Mystery Girl

The next letter from David was filled with stories of his family. The stories were of how his wife and him had attempted to adopt their neices, but because of the failing government, they were not legally allowed to gain custody of the girls. He went into detail about the girls being sold and killed. The eldest girl, Danica, was “adopted” by a family in 1990, when she was nine years old. David and his wife fought for custody of their niece, but they were unsuccessful, and they were never allowed to contact the girl. They found out, several years later, that the girl had been sold to a business. The business turned out to be a sex scandal, where almost 100 girls under the age of 16 had been forced into prostitution, held hostage, and often forced to sell their babies. Danica had died of some unknown disease (David thinks it was AIDS) in 1998.

The second oldest, Gabrijela, was in a similar situation. She was legally adopted by a loving family, only a few miles away from David and his wife. They fought for her custody only for a while, until they felt that their niece would be in better hands with the family. A few months later, Gabrijela went missing. They had no luck in finding her for a very long time. According to some police reports, she was one of 13 girls who were forced to sell their children. They have not found her yet, but David has a sick feeling that she is dead.

The youngest girl, Marija, was a small child when she was killed. She was only four years old when she was hit by a ricochet bullet near a police station in Croatia. Her death was greatly mourned by her uncle and aunt.

David’s stories deeply wounded me. It was all so sad that they could do nothing but watch their family fall apart. He did not tell me who the girl was, though, and that bothered me. I was sure that she had to be one of his nieces.

I wrote back the next day, asking who the girl in the photo was. I told them that I had asked my parents about the girl, and what they had told me. I also added that I was thinking of changing my focus from monarchies and revolutions, to genealogy. With a strong assurance, I offered to map out their family tree, and possibly find some relatives. There was a strong pull in my heart to assist them.

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A few months after I started my studies in college, I found myself taking a class called “Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation.” Throughout the class, I became more drawn to Europe and it’s culture. I eventually switched my major from Linguistics to Anthropology. I was focused on European monarchies and revolutions.

Finally, I received my first letter from the couple that I had met in Croatia: Adrijana and David. They sent me a copy of the picture that I had seen. We noticed that you took great interest in our photo, so we thought you would like to have it to remember us. I wanted nothing more than to see that photograph again.

When I got back to my dorm room, I opened up all of my photo albums to find my picture, so that I could compare the two. Sure enough, I found it hidden behind another photo. I held the two pictures up and started to freak out. They weren’t the same exact picture, but they had been taken at the same time, of the same little girl. It was off by just enough, that I knew my parents and the couple had been at the same place at the same time.

The picture must have been taken in France when my parents visited years ago. My parents have never been to Croatia, so that would have been impossible. Scratch that: They couldn’t have been in Yugoslavia, because the only places they have been in Europe was France. My father was French and German, and my mom was Swedish, but the only time they attempted to find their roots was when they went to Paris on vacation.

I had never met my grandparents on either side, nor any other family members… except one Uncle Thomas, who was my mom’s uncle. The only family I knew were my parents and my little brother, Jacques. I had not told my family about the couple that I had met in Croatia. It almost seemed like it should have been a secret, though I knew there was nothing to hide.

I quickly wrote a letter back to the couple, and I was sure to include a copy of my picture. After the letter was sent, I told my parents. I showed them the picture, and told them how I met the couple in Croatia. I told them that I write to them, and we keep in contact.

My father just laughed it off. “We must have met them while we were in France. We meet a lot of people, Lisa. It isn’t that odd!”

“Oh honey, it is a very small world!” My mother added.

I didn’t go to France when my parents did. All of this wasn’t adding up. Then I said “this little girl couldn’t have been me. Who is it?”

I remember my mother saying these words as clear as day “This is your cousin, Maria.” I gave up. I didn’t believe them, but they had an excuse for everything. I didn’t understand what the huge deal was.

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The Beginning

I graduated from high school in 2005. Exactly one week after the graduation ceremony was held, five of my friends and I started our journey through Europe. It was only suppose to be a summer excursion, and all five of us decided on a “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” rule for our backpacking trip.

The five of us, two girls and three guys, began our trip in France. We made it to Paris, the Louvre, and the Palace of Versailles in a matter of days. We even managed to get a little wine tasting in! It was the most fun time I had ever had on a vacation.

After France, we made our way over to Germany. Honestly, I don’t remember much of Germany… Mostly because all five of us were so drunk. According to the pictures we took, we went to eight bars, three night clubs, and the Blankenhain Castle. The one moment I remember clearly (while intoxicated, which is very impressive) is that a man told me that I looked exactly like his aunt. I assured him it couldn’t be possible, since we were about the same age. He agreed, but told me I looked very familiar. My friends and I left Germany the next day.

We arrived in the Czech Republic two weeks into our travel. The capital, Prague, is where we spent most of our time. We caught a soccer… Excuse me: we caught a football game, where everything was so freaking expensive. I blew a quarter of my money in Prague alone! We only spent two days and one night in the Czech Republic.

At the end of the second day, we stayed in Vienna, Austria. The next morning we woke up quickly, got our things together and took a train to Croatia (which was our penultimate stop before heading back to France). We toured what seemed like the entire country in two days, finally settling down in Osijek, which is in the eastern part of Croatia.

My friends and I went to one bar the whole time we were in Croatia. We went there several times, but it’s still impressive. Anyway, the last time we went to that bar, one of the guys and I ran into this lovely Croatian couple. The man and I hit it off right away. Though he was significantly older than I, we had so much in common. My friend, John, and I were invited into their home for lunch the next day. Usually, I would not take offers like that from strangers, but I am glad that I did.

My friend and I met the couple at their home in Osijek around noon. They made us delicious goulash, which I can still taste on my tongue. We ate, then visited for a very long while. I received a phone call from my friends asking if John and I were alright. We couldn’t be having more fun! Finally, out came the pictures! The man and his wife kept telling me that I looked just like his sister when she was younger, and then showed me pictures. John and I were amazed at how true it was!

The couple told us that his sister, brother-in-law, and their children were murdered during the genocide in Yugoslavia, when it still existed. They were almost in tears when they told us the terrible story of how their family was murdered for protecting some Muslim friends. The parents were slaughtered, along with the Muslim friends, and the three daughters were given up for adoption. However, in the course of the adoption, two of the sisters were sold for sex, and the youngest daughter was hit by a ricochet bullet and died a few days, due to complications. It was an incredibly sad story.

The couple told John and I of how they were forced to move from their hometown, Vukovar, which was home of generations of their family. They finally settled down in Osijek in around 2003.

In high school, I took a class on the history of the world, and the breakup of Yugoslavia was only talked about a few times. Mostly it was a “it happened, and now there is Croatia, Slovenia, and a few other countries… Next lesson!” sort of topic. I had not an idea of the violent crimes that were committed during the breakup.

The couple continued to show us pictures of their family. I really did look like I fit right in to their family. I couldn’t get over it.  The most amazing picture that I saw looked almost exactly like a photo I had in one of my albums. It was a picture of a little girl standing under a tree. She was wearing a blue dress with cream lace, and no shoes. I could have sworn I had the same picture!

Our visit with the couple was very emotional, and very long. John and I were at their house for a good five hours; talking and laughing. All four of us had a wonderful time. When we left, we exchanged addresses and telephone numbers so that we could keep in touch.

My friends and I left Croatia and made our way, by boat, to Italy! Italy was beautiful and we traveled the entire country, it seemed. We visited Vatican City, the Colosseum, the leaning tower or Pisa, and the ruins at Pompeii! It was quick travel, but exciting.

We ended our tour in France, where we took a flight back home.

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