By some freak mischance I got bumped up to first class on today’s flight from Hartford to DC. I was wallowing there in my leather seat, enjoying the unaccustomed luxury when a late 20’s husband and wife and their young daughter came into the cabin. The woman held a shiny black and silver ericsson phone tight to her ear. As I watched, her face turned ashen and her mouth fell open in reaction to something someone on the phone was saying.
"Oh, my god, Karen, I’m so sorry!" she wailed, "Oh, my god, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!!"
And she collapsed right there, just fell to her knees in the middle of the aisle.
"Oh my GOOOOOD!!" she screamed.
"Honey…" her husband said, obviously deeply concerned, but also sort of embarrassed in that way that people are reflexively are at sudden, violent burst of emotion.
The girl, kid-skinny and blond and maybe nine or ten years old was clearly frightened, but also embarrassed like her dad. "Mommy, come to the seats…," she said, gently pulling her hand. In other words, "I know something is wrong, but please, Mommy, can’t you do this somewhere where everyone isn’t LOOKING AT ME?!"
"Karen, we’re coming," she said, "Just hang on, baby, we’re coming. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so, so sorry…," the mother said and began to weep in a way that pierced right into me and made tears sting my own eyes.
The whole planeload of passengers just sat rigid and frozen for a split second. Then, as the family went on to their seats everyone sort of exhaled and proceded to act as if everything was normal, just at half volume, although the noises from outside of course went on exactly as before. As they disappeared around the edge of the first class/coach partition, a flight attendant brushed quickly and soundlessly down the aisle and then I heard her talking in a low, soothing voice.
An hour or so later, I wandered to that lavatory and as I was coming out, I heard the flight attendant telling her counterpart that the woman had been talking to her sister whose baby is due tomorrow. The baby’s father was caught in the detonation of an IED outside of Baghdad and has been Medevac-ed to Germany with burns over 80% of his body.
I used to be a unit clerk in the emergency room of a hospital. Burns over 80% of the body? It’s a coin toss as to whether that baby is going to be born with or without a father.
Hours later in the Atlanta airport, I was sitting at the Atlanta Bread Company waiting to catch the shuttle bus. Hartsfield has this central atrium kind of deal that really just looks and feels like a mall. And just like every mall all over America, there was a big throng of kids hanging around, lolling on the modular furniture in ways its designers probably never foresaw, playing grab-ass and generally horsing around. As I got deeper into my iced coffee, the group swelled and I noticed that there were some really handsome guys there, young urban-looking kids, mostly in their twenties, although some of them looked younger. I wondered if it was a college group or some kind of Christian camp or retreat.
Then by the time I reached the part of the iced coffee that’s basically tan-colored water with some little flakes of ice floating in it, there must have been two hundred kids. And then I noticed that they all had the exact same backpack. It was black with this patch on it:
Recruits. As I watched, a short, muscular-looking woman in BDU’s began to marshall them into two separate lines, pointed at the doorways to the security checkpoints and the terminals beyond. I realized that I was watching these kids live the last moments of their civilian lives.
I looked at their beautiful hair and skin, their long, straight limbs, their bright, curious eyes and I wondered how many of them would end up on a plane to Germany with burns over 80 percent of their bodies. How many won’t even get that far?
George Bush and good Republicans like Joe Lieberman don’t want to admit that the War in Iraq is a failure. They’re afraid to do anything that might Show Weakness In An Election Year. (And you see how well that’s working out for Joe Lieberman.) Every day they postpone facing up to the mess they’ve made, more soldiers die. DIE.
Not. Ever. Coming. Home.
I was lucky as hell. My father came home uninjured from Vietnam. A little baby is going to be born tomorrow who’s not lucky like that. And for what? To give Halliburton the right to bury 20 tons of nails in the Iraqi desert because they’re the wrong size?