Our mission was to prepare the battle space for the US-led invasion of Iraq.

 

Los Angeles, California 1998

“Mum?”

        “Yes son.”

        “Are you coming inside?”

         “No honey, maybe next time.”

          “You should, my new mother is very nice.” I flinched at the painful words and my boy saw it. “But not as nice as you,” he added quickly.

          The damage had been done. “Say hi to your dad for me.” I leaned over and pecked his
cheek.

          He reached for the door in disappointment and then turned. “Mum, will you come to my fifteenth birthday on Saturday?”

          I touched his hand gently. “I will be there Jared.” His face brightened. “And son?”

          “Yes mum.”

          “Remember that I love you.”

          “And I love you too mum.”

          I watched as he scampered down the veranda to the front door. Somewhere on the first floor, I saw a curtain move and I knew that his dad was watching me. It had been two years since the ugly divorce but somehow he had managed to move on and I hadn’t. I shifted the car into gear and drove off at a moderate pace.

          The following morning, I came back and parked the car a short distant from the house with a good view to the front door. The house looked pretty under the dawn light. Harry and I had picked it out of a line up and had instantly made a
bid for it. He had carried me through the front door after our wedding.

          Now and two years later, the house belonged to another. She cooked and slept with
my man. She laughed at his jokes and played with my son.

At exactly 7.20 am, the door flew open and I watched my son Jared run to the car. He threw his back pack into the back seat and jumped in. At the age of fourteen, he was growing too fast for my liking. Behind him followed my ex husband and a strange woman. She was smiling into his face
and looked very pretty. It was the first time I was seeing her. I had hoped that she wouldn’t look so good but then again, Harry’s taste in women had always been exemplary. I watched them jump into the car, but before they drove away, my ex husband turned and looked straight in my direction. He knew that I was there. He always knew that I was watching. My phone rung and I saw his name on the caller ID. I did not answer. The engine roared and their car vanished around
the corner. It was why I hadn’t moved on yet. I still loved him.

I exhaled and eased my car back on the road. This was goodbye for me. A part of me was
ready for a new life: the other part wanted to cling on to the memories. I would miss my son dearly. I would not make it to his fifteenth birthday.

Iraq 2002

 

“How we doing with the Turks?” The Captain asked.

“Not good sir,” I replied. “Turkey has refused to allow its territory to be used for the invasion. Our only hope is for our Special Forces to team up with the Kurdish Peshmerga against the Saddam
Army.”

The Captain looked thoughtful. “Are you saying that we can’t get a coalition team in the
North?”

“Yes Dennis, sorry, I mean, yes sir,” I replied. “Together with the local Peshmerga, we can hold the North while the coalition attacks from the south. We do not need to win sir. We just need to hold Saddam’s army long enough for the
coalition to gain ground from the south.”

“I see,” the Captain paced the tent. “But first we need to get rid of the Ansar Al Islam?”

“Yes sir. If we can get rid of the Ansar terrorists then the Pershmerga can refocus their
full attention on the war against Saddam.”

 

We had been in Iraq now for a few months gathering intelligence. Our mission as members of the U.S Military elite Joint Special Operations Command in conjunction with the C.I.A was to
plan and prepare for the invasion of conventional forces in
Iraq. Our job consisted of persuading the commanders of several Iraqi military divisions to
surrender rather than oppose the invasion, and to identify all of the initial leadership targets.

Most important, our mission was to organize the Kurdish Peshmerga to become the northern front of the invasion in the fight against the Iraqi Army in the north. But first we had to get rid of the Ansar Al Islam, a terrorist group related to Al Qaeda, from their enclave around the village of Biyara.

Four years had flown by since I enlisted. My sharp mind and commitment had driven me up the ranks faster than the normal soldier. And then again, a master’s degree can do wonders in the military in terms of promotion.

The Kurdish Peshmerga were the key to winning the war against Saddam Hussein. Following the 1991 uprising in the North and Shia’s in the south against Saddam Hussein, the
Pershmerga succeeded in pushing out the main Iraqi forces from the north with the help of northern no-fly-zone following the first Gulf War in 1991. Iraqi forces finally left
Kurdistan in 1991 leaving the region to function de facto autonomy without declaring independence.

Dressed in camouflage fatigue, we moved camp at dawn and crawled over the semi-arid
mountain valleys of
BiyaraTown in North Iraq. The
people in the small town were just waking up to their morning routine. A lone woman crossed the street carrying a pot on her head. I looked through the binoculars and saw a few Ansar terrorists asleep against the walls, rifles leaning against their chests. My heart hardened and I knew that I wouldn’t have a problem killing them.

“Take the higher ground Lieutenant, we are
going in!” The Captain ordered and used hand gestures to control movement. The Peshmerga reinforcement would be coming from the opposite side shortly.

“Aye aye sir!” I yelled and ran uneasily uphill. Something was definitely wrong. The village was too quiet for my liking. I planted my rifle out of sight and swept it in an arc, scanning behind trees, houses and through alleys. The village was
small: one huge street with smaller ones branching off. Electrics lines ran high above what looked like project houses. The people here were poor due to their cut-off from the main
Iraq
government.

Movement caught my eye and I swung the rifle. The Captain and a troop of thirty Special
Forces were entering the town and kicking down doors.
Pop, pop! The sound of a gun erupted and I
saw a terrorist fall. An American soldier grabbed another terrorist from behind and blood gushed into the air as a knife slit across a throat. A door to the left flew open and three terrorists came out blazing. I dropped them all without pause: kill shots to the head and chest. They never saw it coming. I had been the best shooter in my class of
twelve, and only two of us had graduated.

The American forces kicked down door after door but all they found were families: men, women and children. The terrorists were gone!

A cool wind blew down the street and with it came an eerie feeling. The captain motioned for the soldiers to hold as he listened. Somewhere nearby a baby cried.

A light caught my attention and forced me to look up. Oh no! I cursed and swung my rifle, but it was too late.

Shots erupted on the ground and two American soldiers fell dead on the spot. The men
quickly retreated against the cover of the walls, dragging the dead with them. I counted two sniper rifles on the other side of the village, but I couldn’t
lock them down due to the tree branches in my line of fire.

And then suddenly, three jeeps full of Ansar terrorists appeared over the hills and started
descending towards the town. The Captain rose to fire but a hail of sniper bullets send him back behind the wall. They were sitting ducks: sniper rifle above and terrorists’ jeeps gunning down on them.

The armored jeep in the front leveled a machine gun down and started firing. I watched in
horror as the house hiding the Special Forces came apart. Stay put or move, the special forces were dead men walking.

I searched the horizon for the Kurdish Pershmerga backup but they were nowhere to be seen. I tried the radio to call for air support but there was no signal in the valley. If I didn’t do anything then thirty Special Forces soldiers would be massacred before the war begun.

They hadn’t spotted me because I hadn’t fired my gun. But I knew that they would, the
moment I fired my first shot. So I had to make it count. I raised my rifle and pointed it at the swirl of dirt that represented the descending jeeps. I aimed at the front vehicle, shifted my barrel to the side and fired two quick shots: one to the gas tank, the next to ignite a spark.
Boom! The jeep leapt off the ground in a ball of fire and landed upside down in the middle of the road, blocking the other two vehicles. A mushroom of smoke filled the air but I did not wait for the finale.

I dropped my rifle and ran downhill as a hail of bullets tore around me. They couldn’t see me but knew where the shots had come from.

Suddenly, music in the air. I stopped running and quickly made 180 degrees turn. Battle cries reached my ears and my heart jolted with hope. The Kurdish Pershmerga had arrived! I doubled back and ran for my rifle.

The Ansar terrorists turned their jeeps to face the new threat, but the Pershmerga had the higher ground and were thirsty for blood. With the sniper fire aimed at the new threat, the US Special Forces moved into formation and mounted a strong attack on the Ansar. Bullets from all sides rained on the jeeps and none lived to tell. The snipers on high ground dropped their weapons and fled.

“Hold!” The Captain yelled.

“What are you doing?” The Pershmerga Commander protested. “We run them down and kill them like dogs, yes?”

I saw the veins throb on the Captain’s face, his posture rigid. “I’m not leading my men into another ambush!” he said in a dead tone. The two leaders glared at each other before the commander took a step back.

The Captain’s face relaxed. “I have lost enough men for one day. Today we rest and take
care of the wounded. Tomorrow, we ride the terrorists down with the help of air support.”

 

We had taken a beating and it showed on the men’s faces. We set up camp in Biyara town and the wounded were taken care off. The Pershmerga locals did not agree with the Captain’s call but without our help, they would not be able to rid the land free from the Ansar terrorists. Americans were their best hope and they knew it.

Despite the collateral damage, the people of Biyara sung and all day long flew American flags. The Ansar had been terrorizing them for years with strict Sharia laws.

“What did they do?” I asked a local. They eyed me with curiosity: a woman soldier in
desert fatigue. I was quite a sight.

"CDs were banned, music and songs were forbidden, picnics were banned, and you couldn't play backgammon board game in the tea shops," the local explained. "We weren't allowed to wear shorts to play soccer, and whenever they called for prayers, guards visited each house with an adult. Those who failed to go were beaten hard."

 

The month was August and the nights in the mountain valleys of Biyara were still warm. This was one of the hottest countries in the world and I didn’t bother to cover myself up.

He came to my tent around midnight, his
footsteps light on the ground to avoid detection. We didn’t want the other soldiers to find out although I had seen a few suspicious glances. The Captain slid next to me and rubbed his hands all over my sticky body. “You are burning hot,” he
said.

“It’s okay. I’m from California and its hot there too.”

Our clothes came off quickly and our bodies grinded against each other. I liked the way his
calloused hands lustfully ran over my body. I felt wanted and safe.

He tried to kiss me but I turned my head away. I wasn’t ready for that yet. With kissing
came a more personal touch and I was at the moment incapable of any emotional attachment. The light in the tent was dim and I liked it that way. I did not want to see his face. I did not want him to see mine either. The word for night was sex: and sex was what made life in the desert bearable.

Afterwards and spent, we lay on our backs and caught our breath.

“Why are you here Jasmine?” The Captain asked after a while.

I knew that he wasn’t talking about the tent and so I said, “To help bring democracy in Iraq.” My voice lacked conviction.

“That’s a load crap and you know it,” he said.

I raised myself on one elbow and looked at his face. “You don’t believe in our mission?”

He shrugged. “If you are asking me whether I believe in taxation with representation, then the answer is yes. If you are asking me if I believe in
war then the answer is no. Nothing good comes out of war but death. But I will tell you this Jasmine. Come tomorrow, I will blow those terrorists out of the hills and reclaim the land for the Pershmerga.”

I nodded and lay back with a smile. “Careful Captain, you are in danger of becoming a good man.” It was time for him to leave my tent.

“Jasmine?” He called as he sat up.

“Yes Dennis.”

He closed his eyes at the mention of his name. “I like it when you call me by name. I
haven’t heard my name in a while.” And then. “Promise me something Jasmine.”

“What’s that?”

“War is coming to Iraq. Its not going to be as easy as people think. Many will die and families will be torn apart. And those who survive will forever be scarred. Soldiers will wake up thirty years from now and wonder how they ended up with cancer. The air here is toxic with depleted uranium and explosives. There are chemical plants in this country and every day we stay here risks us to exposure and possible illness.” Sigh. “Promise me that you won’t stick around Jasmine. Promise me that you will go back to your kid in California. You have to leave this place before it destroys you!”

“I can’t promise anything Dennis.” I shook my head defiantly. “I tapped out in the real world. This is all I have… what we are doing right now is all that I have left. I feel alive with a rifle in my hand.”

My words made him grin. “I know what you mean.” He finally stood up. “See you in the
morning Jasmine.”

Darkness swallowed him and all fell quiet but for the flapping of the tent in the wind.

 

I woke up to the sound of yelling voices. The time was 6.30am. As a woman, I just couldn’t walk out without looking decent and it took me a minute. “What’s going on?” I asked as I ran out.

A few yards away, I saw the Captain pointing a gun and yelling at a woman. “Stay back! Don’t come any closer!”

The woman was dressed in a black burqa, an enveloping garment that covered her whole body. The face was covered with a rectangular veil and I wondered whether it was really a woman inside.

           The Iraqi woman replied something in Arabic and the Captain who was fluent in the language yelled. “You stay right there and I will get you some food!”

The woman nodded and stopped walking. I took a step forward. Something was wrong with the picture and Dennis hadn’t caught it. The time was 6.30a.m and a woman had ventured into an
American camp looking for food.

“No Captain!” I yelled.

The Captain was turning around to ask his men to bring food when the woman’s clothes fell
off to reveal the explosives. Everything else after that happened in slow motion.

The woman yelled something in Arabic and the Captain dove for the ground. It was too late. The air lit up in a blinding orange and I was thrown back against a tent where I lay unconscious. I came to a few minutes later and coughed as the dust settled around me. Visibility was minimal but through the haze I could see that the whole camp had been flattened by the explosion.

“Captain!” I yelled. “Dennis, Dennis!” I crawled and clawed my way through the debris,
waiting for the blood circulation to return to my leg. And when it did, I stood up and made my way forward to the spot where I had last seen the Captain. “Denniiiiss!” I yelled again.

The second lieutenant suddenly stepped into my path and grabbed me in a bear hug. “He’s
gone lieutenant. You can’t go near there until we are sure that it’s safe.”

My eyes stared at him disbelief. Gone! Gone where?

My brain was having a hard time digesting what had just happened. Dennis had been blown to pieces. There would be nothing left for his family to see or bury. That was it. The end of the story: what had once been a promising man… for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. How was it possible? I mean, we had just made love the previous night and his hands had felt great on my body.

“Lieutenant?” The soldier holding me called as he gazed into my eyes. “Lieutenant?”

Everything around me was spinning. My knees buckled and I fell into a limp. Darkness
consumed me as the second lieutenant caught me and carried me into what was left of the infirmary.

 

The time was 8 am when I woke up. Burning sunlight hit my face as I stepped outside and thirty foot soldiers turned and saluted me. In the distance, the Pershmerga troops raised their weapons in my direction.

“What’s going on?” I asked the second lieutenant.

“The Captain is dead ma’am. You are in command.”

What!

I stared around in disbelief and the weight of responsibility threatened to drill me into the ground. The men were angry and spoiling for a fight. There was no time to moan the dead.

I took a moment and took it all in. My jaws finally clenched and my fist balled up in fury. The Captain had deserved a better death than being blown up by a woman.

“Lieutenant!” I yelled. “Call in the air support. Tell them that operation Viking Hammer is hot and ready. This ends today!”

“Aye aye ma’am!”

The second lieutenant ran into a nearby tent and I turned to face the far mountains leading into Iran. The Ansar were sitting ducks with nowhere to run to but across the border. They were exactly where I wanted them to be.

“My fellow soldiers!” I yelled as I turned to face the Special Forces. “Our mission is to clear the way for the coalition forces so that they can end the tyranny of a ruler.” I pointed at the mountains. “We take those mountains and kill anything that stands in our way! Hurrah?”

“Hurrah!” The men chanted. “Hurrah!”

I raised my voice to the Pershmerga. “My friends, my home was taken away from me years ago. I know the pain that floods through your veins. Today, I will help you get yours back.”

The Pershmerga raised their weapons and solemnly saluted me.

 

Winter in Iraq was drawing near and even though the nights were warm, the mornings were slightly chilly.

Sporadic gunfire welcomed us as we approached the hills. I told my men to stand down and directed gunship helicopters to the targets. Time for games was over. We waited patiently as heavy artillery was blown off the ground. The hills lit up like Christmas trees as bombs dropped into the hills. Half an hour later, the radio came alive full of static. “She’s clean! All yours boys!” I acknowledged and clicked off.

The choppers circled around and headed back to base. I motioned my men to move forward on a 360 degrees battle formation. Each soldier covered his side amid motion. The formation had originated from the Romans back in the days. We moved fast and picked out terrorists recovering from the air strikes. My soldiers were young and mostly college students and I wanted to get them back to their parents and schools.

Pop pop! Gunshots echoed through the valley
and men fell.
Nothing good comes out of war but dead bodies. I remembered the Captain’s words with remorse.

With the air support gone, the terrorists quickly recovered and rained us with bullets. We pulled behind a hill and I send sniper rifles around to take out the shooters.

Meanwhile, and with bullets flying around me, I pulled out a photograph of my son and kissed it. It had been taken four years since I had last seen him. I wondered whether I would see him again. I hoped that I would. The soundtrack in the air changed and I pulled out my glock pistol.

“Light them up!” I yelled.

The Pershmerga flanked one side of the valley with grenades and submachine guns. We
raised our guns shoulder high and picked out resilient Ansar terrorists who stood their ground. The air was filled with the sound of rapid fire, the sky with smoke. Men fell while others screamed. Slugs slammed into trees and bullet proof vests. A few terrorists escaped into
Iran where we couldn’t follow. Three hours later, it was all over and North Iraq belonged to the Kurdish Pershmerga.

The Pershmerga soldiers fired shots into the air to celebrate the milestone achievement. With
the Islamist terrorists gone, the Pershmerga with a small coalition support would lead the Northern invasion against the Saddam Army. The game plan was set.

 

Los Angeles, California, 2003

         

          The month was March and a moderate winter was coming to a close. California: the most
populous state in
America; the third largest in surface area after Alaska and Texas. I had grown up here in Hollywood in a low income residential neighborhood. Hollywood was a small district in California where people flocked in from all over the world for the dream of the entertainment industry. It had been my dream once; a long time ago…just like every other kid … right before I found myself flipping burgers at McDonalds.

          She welcomed me into the house like an old friend. I walked through the living room and saw pictures of my son on the credenza. He was a big boy now. 19 years old. I could barely recognize him.

          “He’s a freshman in college,” the woman said.

My son had been right about her. She was nice. It was probably why my husband had married her. She wasn’t like me. I spoke my mind too much for other people’s liking.

          “Can I see him?” I asked with uncertainty.

          “They have a soccer game tonight at his school,” she replied. “You are welcome to come.”

         

I took a nap and woke up 4pm. The game was at 6.

          After a long shower, I laid down my military uniform on the Ritz hotel’s bed and stared into the bedroom mirror. The face that stared me back was a battle hardened one. I couldn’t remember the last time I had smiled or laughed. I thought about my boy Jared as I applied lotion to every inch of my body and wondered whether he hated me for leaving. It was the biggest crime a parent could commit: abandoning a child.

          I checked my email from the laptop on the end table: no new mail. I checked my Face Book Account: no new updates and not a single word from my 1000 friends. My phone hadn’t rung in days. I was alone in this new world.

          The uniform fit snugly: the creases rigid, the buttons shiny. Sometimes it felt like a straight jacket but I knew that I looked good and professional.

The outside world called it ‘uniform’, we in the military called it the evening dress: a mess jacket with scarlet lapels, a white dress shirt, a red cummerbund, and a long skirt. Only officers were authorized to wear the evening dress.

         This was my last mission before I retired the clothes. The uniform displayed all the colors of the US flag, my medals and badges sat polished on my shoulder.

I walked nervously into the College Stadium just as they were about to play the national anthem. A hand waved at me and I saw my ex husband Harry seated next to his wife. I walked over and joined them. I had to admit that they looked good together. Jealous? I felt nothing.

I took off my hat, placed it under my arms and saluted as the national anthem played. The word liberty had a new meaning in my vocabulary.

          “He’s over there! Can you see him?” Harry pointed as we took our seats.

          A popping noise caught my attention and I whirled to my right, my hand on the holster. It was a little kid opening a soda bottle. I sighed and turned back, my face tense.

          “Jasmine?” Harry called as he searched my face. “Are you okay?”

          I hated it when he did that: treat me like I was a recovering patient. Go screw yourself Harry!

          The game started and a smile tagged at my lips as I watched my boy play. He was a good soccer player and I liked the fact that he was coordinated. But he made silly mistakes and I credited this to his lack of maturity. He was still a
freshman but at a height of
five ten, I could see a Captain in him by the time he graduated.

          He saw me after the game and walked over, an incredulous look on his face. We stopped and stared at each other, as though waiting for something to happen. I had seen this moment in my dreams a thousand times and I suspected that he had too.

At close range, I placed him to be 5’11, slightly taller than I. We shook hands cordially our eyes hard locked on each other’s face.

          “Good game son,” I said and instantly wanted to slap myself. Four years and a few months later, my first words sounded strange.

          “Thanks.” His reply was cut. “Are you back to stay?”

          “Yes. I finished my duty.”

          He nodded. I saw his eyes roam over my uniform and I could see that he was impressed. “Do you want to say hi to my coach?”

          This caught me by surprise. “Sure. I would love to.”

          The coach looked to be in his late thirties, same age as I. He shook my hand firmly and refused to let go.

          “Congratulations Mrs. Jasmine.”

          “For what?”

          “For the medal of award. I watched you on the news. What you guys did in Iraq was a thing of beauty. With the Kurdish Pershmerga covering the attack from the North, less American soldiers have to die.”

          I raised an eye brow in surprise. “A man who knows his politics,” I said.

          He smiled. “Your son has told me a lot about you and I tried to stalk your life to keep him advised.”

          And now I was genuinely surprised. I turned but my son had scampered off to join his teammates.

       “Mrs. Jasmine?” The coach said.

I turned and gave him a closer look. He was easy to talk to.

          “Jasmine,” I corrected. “Just called me Jasmine. And you are?”

          “Jake.” The coach opened his mouth to say something else but my son came back running.

          “Mum, the boys want you to join us for dinner!”

          My eyes grew big at this request and the sound of ‘mum’. I hadn’t been called that in a while.

          “You should go,” Coach Jake said. “I have been here for three years and no other parents have ever been invited. It’s a big honor.”

          It was then that I turned and saw them: parents, students and soccer players staring at my uniform and doing a terrible job of hiding it. I turned and followed my son.

 

         The cafeteria was a bustle of noises as we walked in. Professors stopped and shook my hand. “Are you Jared’s mum?” They asked. Other student’s whispered into Jared’s ears. “Is that your mum? She is totally cool.” I saw Jared beam and was glad for it.

          The buffet was self service but the queue was short. We carried our trays to a round table where the rest of the soccer players were seated. I sat sandwiched between my son and coach Jake.

          The food was tastier than my days. I found the mashed potatoes and chicken enjoyable. A 50 inch TV blared on the side wall and I glanced up at the CNN channel. The date was March 2003 and
coalition forces had just launched an attack on
Iraq. The UN inspectors had been recalled and President George Bush had launched an attack
without declaring war on
Iraq. While American flags flew patriotically on the front lawns, a far land in the Middle East burned as coalition fighter jets took out key command posts that we had identified.

          “Mrs. Jasmine?” A student called and I looked up. “Do you think they will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?”

          “I don’t know,” I replied honestly. “But we did find a chemical plant in Sargat which is a small town in North Iraq. The CIA found traces of poison Ricin in the factory and suspect the Ansar Islamic
terrorists of manufacturing chemical weapons.” I looked at the boy who had asked the question. “Here’s the thing about chemical weapons son. Nobody wins. Once that stuff gets in the air, then both soldiers and innocent folks die. I’m talking about both instant and long term death. I’m talking about cancer thirty years down the road. The world is a better place without chemical weapons.”

          The boys shoved food into their mouth and threw me one question after another.

          “How was it over there mum?” My son asked with pride.

          I looked at him with loving eyes. My first instinct was to reach out and ruffle his hair but I knew better than that. Not in front of his friends.

          “It was rough sometimes,” I said as my gaze flitted around making eye contact with the students who didn’t shy away. “There were days when I found myself in a fox hole for three days, hungry, bored and restless: watching out for insurgents who never showed up.” My eyes brightened. “But there were also days when we
rolled through a town and ran the insurgents out with heavy artillery. And the people would hug us afterwards and wave American flags in the air. It was moments like those that I will never forget.”

          Dinner over, we took the trays to the kitchen. “Captain?” I turned and motioned the
soccer captain forward. “I have a mission for you. Get the men ready!”

          “Yes ma’am!” The soccer captain saluted and motioned his troops forward.

          Coach Jake introduced me to the kitchen staff and I asked them to take a thirty minute break. We took positions in the kitchen, some of the soccer players manning the steaming dishwasher, others separating spoons and forks from the plates that came flying from the dinning hall.

          “Junior?” I called my son as I took off my blue jacket. “You are with me.”

          Coach Jake, my son and I grabbed the plates as they came out of the huge dishwasher
and threw them on racks to dry. Thirty minutes later we were done and the kitchen staff clapped as we walked out.

In the parking lot, I turned to address the soccer team.

          “Boys,” I said as I struggled to find closure. “Most of the greatest cities in the world were built by men who were not afraid to get dirty. There’s nothing more beautiful than the sight of a man coming home dirty after an honest day’s work.”

          I shook hands with each player and wished them good luck for the rest of the season. Some of them did not understand what I was trying to say but I knew that many years later, they would remember.

          Jared rode shotgun as the two of us drove back that night. The drive was mostly quiet but as I pulled outside his home, he said, “I’m glad you are back mum.”

          I took his dirty photograph from my jacket pocket and showed it to him. “I never left you. You were always close to my heart.” Pause. “I love you son.”

          “And I love you too mum.”

 

 

          A few weeks later, Coach Jake and I sat in a bar, downed a couple of beers and ate burgers. This was America and here I was home.

          “You look beautiful,” he said pointing at my blue jeans and bright yellow blouse.

          “Thanks. You don’t look bad either.” He wore a black blazer over his white t shirt, a
common trend in the current fashion. I had seen him a lot lately at my son’s games and we had gotten comfortable with each other. He was a great coach and a good mentor to the boys.

          The music in the bar was loud and folks laughed too much. I wasn’t familiar with this world and I hadn’t been much of a party person in my younger days.

          I caught Jake eyeing my body and instantly knew that he was picturing me naked. “You wonna get out of here?” I asked in a playful tone.

          “What do you mean Jasmine? You are not having fun?” A frown appeared on his face.

          “I am.” I pursed my lips and leaned forward. He was going to make me say it. “I know you want me Jake. Isn’t that why we are here?” My ability to make small talk was long gone.

          Understanding clouded his eyes and he bit back a protest. “Ah…” He took a swig at his beer and stood up. “Let’s go!”

Utter boy! I felt my insides melt already. I had liked him from the first time I had laid eyes on him, and my three inch high heels dug into the ground as we headed for his car.

          We drove for fifteen minutes and parked near the ocean. “We are not going to your house?” My face looked chagrin.

          “No. I want to show you something.” He took my hand and walked me to the pier overlooking the ocean. We sat down at the edge of the wooden platform, our legs dangling over the water. There was no boat docked in sight and a crescent moon danced artistically over the calm waves of the Pacific Ocean.

          “It’s beautiful,” I exclaimed.

          “I come here often to think,” he said pensively.

          I threw a glance at his face and realized that this place meant something to him. And then he turned my face towards him and for a moment I thought he was going to kiss me.

“Jasmine,” he said. “I used to come here and think about you. And sometimes I wondered what you were doing or whether you were in danger.”

          “I don’t understand Jake. You didn’t even know me.”

          “But I did.” He released me and stared into the water. “At first when your son asked me questions about Iraq, I used to go home and do research just so that I could give him the correct answers. But then he showed me pictures of you and suddenly everything changed. I saw you swing a rifle, your blonde hair replaced by a short bob cut. I saw insurgents sneaking up on you; your life constantly in danger.”

          Silence. I was lost for words at his revelation.

          “You don’t have a girlfriend? Never married?”

          “No. Never found the right one.” He turned again and we stared into each other’s eyes. “I like you Jasmine. Is it wrong for me to like someone I never met?”

          “Nothing wrong with that.” I placed my hand over his. “But Jake, what if am incapable of
loving you back? Real life doesn’t measure up to imagination.” I wasn’t sure any more. “I have seen the world out there and it’s a cold place. People are dying and my perspective of life has totally shifted.”

          Jake leaned over and kissed me softly on my lips. I closed my eyes and suddenly
something strange happened to me. I started feeling again.

          It started with a sob, and then my head fell on his chest. He put his arms around me and rubbed my shoulders softly. I tried to stop the tears but I just couldn’t. The sobs came louder by the minute and I felt embarrassed. A soldier
was not supposed to cry.

          “It’s okay,” Jake whispered. “I’ve got you now Jasmine. You don’t have to be strong any more. You can’t carry the weight of the world alone. Lemme help you.”

          His words brought more sobs and bottled up tears came crushing down. I cried for my
broken home, the dead Captain and then…my heart felt like it would burst… I cried for love. The way Jake made me feel at the moment, no man had ever done that to me. Jake was the kiss I had been waiting for.

          “Okay Jake,” I said.

          “Okay to what Jasmine?”

          “Okay to loving you. I have seen the way my son looks at you. Kid’s faces don’t lie. I will love you Jake. I will love you.”

 

 

Baghdad. Los Angeles. Cities. It’s what we humans do. We move from place to place and try to find a place of belonging. We adapt. We survive. And when we finally find that place, we hang on to it for as long as we can. For ‘a moment’ is all that we’ve got in this life.  

News

Off to AFRICA

 

My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.

 

The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen

 

Contact

 

mrobertto@yahoo.com

Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...