Boom – by Jayne Raparelli


Staving off starvation.

Leaving home on a Yugoslavian island to work in Italy as a live-in maid.

Sending leftover bread from your employer’s table to your siblings and parents.

Escaping to Ellis Island.


Cruising the Croatian Dalmatian coast.

Dining in restaurants overlooking the Adriatic Sea.

Savoring the view, seafood and pasta, baskets of bread, dishes brimming with olive oil.

Sipping glasses of white wine.


My husband and I stroll along a promenade, sit on a bench facing the Adriatic. I think of you, Grandma, in the 1960s, 40 years after you sailed to America and became a U.S. citizen. Your gray hair wound in a bun, your black laced shoes, brown eyes hidden behind thick glasses. The immigrant who never looked back, who never wanted to return, and never did.

I gaze at the setting sun casting red and orange hues over the clear deep blue sea. Stare at the white sails in the distance. My heart bursts with joy. Turning toward Mike, I tell him, “I’m in love with Croatia.”


Our guide leads us through the limestone paved streets of Dubrovnik Old Town. We take pictures of a wedding party singing and dancing their way to church.  Later, we watch them enter St. Balaise across the square from where our tour ends.  We amble to a café and snag a table facing a stream of tourists.  As we’re finishing our coffees, we hear singing. Mike stays to pay our bill, and I walk toward the church.   

The newly married couple dance. A man parades a Croatian flag.  Rockets and sparklers light the sky.  I don’t understand the Croatian songs, but I’m happy to observe the celebration.

And then…


What was that?!

The deafening sound pierces the square.  

I dart from the crowd. Seek a hiding place. Should I duck into an alley?

I pause. Assess my surroundings. Tourists keep moving. No one runs for cover. No one acts as if something horrific has just happened.

I breathe. Tell myself I am overreacting. 

You’re in Croatia!  

My heart stops racing.  

Fifteen years earlier. July 27, 2008, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Mike and I sit in our church’s sanctuary watching a children’s musical performance. 


What was that?!

After the second blast we know.     

I scramble from the pew. Take a few steps to the music director’s office and realize Mike isn’t behind me. I crouch next to a woman I know. We try the landline on the desk. We try our cell phones. We can’t reach anyone.  

I think of Virginia Tech. I think of Columbine.

I wait. Wait to be gunned down. Wait to be rescued.

And then…

“Leave! Everyone leave now!”

I hesitate, wonder if it’s a ruse, and then I run.    


Where is Mike?  Has he been shot?!

I find myself among a handful of people in front of the church’s main entrance.

A woman bolts out of the front door.

“We need blankets, towels. People are bleeding!”

I tell her I have a blanket in my trunk.

She stares at me. Waits.   

I can’t move.

I don’t retrieve the blanket.

I don’t stop the bleeding.

The woman returns inside.



Someone says the gunman is down. Is that true? Is there only one?

Has Mike been shot?!

Much later…

We’re permitted to reenter the building.

I see Mike. He’s alive! He hasn’t been shot!

“Where were you”?

Mike didn’t know where I had gone so he went to the other side of the sanctuary. Toward the booms. When he got there, the shooter had been tackled to the ground.

The gunman murdered two.

Wounded eight.                                                                


I head toward the café and spot Mike in the crowd. A shopkeeper had told him somebody had shot off a cannon at the church. “They shouldn’t do that,” she explained.   “They’ll be fined thousands of Euros.”



Thirty years after you left this world, Yugoslavia had a civil war. Fractured into separate nations.

Yugoslavia no longer exists.

Cruise ships line the Croatian Dalmatian coast.

No one dies from starvation.


I walk on.



I’m in Croatia.      


Jayne Raparelli lives with her husband and two cats in Knoxville, Tennessee. She is the author of the nonfiction book Finding Our Way: Journey Across America.