She watched with a wretched heart as his hunched shoulders shook with grief. This was not supposed to happen. They wanted an assignment in Baghdad together but there was no job for her there. So she took on a job in the region, to be near him. The place was a “hardship” assignment but it was not in the war zone, and she felt relatively safe going about her work with normal security precautions. They both felt lucky to be working in the same time zone; at least they could talk often without having to rearrange their days with every phone call. They talked of inconsequential things - the shower not working, the lumpy bed, the trailer, the menu, the new compound, the sand that gets into everything, her new job, the cat that visits her apartment every night – nothing extraordinary, just life. And they counted the days until they would see each other again, this time in Rome. She would sometimes hear the shelling in the background while they talk but he told her not to worry about it. He lived inside the heavily fortified GZ and did not go about his day thinking about the rockets falling. And so she went about her day the same way.
They had been married for five years, but they belong to a demographic that is often referred to as DINK – double income, no kids. They did travel light – no kids, no pets, and with only books, music and travel as their real vice. It was not a conscious decision not to have children. It just happened that she never got pregnant and she was too chicken to consult a doctor. They figured that if they were meant to have children, it was going to happen sooner or later. She wished now that they had figured it differently.
It was a Tuesday. She had a 10 o’clock meeting at a radio station across town. An embassy driver drove her to the address and waited for her outside. She thought the meeting went well as she stepped out of the building. She waved to the embassy driver and as he turned to get into the car, she saw a car careening towards the embassy vehicle at full speed. She shouted a warning but suddenly there was fire and chaos and she could not hear herself think. She watched numbly as the paramedics tried to save the victims but the suicide car carried a large, nasty incendiary device and before long, she could smell the stench of charred flesh.
The next day she was in Germany waiting for him to accompany her on the trip back home. But the airport road was heavily shelled and he could not get out of Baghdad. So she was sent on, although she would not have minded waiting for him at Ramstein. He joined her in Virginia three days later, still red-eyed and pale and wearing the sands of the Mesopotamia on his hair.
She watched with a wretched heart as his hunched shoulders shook with grief. He had been holding this wake for 48 straight hours now. She finally stepped forward to peek at the flag-draped box she had been avoiding for days. She saw a body in a familiar lavender suit and recalled the smell of charred flesh once more. She knew then that she did not lose him in a war; she had lost him to the living. She hugged him lovingly and whispered to his ear, “You need to get some sleep.” She thought he looked straight at her and her poor heart skipped a beat, but she knew better.