The Pact

Photo of Moon and Venus by NASA/Bill Dunford

November 4, 2017. Last night, Alex, Ben, and I flew down to say our goodbyes to you. Doug has been here for over a week, and his going back and forth since September has become a part of our marital rhythm. N, of course, has been helpful: she drove up from Alabama a few days ago to be with you and, earlier today, picked us up at our hotel in Atlanta.

We’ve been in your house for a half hour and haven’t seen you yet. The boys have caught up with their father, but now he’s in your room, helping you out of bed. We’re in the kitchen where N is keeping the feeling light while we wait for you.

Y’all like Candy Land? she says and smiles. She cocks her head to the side. Can you believe all these games I found downstairs?

Ben stretches out his arms and yawns. We can play, he says, but I’ll beat everyone.  

Of course, that game’s right at your level, Alex tells him.

Hey, I love Candy Land, N says. And I’m pretty darn good at it. There’s Trouble, too. Y’all like Trouble more? Another smile. (You know how beautiful her smile is.)

Alex and Ben get along with her, always have, but they haven’t seen her in over a decade. Yes, they’re twenty-four already, only a few years younger than she is. She’s grown into a lovely young woman, an artist who works as a nanny, and she’s told me about her boyfriend, how he’s the one. They live together in Alabama. Sometimes you’re hard on her and criticize her for what she might not know, but it’s clear how much you love her. In your eyes, she’s your only child. I can’t remember the last time you called her your stepdaughter.

We sit at the small kitchen table and start to play Trouble, and after a few turns, just as Ben is about to pop the dice inside the plastic bubble, Doug brings you into the kitchen in a wheelchair.

My family’s here, you say, with a burst of energy and a wag of the head. I apologize for how I look. You glance down at the floor.

It’s so good to see you, I tell you, and we all rise from the kitchen table. I hug you, Alex and Ben do, too, and N pecks you on the cheek.

Your eyes are about all that I recognize. They’re big, a silver blue in this room. In another light, the color shifts into the shade of shallow seawater. You used to be fifteen pounds overweight, with a slight belly, and your hair was thick and black. It’s all grey now, and your skin clings to your bones like smoke. You never did bear any resemblance to Ken and Doug. Hard to tell apart, your identical twin brothers. They’re over six feet tall, several inches taller than you, and they’re slim, their hair silken and straight, their eyes green. Being a twin makes for a sticky bond. I see that with Alex and Ben, who, although fraternal, look disarmingly alike.

I turn away from you, thinking I’m too late. I’ve lost the brother-in-law I had in my memory, and I don’t know what to say to who you are now. I race through topics in my head, can’t settle on one. How can anything matter?

I talk about Stockbridge, your home. I’ve only been here twice, I say, for your wedding and when you moved in. So it’s been twenty years or more?

You nod.

The last time I saw you was in Manhattan, I realize, three years ago, for your grandmother’s one hundredth birthday party. You’d see Doug, Ken, and your father often, twice a year, at a resort in Ojai, California. A father/son tradition. You were there this past summer. A few months later, in early October, you were diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus.


Shortly after Thanksgiving, I called you, something I rarely did. It was the longest conversation I ever had with you. You were scheduled for chemo and radiation in the first week of January.

A friend of mine was treated the same week he was diagnosed. I would think every day counts. I don’t mean to be critical of your doctors, but—why do you have to wait until January?

There’s a hell of a lot of coordinating going on. One doctor is at the hospital in Stockbridge and another’s at Emory, but my oncologist is top in the field. That’s what I’m told. Have you heard of this medical center in Texas, the MD Anderson Center?


That’s the place in the country for cancer, and my doctor consults with them all the time. He’s recommending I have an esophagectomy. You know what that is?

They cut out the tumor.

Yep, and the part of the esophagus that’s affected by the tumor, sometimes all of the esophagus, and then they connect it to your stomach. But they can’t promise that’ll help, so I’m gonna take my chances with chemo and radiation.

Can’t you be put on a waiting list?

I really think they’re giving me the first opening they have. I guess I could find a doctor, someone the family knows, who has enough pull to get me an earlier appointment, but it doesn’t sit right with me. You should see these cancer centers, Lori. They’re so crowded. It’s unbelievable. These people are so sick.

I can imagine. Have you been able to eat a little more?

I can’t keep anything down. I’m supposed to drink a lot, water especially, but that’s tough, too.

Have you tried using a straw? You can keep a glass of water nearby and sip it often.

That’s a great idea! I’ll do that. That’s a very good idea.

I can come down this week. I want you to know that, and I’ll stay in a hotel nearby, so I’m not in your way, but I can be helpful.

I appreciate that, Lor, but hold off. I’ll let you know when. Not yet. I’ll let you know. I really appreciate you talking this over with me. I’ve got nothing else to do but think about this, and I’m scared shitless. I have a few friends here who are religious, and they’re praying up the kazoo for me. What do you think of that?

Their faith gives them comfort, I suppose. Praying also makes some people feel less alone, especially if they’re facing something difficult. I pray sometimes. I don’t believe in God, not really, but when I’m distressed or worried, praying clears my head.  It’s a petition of sorts, and I guess it helps me prioritize what counts. Anyway, they say it helps to be hopeful, you know, it helps your state of mind.

Listen, sweetheart, I’m going to get off. You’re just a doll to call. Thanks for everything.  

I’ll check in with you very soon. In the meantime, try the straw.

Why didn’t I tell you I had already prayed for you? For several nights in a row, I recited a silly rhyme I’d learned as a child, have no idea from where, maybe from the back of a cereal box or Sunday school. I fired a kid’s plea out into the darkness like a load of buckshot: God, thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you, God, for everything. Words so familiar that they slipped out like a whistle. Then I added: Please help him get through this. Let the chemo work. Let him go into remission.

After your six-week treatment, the tumor appeared to be gone. Relief floated through our house, and one evening, I lay awake, aware of my good health, and thought about a scene from Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, one that has always moved me because of its sacrificial nature. The lovers, Sarah and Maurice, are in bed during an air raid when Maurice steps out of the room. Suddenly the flat is rocked by an explosion, and Sarah goes to look for Maurice. She sees a hand under a door, thinks it’s his, and returns to the room, where she kneels down to pray: I said, I will believe. Let him be alive, and I will believe… But that wasn’t enough. It doesn’t hurt to believe. So I said, I love him and I’ll do anything if you’ll make him alive, I said very slowly, I’ll give him up for ever.…And then Maurice opens the door, and she must, well, you see where the story is headed.

I pressed my hands together under the covers, interlocked my fingers—it’s like putting on a costume, this gesture, it builds confidence—and I said, Please God, if you let him go into remission, I won’t try to get my book published. I’ll let it go.

I’m not sure which novel I actually put up for grabs, the old one I hadn’t been able to sell, or the new I’d just finished, but what a paltry petition. I’m embarrassed by this memory, you should know. If I had offered to give up writing, would my prayer have been more noble? Is the love between two people equal to the love between a writer and her writing?

Had I lost my mind?

Yep, I can hear you say, that’s fucking nuts. You’ve got to be kidding me.


In the den, football is on television and a gas fireplace is lit. It’s 78 degrees outside. A blanket, pillow, and sweater are scattered on the tweed couch. Next to a box of tissues and several vials of pills, there’s a stack of newspapers on the coffee table, and on a side table, a glass of water with a straw.

When you first moved here with N’s mother, into this five-bedroom house, you hired an interior designer to decorate, and the living room reminds me of an Ethan Allen showroom from the 1990s. After the divorce, you didn’t downsize. You never cook, evidenced by the absence of spices, boxes of tea or cookies, oils and vinegars, and paper napkins from the quaint napkin holder on the counter.

I hope we’re not making you miss your game, I say.

Don’t worry. There are games on all day.

Alex and Ben comment on a play from yesterday’s game, which makes you smile. You can tell them apart, I think, because you grew up with twin brothers. You’ve always been fond of my sons, and they feel the same about you. You make them laugh, and you’ve been generous with them; you often show your affection with gifts.

You ask Doug for your painkillers. He gives you what you need, helps you to the couch, and covers you with a blanket. You only want N, Doug, and Ken around you. With the exception of the occasional shower or necessary supplies provided by a hospice nurse, you’ve refused the help of any other professional aide as well as the company of your friends. You weren’t even sure about having me and the boys visit, but you also didn’t stop us.

Look how Doug has changed. Your brother is not, by nature, a caregiver or caretaker, not by any measure. I make just about all his meals, do his laundry, clean up after him, while he looks after our finances—now that’s a throwback to our parents’ time, another kind of crazy if I let myself consider it for long—but in every other way he and I are on equal footing. And we’re rarely apart. Since he has been here, he has been living on take-out. He runs out to fetch you a milkshake, a cinnamon bun, whatever you think you can keep down, and he even lights your cigarette for you, not in his mouth, as a smoker would, but in yours. Although he believes smoking is the last thing you should be doing, he carries out your wishes.

Your illness has quieted him, and he is not a quiet man. When he’s with you, we try to talk on the phone every night. Once, he told me, you got up in the middle of the night and fell. You called out for him, and after he helped you up, you couldn’t wait to get to the bathroom, and peed. You then said you had to lie down, which you did, on the carpet. You fell asleep. He covered you up, and, from then on, he slept on the den couch, closer to you.

Whenever he can, he spends his time on your fifteen-year-old-old computer, combing through the odds of the football games, and then calls the bookie that you have known since you were eighteen. Doug’s bets are never big; it’s the hedging of bets that excites him, much like playing the stock market. After rehab, you weren’t supposed to gamble, and you didn’t for some time, but then you began asking Doug to put in your bets for you. As much as you loved watching sports and gambling on them, I think you loved even more talking to Doug about the games. The thrill of possibly winning was sweetened if the two of you were somehow in it together.

There’s no doubt you adore both your brothers. You’ve always admired their athleticism. You’re accepting of their closeness—how one minute they can act as if they hate each other and in the next be laughing—but, I imagine, you’ve been jealous of their bond from time to time, which isn’t to say I think of you as having been lonely all these years.

You made it clear for some time that you wouldn’t marry again. Your first wife left you because of your drug use, and N’s mother left you because you had slept with someone. After two failed marriages, you’re sensitive to the layers of emotions that build up between spouses. You’re aware of how close Doug and I are, how much we talk and rely on each other.


So here I am in your home, feelinguseless. I feel like a fool. I might as well be dressed in a jester’s costume, mute, with bells and ribbons dangling from my fingers and toes. I feel as if I don’t really know you, or what I know about your life in Stockbridge seems insufficient, a mere outline: For almost twenty years you were a drug supervisor at a rehab clinic, but you haven’t worked in the past eighteen months. You loved what you did, were good at it, but you gave bus fare to a few clients, which is against the rules, and you were fired. You have friends down here, lots of them, and a few took you to your doctor appointments before your brothers became involved. I know you love the development where you live, Eagle’s Landing, and you used to play golf and tennis at the country club with your buddies.

When I first met you, I was thirty-one, six years younger than you, and I knew you smoked pot, maybe did some coke. I’d heard you were a reckless teenager —my kind of rebel—the boy who had sex in the bathroom with his girlfriend. I liked your taste in music: the Stones; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Bowie. Your brothers were not like you; they were athletic stars who studied hard.

You lived on your maternal grandmother’s property, a family compound, in essence, in the house where you and your brothers, when you were all in your twenties, used to spend so much time. The house, due to your neglect, was beginning to fall apart. Doug and I, when we were first dating, would come out on weekends to spend a night with you and then visityour grandmother who lived next door. You rarely saw her, and I soon learned how adept you were at hiding. You’d retreat into your room for hours. You’d get up in the morning and drive to your favorite bakery to bring back fresh coffee and a meltaway for us.

You had a cocker spaniel you took everywhere. A dog-lover, an animal-lover in general, you were obsessed with the antivivisectionist, Hans Ruesch, well-known in certain activist circles. You called him in Switzerland, donated money to his cause, and bought hundreds of his books with the intention of giving them away to your friends, but the boxes remained in your house. When you found out I shared your love for animals, you gave me several books and told me, with a feverish excitement, about all the senseless experiments that were conducted under the guise of medical research. At the time, you were working as an insurance salesman, a job you didn’t care about.

That year, you lost a lot of weight and often seemed wired. Once, at a family gathering, you jumped up during dinner and excused yourself, after which your grandmother, who was not at all open minded, said she thought you were as high as a kite.

Ever since you were a teenager, you had struggled with drugs. Doug and Ken, at times, looked down on your absence of willpower. They intellectually understood you weren’t to blame but had trouble empathizing with the damage you inflicted on yourself and others. Your father finally forced you to seek help. Your mother—you were her first-born, her favorite, no second-guessing there—had told him to stop giving you any money. Although they were divorced, they worked together to save you. So when you called your father one day to ask for enough money to buy a sandwich, he said no, unless you promised to admit yourself into a clinic.

1996—you were forty-two. The clinic was in Atlanta. It was expensive and you stayed for many months, longer than anyone expected. After so many therapy sessions, you learned a lot about yourself, but even in rehab, you broke the rules by having a relationship with another patient, N’s mother. After you and she were married, you chose to live near Atlanta and found a job helping addicts recover, many of them without money or family, nothing like the clinic you’d gone to, and I remember thinking you had found your mission.

You gained weight, and, as a new husband and father, you became a louder, stronger presence in the family. You had your moments when you could be grating, when you felt the need to captain the hour. You’d choose the restaurant, order for everyone, steer the conversation, get irritated when one of your nephews interrupted you, but you were also smart and informed. You were a Democrat, unlike your mother, with whom you could argue without reservation. You were passionate about reform but had left behind anyone or anything associated with your days of getting high, including Ruesch and his books.

As for how you treated me, whenever I moved ahead in my writing—beginning a new project, getting my work published—you were happy for me, at times delighted, although I’m not sure you ever read anything I wrote.

N had a nickname for you: she added “bear” to the end of your name, as if you had no choice but to stomp through a room and knock this person out of the way while trying to protect another.

Some in the immediate family saw you as damaging; others saw you as kind and generous. You didn’t care what anyone thought of you. I happened to like who you were—I think, I hope, you’ve always known that.


We’re still playing Trouble, and now I have things I want to say to the you I do know: I love how sweet you’ve been to my sons, how you care about politics, how you enjoy reading novels, how you’re a Luddite at heart and still use a flip phone, how you don’t back down… And I’ve failed, that’s what I also want to tell you. After our long conversation, I failed to call you as I’d promised, and I’m ashamed of myself. Is that why, when it was clear that the cancer had spread, you pushed me away? I’m shy, try to be truthful, and when I can’t be truthful, I tend to be silent. When I realized you were surrendering to your illness at the end of the summer, I couldn’t lie and say I understood. Instead, I researched clinical trials around the country and came across the name of the wife of one of your father’s close friends, a radiologist at Sloan Kettering. I asked Doug if he thought she would be willing to inquire about one of the hospital’s trials for esophageal/gastric cancer I’d read about.

At first, you were interested. That’s the last time you talked to me with some ease. You were amazed that this friend was able to get an appointment with the head doctor of the trial in just two weeks. The plan was for Ken to fly up with you and for both of you to stay in a hotel close to the hospital. You were already taking plenty of pain killers; you were losing more and more weight, and your despair was thick.

One morning, you called and I answered. You told me to tell Doug that you hadn’t heard from the admitting person at Sloan Kettering and then you hung up on me. I understood your anger wasn’t directed at me, but I was shaken by it. Another time, I was talking to Doug while you and Ken were on a conference call, and I heard you say, If Lori would just stop talking, I’d hear you better. I took that as you wanted me to step away and leave you to your brothers. But I didn’t want to leave. Soon enough, before the day of the appointment, Ken informed Doug that he wouldn’t be taking you to New York. You were too sick. Who were we fooling?

Did that decision come as a relief to you?

Within a month, your stomach began filling up with fluid, and a simple aspiration revealed that your cancer cell count had skyrocketed.


Even before the possibility of a clinical trial came up, you had rejected almost all of your doctors’ recommendations. You didn’t want surgery, and when you clearly needed nourishment, you didn’t want a feeding tube, and when it was almost impossible to find a vein, you didn’t want a port for chemo. You seemed scared of every new intrusion. I was surprised. When you were healthy, you never struck me as fearful. After all, you’d overcome your addiction and worked in a field where you encouraged others not to give up.

Perhaps the idea of a trial, of stepping into the unknown alone—with the required good dose of faith—was too unsavory for you. Better to numb yourself. That old habit. At some point, you told Ken about a stash of painkillers you’d hidden in the ceiling of the basement. He found hundreds sealed in a bag. No one asked you why the pills were there.

Alone with N, I ask her how you might have acquired so many pills. There’s this friend—she guesses—who has a prescription and lives in another state and probably needs the money.


We stay with you until around five. That’s it. You’re tired, and we’re leaving the next day. We invite N to join us for dinner in Buckhead, not too far from our hotel, and Doug will stay with you.

You ask N to fetch your wallet. Take them out tonight, you tell her.

Alex and Ben hug you, and you tell them they’re great young men and how proud of them you are. My sons are close to each other, and the idea that their father is about to lose a brother, as well as that they are about to lose you, is weighing on them. They smile, wish you luck on a bet you made, and back away.

I move closer to you and say, Is there anything we can get you?


I’m happy Doug is here with you.

You shake your head and say, You can’t have him. If he isn’t here, I’m gone.

I know that, I say. I’m hurt by your harsh tone and want to tell you I’ve only encouraged Doug to be with you. Instead, I say, I really am glad he’s here.

You look away for a second and then your eyes are on me again. Thanks for coming, Lor. It means a lot.

I kiss you on the forehead. There’s the faint odor of cigarette smoke. I love you, I whisper.

Outside, I find Alex in the street, on the phone, walking in circles, and Ben and N in the car. Doug steps out to say goodbye, and I bury my face in his chest and cry. His arms tighten around me, and my body relaxes.


Days later, back at home, N texts me: G thought you were one of us helping him today. He was like, That’s it, Lori. Referring to how we were moving him on the couch.


November 14, around ten at night. You die in the den, by the fireplace, in a hospital bed that hospice brought in after we left. Your brothers and N are beside you.

Doug and I fly down a month later for your memorial service at your club. We stay at your house. In your bedroom, I look through your books. I knew you read a lot but didn’t think our tastes aligned, yet I find a novel I admire, Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses, a novella I’ve been wanting to read, Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, and books by authors I’ve yet to know, Graham Swift and Jo Ann Beard. I take the books.

Ken arrives the next day, as does N, and while your brothers are out doing errands and tending to estate matters, she and I sit on the floor of the living room to sort through your boxes.

One box is stuffed with mimeographed sheets from several recovery programs and transitional houses in Atlanta. There are business cards, too, one from a police sergeant, one from an aviation safety inspector for the FAA. There’s a pile of letters and cards.

One greeting card is inscribed with Thanks a bunch! dated November 2015, from your mother’s caregiver to whom you lent $15,000 so her daughter, who lives in Ukraine, could put down a deposit on a house there. The caregiver paid you back some of the money and, after you died, forgot about the rest.

There’s a letter from the principal of a law firm, thanking you for putting his brother in the position to reclaim his life.

There’s one letter after another:

    • Thank you for making me feel like I “BLOOMED” because you “got me.”
    • Thank you for being the angel on top of all my TREES and may God Bless You Abundantly for all the joy you’ve brought my way…
    •  Your generous and loving spirit…is a gift from God. The laughter, with a hint of sarcasm, will never be matched… You remind me of King Darius.
    •  I heard that Jewish people are hard-headed and think they are special, guess what? We think you ARE special!!!       

My back is starting to hurt from sitting so long on the floor. I’m about to get up when I come across an agreement for a vehicle loan made out to your close friend, A, who has multiple sclerosis. You had bought a used van so you could lease it to A. I read that, in the event of A’s death, the van will be returned to you, and, in the event of your death, the note will become null and void with the effect of being paid in full.


That afternoon, we all drive over to A’s house. He looks about ten years younger than you. He’s black, with a serene face, dressed in sweats, and confined to a wheelchair. You worked together at your old job until he became too sick to continue. We meet his mother, brother, and an aide. A’s insurance doesn’t cover weekend help. Every Sunday, you’d go grocery shopping for the family, pick up lunch, come over to watch a game, and then pay the aide for the weekend. A’s mother shows us where you used to sit on the couch. They were the best of friends, the best, she says. Like brothers, A’s brother says. I stare at the spot on the couch.

A tells us how much he will miss your visits and how sorry he is that he can’t make the memorial service. He doesn’t say much more. N then gives him a photograph of you, a headshot, and he thanks her. His mother props it on the fireplace mantel, under an old black-and-white family portrait that spans three generations.


How often do I see you? Too often. But how long can that last? I summon an image of you, probably from a photo I’ve looked at recently, and place it in the setting of my choice, and then I watch you move. When excited, you could wriggle your body like a puppy, a brief and gleeful dance. I see you mostly around food. You’d plan a flight around a buffet brunch and get a kick out of watching your brothers stuff themselves. I hear your voice, a forceful voice. Steak, medium-rare. I want to see some blood. And crispy onion rings, very crispy. Fries, the steak fries, and load ‘em up! And I want a Diet Coke, with lemon. Just bring it all at once. Don’t hold back. I hear you leaving a message on our phone machine. Instead of saying goodbye, you say very fast: I’m out. I see you as you’re stung by a bee on a shuffleboard court while we’re on vacation in West Virginia. You tell me you don’t react well to bee stings, and I give you Benadryl. You’re so appreciative as if I’ve given you so much more. I see your joy after Ken has picked you up at the airport and suddenly stops the car, pretending to have a flat, and pops open the trunk where Doug is hiding. I see you at Disney World wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, and in a banquet room, giving your wedding speech: It’s not that I need my bride, it’s that she completes me. You’re in a tuxedo, wearing a red rose boutonniere, handsome, trim, healthy, sober, and, for the moment, complete.


Why is it so important that I make sense of everything I’ve learned about you? Your silence about your work. Your quiet generosity. Your insistence on having Doug, Ken, and N do everything for you during the most painful stages. Think about it: You would have never taken care of any one of them on your own. You would have insisted on hiring a nurse, citing the need for safety and comfort, both of which you weren’t qualified to provide.

Zadie Smith writes about her father’s death, “The funniest thing about dying is how much we, the living, ask of the dying; how we beg them to make it easy on us.”  


At the memorial service, everyone’s mingling. The room is spacious and paneled in oak, and there’s a wraparound patio, a golf course beyond it. Many stand up to tell their stories about you. One man, a member of your tennis team, says that you recently treated several of your good friends to a luxurious golf resort. You’d think the guy was high the way he gave away his money, he says.

Later, a young woman in her twenties speaks. I met her earlier in the evening, and Doug has spent some time with her in the past few weeks. She’s studying to become a nurse. She introduces herself as the daughter of your long-time housekeeper, a woman with whom, at one point, you had a relationship, until she wanted to marry you. The daughter, dark haired, brown eyed, has a wide smile. She calls you a father figure and says she doesn’t know what she’ll do without your weekly talks. You’ve left this young woman a a substantial amount of money in your will, enough to cover most of her graduate school expenses.

Next, a clean-cut man, in his thirties, stands up. He’s poised yet nervous. He says he knows you through bugs—he’s your pest control technician—and he tells about a feral cat who had kittens in your attic and how you were concerned the cats might be harmed. Every time I came over, we talked, he tells the room. He knew about my children and my home life, and he had a great sense of humor.

This young man is also in your will.


After the memorial service, past eleven. The nurse-to-be and the pest technician join us for a late-night snack at one of the few places that’s still open, Waffle House. The restaurant is small—a counter, a few tables—and bright and empty. After listening to so many stories, we’re all punchy and laughing quite a bit. We’re comfortable around one another, talking nonstop, when the waiter shuffles over. Doug and Ken tell him we’ve just left your service and that it’s been a long day. Suddenly we’re all famished. We order far too much. Fried eggs, hash browns, buttered toasts, pancakes, coffee, milk, juice. After the food comes, the waiter lingers by our table. He’s been promoted to manager, he says, but tonight he was back in the kitchen, cooking for us, and he’s waiting to hear how we like it. 

In this suburb, where fast food chains abound, a landscape I first assessed as soulless, I’m beginning to understand why you loved living here. I’ve been missing the point for too long. You were focused on who lived here, on their stories. You didn’t distance yourself from the people you helped. You sat with them, ate with them, listened to them, joked around with them, and, because you understood that no one is ever that far from distress, you gave what you could to them. They deserved a chance, even a leg up. They were you. 


Some time ago, I woke up at dawn to go to the bathroom and found myself staring at a bright star out the window. I realized it was the planet Venus. I’d identified it as Venus before, yet its presence had never moved me, but, in that moment, it was luminous. Many months later, it still is. Why tell you this? To illustrate how I’ve felt while grieving for you. You’ve been gone for a year, and when I talk about you, you continue to appear new to me. I resist sentimentality and don’t discount your shortcomings, but I praise the wide reach of your embrace. You transformed your strong feeling for others into action. How many times have I wanted to do just that and couldn’t?

Start small, I tell myself. It’s working, too. I’ve been able to express my gratitude, admiration, whatever surge of feeling it might be, to a few people whom I don’t know all that well but who have made a difference in my day-to-day living. I’ve managed to show, in one way or another, that they matter to me, and my interest has surprised them. A gift, a note, an effort to be helpful—a call for action—little endeavors, perhaps, but, for me, such steps have never been easy. I think of this as a pact between you and me.

How does that sound to you?


Photo at the top of the page credit: NASA/Bill Dunford (Bright Venus seen near the crescent Moon on July 15, 2018).


The Things I know: A Croatian Lesson

It was during a third grade pool party, surrounded by kids splashing in bright bathing suits and adults carting ice-pops and lemonade, when I learned I couldn’t say my own last name. What should have been facile and fundamental for me as an eight-year-old became an embarrassing revelation, coming as it did from an old man whom I had never met before. He had waddled up to me, bearded and beer-bellied, as I sat under the wooden awning beside the pool. He asked me to choose between two pronunciations of my name: Miškulin and Miskulin. I chose Miskulin, and he smiled as I said it, as if he had set up the question on purpose as a trap: Miskulin or Miškulin?  

My mistake, I came to learn later, was in fact a minor one. It had to do with the pronunciation of only a single letter—“s”—but in the Croatian spelling it is “š,” pronounced as sh. It was a simple distinction, but an important one, and I remember the old man made an extra effort to emphasize the sh with a sputter of salvia. 

The pronunciation of the š is everything. Without it, Miskulin sounds like mesclun. Without it, Miskulin sounds matter-of-fact and dry. Prior to the pool party, I had heard both varieties, Miškulin and Miskulin, but I had mistakenly thought Miskulin was the correct one because it sounded simpler. 

This man, as I learned later, was my friend’s second cousin or third cousin. Some intangible, indistinct bond brought him to the party, that day, with his sunburned face and stomach—to celebrate the birthday of my friend Nicole, who is Croatian. Nicole is blonde and blue-eyed and has a last name that sounds Italian. Before I met her, she was referred to as “that Croatian girl” among my family, her ethnicity the only thing that distinguished her from all others girls in my town. Unlike me, Nicole was a true Croatian: she recited the first readings in Croatian church, practiced clogging every Sunday, and wore a traditional embroidered dress and bareta while dancing. Back then, I was jealous of Nicole—not because she could speak Croatian, not because she could clog—but for something else, something I couldn’t quite explain. 

My aunt, Teta, has a “Croatian radar,” an intuitive knack for identifying and knowing all Croatians in our New Jersey area. Teta knew Nicole’s aunt, mother, and uncle before I even met her. She knew that Nicole’s aunt, Bruna, had a son who was a hippie with dreadlocks and a deep passion for yoga. She knew their family hailed from the southern city of Zadar, that Nicole’s uncle worked in construction, and Nicole’s mother had once been to Japan. 

In the small town where I grew up, a town part-suburban and part-metropolis, Croatians are scarce, but not nonexistent. In my school, there were two Croatian boys that I knew of. In North Bergen where Teta lives, a small community of old Croatian men play bocce in an old club tucked away along a decrepit side street. Her mother, my grandmother, walks to church each morning with a tight clan of Eastern European women. Wearing long flowered dresses, they carry black beaded pocketbooks filled with tissues and hard candy. I have several cousins in New Jersey: Teta’s daughter, Christina, in Hoboken, is my half-blind cousin; Maria in Jersey City; my cousin John and his kids down in Weehawken. 

Teta arranged my friendship with Nicole. Years of subtle hints and prodding finally brought us together, though neither Nicole nor I spoke much about the old country and our friendship was more American than anything. Teta also arranged my first trip to Croatia. She was dutiful about the preservation of tradition in the way of most stereotypical family matriarchs. She had shipped both her kids to Croatia when they were young to stay all summer. My father was well-meaning but oblivious when it came to the business of passing down culture; those abundant little tasks involved in the safeguarding of tradition against the encroachment of modern American. Though my father was, like his sister, born in Yugoslavia, Teta was the true authority on all matters involving the mother country. 

My father would not have taught me the proper pronunciation of my last name, Miskulin. He would not have sat me down and spelled my surname with its v-shaped accent mark over the s, and explained to me the sh sound it is supposed to make. He wouldn’t have done this, not because he didn’t care, or because he neglected me, but because it didn’t fit. Between the trips to the zoo, the mountain hikes, the weekly soccer practices, and museum trips. Among all the events and outings he arranged for my sister and me in our blissful American childhood, Miskulin, with its clunky Croatian pronunciation and funny accent mark did not have a place. Instead, my father passed down American things to us, interests he acquired here where books were plentiful and ideas were unlimited. In third grade, he gave me a dog-eared copy of Herzog by Saul Bellow and the audiobook of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, which he played everyday in the car radio. In third grade, my father introduced my sister and me to the Fugees while ferrying us back and forth for piano lessons.

A memory of Croatia was not something my father had to transfer either way. He was born in Yugoslavia in 1960, before it was Croatia, and left when he was nine. He could not remember the names of the school friends he used to have, or the date they left the hometown, or the faces of the neighbors they lived next to for many years. He remembered only sparse sensory details: the cold wind lashing against his face while skiing, the smell of bread baking in the oven, the feel of Lola’s, his German shepherd, fur against his cheek. For my father, Croatia was always out of focus, like the two blurry photos he brought back: 1) the black and white image of him and his sister standing stiffly and unsmilingly in the town church; 2) my father at three, outside and bundled in a thick winter coat while his father, with his thick mustache, embraced him and another boy. It seemed the only relic my father retained from Croatia was his name, Drazen, which he had already reduced to the more playful, Drazy. 

Teta has a memory of Croatia, a memory sealed in a concrete layer of dates and names. She remembers they left Yugoslavia on December 15, 1969. She tells me the story which is not a story, but a statement: “We left Yugoslavia in December 15, 1969, and there was a snowstorm.” 

I reconstruct my own version of the story. Teta, the older sibling, reprimanding her rambunctious brother, my father, who would have whined and complained, shuffling in his seat as the horse drew their carriage across the snow-covered road to the train station. He would have grumbled about the cold, and that icy December wind. Teta wouldn’t have mentioned it, or she would have pretended to be unperturbed by it, sitting stiff-backed on the bumpy seat, her eyes glued on the thick descending veils of snow. She would have known then that nothing she could say would matter. No protests on her part could bend the unyielding wind of my grandfather’s passion. They were going to America. My young father, I heard, held up hope, protesting and walking sullenly even after they had been in America for many months. I wonder if Teta had scolded him, chiding him to be still, be quiet on the train ride, on the plane. I wonder if she had dragged his hand as they rushed across the airport toward the terminal, clutching hard, but not too hard. Telling him to hurry, telling him to watch out for the crowds that ran toward them on either side. 

My surname is something Teta also couldn’t provide. She is a Marusić. An early, rushed marriage and a divorce severed her from the Miskulin name, changed her maiden name to the name of a man who wasn’t who he said he was. A man who turned out not to be the humble, good Croatian he appeared to be. She might have told me how to say my surname, and I have just forgotten or misremembered. Teta often told me a good many things that I disregarded, her statements ranging anywhere from quaint superstitions to strange aphorisms. In my grandmother’s house, Teta warned me to wear socks or else I’d get pneumonia. Once in the car, Teta gave my sister and me unofficial rights to the family house in Croatia. Keep your name and the house is yours, she had said, without any elaboration. I spent many weeks afterward unraveling the phrase like a ball of yarn, as if solving it would give me the key to understanding Teta and perhaps, subsequently, my Croatian heritage. It was clear that the divorce had left a mark on Teta, a mark whose effects were far-flung and dispersed, ranging from Teta’s guarded stoicism to her wary distrustfulness. To this day, I have trouble separating Teta from the divorce, from deciding how much of Teta’s curtness, her sarcastic humor, are her own traits or the product of the a past event. To this day, I can’t decide if the divorce had strengthened her or crippled her. It seemed Teta believed my sister and I had a duty to uphold the future of our Croatian lineage, a task I feel I have little qualification for. In the end, the image of me in the past still resounds: me, a hopeless American girl being taught the pronunciation of her surname by a strange Croatian man, an American girl too distant from her heritage to even glimpse it, to see it behind the massive-colored billboard which was America, which was my life: idyllic, and happy, but also lacking in a clear framework, or a point of reference—a past I could lay claim to. It was this, perhaps, that made me jealous of Nicole, her comfort in a heritage I felt I didn’t belong to.

I wish the incident at the party was more than what it was, an awkward moment of inadequacy, like one of the many that would punctuate my unsteady relationship with Croatian culture. I was angry, but I forgot about it, as most kids do of embarrassing situations. My father did not want me to learn Croatian. He wanted me to learn French, or German, or Chinese instead. He wanted me to travel the world, write a book, preside as a judge over a court. He had big plans for me, plans that involved not Croatia but another future more glamorous and important than anything the old country could provide. 

In eighth grade, I went to Croatia for the first time. Teta escorted me. Her motives were part pleasure and part business. She needed to pay taxes and secure paperwork for our apartment. She also needed a vacation. I would be tagging along, so I could finally see where my family came from. It would be a convenient, win-win situation for both of us, though my aunt never presented the trip in these stark terms. 

Teta and I have little in common except for our love of lamb and our disapproval of the excesses of youth: alcohol, drugs, party, casual sex. I was a “good girl,” a prudish rule-follower and a nerd, which my aunt admired, respected in her own tacit way. Unlike me, Teta is a conservative—morally, culturally, economically—and bitter in the way of many people who live through years of bad luck, people for whom life is not widening up but only tapering down, a gradual sharpening into something narrow and clearly defined. 

I was angry in Croatia that first trip. I was angry the way tweens are angry at seemingly everything and nothing at the same time. I would have preferred my father taking me. Teta was overbearing, oppressive. She watched my every move. She held my hand while crossing the street. Your father will kill me if I lose you, she would say as she gripped my hand and shuffled me to the houses of our relatives and friends. 

My first experience in Croatia was disorientating. I had nausea on the flight over. I couldn’t sleep at night. Flies and mosquitos buzzed through the fluttering curtain of the open window in our Croatian house. I entered the country shyly, in awe of everything from the villages dotted along the highway to the meat hung on hooks at the supermarket deli. 

On our first day, Teta drove us to Mrkopalj. Our neighbor, Dzank greeted us with a smile, sweeping me up into her fleshy arms and shoving us toward our house like an aggressive tour guide. She had been maintaining the house in our absence, dusting the cabinets and pulling the weeds from the doorsteps. As we walked, a pack of dogs barked loudly. As we walked, three boys emerged, chugging up the road with ski poles in their arms. We met Dzanka’s husband in the house, a laconic man with a large face and sleepy eyes. My aunt told me later he was born in France. She said this by way of explanation, as if his silence was linked to his place of birth. I still remember our house then, packed, filled with crowds of people jostling through the cramped kitchen and the bedrooms. Neighbors would appear, followed by a slew of introductions, and disappear. There was the couple from Australia, my father’s childhood friend with the wide cheeks and motorcycle helmet in his arms, the woman scowling across the street who turned out to be our estranged relative. 

The days had no distinction while I was in Croatia. Hours morphed into each other, afternoons were listless affairs with 3 pm coffee by the wood-burning stove, conversations with Dzanka while I stared at the plethora of St. Mary iconography in her kitchen. Though I didn’t know what was being said, I was well trained at sitting quietly and demurely, hands folded politely—Catholic-girl style. 

Croatia was subjugated for centuries by the Romans and later, by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Croatia was not its own country for a very long time and when it became its own country, its metamorphosis was ugly. People who shouldn’t have died, died; people who should have died, lived. Francois Tudman, the President of Croatia, was said to be the founder of this independence (though he was anti-Semitic and cruel, among other things). The death of Tito, the Communist leader of Yugoslavia, was said to have caused Yugoslavia’s demise, though there were warning signs before that. The Yugoslavian wars were said by many in the West to have been the inevitable cause of an ethnic blood feud that could never have been stopped and mitigated; an ethnic blood feud so barbaric and obscure that there was no point in trying to decipher it. Croatians claimed they were being subjugated by the Serbians. Serbians claimed they felt threatened by the Croatians, Muslims, and Albanians—anyone who was not Serbian. The Serbians claimed that genocide was being committed against them (which was true and not true). The Serbians committed genocide against Bosnian Muslims, and claimed it was self-defense. Bosnians asked the West for help, and the West claimed the Bosnians were lying to them.1

Now, however, popular sentiment has changed. The Yugoslavian War is said, by many, to be far in the past that they had no relevance now, no bearing on anyone. The Balkans are peaceful. Celebrities buy houses in Croatia. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt bought a villa in Istria. Game of Thronesis filmed in Dubrovnik (which was also the site of a brutal battle between Serbs and Croats).

I did not know any of this during my first trip to Croatia. I knew that there was a war not too long ago, and that this war had been very bloody, and that men from Mrkopalj and other towns had left to fight and returned to their old lives in a new nation. I knew that if we had stayed in Croatia, my father would have fought in this war, and he would have lived or died, as everyone else did. I knew Teta and my grandparents would have waited anxiously for news of the war, would have huddled in groups, listening to gossip, and the TV, which only showed victories and propaganda. I knew that before the war, there was no Croatia but only a Yugoslavia, and that this Yugoslavia had been bad, or not altogether good for Croatians, and that Serbians, perhaps, were to blame for this, or maybe Serbians had started the whole war (or maybe not). I was never sure. My cousin Steve was friends with a half-Serbian boy, and this was a controversial issue in my family, a point of deep contention for my grandfather who hated Steve’s friend’s Serbian father, though I never bothered to ask why. At that time, I regarded most of these facts as just special traits peculiar to Croatians, traits I would never understand anyway since I was not truly Croatian. 

When Yugoslavia died, it died dramatically, though through causes which were quite ordinary: mismanagement, a failed communist regime, a leader who craved too much power, a lack of foresight on the part of the West—the kind of factors that would have sent many states or empires into collapse throughout history. Yugoslavia survived 74 years, which some say was a long time, considering the circumstances, and others say was a very short time, considering the circumstances. When Yugoslavia died, it was younger than my grandmother and only a decade older than Teta. When Yugoslavia died, my family was tucked safely away in the States and they did not predict it would happen that way, in that fashion, in that time—the war that is. 

When I was sixteen, I went to Croatia again, but with my father and sister. At the time, my father was slowly dying from cancer, but I did not know it. We traveled the country briskly, in a pace that was extraordinary in its speed. On the first day we landed, my father drove the six or seven hours to Dubrovnik in a single day. In the city, he spoke Croatian to every local he met with a kind of innocent delight, like a child who had just learned to speak the language: he talked to cab drivers, and shop owners, poll tellers and police officers. He did not stop. We did not stop. From Dubrovnik, we traveled back up through Split and then to Rijecka, then next we were in Pula, then Slovenia. On the final weekend, we went to Venice. We took a three-hour boat ride to the city and then skittered through the rain-drenched alleys like mice. We had no umbrella. Venice was congested with crowds, and our shoes were leaking water. At the time, standing in St. Mark’s square under a church awning, watching the world crumble into grey, it felt like we had been punished for something. On the boat ride back, my father asked us to rate our experience: I gave it a seven; my sister gave it six. Three days later, we were back in America. 

I did not understand my father’s frantic sweep through Croatia until I read British writer Rebecca West’s account of Yugoslavia, The Black Lamb and the Gray Falcon, a book I did not pick up until many weeks after my father passed. Like my father, Rebecca West travels through Yugoslavia with reckless urgency. Unlike my father, West had no Slavic background, nor was she facing a terminal illness. Instead, West’s ties to Yugoslavia were strange, if not entirely elusive. Her first encounter with Yugoslavia came in the form of a radio announcement of the assassination of King Alexander in 1934. This spurs on a slew of recollections: the assassination of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, the butchering of King Alexander Obrenovic of Serbia in Belgrade in 1903, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, all of which occurred in Yugoslavia, all of which was proof of, if not a conspiracy, than at least a deeper, graver danger at hand. As West writes in her prologue, “I quite simply, and flatly knew nothing at all about the south-east corner of Europe; and since there proceeds steadily from the place a stream of events which are a source of danger to me…that is to say I know nothing of my own destiny.”2  

I did not understand at first how anyone’s destiny could be tied to a particular place when my own future, for so long, appeared dispersed, scattered, and very much in-the-making. The term destiny itself was displeasing to me because of its connotations with fate and inevitability. My father had raised me to believe in my own agency, to view each day as something to be conquered, and of my own actions as important, and meaningful. My father set no restrictions on my future. He wanted me to follow my passion, to lay my roots in any location of my choosing. I had my own dreams to be a worldly traveler, to stay in great cities like Paris or London, to move around the globe without ever laying roots. In these dreams, Croatia never plays a part. In my father’s excited talks of my future, Croatia never has a role. 

West, herself, recognizes the bizarre nature of her destiny: “I lay back in the darkness and marveled that I should be feeling about Yugoslavia, as if it were my mother country, for this was 1937, and I had never seen the place till 1936.”2West had traveled only three times to Yugoslavia: the first in 1936; a second with her husband, Henry Andrews, in the spring of 1937; the third in early summer of the following year. She had intended first to write a “snap book,” a concise account of Yugoslavia and its people. What resulted instead was a massive, discursive tomb covering nearly every aspect of Yugoslavia from the intricacies of its history to its art. The project was extensive by any standard. As West states herself, “[I]n 1936 to devote five years of my life, at great financial sacrifice and to the utter exhaustion of my mind and body, to take an inventory of a country down to its last vest-button, in a form insane from any ordinary artistic or commercial point of view.”3  

West cites no one particular reason for her fascination with Yugoslavia, and throughout her book, her depictions of the area are varied and diverse, not unifying. In one scene, she describes her conversation with intellectuals in a café in Zagreb; in the next, she launches into a tirade against the Austrian Hungarian Empire. Perhaps it was this medley of experiences that attracted West, the humbleness of Balkan peasants, the cosmopolitan city of Dubrovnik, the unusual position of the Croats themselves: “It is not comfortable to be an inhabitant of this globe. It has never been, except for brief periods. The Croats have been peculiarly uncomfortable.”The Croats, as West describes them, are “fierce and warlike intellectuals…”2 Their power resides in their survival, their continued living in the wake of a tumultuous history, a history that has been far from easy or comfortable. 

I imagine my father tried to gain a sense of his motley and diverse country, and it was this desire that led him beyond Mrkopalj to the southern tip of the peninsula and then back up north to Istria. I myself had no epiphanies in Croatia, no designs or particular mindset that made me examine Croatia in any way other than just as a foreign country, a foreign country that I happened to have some affiliation to.

When I had come to Croatia for the first time, I had hoped to find my Croatian identity hidden somewhere in the town, like my grandmother’s dresses collecting dust in the closet of her bedroom. I thought the town would be a catalyst for my second self to emerge like the earthworms that litter the ground after a rainstorm. This did not happen. When I came back after three weeks, I was the same person I was before. I enjoyed nearly every minute on my second trip to Croatia, but I took little time to reflect on the significance of the trip, both for my father and myself. 

If I did have an epiphany, it occurred much later, mulling over Teta’s enigmatic words, keep your name and the house is yours. I began to imagine a future with Croatia, one where my sister and I jointly owned the house in Mrkopalj, visiting the country every summer on our own. If I did have an epiphany, it occurred in the wake of my father’s death, when I understood the double-edged sword of my father’s successes. 

When I was ten, I told my father I hated Teta, and he fiercely defended her with a passion I had not expected. My father and Teta had a bond that was unique, a sibling connection characterized by silence, an unspoken loyalty. While in high school, Teta worked four to eight every day at Shoprite, paying for my father’s Taekwondo classes. It was sacrifice and shared experience that drew my father to Teta, a homeland that predated my mother, my sister, and me. 

In immigrant families, fear must be preserved lest the next generation becomes too comfortable, too thoughtless within their own lives. Teta passed down this fear. When we were young, she told us cautionary tales—of our grandfather’s five wives all dying in succession from a fire, of her own self straying from the path and breaking her leg after encountering a bear in Mrkopalj. Teta’s stories never had details. They had been whittled down to their bare necessities, compacted and transported to our ears as a reminder of how unsteady our hold really was, how little control we actually had. 

On her ex-husband, Teta had even less to say. He was a Croatian butcher, recently remarried with a newborn at 60, hiding out in Zadar for tax evasion. They met in Hoboken, years after my father’s family had left Yugoslavia, years before their country had gained independence. I imagine them walking hand-in-hand down the street, like they owned it, carving out their new lives in their first apartment on Washington Street. It must have seemed like a saving grace for my grandparents at the outset: marriage for their eldest daughter, stability, a steady income. They would have wanted the same for her in Croatia. They would have wanted the same for her anywhere. 

Somewhere, something went wrong. I hear talk of abuse, adultery. I hear he once threw a television out the window. I imagine glass shattering and him, posed in the living room, glaring down at his wife crouched on the floor. I picture him scalding pork, severing the carotid of calves, slicing primed cuts of chilled carcasses. His butchering profession seems suitable to me. Out of all the details I’ve heard, it’s the only one that makes sense. 

Teta never told me the story of her ex-husband; she never had to. It is a story she lives in everyday. To say it out loud would be redundant. To ask about it would be taboo. 

When my grandfather died, my uncle, Dennis, shared a story. “Your grandfather was a man of the same cloth as my father: old world, hard-working, immigrant.” At my father’s funeral, Dennis used the same phrase to describe my father: “cut from the same cloth as his father.” At the time, I didn’t understand why he would lump my father and grandfather under the same category when they were worlds apart. My grandfather was a silent, working-class man. When two of his fingers were cut off doing construction, he walked home with a shirt over his hand, and never went to hospital. My father worked in IT at a magazine called Consumer Reports. He was worldly and well-read. His career was entirely modern, divorced from the physical labor my grandfather had pursued all his life. My father’s life was difficult in its own right, but incomparable to my grandfather’s experiences. He worked a nine-to-five job, he had friends from work, cosmopolitan friends who came from different parts of the world. His stresses consisted of the drive to Consumer Reports at Yonkers each morning on the George Washington Bridge; his painstaking, frugal management of our family’s expenses; and his never-ending commitment to entertaining and furthering my sister’s and my futures. My father’s life was hard, but he did not bear the brunt of the difficulties in adjusting to the United States like my grandfather had. I spoke everyday to my father; in contrast, I never had a single conversation with my grandfather. 

So I do not know why my family settled in New Jersey. I am told my grandfather made the decision. I imagine him, lover of geography, saw America first on the map, saw the expansive swath of land, and mulled it over many weeks until the image became too clear to resist. I imagine he saw New Jersey as a safe spot to land, the state nestled by the sea which he loved, and close to where his brother had settled not too long ago. I imagined he thought highly of the skyscraper view from where they were in Hoboken. I imagined he woke up early some mornings to see the sun set between the buildings, but perhaps this is just a romantic thought. My grandfather was practical, thrifty, and pragmatic above all else. He found a job in Hoboken and probably stayed just for that. 

I always thought of New Jersey as a view of something else, as a fragile strip careening precariously along the Hudson with the heavyweight of the city looming large and vicious, or of the JFK Boulevard lurching up and down the slope along the river, across towns. I thought of New Jersey as the familiar view of the George Washington Bridge, of drives with my father to Weehawken where he stationed his camera along a ledge to take photos of the city—always the city, with its gleaming lights and harsh rectangular forms. I thought of New Jersey as the Garden State Mall and Macy’s, the interstates and throughways, and the shopping trips with my cousins as they dragged me from store to store. 

My father liked New Jersey. He liked taking bus rides to the city and hiking near the Hudson River. He liked taking pictures of the George Washington Bridge. In my town, he gave himself a new name and bought us a house, creating a life for a family. 

So it was my first name my father was most concerned about. My first name, Alexandra, which my father had chosen himself for what it meant in Greek: helper of mankind. It is this name he reminded me of, on his deathbed, days before he died. This was the name he did not want me to forget. 



  1. Cohen, Roger. Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo. New York: Random House, 1998. 
  2. West, Rebecca. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. New York: Penguin, 1941. 
  3. Dyer, Geoff. “Journeys into History: Geoff Dyer on Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and GreyFalcon.” The Guardian. August 5, 2006. 

Photo at the top of the page is of the Cliffs in Telascica Nature Park, Croatia, taken by Andres Rus.