“No,” she murmured,”Noooooo,” a louder sleep-muffled scream. Coiled for protection, she felt a touch, his warmth, and heard vaguely, “Sam, Samantha, you’re dreamin’. Sweetheart. Wake up.”
She shook slightly, leaned into her long husband and finally stretched out to seek his arms.
“But it’s real,” she whispered to him, in a voice still throaty with sleep.
“No, Darlin’, it’s not,” he said and held her a little tighter.
Dozing again, she drifted back…sharp wind snaking over rocks, the cold sand soil on her feet, and then the door. Dark, thatched almost, wound with twisted branches.
The door that was opening. Fearful, her mouth went dry. She wanted to look inside but wanted to run just as much. What door, she wondered, and what dark, cold field?
But if there was an answer, it didn’t come. At least not this night.
Maybe next time.
And maybe next time Michael would tire of her dreams and anxieties, even though he said he wouldn’t. Her PTSD was tiresome even for her, and she wondered at his patience.
“OK, Sammie-Bird,” she’d hear, “Let’s do it.” And she’d jump into flight gear and be running onto the field where the helicopter waited.
“Whadda we got?’
“Looks like advances on a platoon pinned down, and they need some fire power in there quick,“ said Hal, the best pilot she’d ever known. He had died so long ago. How many times, she wondered? How many attacks amid the smoke and screams and zigzag light of antiaircraft?
Even in the silence of the endless green of their farm near the Blue Ridge, she heard the old voices. But some days there, she would hear only the hum of the bees on apple blossoms, the soft whoosh of tall grass in the meadow, and gaze reverently at the giant, green mountains whose shade protected them from the harsh heat of summer. Those were the good days.
Work seemed to help, so a long day of weeding, pruning, feeding chickens and goats, mucking pens around the barn, and the endless tasks of a small farm were precious to her.
She’d wave to Michael, when he came down the dusty lane from town…you needed a day job now to have a farm life, and he was a crackerjack at remodeling for all the rich folks that dotted the mountainsides with their luxury second homes.
“Hey, Baby,” he’d say with the slow grin she loved. “Any highlights today?”
“Samson tried to eat the fence to get at the new hay.” (Their prize goat was a known troublemaker.)
“We’ll shore up that fence tomorrow. But let’s get some dinner and figure that out later.”
“Right,” she said. Let’s do something tactile, no guessing. No hazy borders where the past comes in.
Then the evening proceeded as ever…light cooking with pasta and vegetables, some sauce from the freezer and great bread from a baker friend. After a little red wine and an hour on the porch swing,and it almost felt like heaven.
Leaving Nellysford, her tiny hometown, she had wanted to prove herself, be part of the fight somewhere, to show that her heart was strong enough to defend the life and country she loved.
Her family was against it, but she insisted. At just eighteen, she trained, endured and made it to an elite team off the radar of the press and general knowledge, but deep in a conflict that no one understood.
So, just after she met Michael, in 2011, she deployed with her secret team. Trained as the first woman to be the point of the spear, she lived like a fox among coyotes…surviving each assault mission, along with a few lucky others.
The heat of the day, the chill of the night, and the desperation for victory within her squad was resolute, in stark contrast to weariness of the long embattled Afghan tribesmen and the kamikaze style attacks of the Taliban.
“Deke, Jimmy,” she’d call as they rounded a mountain before touchdown, “We are away.” Touchdown was brief, and the scramble to fan out frantic.
There was always gunfire. Always. Flashes brighter than the night.
But that was often distant, because they came to kill. And their targets were selected with careful precision.
So many kills.
But now she was at her window again, looking out at the fading light on the Blue Ridge, and hearing the sound of Bonnie Raitt wafting into the kitchen. Michael knew how to get her attention. He always had.
When she came home from the war, without a scratch, everyone cheered their marriage, and the heroine who could live happily every after.
That’s when the dreams came.
“Deke, Deke”, answer me. When she found him, he choked a final goodbye, and “Tell Sally…” but he never told her what to tell Sally. She held his bloody hand until the others dragged him away. “I’m fine,” she lied to everyone.
But the next week, Kandahar Province blew up, and she, Jimmy and the reinforcements went into a hell no one could imagine.
It was impossible to find the targets, yet the hail of fire rained down on them incessantly. They stumbled from rocky outcropping to stonewall for cover, without relief. The stark peaks and endless desert reminded them that they were aliens here. Unwelcome.
Then they saw it. A few huts with a little light that might be a village…somewhere to hide or rest, just for a moment.
“Run for it, Jimmy,” and they all did.
“Anybody there,” she called? “Let’s move; secure the area.”
And for the first time on that treacherous day, she let out a breath.
They gathered and went to the first huts, one empty, the next with only women quivering in terror. She told them in her limited Urdu not to be afraid. “Make tea for us.” she said, the parlance of peace in Afghanistan.
The next hut was also empty, even though there were embers in the fire. Someone had fled perhaps…but to where?
The last hut had a blanket for its closure and a thick mat of sticks over it, black strands woven tightly. She called out to ask who was there, but no answer.
Carefully, she pulled back the stick door, and blinked from the firelight. She saw nothing, then a form, then a long dark object with a magazine in the middle…quick flash of danger. Before she could speak or call out, Jimmy shot one, two, three times, directly into the figure.
“Stop, Jimmy, stop,” she cried, and ran into the hut. There on the ground was a little boy, bright jacket red with blood.
“No, “she had cried, “No, no,” all the way to the base. All the way back to DC and then home to the Blue Ridge.
“Where are you, Miss Sam?” asked Michael. He let her brood for only so long.
“Just wandering a bit.”
“Well, wander back to this moonlight.” He held her on the porch swing, and they let their eyes follow the fireflies on the field and the mist rising.
“Let’s get to bed,” she said. And they did. She clung to him as ever. Another peaceful day ending.
Sleep came eventually in the new night, soon followed with the long parade of memories and ghosts.
She twitched and felt the cold air around her, the cold sandy dirt on her bare feet.
Peering into the dark night, she saw the door and walked silently toward it. As it opened, she smiled and pulled a little Afghan boy into her embrace.