The first thing Starr Ann and I loved together, besides each other, was a dog. If I'm going to make it through this, I won't mention any of the particulars, but when that dog died, Starr Ann and I got real odd with each other. We stopped looking each other in the eyes for six whole months.
Later on, we figured out that every time one of us would let go of the grief a little bit and feel slightly happy, all it took to bring back the sadness was to look right at the other one and bam, there it waited, ready to drag us both right back under. Eventually, we healed up and were us again.
These past ten days with Lane and Amanda went by so fast. We said goodbye to them yesterday morning. They're on their way to training - Amanda to combat medic school and Lane to a six week school for 21S, Topographic Surveyor school. She'll support a combat artillery unit.
I already wrote about the way they quarantined themselves up in the bedroom the first couple of days home, and then there was grocery shopping in the wee hours of one morning. Since then, we've played and laughed and run ourselves ragged not thinking about them leaving.
Starr Ann has been right there in the thick of the revelry. Heck, she's been the ringleader. But a few nights ago, she started coming to my room to sleep. If you want to call rolling back and forth, changing positions about a million times, and ending up at the wrong end of the bed sleeping.
The first night Starr Ann crept into my room was last Tuesday, January 29, 2008. She helped herself to a spot under the covers and whispered, "A female suicide bomber detonated a belt of explosives hidden under her black robes at a checkpoint in Baghdad today. She killed at least two women and wounded five."
I held my breath for a few seconds and sent a silent wish into the ether that Starr Ann's nightmares weren't about to start up again. For a while there, Khyadali Sana invaded Starr Ann's sleep every night in one way or another. Khyadali Sana was 16 years old when she drove a bomb-laden truck into an Israeli Defense Force convoy and killed two soldiers. That was 1985 when she earned the distinction of being the first known female suicide bomber. During most of 1993, Khyadali Sana visited Starr Ann's sleeping self as a lover, a sister, a mother, a daughter and finally, there was that last one where Starr Ann witnessed the act itself. Then the dreams just went away.
So that's why I held my breath. But Tuesday night, Starr Ann didn't say anything more about the woman who'd blown herself and the others away in Baghdad that morning. We said goodnight and slept tight.
During the days, you wouldn't believe how much fun we were having with Amanda and Lane. We were all just loaded with energy and constantly on the edge of giddiness.
Then, on Friday night, February 1, 2008, when Starr Ann came to bed, she mentioned the two women with Down's syndrome who'd been detonated in coordinated attacks on two pet markets in central Baghdad. Those killed at least 72 people and wounded nearly 150.
That night Starr Ann's sleep started falling apart. Of course, with lying right next to her, I didn't rest either.
Two nights later, on Sunday, February 3, 2008, Starr Ann's bedtime story concerned the female Tamil Tiger suicide bomber who killed at least 11 people in the capital of Sri Lanka, on the eve of the 60th anniversary of independence.
We were sleeping worse and worse, but for some reason, our days weren't a bit affected. Once we got up and started playing and partying with Lane and Amanda, it was easy to go for broke and bask in each moment. In fact, the moments kept getting deeper and deeper.
Yesterday, Starr Ann picked up an article that was really an extract of the memoirs Benazir Bhutto was finishing up at the time of her assassination. In it, she tells the story, in great detail, of the attempt on her life the day she returned to Pakistan last year from her home in exile, Dubai. Starr Ann just about couldn't stand what she'd read, and she tried real hard to keep from sharing it with me, but I made her tell me.
As Ms. Bhutto's armored campaign truck progressed slowly through masses of supporters in Karachi, she saw a man holding up a baby dressed in the colors of her party, the PPP. He gestured for her to take the baby, who was about one or two years old. When she motioned for the crowd to make way for him, the man didn't come forward, but tried to hand the baby to someone in the crowd, to pass to Ms. Bhutto. She feared the baby would get dropped and trampled, so she shook her head no, and said for him to bring the baby to her. Finally, the man asked a nearby security guard to let him up on the truck. As this played out, Ms. Bhutto bent down into the truck to loosen a strap on her shoe. That's when the blasts started up. They suspect the baby’s clothes were lined with plastic explosives. Ms. Bhutto survived that one. The baby and 178 other people did not.
We got up real early yesterday morning, because we all wanted to hike to the lake with a thermos of hot coffee and a bag of doughnuts before taking Lane and Amanda to the airport. You wouldn't believe how fresh the air smelled and how good that coffee tasted there in the first light, beside all that cold clear water. We were in great spirits and right before we left, Lane put on a CD and demanded we all waltz. Waltz, of all things. So we danced through four whole songs and traded partners back and forth and almost ended up being late for their flight check-in rigamarole.
At the final hug-up before they went to their gate, Lane reached for her black leather jacket but Starr Ann stopped her hand. Starr Ann said, "How about trading mine for yours?"
Lane chuckled at first, then she saw that Starr Ann was absolutely serious. Without asking why, she cautiously slipped her arms into Starr Ann's brown parka.
Visibility was way too good, and we could see the speck of their plane against the sky for a long, long time. When it finally disappeared, I asked Starr Ann, "Which do you fear more, that one of them will get killed or that one of them will have to live knowing she killed someone?"
Starr Ann snugged Lane's jacket up closer at the neck and said, "Neither thing is going to happen. But whatever this next four years brings, do you promise right here and now to not stop looking me in the eyes, no matter what you find there?"
We both slept in my room again, and I don't think Starr Ann moved a muscle all night.