My heart was breaking from the inside like an organism giving birth to itself, to the stories of itself: the lit cigarettes almost put through the soldier's wife's eyeballs so "she could always see clearly," the decapitated heads of her old parents, the fifteen-year-old girl raped by her soldier husband and his soldier friends in the car, the hand grenades he stored in their house, the pistol they put in her three-month-old baby's little hand as a game, the food they didn't serve the Muslim girl's mother, who had decided to give birth to the baby of the Serb who raped her, the Canadian uncle who attempted to molest his fourteen-year-old niece who had fled to him from Sarajevo for safety, the dirty stained clothes that arrived in the bandaged boxes of humanitarian aid that the refugee women were supposed to be grateful for, the broken toys, the generic ammonia-smelling body soap, the husband and son she last saw two years ago digging the graves of friends and relatives in their village under orders from Serbs, the waiting, her twisted waiting face, the big fang-exposed German shepherd that the Chetniks held right near the little babies' faces in her living room as he forced the Muslim doctress to suck his dirty dick while her mother was forced to prepare his dinner, the window the twelve-year-old girl jumped out of eight stories high because she couldn't comprehend how her best friends from high school, her friends from the disco, had turned so quickly against them with knives, guns, fire, and insults, the cows they burned with bombs and left starving, the family cows.
Tears broke out of my eyes like glass cutting flesh, breaking me, breaking through my craving for definition, authority, fame, somebodyhood, breaking all that into little tiny pieces that became nothing I could identify, nothing that resembled me or the matter of me. Me was lost. There was just melting. Bandages unwrapping. Me becoming invisible.
It wasn't the cruelty that broke my heart. Cruelty is boring, generic. What hurt in my chest was witnessing the unsuspecting nature of the women, how unprepared they were, how shocked and disbelieving. What hurt was feeling love for these lost women who sat around a wobbly refugee table. The woman who clung to her one plastic bag or made sweet pastry in what was now her kitchen, bedroom, living room, bathroom, all in one. Made pastry for me, a stranger. The woman who kept smiling with missing teeth, who gave strength to the woman next to her, who smoked cigarettes and smoothed her skirt or apologized for her messy hair. What hurt was that their life was over. What hurt was that they kept going.