. He makes you smile. He even makes you laugh, something you haven't done since that horseback ride before your world turned upside down. You don't tell him anything, but he seems to know that there's more to you than some 'poor, unfortunate sod' who got struck by lightning. Then again, you are his age - seventeen, soon - and he has never seen your parents, never seen a get well bear or bouquet or balloon. He gets the hint pretty fast that there isn't anyone looking out for you except you and, now, him. So the next time you wake up, you open your eyes to a room so full of balloons and flowers that the nurses can barely do their job. You refuse to see him for days, needing time to figure out how to say thank you, a phrase so foreign to you that you hope it's enough. He just laughs at you and your bright-red cheeks and tells you to "get up already, it's time to try walking'. So you get up. You don't walk that day, but it isn't long before he's dragging you around the city anyway.

a person or thing that may help or save someone

You are seventeen and two months when Nigel has to return to London. You are walking again and you are ready to be discharged as well, but when he asks you where his father should drive you to before they go to the airport, you hesitate. He doesn't even miss a beat before calling his father to buy another ticket and get a rushed passport so that you can join them. He's helped you catch up on your schoolwork, and you ran with it, going further now that you have access to libraries and the internet, so you are certain that you will be fine in an English school even if your Serbian accent is still heavy. You find out that there's no need to worry, though, because Nigel doesn't go to school; he is homeschooled, instead, and so you are too. You find a way to send an email to Marica - she's allowed a computer, where you were not - and let her know that you are going to London with your friend. She says she'll miss you, but that you better have fun, take pictures, and bring her back a magnet or something. You tell her that you will and give her the Griffin's home number so she can call you if she needs to.

You spend the next year traipsing around London streets, with trips to all the other little towns and various other countries that are close. You have the time of your life and you begin to think that you are free, that nothing will ever have to change and that you can be this way forever. Maybe you have finally paid your penance for killing Dani.

the adverse side effects or results of a situation

You are eighteen and three months, just over a year after you followed Nigel to London, when there's a knock on the door during dinner and there is Luka, face red with anger. You don't get to say goodbye or grab your things. He grabs your arm - your right one, the one that still aches from time to time, so it hurts even more - and he drags you to the cab and to the airport and back home. His hands leave marks on your skin from how tight he grips you, but you remember how this goes; don't cry, and it won't get worse.

But things have changed. Now there are no rules.

You wake in the morning, still on the kitchen floor where he left you, your whole body black and blue. You recognize the dull ache that changes to sharp stabbing when you breathe (broken ribs). You rub under your nose to lift off flakes of dried blood, tenderly pinching at it and thankful that it is at least not broken (or, doesn't seem to be). You slowly sit up, barely able to, but you stand and you check the clock and you have thirty minutes to get his breakfast ready, and so you do. You fall into routine and you realize that you weren't free at all and that the worst pain, out of everything you have endured, is realizing the security and hope that you felt was fake.

the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint

You are twenty years, nine months, and three days old when you have finally saved enough from the coin jar and Mari's allowance to catch a cab to the city and buy a plane ticket to London. You show up on the Griffin's doorstep, just as bruised as the morning you woke up on the kitchen floor, tears streaming down your face, and they welcome you back with open arms. Sophie, Nigel's mother, doesn't let you out of her hug for a solid three hours, and once she does, she is in the kitchen making your favourite things and calling Nigel to tell him you are here. He rushes home to see you and then he does the same thing. You didn't cry when Sophie held you, but the second Nigel's arms are around you, you are silently leaking tears onto his shoulder. It soaks his shirt, so he must have noticed, but he doesn't say anything. He just tells you that he'll make up the spare room for you after dinner and then tomorrow you're going shopping for all new clothes and luggage and they'll buy you a plane ticket again. He's leaving London, he tells you, but that you're going to come with him. You're going to get as far away from Serbia as you possibly can.

And that is how, at twenty years, nine months, and twenty days of life, you find yourself in the United States of America, applying for late admission to a variety of post-secondary programs, sharing an apartment with your best friend as you both find summer jobs while you wait to hear back from the admissions office.

have difficulty handling or coping with

You are shocked when you actually make it into everything you apply for (Nigel is not). You aren't used to people wanting you, so when they all want you, you find yourself stuck for a choice. You eventually choose science because you've always been good at it and there's something steady and reliable about it for you. You need it, at first. You've never really had stable and it feels good. But you also need a plan. The Griffins say you don't, that you'd probably keep your full scholarship anyway, and even if you didn't, they'd help pay for your school because you didn't get to think about it before now anyway and you can't be expected to rush your decision. But you don't need to rush. You just didn't ever think you'd make it to the point you could do what you want. You go pre-med. You can't save Dani - but you're not about to let anyone else go through that like you did.

It's supposed to be hard, supposedly, but it isn't. Even the start of medical school isn't. It's all theory. You're good at theory. But then comes practical and you flounder. You can't bring yourself to speak up. You feel like you're falling behind, failing. You manage to scrape by into a surgical internship program and you still aren't sure how. You want to drop out, to quit. You aren't ready for this and you know it. You struggle. It sucks, but it's not the first time, so you deal with it. Reluctantly.

Until you don't have to deal with it alone. You aren't sure how you made it on his radar, since he's the head of trauma surgery and you're just an intern who can't seem to make anyone notice him, but suddenly there's someone else in your corner. Your bedside manner gets better. Your skills fly through the roof (you were never bad, to be fair - you just never got a chance to practice anywhere but a skills lab because you never stood up for yourself). You grow enough of a backbone to stand out a little, but you're still at the back of the pack. You just aren't at risk of failing out anymore.

a precise moment of time; urgent, pressing

But when your final residency year comes and you aren't the only one struggling, tensions run high and, before you know it, you and your peers are alone in an operating room panicking over a patient who is flat lining because you were all told you were on your own because you needed to work together, rather than against each other. You've stood in the back the whole time, but for fuck's sake, you're killing the patient. The words come out of your mouth before you know you're even thinking them and you shove someone out of the way, reach for the paddles, and get to work. They don't save that patient; you do. They never underestimate you again. You flourish. You lead. All it took was seconds and your life changed.

You get accepted into the best programs all around the country when it comes time to apply for fellowships. You have your pick and you take the best offer, going for trauma just like your mentor. He is proud, but not surprised. You make quite the impression; reliable, dependable, and damn good at what you do. Your record is impeccable, especially considering your specialty and the sort of situations you often find yourself dealing with. You move on to be an attending in your own right. You run the emergency room more often than not and you are comfortable. You aren't sure how it took you so long to realize that you have to take your freedom, not wait for it, but you are glad you finally figured it out, because, somehow, you have found yourself following the dream you never thought you'd get a chance to realize.

the emotional or mental qualities necessary in dealing with situations or events that are distressing or difficult

And then there he is again. You're fairly certain you're imagining it because this is America and what on Earth would Luka being doing in your ER? But it isn't a dream or a hallucination. It is real. He's too drunk to stand - or maybe that's the head laceration from the car accident he caused - and you freeze. And then, by the strength you've built after all these years of fighting for what you wanted, you step in and you care for him anyway. He doesn't recognize you at first. You call Mari, let her know where he is and what's happened. You stitch him up and admit him until he sobers up.

Just as he's sober and you're intent on discharging him and getting him out of your life again, he recognizes you. But you aren't small and frail and helpless anymore. He tries to break you, like he did once, but this time you punch back. Your boss can't stand for that sort of behaviour, he says, but he'll give you a recommendation and not tell anyone when you apply for other jobs - but he doesn't understand, not really, or he'd let you keep your job. It's your fault he doesn't get it, though, because you're the one who didn't tell him it was your father, your abuser, and that it was self-defense. But you didn't want to, anyway. Because if you told him and he let you stay, you'd have to tell everyone and you don't want to be weak again. You're done being helpless. So you apply to other positions and within two months you have a new job in Wellington, Florida - running the whole trauma department, no less. It's a step up and you accept instantly, pack your things, and move.

You can't help but watching for the shoe to drop, though. It always seems to.