Sunday, May 28, 2006

Thirteen

In honor of the day.

War began on my thirteenth birthday, alien blue tracer fire arcing over the minarets and round curving buildings of Baghdad. I sat cross-legged on the couch with an open notebook in my lap, not studying for final exams. There were too many journalists swearing comically into gas masks for such things.

Between the first Persian Gulf War and last Wednesday, I graduated from high school (“Did Nina say I sent Tim a note? I never sent Tim a note!”) earned two college degrees (“Did Nina say I let Tim buy me a shot? Tim can’t buy squat when he’s face down in a puddle of Yaegermeister! Go ahead, email him!”) and completed a Master’s in nonfiction writing (both Nina and Tim were published in The New Yorker the same week Newsweek gave me the brush-off; I sat and smoked and mourned the clearly imminent downfall of Western civilization).

I boarded turboprops. I ordered extra cheese. In later years I moved to Florida, unmarried and unchaperoned. My parents waved good-bye. “Find a good church,” my mother said. I was paid to watch space shuttles leave and the waves of the ocean return.

And somewhere in another hemisphere lives a woman whose homeland came under fire on her thirteenth birthday. The wailing air raid sirens drove her under cover but she had no scrawled study sheets to ignore; she left school several years ago because the cost of supplies—pens, paper, tape, things I mislay on an hourly basis—became too dear. Her mother was tossed from her secretarial work in Saddam Hussein’s government shortly after the end of Desert Storm.

Her days are occupied with hunting down fresh food and clean water for her family, a task once punctuated with the discovery of the head of her obstetrician displayed on a spike in the marketplace. Last year her sister was raped by an Iraqi intelligence officer as her brother-in-law watched from a few feet away. She has no idea where her younger brother is—he was taken in the night by the Republican Guard under suspicion for having warmish feelings for Iran. When her father is asked how many children he has, he names only the boy.

Although my counterpart is not forced to wear the head-to-toe burqua that swathed the women who lived under the Taliban, she is draped in the heavy knowledge that if someone, anyone, so much as whispers the word “adultery” in connection with her name, she will be stoned, beheaded, maimed, or, if she’s lucky, merely suspended by her hair for a few weeks.

She fears the day her sons become men, when what little protection is offered by their youth will vanish—if one falls into Saddam’s disfavor, chances are good that he will be shot before her eyes. The soldier performing the honor will then turn to her and demand that she pay for the cost of the bullet.

Here, I take a hot shower and dive into my little car to attend a University-provided therapy session designed to help me withstand job stress. There, she faces south, shading her eyes against the desert sun, nervously awaiting the first glimmer of American tanks. She has heard reports of Saddam’s banners destroyed in Umm Qasr, rumors that Hussein himself may be dead, he and his sons with him. If it is true—that the Americans have come at last—she will celebrate, tentatively, with her friends. She will search for her brother, maybe move to the northern country, find a nice mosque somewhere.

But first, she must find water.


thank you so much at: mb@blondechampagne.com

11 comments:

Dantelope said...

Suddenly I find myself thankful for the long lines at Costco, the high price of gasoline, and the absurdity of my job.

Please, lord, make the next post something more upbeat. I'm going to go purchase a handgun in the event that it's not and I need to put one through my skull.

thebuxomwench said...

Beautiful, profound, heart-breaking, powerful stuff, MB, and written with a perspective we should all seek. Bravo.

Heather the Reader said...

MB - Thank you. When our Armed Forces Personnel travel into harm's way overseas, they do it in fulfillment of their sense of duty and with a hope to provide a better atmosphere where your counterpart 13 yr old - now woman - lives. This is never easy and it is often ridiculed, especially in the liberal media, but they do it with their hearts full of pride in what they are doing, and also full of sadness for what they cannot change.
At the Airplane University, you have a number of young people who are going to be committing themselves and their honor to our country. We veterans wish them well and hope that in the future, we celebrate their service at the end of the summer instead of the beginning.

Audrey said...

Touching, heart breaking, and a harsh reminder. Thank you.

Cici said...

Amazingly beautiful.

amy lou the reader said...

A very powerful post, MB. Absolutely perfect for Memorial Day.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MB said...

Dear everyone,

Please keep this post a politics-free zone. It is for remembrance. If you do not agree with the war in Iraq, there are many, MANY places to do so. Trust me, I have heard your arguments.

The essay, this day, is not about politcs. It's not about George W. Bush. It's not about questioning how "an otherwise intelligent person could support this war." It's not even about Iraq, really. It's about appreciating what we have here. It's not meant as a justification, an argument, or a polemic. Just for these few hundred words, I would appreciate it if we --both left AND right-- could lay these differences aside and join together in gratitude and prayer.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, was the deleted comment the one that included political ammo'? Must have been, for all the other comments here seem to be filled with emotion that would lead to gratitude and prayer within those whom posted them and towards others, too.

MB said...

Yes, there was ammo in the deleted comment, and I just wanted to make sure the thread didn't go that direction. With a few minor exceptions, everyone has behaved themselves very well on this one. I appreciate the kind words. It was a plea more than anything else.

red pill junkie said...

that's why I use all my ammo at Busted Halo. I fear excommunication FAR LESS than being kicked out of Blonde Champagne :-)

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