by Fyn -
A journey of hearts....................................
|I wasn't thinking straight when I joined the U.S.Army. All I wanted was to get out of Nowhere, Arizona, get somewhere where it wasn't 120 degrees in the shade and never see sand again.
It's my birthday today and I am twenty years old. It is something over a hundred degrees and I'm in the middle of Nowhere, Iraq surrounded by sand as far as the eye can see. Happy friggen birthday!
I'm sitting in the back of a Hummer packed tight with six other soldiers. The stench is so bad in here, I don't think anyone's had a shower in a week. Elbows fight for room with M-16s. I'm six-foot two: My knees are up around my shoulders. We are on the road to An Nasinyah. I'll be filming a story about the troops. A morale booster, I was told back at camp. Sure. I just hit the sandbox two days ago. I have no idea what is going on except that I feel like I'm the only one that is scared to death. Back in the corner is the other journalist we picked up on the way. A Navy one, I think. She's scribbling away in a notebook. How can anyone write bouncing around in a Hummer with no shocks? You'd think driving on sand would be soft, but this excuse for a road is like driving across the wind-frozen lake up near my Uncle's camp. My teeth hurt.
We stop for a pee-break. The guys water a bug of some kind that is skittering across the sand. They are joking around, pee arching as they try to swamp the bug. The blond stepped to the far side of the hummer, dropped her fatigues and took care of business.
I can't even manage to pee.
Climbing back in, I find myself knees to elbows with her. PFC Fitzgerald, 44th Cav I tell her. MC3 Dalton, USS Ronald Reagan she answers with a smile. She tells me we have about another hour to ride and so we've time to come up with an angle for the story. Like I can even hold my camera steady. She asks about which equipment I'm using and she nods, knowing it well.
We talk some about A-school, but though we had instructors in common, it just seems so far away and long ago. Yet, for me, it's only been two weeks.
She says we should do a story on the new school that's been built there. Oh, right. Morale booster. I really have no clue. All I know is that what I heard in the States on the news and what I've seen thus far don't seem to have much in common. I know there's a hell of a lot of good stuff going on we never heard about back home. That, I think is the big difference. Military journalists look for the good. But we aren't out to sell papers. Bad news sells papers, I guess. Good news makes us smile. Back home, people don't smile when they read the paper.
We ride along in silence for a while. Sarge is on the radio. I haven't learned the lingo here yet and I have no clue what he's talking about.
I need to talk. We exchange the short versions of our lives. She's twenty-two, joined the Navy because she didn't think college would be enough of a challenge and she liked the way the navy recruiter shook hands. The Army one had a handshake like a limp puppet, she said. Funny. My recruiter had a handshake like my Dad's; strong and sure. Go figure. She told me she never thought she'd be on the ground here in Iraq, being assigned to an aircraft carrier and all. I remember hearing stories of blond, American journalists getting kidnapped. 'You are all guts,' I comment to her. She shrugs. 'You do what you got to do,' she tells me.
I tell her about back home, about my thinking I wanted to be anywhere but there. I was wrong. I don't tell her it is my birthday. I don't tell her I'm scared to death either.
She seems relaxed, comfortable even. Blond, gray eyed, a ready smile, someone I'd never even notice back home. With some female soldiers, they look like girls playing military dress-up. Yeah, I know. Not politically correct, but, hey. Truth's truth. Dalton though, looks like she belongs in cammy. No, she just looks like she belongs, period.
Suddenly it is real quiet, then a faint whistling. They all tense and tuck in. Dalton hits me in the back of my head, pushing it down. What the f... the hummer goes air born then slams down on its side. 'Run!' screams Dalton as we tumble out the back of the Hummer that isn't there anymore.
I think we've driven into a beehive or something. Angry, stinging bees are all around us. I feel one sting me in the leg, in the back, in my gut. She's pulling me into a crumbled concrete hut. Sarge hurtles in behind, knocking both of us down.
'Those weren't bees, were they?' She looks at me, her grey eyes huge in a pale face, smudged black. She shakes her head, then leans over to Sarge. He's been hit bad. He hands Dalton his M-16. 'You're in charge,' he tells her. 'You, Fitzgerald. You listen to her.'
Then his head drops. Blood seeping from his ear. I feel like I'm watching a movie as she puts her ear to his chest. Looks up. Shakes her head. 'You hit? Yeah, you are, you're bleeding.'
I look at her, blankly. Then I look down. The front of my uniform is soaked with blood. Funny, how it doesn't hurt. She pushes me down and pushes both fisted hands into my gut. 'We gotta stop the bleeding. Stay with me, Fitz. Hold this. No, don't lift it up. Push on it.'
She is fuzzy. I wish she'd stop spinning around.
It's dark out. My belly feels like it's on fire. Where am I? Oh. Yeah. Shit. 'Dalton?' I holler.
'Shut up!' she hisses at me. 'You tryin' to let the whole world know we're hiding here? You got a death wish or something?'
I feel like I should say 'No, ma'am,' but I just shake my head. It is quiet. It's cold.
She tells me our convoy was hit big time. She hasn't seen or heard anyone else. She checked Sarge's radio, but it's dead. We'll have to wait it out. The moon fills a hole in the roof. It gives her enough light to write in her notebook. I'm amazed she still has it. I ask her what she's writing.
'A letter to my mom. How you doing?' she whispers. 'Did you hear that?' She tenses. I listen and hear nothing. 'There!' she mouths at me, as she reaches for the M-16, tilting her head in the direction of the sound. Then it is all quiet.
We sit tense for a long time, before she relaxes the M-16 to her lap.
I wake up again and hear her crying softly. The night has passed. Morning light filters in. The sun is a bloody ball well above the horizon. She's still writing to her mom. I have no shame and read as she writes.
Mom? Remember when I told you that females don't get sent to front lines? I didn't know that journalists had no sex. I now have a weapon. Until now, I fought with my pen.
I'm scared, Mom. I lov
The crunch of a footstep echoes against concrete walls. The pen falls from her fingers. She raises her rifle. Fires.
Two insignificant little pops. Two men drop like discarded rag dolls, limbs akimbo. A spray of blood arcs across us. The drops look like a garnet necklace across her throat. I will never look at my birthstone the same, ever again. Dalton just killed two men. She just pointed and shot. Could I do that? Looking down, I see I am still bleeding.
That faint whistle. I hear it again. Dalton dives over me blocking out the sun.
I am called to attention.
Taps sound. The clear, simple notes float over Arlington. I will never forget her eyes.
Back ramrod straight, I take the triangular folded American flag and salute my commanding officer. Executing a right face, I take two steps. Two world crossing steps and stop.
I hear the Major’s voice.
'Presenting the flag is Private First Class Stuart Fitzgerald, standing here today solely due to the courageous actions above and beyond the call of duty of Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrea Dalton.'
I salute Mrs. Dalton. Her eyes are Dalton's eyes looking at me. I hand her the flag that honored Dalton home.
Her mother turns to give me a hug. Her head barely reaches my chest. Her silent tears drop on a garnet colored ribbon. She tells me it is okay. This tiny woman, whose daughter died protecting me, tells me it is okay. Next to her, I am the one who feels small.