Being a Long Distance Wife.

For the last few weeks, I haven’t necessarily been living on earth. I’ve been living on the planet in which all newlywed couples thrive — Planet Just Married. It’s a reality swept up in wedding gifts and honeymoon souvenirs, where one finds themselves crying tears of joy as they flip through their wedding album for the tenth time that week.

Since returning to Manhattan, I’ve moved into a new space. It dons the costume of a woman whose recently exchanged I do’s. My cabinets boast a set of Mr. & Mrs. mugs, my dresser shows off an 8×10 picture frame of me and the groom. Beside my bed is a night table with a jewelry dish, where I promptly remove my rings at night. On the other side of the bed is another night table — only it’s empty. The space beside me at night is also empty. My husband is still not here in the United States, still halfway across the world, still not allowed to be with me.

Last week, as I emptied space in the closet for Mr. Blagojević’s belongings, I began to violently sob. It occurred to me that this closet — our closet — will be empty of his things for many months. It just isn’t fair. We’ve done everything right and still cannot be together. Not until everything is legally processed. Sometimes, our wedding feels like some distant fever dream, a party I attended in another timeline — not my life. It’s only when I’m rewatching our video or revisiting photographs that I feel calmer about our situation. That I can wipe away my tears and remember yes, this happened to me. This wonderful thing happened, despite what is happening now.

Since returning home, I am naturally asked, “how do you feel?” now that I am a married woman. My response is bittersweet: I am both happy and heartbroken. I feel both like myself and also like someone else. As though I am just existing right now, watching some married woman set up a home for a future spouse. The bathroom has a hook for his robe, the bar cart has a space for his glasses — but he’s not here.

This is supposed to be a period of cheesiness and romantic shenanigans. We’re newlyweds — we’re “supposed” to be licking brownie batter off of spoons and dancing in our living room or something like that. Instead, we are both neck deep in paperwork and phone calls with our lawyer, back to Facetime calls and different sleep schedules. To put it bluntly, we have been robbed of this delicate time in our lives. And it hurts. I can’t imagine anyone would want to go through this, to have the most beautiful wedding and magical honeymoon only to still wake up alone. And not just for weeks, but for months. Indefinite months. Of course I’m happy to be married. It was always going to be Aleksa. But I am equally sad. And I need people in my life, including myself, to allow space for that right now.

I’ve discovered that when it comes to weddings, there seems to be plenty of expectations of what we’re “supposed” to feel. In the days immediately following my wedding, everyone who means something to me kept asking, “so how DO you feel?” They said it with such conviction that I worried something must be off with me. I’d peer into the big bathroom mirror in our honeymoon suite, searching for some sign of a mythical, womanly change in myself. What that was supposed to look like, I have no idea. When I look at photos of my mother from her honeymoon, she has this otherworldly glow about her. Every part of her seems to be smiling. Even her hair. So I kept thinking to myself, do people see that in me? Is my hair smiling?

The closest I felt to this whimsical, wifely feeling was the morning after our wedding. We spent the night at beautiful Hotel Moskva, which some of you know is akin to my safe haven in Belgrade. It was 8 A.M. when my eyes fluttered open: first to the grogginess of the Sunday morning, then to the giant, white wedding down hanging from the closet. And when I looked beside me, I saw my husband. It was the first time I could say that. He had his face squished into his pillow and the sheets wrapped around half of his torso. His yucky socks were on the floor, which meant he was truly, deeply sleeping. And I thought to myself, that’s my husband! That’s my person. All the ridiculous comments we have endured, all the pain and suffering of long distance we have gone through, and now I’m in bed next to my husband. Finally! No one can say anything. No one can take that away from me. He is my husband.

Later that morning, we waddled toward a breakfast of orange juice, croissants, and Serbian deli meats. I began wondering if he felt like a husband, and what I even meant by that. And as the texts rolled in on my screen, “omg, congrats! how do you feel?” I wondered more about this enchanting “wife feeling” that was allegedly going to envelop me. I ordered a latte for breakfast – I can still order lattes, right? — and gazed around me at all the Serbians. Could any of them tell I had just been married the night before?

With my family still in Belgrade, we decided to all take a Sunday morning stroll through Knez Mihailva — which is the downtown area just left of Hotel Moskva. We strutted past old men selling sunglasses, kiosks filled with cigarettes and bubblegum, and a violin duo playing the waltz from “Eyes Wide Shut.” I scanned each passing crowd for couples, wondering if anyone else was “just married” and if I could tell they were just married. But I couldn’t tell the difference among any couples. Which made me wonder more and more if the whole thing was made up — if I would ever have the mythical glow of a married woman. Because catching my reflection in the window of Hleb & Kefe bakery, I didn’t “look” like a bride or a wife. I just looked happy with a twinge of exhaustion in my eyes.

I see, in hindsight, that this was all anxiety about leaving my husband. Countless times in this relationship, we’ve been invalidated. Whether the comments are coming from the “long distance doesn’t work” lecture or the “it’s a green card scam” xenophobia, whether it’s the government telling us we aren’t technically together until we prove our case — I’m exhausted. And if just for a minute I know it’s real, that I know we’re really husband and wife, that I can feel like a wife — I can rest. Because in every honeymoon photo I see, my hair *is* smiling, and I look overjoyed to be next to him. And now that we’re apart, I feel separation anxiety. I wish I could just call him up any time of day, I wish we could have dinner together. But we can’t. Those things still don’t belong to us, despite the rings on our finger.

Regardless of our circumstances, I found myself relating to brides in a way I didn’t imagine I would: post wedding blues. I couldn’t believe it. Running around and organizing events for our big day was probably the least fun thing I’ve ever done. I’d imagine it’s fun if you’re the maid of honor or mother of the bride, but being the bride herself, it was a constant headache. My phone pinged everyday with frivolous news: the venue doesn’t have enough candle holders, eucalyptus leaves aren’t in season for your bouquet, your husband said to go with pink napkins but we wanted to check if you meant blush napkins. We drove to dozens of bakeries and had plenty of meetings just planning out our Serbian-American dinner menu. Not to mention, again, that the majority of this information was exchanged to me in Serbian, which was a language barrier hurdle to overcome. Try preparing a destination wedding in a language you aren’t well versed in. It’s hard!

And yet there I was, a few days after our wedding, sad that it was all over. The months of preparation, the search for the dress, the makeup trials, all done! I understand, now, why people go on honeymoon after their wedding. It certainly is a luxury, but it’s incredibly special to spend that one-on-one time with your new spouse. It’s a time to celebrate your new chapter together as well as decompress from the mountain of stress that a wedding brings.

We had so much fun in Greece that I will have to dedicate space to its own blog post. But I can say that our NYC studio is scattered with a few evil eyes, a Santorini blanket, and a photo of us basking in front of the infamous blue domes.

Until Aleksa arrives in Manhattan, this will be my version of married life. It’s not ideal, but it makes me excited for the future we have together. It’s not just the big things, like excitement for Aleksa to see the city during Christmas time, but also the little things, like excitement for Aleksa to see our coffee table.

In this way, I suppose I feel like a wife. Picking out bedspreads and cutlery — it’s not the shopping that’s exciting, but the thought that in the near future, Aleksa and I can use it together.

If it isn’t obvious by now, I just want my husband here with me.

Yet even though some days feel incredibly hard — hard to get up out of bed and know Aleksa has been up for 6 hours already in Serbia, sad to make a cup of coffee for just myself — it appears our situation is starting to get somewhere.

The first round of paperwork is done, and next, we have interviews to attend. It’s hard explaining to others that this is a legal immigration process at this point. I take pity, sometimes, when explaining the seriousness of it to others. “But you’re married!” they say with wrinkles in their forehead. “Why can’t you be together?” The short answer: it just doesn’t work that way.

But if you want a longer answer, here’s a brief story about our time in Greece that sheds light on what we are facing.

Remember when I said that I was waiting for the Universe to grace me with this alleged “wife” feeling? Well, it did happen. And it was momentarily glorious. The day that Aleksa and I boarded the plane for our honeymoon, the man at the check-in counter asked each of us for our paperwork. We handed him our boarding passes and vaccine cards. None of this is out of the ordinary in 2021.

“Where’s your form?” the man asked me. He was referring to a negative Covid test as well as a health travel document for Americans. Here’s the thing: I would have happily done this paperwork. But I didn’t have to. Serbian citizens do not need a negative Covid test or travel document to enter Greece. And because Aleksa and I are married, that makes me legally family. And the legal family of Serbian citizens didn’t need to do this paperwork.

“We’re married. She doesn’t need it,” Aleksa replied. He pulled out our marriage certificate to verify our status. And sure enough, there was nothing they could do. Aleksa and I are legally family, and the family of Serbian citizens didn’t need to do this form.

It was the first time, in the history of our relationship, that we felt untouchable in the eyes of higher authority. Between visas and passports and green cards, there’s always been something stopping us. Different rules for different countries, different realities for two different citizenships. But that day, we couldn’t be touched. We were legally family.

So, that was my moment. Finally being validated, finally having an undeniable connection to one another that couldn’t be dismissed. It was liberating. For so long, we have been under the authority of our countries rules. Now, we finally have a bit more say in our lives — we’re finally able to overcome some of the very rules that keep as apart.

But we’re nor entirely there yet, nor are we completely untouchable.

As we were leaving Greece to head back to Aleksa’s home in Belgrade, we ran into a new hiccup. Despite our Covid tests, despite our paperwork, despite my shiny hair and wedding band — the woman working at the check in counter did not allow me to board the plane. “So you’re an American married to a Serbian citizen,” she pestered.

“Yes.”

“But you’re not a legal resident of Serbia?”

“No.”

“And you don’t have a Serbian passport?”

“No.”

“Then I’m sorry, but we can’t let you on the plane.”

We tried everything we could. We pulled our marriage certificates and called up people we knew at the Serbian airport. We even had two different families fighting for us at the check in counter to allow me on the plane. We didn’t even fully understand why I wasn’t allowed on the plane. What it boils down to is this: we just happened to get a miserable person, and miserable people like to make others miserable. It had nothing to do with paperwork, because I had all the right documents. It had to do with the fact that this person did not want to understand us and our circumstances. And after much back and forth with the counter, after reluctantly being given my boarding pass, and even making it to the gate, the woman sent security to retrieve me. “But why?” I asked. “You’re separating me from my husband.” It was four in the morning and I was crying. It was our second to last day together before I headed back to New York.

“Because,” the woman said to me. “You’re American. And you can’t board this plane.”

And just like that, reality shifted around me yet again. I realized that for a while, life is going to be like this: having to prove our marriage to others, having to defend our countries of citizenship, having to go through legal demands as this. Even if it doesn’t make sense, even if it’s not fair. It’s just how it is.

If you’re wondering how things turned out, Aleksa had no choice but to board the plane, and yes, there were other Americans on the plane who presented no documents and still were allowed on. I happened to have all my documents, but we just happened to be unlucky with who we had at check-in. I drove six hours back to Belgrade through Greece, North Macedonia, and southern Serbia. In the end, it wasn’t the worst. But at the time, it felt soul crushing. Just when I thought we were finally recognized by the Universe, we were yet again dismissed.

But what I’ve realized throughout all of this is that I am strong. And that other than this current legal process I must endure, I am not proving my marriage to anyone. Not to judge-mental classmates (who are never happy for you!), not to opinionated family members, not to jealous friends or nosy coworkers. It’s sick to think this way, but sometimes, I swear that when people learn my husband and I are still apart, it makes them happy. As if it’s validated some weird part of their ego, that I’m sad.

What they fail to understand is that I’m sad to be away from my husband — I’m not sad in my marriage. Even though it’s not the typical experience of a newlywed couple, we are so happy and excited to be married. We have something undeniably special that people only dream of. We had a beautiful wedding and we have a beautiful connection with each other. I can deal with FaceTime calls for now if it means he gets to be here soon.

I truly am looking forward to the day that Aleksa will get to use his bed side table and drink out of a Mr. mug. Until then, I think I’ll be existing on this little planet of Just Married limbo. It’s not so bad — there’s still plenty of wedding gifts I’m unpacking.

Planning a Wedding Abroad

I’ve been here for over a month, now, and the trip isn’t exactly what I envisioned. I imagined long, lazy mornings where Aleksa and I sat on the patio drinking coffee; picnics in the park filled with Serbian meats and cheeses; day trips to medieval castles and fortresses throughout the country; a weekend in Zlatibor, a ski-mountain town with its own kind of charm. 

Instead, we’ve been busy, busy, busy. Forget coffee on the patio, we have to meet up with the wedding decorator for coffee! There’s no time for day trips here or there because we have to drive to this florist in this part of Belgrade. 

On one muggy Saturday, Aleksa and I walked up and down the city looking for Italian pastry. Obviously, Serbian bakeries (Pekara) serve Serbian desserts — not cannoli and pignoli. But it is important to my family and our Italian roots to honor the longstanding wedding tradition, Venetian hour. 

“What is Venetian hour?” the wedding planner asked me at our most recent appointment. We were sitting in the room where Aleksa and I will eventually share our first dance. All eyes, wide and eager, turned to me for an answer. 

Venetian hour, Viennese hour, Italian hour … this tradition of many names originates from Southern Italy (where my family is from — Amalfi!). Toward the end of the wedding, about an hour after the cake has been cut, a table with desserts is prepared. You’d think that a wedding cake would be enough sweets for one evening, but not for Italians. Mangia, mangia — we’re always about eating and celebrating! This lavish arrangement of pastry, cookies, and more are meant to be over the top and luxurious. It’s a special occasion, and you’ve got to honor the homeland. Of course, espresso and coffee will be there, too!

Aleksa and I were lucky to find one pekara in Belgrade that can accommodate our Venetian hour. “But do you really need all of these sweets? People will be stuffed from the cake,” she told Aleksa in Serbian. The answer remains: yes, we really do.

Her bakery reminded me of the ones in Little Italy, New York: a shiny glass display case with gold accents, people bustling in and out, and about a hundred little cannoli covered in powdered sugar and cherries. Back in January 2020, when I visited Italy, this wasn’t the typical scene. Often the cannolo would be ordered from a menu and arrive on a ceramic plate with a doily underneath it, sometimes even a fork. Or in Milan, the cannolo was given to me wrapped in a napkin with a cappucio (not cappuccino – they shortened it to cappuccio in this region!) to go with it. 

***

I get asked the same two questions very often:

  • Are you ready for your wedding?
  • How are you planning a wedding there?

There are some people who genuinely mean the first question. “Ready” means are you doing well, are you having fun? Are you all set for the big day?

But sometimes the “ready” is meant to be invasive. What this person wants to know is, are you sure you want to marry this guy? Because I am unsure for you. 

I don’t answer those people. I don’t like to associate with anyone who is committed to being miserable, actually.

What I can say is that planning a wedding abroad has been as different as you can probably imagine. The keyword is different. Not bad, not hard. Sometimes, I feel frustrated because things are out of my control. And other times, I feel at ease because of that same reason. At the end of the day, my soon-to-be husband is Serbian, and these are his culture’s traditions. So I am adapting to them because I love him.

When I say “out of my control”, I am mostly referring to a difference in American thinking versus Serbian thinking. I live in Manhattan; I’m used to things being done right then and right there. You wake up at 5 am for work, you stay up until 2 am finishing the school assignment. It’s how we live. Here, the lifestyle is more laid back. When I want something done, say the flowers, for example, the florist casually says to me, “call two days before the wedding and I’ll see what I have.” 

There are some USA traditions that I don’t like, that I wouldn’t have done even if the wedding was in New York. For example, bridal parties. Growing up, I was the “new girl.” My family moved often and quickly, sometimes being a few towns over, other times being a few states over. I collected girlfriends here and there, all equally important to me during different parts of my life. In short: I have many maids of honor. It’s impossible to pick just one.

Also, I don’t like that the bridal party often wears matching color dresses. Everyone has a different undertone and skin tone, so how can you put them all in the same color? Not everyone looks good in lilac! It drives me nuts. 

Meanwhile, there are some traditions we are, of course, honoring. My father will walk me down the aisle, which actually took some convincing and discussion with the church here. Aleksa and I will spend the night apart, which is an older tradition for certain. And Aleksa won’t see me in my dress until the alter, which is another USA tradition.

For my American audience, here is a list of Serbian wedding customs that are different from ours. I apologize if they are a  bit inaccurate, I am still learning!

  • The groom can see the bride in her dress before the wedding. Our wedding photographers told us that it’s common for the couple to take their wedding photos a few days before the wedding. When I asked them, “But how can the groom see the dress before the wedding?” they were confused. That’s when I learned, it’s not a thing here! Of course, many couples in the USA forego this tradition, too. But I’m not!
  • The bride and groom don’t have a “song” … until recently, that is. Aleksa’s parents say it has become more common with the Balkans adapting more Western culture. But it’s not originally a tradition here.
  • The groom sees the bride before the church. Actually, the groom is supposed to go to the father of the bride’s home and “buy” the bride. There’s something in there about shooting an apple off the roof to prove his quality, but I have no idea. That’s not happening. (It’s a VERY old Serbian tradition.)
  • The bride and groom wear “crowns” in the church. Visually, they look like gold king and queen crowns. But they have another name, and they’re supposed to represent Jesus’ wreath. 
  • The guests bring the cake. They bring LOTS of cake. We told our guests we’re doing this part a bit more American, so leave the cake at home.
  • Bridal parties, bridal showers, bachelorette parties … not a thing. But just like the “song”, this is starting to become a tradition thanks to its popularity in Western culture. 

I will leave this list here for now, as I want to include more Serbian wedding traditions. But I don’t think I’ll fully know all of them until the big day is here, and they’re happening in front of me! Likewise, there’s so much more to say on this subject. We’ve been planning for months. And we’re so excited to share all the photos and footage with you soon.

Until then …

That American Girl

Where to Cry in Belgrade

When I’m in Belgrade, Hotel Moskva is one of my favorite places to visit. It’s a charming, luxurious hotel that feels akin to “The Plaza” in New York. The peach-toned building has an emerald green roof and a vivid red carpet draped over the front marble staircase. Somehow, this vibrant structure withstands the changing seasons, especially in winter when Belgrade seems the most dull and gray. 

I’m one of those oddballs that prefers winter over summer. Maybe it’s my love for Christmas that clouds my better judgement, or my contempt for the sun which burns my pale skin. Who knows? I prefer days when the world is covered by a white blanket of snow, when I can throw on a bathrobe and fill my home with warm candles. Or better yet, when I can head to midtown in my best wool coat to go ice skating. Most New Yorkers will tell you that the Rockefeller Christmas tree brings out a particular kind of anger in them. They dislike the tourists, they hate the capitalist element, and they especially loathe when 49th and 50h are closed for traffic. 

I don’t particularly enjoy those things, either. But I am one of those New Yorkers who stops to look at the Rockefeller Christmas tree each time I pass it. In 2018, I remember my good friend, HG, crying as she looked at the tree. “Are you serious right now?” I laughed, making fun of her. She nodded and continued to bawl with happy tears. I didn’t understand that feeling until this past 2020 Christmas. I stood away from the tree at a Covid-restricted distance, admiring it from a far. It was the first time I was unable to stand directly underneath the tree and look up through the branches at the enormous glowing light bulbs. NYPD surveilled a fence around the tree as tourists snapped photos from the sides.

 I suddenly remember my eyes filling with heavy tears, wondering, what is happening? I had never seen midtown so dead in my life. The few people standing near me were wearing masks stained with flurries. People I cared about were gone. Travel restrictions were still in order. I hadn’t seen my fiancé in a year, and my engagement ring felt a little bit more like a costume each day. My last year of college, the one that was supposed to be filled with opportunity and fun, was online. Racism and xenophobia regarding the virus and not regarding the virus. An anxious election had just passed, with votes being recounted and disputed. 

And yet the tree was standing there, completely oblivious to what was happening below. It donned the face of a previous New York, of a time when reality seemed a bit kinder. And that was enough to make me cry. 

Hotel Moskva isn’t exactly a Rockefeller Center, although it does house it’s own stunning Christmas tree each year. For me, however, Hotel Moskva is where I can go to feel grounded. In the winter, I know that the lobby will be lively and decorated in holly and gold. In the summer, the large outdoor patio comes alive: brown wicker furniture under huge umbrellas, relaxing piano music, iced tea pitchers and pink flower beds. I’m not saying you should cry here, but I think it’s okay to cry here if you want. I won’t judge you, anyway. It’s the perfect place for people to watch, to unwind after shopping at Knez Mihailova, or to take a quick nap if you’re so bold. 

 Beyond this patio, Belgraders put on their masks before going into stores. Or their waiting, masks half-off, for the next bus to arrive. Businesses are reopening across the street with fresh hand sanitizer pumps on display. Others are permanently closed with graffiti consuming the doorways. You can’t see it from the patio, but further down the street is a local market with fresh flowers, delicious fruits, and crisp breads. 

Hotel Moskva has a rich history that I don’t want to ignore. It’s one of the oldest gems in Serbia and a part of the Historic Hotels Worldwide. It’s survived centuries plagued with disease, war, bombs, poverty, secession, and more. It housed thousands of people in its existence, still possessing all the original materials it was constructed with. It sits proudly in the street with character and vigor. Maybe that’s why it feels so safe to be there.

This week, I went by myself to Hotel Moskva to clear my head. I sat down on a white cushion wicker bench and ordered a vanilla latte in Serbian. To my left, two business men spoke in English with thick accents. I tried not to listen, but it was so hard. How exciting to hear English like this!

“My barber is a freak,” one man said. He sported a gray suit. “He tells me he’s only ever read one book his whole life.”

“Let me guess. Bible?” the blonde man said back to him. Another gray suit. 

“Of course,” the man said back. “And I told him, ‘aren’t you embarrassed? You’ve lived for forty-six years, and all you’ve read is the Bible?’ But he corrected me. He’s apparently read the Bible fifteen times. So that counts to him as fifteen books.”

The blonde man shook his head in disapproval. “Embarrassing.” 

“Oh look, now he’s on Instagram posting shirtless. Guess what the caption is?”

“What?” 

Our bodies are temples. What verse do you think he stole that from?”

I was tempted to butt in, but I thought maybe it was best to remain a mystery — to not reveal I was that American girl in Belgrade. For all they knew, I was a Serbian woman eating a smoked salmon sandwich, not understanding a word of what they said.

***

Ignoring their conversation, I cracked open my book, White Wedding by Milly Johnson. I mean this without any shade toward the author, but this is one of those silly feel-good books that you take to the beach or read in the car (if you can stomach that — I get car sick when I read!) It’s about three women who meet in a bridal shop, all with different anxieties about getting married. 

I wish I could say that I was reading White Wedding right now to fill up a frilly space in my heart, like wedding jitters or summer romance. Instead, I’m reading it because I’m grieving. Which is why I decided to go alone to Hotel Moskva in the first place. 

I recently learned that my ex boyfriend’s father passed away from Covid-19 last April. I don’t know what is appropriate to admit I am feeling. First is guilt; I feel awful that I only just learned this. I wished I could have expressed my condolences much sooner. Next, I am shocked and saddened by the news, even though my ex and I are no longer in each other’s lives. I am hurting for his family, who truly are wonderful people, and their loss. I feel strange to have known this man. He was always kind and generous to me, and now he’s gone. And finally, I feel anxious. I can’t process his absence. I feel an urgency to get up and do something, but there is nothing to do. I have cried intensely at least twice.

This news has brought up so many questions. One being: is he even mine to grieve? So much loss has surrounded everyone since March 2020, it feels impossible to carry all of it. I sometimes dream I am drowning or that I am in a stranger’s car.  Other times I am awake and feel I don’t belong in my body, that my hands aren’t really my hands. When I feel this way, I just want to be somewhere that feels more real and alive than I do. In New York, that’s Rockefeller. In Belgrade, that’s apparently Hotel Moskva.

So I sat with my grief and confusion, with my book and my sandwich, among the flower beds and wicker chairs this Tuesday. I am allowing myself to feel what I do for the time being. To anyone out there reading this, I hope you are well, I hope you are healthy, and I hope the same for your loved ones. When you are feeling bad, I hope you have a safe haven that you can visit. And if you don’t, I hope you find one soon. It doesn’t have to be a luxurious hotel or sparkling tourist attraction. It can be the right book or a fresh set of bed sheets.

Writing a blog, even.

Best,

That American Girl

When in Belgrade

Last Wednesday, I found myself dining for the second time at the Beton Hala. It’s a waterfront full of restaurants and cafes that overlooks the Sava — one of Belgrade’s main rivers. This time, I was at Toro: a trendy Latin restaurant adorned with high-top tables and delicious cocktails. But I wasn’t there for the ambiance; I was reuniting with Sonja and Jasmina, my two dear Serbian friends.

At this point, we’ve reunited three times: once in January 2020, again in January 2021, and now, in May 2021. Our story begins not in Belgrade, but back where I live — in the city of Manhattan. Three summers ago, we all happened to take a summer job at the Statue of Liberty. For me, it was practically family business (I’ll explain that in another blog). Sonja and Jasmina, however, found the opportunity through a work and travel program.

Everyone has one summer that is life-changing (or so I hope!) For us, it was Summer 2019. It was the summer that Sonja and Jasmina came to New York City; the summer that I met Aleksa; the summer when we worked at the Statue of Liberty.

At the Crown Cafe, Aleksa stocked shelves with cold Coca-Cola bottles, Jasmine whipped up fresh lattes, and Sonja tossed French fries.

As for myself, I spent those long, humid days gift wrapping coffee mugs or organizing key chains in the gift shop. But, if it was busy, I worked in the restaurant on cashier duty. From my front-and-center kiosk, I could see Aleksa, Jasmina, and Sonja running around in the heat. Like true New Yorkers!

When that summer came to an end, we promised to return to work at the Statue. That should have been May 2020. But for obvious reasons, the work and travel program fell through. Travel restrictions hung over all of our heads in different ways. For myself, it meant I had no idea when I would see my fiance. For Sonja and Jasmina, it meant a lot of canceled dreams. Dreams of penultimately seeing Hawaii, of living together in the city, and of reuniting with other friends from around the world.

It was a sad, heartbreaking time for all of us — which is why this summer is so special. Face masks are coming off and businesses are opening their doors. We may not be in Manhattan, but we’re all living in the same city again. We don’t have to catch up with each other over Facetime and Whatsapp — we can go grab dinner at the Beton Hala.

And so, on this particular night at Toro, we were celebrating life, romance, and friendship. “Živeli!” we said as we clunked our glasses together. As I sipped on a vodka lemonade, I told the girls about some of my wild and hilarious happenings in Belgrade so far.

“I was standing by the bathrooms at the Ada mall …”

“I’ve never been there,” Sonja interjected. “Have you?” she said, looking at Jasmina.

“No,” Jasmina laughed.

“Well now you know that all the crazies hang out by the bathroom. I’m kidding,” I laughed. “But really. This woman and her daughter came up to me with a card and they were trying to sell me something. I could just tell by her expressions. Only I couldn’t understand them. So I told the woman, ‘I’m so sorry, I don’t speak Serbian.’ And she looks at me all confused and snaps, ‘What?!?’ so I repeat myself. ‘I’m sorry, izvini, I don’t speak Serbian.’ And do you know what she says to me?”

Sonja and Jasmina shook their heads, no.

“She says to me, ‘Yes … but who are you?'”

They burst into a fit of laughter. “You’re the American Spy, I’m telling you! That’s SO funny.” Sonja said, tearing up. “You know, Kasey, you should start a blog. I bet there are so many people who’d want to read about your travels here. You have so many stories.”

I took another sip of my drink and said, “that’s actually a really good idea, Sonja. Maybe I’ll do a blog.”

My fellow creative writers will understand me when I say that we are encouraged to write personal essays, memoirs, and poems — not necessarily blogs. For a long time, I’ve had a growing collection of stories about my time in Belgrade. I’ve been here three times now, and for a collective total of four months. You can only imagine what it’s like to be an American in a country that most Americans don’t know about (which is unfortunate, by the way!) Or what it’s like to be in love with someone whose first language isn’t your own, who lives halfway across the world. I owe these stories to my friends, my family, my fiance, and my curious online followers. But I especially owe this to Sonja, who continued to push the idea.

“You can call it the American Spy – that’s the name of the blog!” Sonja joked that evening. Although not quite on brand, I thought it was best to dub this blog as what most people refer to me as here: That American Girl.

I’ll be adding something new each week — I hope you stick with me and I hope you get something out of it.

Until then,

That American Girl