Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Two Worlds

I was in Alaska, Kirk in Vicenza. I feel obliged to Google really fast to see just how far apart that is, but I have this strange lassitude about the whole thing. I don't want to know how far apart we were - I know how far it felt.

Once the bombing war started Kirk couldn't talk as long, although he still called whenever he could. His hours were strange as well, so he was calling when he had a few minutes and that could be almost any time of night. I didn't mind; I liked him calling late and pulling me out of sleep because it felt so much more intimate and immediate. Coming out of a half-sleep to hear his voice made it easier to ignore the distance.

We were having the coldest winter we experienced those three years. For a month the temperature didn't seem to get above 5 farenheit; for a couple of weeks it didn't get over 0. That meant the kids had indoor recess for a full month - no outside time at all; it was simply too cold. I would dress them up in the full school regalia (snow pants, coat, face warmer, gloves, boots), drop them off in the car (too cold to walk the short distance), they would scurry in and strip all the gear off only to don it again for the brief run to the car in the afternoon. When I went to pick them up I had to leave the car running - something I hated to do because just sitting there for a few minutes I would start to freeze. It was too cold to ski, too cold to snowmobile, too cold to do anything.

Kirk commiserated. He knew I had finally taken my courage in both hands and gone up to the base ski slope (two runs, a bunny slope and a sledding hill) and learned to ski all by myself. He had encouraged me, cheered for me, practically run the darn thing with me in the retelling, and now recognized how frustrating it was to not be able to get out and ski again and again and again.

And he told me what stories he could.

He was sent to shut down an anti-aircraft unit. Like always I only know half the story so I don't know why; I don't even know whose.

It must have been emergency, last minute; one of those 'get the Russian speaking American officer' emergencies. They gave him a side arm and threw him on a plane with two Gurka soldiers. He laughed and said the plane ride was the scariest part with the Spanish pilots chain smoking under the warning sign that said 'no open flame, no smoking' in seven languages. They came down hard somewhere in Kosovo, and I remember thinking I should ask him about flying on a damn plane to get to a place where you're shutting down an anti-aircraft unit.

He had to walk up to the soldiers and ask to see their commander. He said he just talked, just walked up to them and kept talking and talking while they pointed their weapons at his chest. He talked about who he was, and he talked about how stupid it was to send some crazy American in with just a side arm (that I'm not touching you see) and a couple of Gurka soldiers who haven't done anything to anyone to shut down this unit. He talked about his family, and did they have any family, and did the commanding officer have a family? And they relaxed, and they took him in to see the officer.

The guy was a General or something I think, and Kirk had to basically give him orders, inform him that his unit was going to stop operations. But he talked again; talked and talked. It turned out the General did have a family - he had two kids and several grandkids. He thought the whole war was a bit crazy, and he worried about his mother who was getting old and lived in the city. He had seen some stuff he thought he'd never see, and his wife's best friend was married to a guy fighting on the other side, but they still thought they'd be friends when the whole thing was over.

And you, you crazy American, you got some balls coming in here to shut me down. We could have killed you boy, and by the time NATO came to figure it out who would care really in this war? But I like you. So for you, we'll shut it down.

And Kirk flew back.

It took him three years to tell me he thought he was going to die that night. He saw those soldiers fingering their triggers and thinking how easy it would be to just kill this American stranger and his two silent friends.


Anonymous said...

I'm so happy to have found your blog. I've googled Kirk's name so many times over the last couple of years to try to see what happened. I'm glad you are OK. We miss you guys. I wish I could have said something before you left.

I finally started coaching soccer. It's my last chance since even Asha's ability will soon pass my ability to coach it. Next season I'll have to have a prize for anybody that can hit the crossbar of the goal with the ball. Where did I get that idea?

As you know we are cooking in this Montara heat wave. We'll survive. I hope that you are in a good place.

I remember Kirk's stories. About the eagle and the cat. About trudging with a backpack full of elk and a interested bear not far behind. I never figured out how such a fearless person could be so gentle.

I also remember how your girls played with mine while the boys played soccer. You have a wonderful family.

Jason says hi to Z.

All the best,

For Kirk said...

Thanks for getting in touch Doug! We think about our California friends all the time. I'll pass along the message to Xan. Best to you and yours - M