If someone had told me 7 years ago I’d be living in Zagreb, Croatia, married with two kids and a dog, I’d have told them to take a visit to Psychiatric ward.
If someone had told me 7 years ago I’d be living in Zagreb, Croatia, married with two kids and a dog, I’d have told them to take a visit to Psychiatric ward.
The story began on a quiet spring evening in March. I was at a friend’s house, and somehow the subject of “Gordan’s daughter” came up. Gordan was a mutual friend, who I had known for years, and who happened to be the father of Anela. A bit confused, I answered “no” because it was the first I had heard of “this daughter”. Anela’s first visit to America was in 2012 and we never met. So naturally, I was curious and I took a look at her facebook account, and to be frank, I was quite taken away. Taken so far as to reactivate my facebook account, which had been deactivated for over a year, and request friendship.
So, I waited ever so patiently for a reply and nothing. Finally one day, Gordan and I were driving somewhere, and I informed him of my rejected status. To my surprise, he immediately called Anela, speaking in what I interpreted as Russian, and left the conversation with a satisfied grin. No sooner had he got off the phone, then I received a confirmation of friendship. Magic. Things were looking in the right direction in my social media life- All thanks to Anela’s father. Thank you again, Gordan! 🙂
Now, my first interaction with Anela was an utter embarrassment. I couldn’t have done anything more foolish; I made some cliche comment of her in a bikini; what an idiot! I almost lost everything there, and I had to recover quickly. I then directed all attention to the pictures of family and children. I noticed she liked kids from the start because they seemed to be in every third photo of hers. My commentary in this new genre saved my ass big time. We then went into facebook messenger and made the usual rounds of small talk. I really can’t remember exactly what I said in these moments, but apparently, it was enough to continue our friendly little chit chats to a different platform: Whatsapp!
Now in America, 2013 AD, Whatsapp was a new technology. No one had ever heard about it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever – the ability to seamlessly text someone from a different continent! Anyway, our chit chatting evolved into a more serious tone, all the while keeping it strictly to texting (WhatsApp hadn’t come out with voice call). It was very strange and surreal to me to be communicating so frequently with someone I had never met. Moreover, I had always made fun of people meeting and starting relationships over the internet. Well, wasn’t I the laugh of my own joke, falling blindly in love with someone living 5,000 miles away. What an achievement.
But how does one achieve this – to fall in love with a total stranger living so far away? We didn’t actually start talking to each other until Anela became more comfortable with English. I remember the pauses between messages, and later on, her dad told me, “You can’t talk like Benjamin Franklin.” I actually remember the first video message she sent me. In that deep “Russian” accent it went exactly like: “Hello Jamey, (giggle) that’s enough for now.” I compared her to the deadly brunette from the James Bond Film, Golden Eye. We attempted to talk on the phone a time or two after but immediately went back to just typing. A person is very limited with sense via typing. There is no tone or inference of mood. This definitely restricted our connection to a level until she became comfortable enough for actual conversation. Wow, did this open a whole new world. It felt as if there were no distance between us. We laughed together, cried together, and talked about things we had never discussed with anyone else. Isn’t it ironic one could open up to a “stranger” so far away than with someone actually present?
Another obstacle was the time difference. There were 6-7 hours between us. That meant a lot of our communication was during my work (oopsy daisy). I also, remember I always set my alarm in the middle of the night to wake up and tell her good morning! That’s how gone I was, but of course, it was a totally mutual feeling. I’d spend my lunch hour in my car, talking, talking, and talking. After work, I went immediately to the phone until it was goodnight time for her. This continued for months on average at least 4 hours every day.
We talked about subjects which deeply resonated our feelings. We had similar family stories which gave us great material to deepen our conversation and understanding toward each other. We simply “felt” each other to the core. We could read each other’s mind. We fed off the other’s emotion. More importantly, one of our main topics was the importance of family. I immediately felt Anela’s longing for a family, and this was something I had never longed for until I “met” her. This was a huge signal for me. It struck me to the core, and I knew she was the one.
In hindsight, I think this communication really helped us in some ways. There was obviously not a direct physical element in our relationship. It was all communication, knowing each other to the detail, sharing interests and differences, and talking about life and the future. It was like a form of escapism for me. When I was on the phone with her, I felt comfort and safety. I felt at home.
Life is very simple. We often just distort it and make it complicated. I believe if one puts one’s mind to something, then one can achieve it. I knew I wanted her, and that she was the one for me. So, what did I do? I devised a plan to get her. The plan was simple and clear to me. If I wanted her I needed to go to her. I was to go to Croatia. This may seem like a major step and it was indeed. Everyone I was around thought it was a joke or thought I’d be back in less than a year. I understood them because it sounded like something unimaginable.
I was helping my mother clean houses after my regular job. I remember mentioning my moving and remember her nodding her head in agreement. God only knows what she was really thinking. I knew she had her doubts, or she was questioning my judgement which is totally natural. I did, however, have the full support of my family when things materialized into something more real, and their blessing really comforted me.
Ok, so I thought to myself, “What would I do in Croatia?” Well, the most natural answer was to teach English. So, I researched and got certified to teach English as a foreign language. After this, we started planning a trip for me. I didn’t know exactly where “Croatia” was before “meeting” Anela, and if you remember in her “Romanian story”, it was a bit embarrassing. Anyway, I finally brushed up my geography skills and planned a visit that summer. It was very convenient for me because I hadn’t taken hardly any vacation before this moment; therefore, I took an outstanding 10 days off! In America, 20-30 day vacations don’t exist! So we set the date for June 14th, and the countdown began! I only had one more important thing to do! I needed to buy an engagement ring!
Well, this might seem like an extreme thing to do. My logic was this: I wanted to come fully prepared – better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. My purchase of this ring also came with a side anecdote. After researching, I found a local diamond dealer with good reviews and pricing. Well, of course, the staff were fully inquisitive of my bride-to-be, and I simply told them the truth. I told them we had never met, but I’m visiting her in Croatia, which caused confusion on their faces. I showed them pictures of Anela, and they, of course, complimented her beauty. I think in the end they thought she was some kind of mail-order bride! Anyway, I chose a simple stone because Anela wasn’t the flashy type. It was subtle but beautiful. I’m a firm believer of “less is more” – at least in most circumstances. I did, however, have one problem. I didn’t know her ring size! So, the jeweller and I went through pictures of Anela’s hands! We then agreed to at least make it a little bigger so she could wear it – even with tape! I then promised in time I would bring her back to meet them and they agreed (I kept that promise too). I’m sure they were glad to see me leave their store, as they probably thought I was mentally disturbed. With ring and ticket in hand, I was fully prepared to begin my journey to the unknown – To go where no other North Carolinian had ever gone before!
Being my first long flight, I was a bit nervous. My family took me to Charlotte Douglas International Airport and bade me farewell. I think they were hoping that I would come to my senses after this trip or maybe even during the flight. So I boarded the plane and one connecting flight later, landed on Croatian soil. Finally, the feeling that this was really happening took over me. I started feeling very anxious and nervous! I then, stepped off the plane to face Pleso International. I thought to myself, “I’m I at the right place? It doesn’t look like much of an airport.” It looked a bit worn down and tattered, but nevertheless, I continued my course, along with my growing anxiety. Waiting in line to get through customs, I could see a large standing area behind a massive piece of glass. It was there, I first laid eyes on Anela! She was standing in the first row, waiting and smiling – probably as nervous as I was. She looked bigger than life to me. I waved in excitement and then a pain arose in my gut as I cleared the initial customs! As I was waiting for my luggage we playfully gestured to each other. In my mind I was thinking “holy shit, this is really happening.” It was such a strange feeling that the woman whom I talked with for 3.5 months was waiting only metres away. She wasn’t just a figment of my imagination – she was REAL! I became paralyzed in thought and proceeded to get my bag and walk to the other side.
I reached the other side and there she was in front of me. I clumsily moved toward her. I then made a motion toward to hug and kiss her politely. Then, not knowing what to say, I made the stupidest comment ever.
“You’re not so tall.”
She really didn’t know how to react. In fact she was taller than me, so my comment didn’t make any sense. We just changed the subject and proceeded to walk out to the car! The surrealism was mutual between us both, I think. We really didn’t know how to act! So, we got in the car! She turned on the ignition and we left Pleso Airport listening to “Blurred Lines” by Robin Williams. I’ll remember that song forever. I noticed her driving ability was good compared to US standard. She was changing the gears like Mario Andretti. We finally reached our destination in Dugave – all thanks to Anela’s friend and later mine, Hrvoje.
Alas! I was still living in a dream – a hurricane of emotion and even confusion! I felt her, but things were happening so differently than I had expected! I think we both had imagined some magical encounter, but it wasn’t the case. We both hadn’t realized yet we were actually together!
One of life’s ironies is how the anticipation and excitement of an event can surpass the actual event itself! This was a perfect case because we both imaged this fairy tale encounter, but it just wasn’t the case. Meanwhile, she had prepared stuffed peppers. I might have commented that we had a similar dish, which you could find at Mexican restaurants. I actually couldn’t eat them because of all the stress. I don’t think she took a liking to that either but she understood and showed compassion. I admired her cooking, and we sat and talked and hugged and then I passed out on the couch. How romantic!
Later, I awoke and we planned to take a walk in the city! Before this plan, I met her mother, who was working at the hair salon downstairs from our apartment. Jasmina and I hugged, and it all was fantastic! Anela and I then went to the center! We finally started becoming more comfortable with each other. We were coming to the realization that we were in each other’s presence. Everything was falling into place. So Anela led us to our first romantic adventure in Zagreb.
We found the parking garage, and Anela’s driving “skill” was making me a bit sick; however, I was still impressed with her ability. I started to make the comment, “Anela, you know what? You’re a pretty good…..,” when BANG! She hit a metal vent while backing up into the parking place! I couldn’t believe it! She took a deep breath and started crying! I held and comforted her saying everything would be ok. She was so upset because she had just got this car several weeks before. Everyone knows, when you get a new car you are extra careful for at least the first several months. We got out to look at the damage to find the bumper had been partially knocked off. I popped it back into place and then gave it a firm kick – just like new! Her tears started drying up as she saw the damage had been reversed. I jokingly told her I was about to give her a compliment before she interrupted!
We proceeded to dinner at Nokturno! I thought the food was fabulous, but I noticed the staff weren’t so hospitable! Regardless, the dinner couldn’t have gone by better. We walked through the city, holding hands – in love. Things were becoming more natural and we were both, finally returning to ourselves. We talked to each other as if we had known each other for years. It felt good – like it was supposed to feel. The night was beautiful and romantic. We strolled through Gornji grad, St. Marks etc. I had never been to Europe so I was amazed, making the occasion all the better. At the night’s end, we journeyed back to Dugave, waiting for the next day’s gift: A trip to the coast.
Anela is a planner, an organizer, and a boss. I let her. She had everything planned out. She had organized everything down to the hour of every day. This day’s plan was to visit the coast at her friend Josipa’s home. But before, we had to make our way for some road trip food fit for royalty, homemade burek. Anela stopped by her grandmother’s home in Siget and picked up some of the most delicious smelling parcels my nostrils had ever inhaled. I sank my teeth into one of these juicy pastry pies and my taste buds jumped out of my mouth! Wow, what a good way to start a road trip.
So we drove and I remember observing the landscape and comparing it to home. It was almost identical – at least until we reached the other side of Sveti Rok Tunel. Then everything changed. The first glimpse of the Adriatic – what an impression it left. I was totally amazed and went straight into camera mode – a rare case. Anela was probably laughing to herself, especially, when I kept commenting how beautiful the damn mountains were. For some reason, the most memorable part of the landscape were the mountains for me. Even the next day I woke her up at 0600 to get out of bed and look at the sun hitting the Velebit. She didn’t take this so kindly and went back to sleep. She probably thought something was extremely wrong with me 🙂
We first met some of Anela’s friends in Zadar: the usual coffee etc. In the meantime, our presence with one another became even more blissful! I was so happy to be with her! This confirmed everything to me. I knew what I had to do and felt it instinctively. I made my mind up to ask her to marry me. I didn’t care about anything else in the world. You may ask me why I didn’t wait longer to see. It, after all, was only the second day we had been physically together. The answer to me was simple. The number of days was irrelevant to me. I’d rather have asked sooner than later and get it over with. I came for a purpose and this was the purpose. Everything was confirmed and clear to me, so why wait?
Now, this decision brought with it more anxiety. I was lost in thought of how, when, and where to propose. The drive from Zadar to Vir was pretty silent. She thought something was wrong and kept asking me if everything was ok! I kindly replied yes and that I was just thinking. When we reached we unpacked and stayed a bit with Josipa and her family. It was a beautiful night. The moon was full and there was a gentle breeze. All this time I had this ring in my pocket and was fearful that it would fall out somewhere. I wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible, so why not this beautiful night!
Anela and I walked toward the coast. No one was out and the moon was reflecting beautifully off the sea. We came where our feet met the water and lay down by the shore together. It was then when I pulled the ring out of my pocket and asked her to marry me while sliding it delicately on her finger! She couldn’t believe what was happening but instantly said yes and started crying and laughing at the same time. We remained by the sea for a long time, lying beside each other and talking about our new life. We then hurried back to tell everyone at Josipa’s house!
So I made a big mistake! I hadn’t asked Anela’s mother for permission! I was in trouble 🙂 We excitedly made our way back to Sveta Klara, where Anela and her mother were living. There we drank coffee with the punica-to-be and friends. The news was out that we were engaged and Jasmina had one problem. The problem was I hadn’t asked for her permission. This is the one thing I forgot about, but my proposing was so spontaneous, I really didn’t have the time to even think about it. Nethertheless, I then humbly asked for permission and permission was granted. It really felt warm, and I didn’t feel like a stranger; I felt like family – we were family.
The following days I freshened up my CV and went with a taxi and a printed map of all English schools throughout the city – about 20 stops . In the end it was worth it because a got an email before I left, confirming employment. Again, everything was falling into place. The “only thing” I had left to due was go back to America, tell my family the news, resign from my job, and come back to Croatia. 🙂
To be continued…