A Good Montenegrin Girl

I was born in Yugoslavia to a Yugoslav father and an Australian mother. I also have a brother who was born fourteen months after me.

At two and a half years old I returned to Australia with my mother and did not speak with my father and brother (or indeed any family in Yugoslavia) for another twenty-seven years.

Until my late twenties, this did not seem strange. My mother never spoke of them in my childhood and as I grew into adulthood, only rarely, and when prompted gave glimpses of her reasons for leaving. In my mind I was an only child who grew up with a single parent.

What I understand from my mother's rare anecdotes was that her relationship with my father was a troubled one. I was told that he was an alcoholic who beat her savagely - to the  point where she fled. She was unable to also take my brother.  I have fragile, cracked photographs of my brother  taken  the night she left - in those photographs he is lying on a blanket in a printed jumpsuit and is just over one year old. Leaving a baby that young in such an environment must have been devastating for her. As an adult I can understand why she never spoke of him again. As a child I had no memory of him - so had no thought to speak of him myself.

When I was twenty-five my mother died.

After that, I got in contact with my brother. Even through broken English, it was clear he was devastated. I did not know my father or my brother and inversely, he did not know she or I - and his chance in part was lost. Following that initial communication we remained in contact, stilted as it was with English being his second language and me speaking no Serbo-Croation. Nonetheless, I resolved to visit him and my father but this resolve was not without trepidation. After all, what little I knew - especially of my father was frightening. But, every story has two sides and I'd only heard one. Plus, people mellow and time heals all wounds (or wounds all heels!) so maybe it would be okay.

So, I bid my time and waited for a window of peace in the country which would make it safe to travel and when that time came booked a ticket.

Growing up in a white anglo-saxon family, I always looked a bit different - with my dark eyes, hair and skin. Oh god, it's such a strange feeling when, as an adult you meet family that actually looks like you!

My father and brother had never moved from the tiny flat once also shared with my mother and I, and it was there I found myself again. I felt like I had walked into a shrine. There - on the shelves and on the tables and on the mantlepiece and on the walls were all my mother's treasured possessions she had left before she fled. This town, these surroundings, coupled with meeting my father and brother for the first time were hard to take in. My father and brother were warm - indeed exuberant in their welcome - and I was welcomed back into the fold as a 'good Montenegrin girl'.

As time wore on, I heard my father and my brother's side of the story. Suffice to say that it was different from my mothers. I don't know which story was right - but at the end of the day suspect that there was truth in both... (the story is a whole different post entirely!).

I think this is probably enough of the story for now. What happened during that trip and what has happened subsequently is again another post - sadly without a happy ending. I don't know that in the month I was there I got to know my father or my brother all that much better - but I did gain a far greater understanding of my mother.
Ig Ig
31-35, F
Jun 29, 2007