(Excerpt from Keeping Score, the precursor story to Capturing Captain America)
She named her Rosemary after a flower essence oil that Zhara bought her at a natural goods shop in Berkeley. The scent lingered in a soft way to her senses. Herbs had a way of calming down emotions her mother said. Kaja cradled her and noticed how tight the blanket was. Kaja had counted her fingers, toes, a perfect set of 10 each, to her delight. Rosemary was 10 inches long. She definitely got the height in the family. Birth weight was seven pounds and eight ounces. Newborns tend to be squishy with thin infant skin that was soft, delicate, and tiny. Rosemary had a skin tone of alabaster, blonde hair, and blue-green eyes.
Zhara had stayed with in the delivery room. Her parents remained outside in the waiting area where nervous expectant fathers traditionally waited. Becoming grandparents at the ages of 37 and 38 was too young even back home these days. Rosemary took nearly six hours to be born. A cesarean was declined but an epidural was demanded towards the end. Rosemary Soraya finally cried her arrival into the world at 3:00am at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Oakland. Kaja was certain up until the end that the gender screen was wrong. That this would be a son whom she could name Jack. Jack was an American enough name for the first generation born in the United States.
She had just turned 16 in May the year she finished high school. Almost two years earlier than her peers. The teachers recommended she skip the fifth grade to avoid her becoming bored in class. Her parents agreed and by the time high school began Kaja decided to accelerate her own matriculation. Summer school after grade 10 made a fast graduation possible. It also had her at age 14 working in the local library for the whole summer. If Zhara hadn’t been so keen to have swimming lessons at the nearby YMCA there would be no Rosemary.
His name was Ivan. Like Kaja, his family left Bosnia after the Balkan war broke out. He was 18 and the lifeguard at the pool. Kaja only noticed him when Zhara nearly crashed into another swimmer during a lesson. It was then that he began speaking in Bosnian for he already knew that Zhara had come from Sarajevo. There was no spark. Ivan looked older. Kaja thought he was one of the college students at Berkeley until he told her the name of his high school. In the absence of a spark was a curiosity. Ivan appeared to be ruled by emotion. Kaja only listened to her intellect. Ivan gave her access to feelings that she had disowned after leaving the refugee camp as a child.
There was no romance. Just a quasi-friendship forged from a shared heritage. Ivan was familiar and they similar experiences of life in the Balkans before and after the war. Ivan had a better memory of those events which was not a good thing. He remembered seeing people shot on the streets and the holocaust that the Bosnian people endured. The images were seared in his mind. One night he had been drinking too much by pouring brandy into his Starbucks coffee. Kaja had come over to his house to drop off pastries from their neighbors in time for a community picnic the next day. Ivan was too friendly when he saw her. So much so that when he forced himself on Kaja she was stunned into paralysis. The next day he claimed to have no memory of events. Kaja told her sister who went about covering it up to their parents. Three months later what Kaja thought was food poisoning turned out to be a pregnancy.
The summer she was 16 defined her life. That was the summer of Rosemary. That fall Kaja was supposed to start at St. Mary’s but had deferred her studies. August came upon her with a threat to a future still undefined. She was supposed to be a teenage wunderkind. Instead she herself became a statistic. Ivan left for the University of Florida and Kaja was pregnant. By spring she would give birth to a baby and be another underage teenage mother in America. Ivan was free to go on. His family would send money to help. His sisters and mother eagerly told her that they would physically help with Rosemary. But Ivan got to go on. Kaja was shocked at the support she received but what bothered her most of all was how something so improbable happened. How could she have had the child of someone who meant nothing to her? Rosemary had her name. The family rallied around the first grandchild of her parents. The neighborhood didn’t really notice the happening inside the home. No one suspected that Rosemary was not her little sister. Another cliché stereotype Kaja pondered in the aftermath of delivery. She looked out at the Oakland Hills and thought how she ended up here. What was she going to do? Her parents made it clear they would raise the child so her future would not be dimmed any further. They had wanted one more child to be born in America but a fourth offspring eluded them. Mother saw baby Rosemary as her second chance to raise a child in the security that her son and daughters lacked.
Rosemary began to cry but Kaja’s tears drowned out the infant’s.