The younger members of the Simonoski family have a dream for when their mother, Milka, is well enough to come home.
"We talk about how she's going to be a princess," oldest daughter Bilyana, 22, says with a shy smile. "We're going to take care of her. She's not going to lift a finger."
Milka has been moved from the hospital to a nursing home as she struggles to recover from life-threatening head injuries she received Aug. 21 at the family's former home on Hollo Oval.
She's showing signs of recovery, but is still on a ventilator.
Police say her ex-husband, Aco, known as Alex, struck her twice in the head with an ax as the couple argued about Aco moving out. He is in jail on attempted murder charges.
The whole thing still doesn't seem real to Bilyana and her siblings Vesna, 21, and Alex, 20.
"Sometimes I just can't believe this is our life," Bilyana says.
It's been eight weeks since the world shifted under the family's feet.
the evening of Aug. 21 by a neighbor who heard Bilyana screaming for help.
Tom Drost, who lives across the street, saw her struggling with her father in the garage and ran to help. When he got there, Bilyana was bleeding from a deep gash on her wrist and Milka lay inside the house, unconscious, with two head wounds.
Another neighbor, Nick King, 20, ran in the house, saw Milka on the floor and applied pressure to her wound to help stop the bleeding. The family would later learn his action may have saved her life.
Police say Aco Simonoski hit his wife in the head with an ax, and struck Bilyana with it as well as she tried to protect her mother. He has to attempted murder.
The couple had divorced a year earlier and had tried to reconcile, but Milka told Aco he had to move out of the house. On Aug. 21, she and Bilyana spent the day together and returned home to find him waiting there.
Police and prosecutors say the couple argued and Aco went to the garage, returned with the ax and started swinging.
Life Goes On
Life since then? It's a blur of hospital rooms, grief, anxiety and "staying on top of business," as Bilyana puts it -- handling paperwork, dealing with lawyers, paying her mom's bills.
For a while, the siblings thought they'd have to make an unthinkable decision -- whether to take their mom off life support.
"We are so thankful we didn't have to make that decision," Bilyana says.
Milka is awake now, and she recognizes them. The other day, Bilyana brought a scrapbook of her baby pictures to show her mother.
"She pointed to the picture and then to me," she says. "She was showing she understood it was a picture of me."
No one knows yet what impairments Milka will have from the injuries. Doctors said she may never be able to talk, but Bilyana just shrugs.
"She's proving them wrong. She's shocking everyone," she says. "She's improving -- it's just going to be a very long journey."
Bilyana's own injury -- she had to have surgery on her wrist because of the damage -- is healing, too. She goes to physical therapy and believes she'll regain full use of her hand.
The kids, who have had no contact with their father, try to visit their mom twice every day.
"We're not giving up on her," she says. "She was always the most positive person. We're going to give that right back to her."
Struggling to Stay Afloat
Last weekend, Bilyana and Alex moved out of the house Milka leased on Hollo Oval to an apartment in a nearby suburb.
Bilyana, who graduated in May from Ashland University, is working for a marketing company and Alex, a student at Tri-C, works part-time, which helps pay the bills. Vesna works and is living with friends.
But thrust into sudden adulthood, trying to juggle work, school and caring for their mother, they're far from able to support themselves.
That's where friends are stepping in. They're organizing fundraisers to help pay some of the bills:
• On Oct. 22, some of Milka's friends are having a fundraiser from 7-9 p.m. at West Park Station Bar and Grill, 17015 Lorain Rd. in Cleveland.
• On Nov. 12, Bilyana's friends are organizing an event at Sidelines Bar & Grill, 1165 Pearl Rd., Brunswick, from 7-10 p.m.
In addition, an account has been set up at Charter One Bank. Donations can be made to the Simonoski Family Fund at any branch.
"Bilyana is just amazing," said Bilyana's former employer, Charmaine Kuchler. "Everyone here just loved her."
There were problems in the house, sure, but Bilyana says you'd hardly know it.
"We were always smiling and laughing," she recalls wistfully. "Everyone will tell you, my mom is the warmest, kindest person."
Now, the kids are surviving, she says, "one day at a time."
"I guess we had to grow up," she says. "We all have our moments, I guess, but we stay strong for her."
She asks people to keep her mom in their prayers.
"She was my best friend," Bilyana says. "She was just everything to us."