You lose a couple of years once, and twenty years later, you still haven’t caught up.
In my case, it was 1991 and 1992 – and half of 1993 – that got stolen. The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina didn’t start until 1992, but in 1991 there was already war in other parts of my then-country, Yugoslavia, so we did notice it. We noticed things before the actual war, too. Even us children.
I remember watching television slowly dying on us. Little by little, all children’s programs were taken off the air, closely followed by any other remaining normal program, because the entire air time was being used for live transmissions from parliament. For a while, it was either vicious old men threatening annihilation, or static. And then it was nothing at all, because there was no electricity. And the parliament was being shelled.
Time stopped for us in a way, then. I didn’t even grow at all for the better part of those years because there was nothing to grow from. We were isolated from the world, but the world just kept on going without us. Possibly still celebrating the reunification of Germany and a new Europe while we were running for cover. In new Europe.
Every film and every song released during that time was in my world released in the second half of 1993, because that’s when I got out. Any major event that you might remember from 1991 or 1992 in my mind gets slotted into the second half of 1993 when I hear about it. There isn’t room for anything new in those war years; they are a black hole that’s been sealed off from normal existence. Anything normal must be pushed around it, so that it either happened before or after – usually after, because the time before the war was a whole different lifetime, and one that’s just too clean and precious to be tampered with. I’m very protective of the memory of what the world was like before I knew what war was, because I only had a few years of it. Once you get out on the other side, it’s never the same again.
I like watching TV series from the 1980s because they remind me of what it felt like not knowing that the world could crash and burn around you at any given moment. They’re also a proof of my own existence before everything, proof that I was something else before I was a refugee, because I remember. I buy the DVD box sets when I come across them, and sometimes I’ll sit in my living room and watch them and do just that – remember.
The last TV series I watched just before the war was BBC’s ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’, and I loved it. When we got out and ended up in Denmark, I found all the Narnia books at the library and read them even way before my Danish was good enough. I didn’t care; all I knew was I had found a golden thread to my old life, and I held on to it for dear life.
In 2005, the film version was released, and I watched it at the cinema and felt so very odd about it… but that was nothing compared to how I felt when I shortly after saw DVDs of the old BBC serial on sale in a supermarket. I guess they were piggybacking on the release of the film. And there they were, all three DVDs. Three. I was shocked to realise that there was more than the first series we’d got to see. I had just assumed that when Narnia had stopped for me, it had stopped for everyone. I hadn’t even looked it up online or anything, in my mind it was a fact. And then out of the blue, I stood with three DVDs in my hands.
I bought them, of course. I went home and anxiously watched the first episodes, the ones that I could remember. It was huge. It was exactly as I had remembered it, but I was so very different. Then, when I was done with ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’, I plucked up the courage and put on ‘Prince Caspian’, and I think I made it through one full episode. That was seven years ago. I still have the DVDs; they were some of the very few DVDs from my collection that survived the move to England, and I still can’t watch any more episodes.
It feels like something very wrong has shifted in time and like I’m looking at what I should have been watching twenty years ago, and I just can’t do it right because I can’t go back. I have nowhere to put them because by all accounts they should have been slotted into those black hole war years, and there’s just no room now. They’re ghosts of the childhood I never had. What do you even do with that? The episodes are really dated, too, which makes it harder to pretend they’re recent releases. So you see, I’m stuck.
You wouldn’t believe how much stuff happens in 2-2½ years. I still come across things from back then that are completely new to me. Mostly I shrug it off and slot whatever we’re talking about into 1993 because I’ve accepted my slightly weird time line. Sometimes, though, there are things that push back.
When I lived in Denmark, it was often the European Championship of 1992, which Denmark won – and which it had only qualified for because Yugoslavia was disqualified because of the war. That was a very proud moment in Danish history, and I still loathe it because I know how it came about. That’s another moment trying to slot itself into the war years, and they are just not having it.
I imagine that some day, this will work itself out. Maybe if I get to be old enough, my time line will be long enough for this somehow not to matter as much any more. Maybe that’s why I’m holding on to those three Narnia DVDs. In the meantime, I have a lovely Moonlighting DVD box set I’ve been slowly working my way through… for some quality time remembering.