Christmas in Iraq happens about 18 hours before it does back home. Being in a third world country was difficult but I had to try extra hard on holidays to keep it together. In the spirit of Christmas I volunteered for midnight guard duty to allow my soldiers time to contact family. As I prepared for work I opened my lifeline to home; my laptop. My best friend was online and told me about her festivities the next morning. Sam told me that she and Tim were getting a long pretty well while wrapping presents. She also said she was thinking of leaving him. I encouraged her to throw his things on the lawn immediately, but she wanted to wait until after Christmas; for the kids.
Supporting Sam’s relationship with Tim was hard. I knew that she would do what she wanted and that she just needed someone in her corner. I was always there because she was for me. I needed her as much as she needed me. So I bowed down to her decision and said that the 26th is a great day as any. We sent our love across the ocean through the internet. She got back to her wrapping, and I geared up for patrol.
It was only a four hour shift, however my company was not my favorite. A female superior who really had it out for me most of the time. I was lucky that night, though. Perhaps the Christmas spirit reached her, too. We talked about her grown kids and what they were doing for the holidays. I told her about my fiancé and me getting married in less than a month when I would fly home. We were eloping and only my best friend was going to be in attendance to witness. My fiancé and Sam were my circle. The two constants in my life. I needed them both equally. While I was in Iraq, my fiancé was in Afghanistan. Our commands agreed to let us take vacation at the same time. The plan was to fly home together, get married with Sami there, and fly back to finish out our tours overseas in different areas of combat.
The four hour shift came and went with nothing to report. We gave a briefing to the oncoming patrol and we made our way back to the living area. I checked my lifeline and saw that there were quite a few messages on my social media. All very urgent to call so and so. There is an emergency and Sam had told them to call me first.
I had the very worst thoughts in my head to prepare myself for what was probably something overly dramatized. I put my gear back on and walked to my office. I used a calling card to call a mutual friend of mine and Sam.
“Tim shot and killed Sam, Dacia. Sami is dead.” Her voice broke. I collapsed to the floor sick and weak. My body could not hold the grief. I must have screamed something terrible because night shift workers came running to me. I am sure they asked me, but all I could feel was sick. And then denial. I had to call my friend back; I must have hung up on her. I needed to correct her and tell her there was a mistake. I had just talked to Sam. Someone had given her wrong information. There was no way in the world Sam was gone. She could not be gone.
“No. NO.” I pleaded with her. She was fine. Everything was fine. She was not gone. My friend insisted that she was there when they took Sam off life support.
“Dacia, honey. There was nothing they could have done. He shot her point blank in the temple. I am so sorry, Honey. I am so sorry.” We cried silently for a long time. Occasionally I could mutter the word “no”.
“I have to go now.” I told her. I felt so empty. All the sands of the desert resided in my gut. I did not want to talk. I did not want even breath. I did not want to be alone and I did not want to sleep. I was terrified that her ghost would confront me for not knowing the danger she was in. It was paralyzing. I did not work for three days. I did not eat for longer. I was lost.
Sam left behind six children. They were all in the house when it happened. The oldest heard her mother and Tim arguing. She walked in on them. Tim had Sami by the hair and a gun in his hand. Sam told her daughter to get the baby and take the kids in the basement.
“Call 911.” Sam knew. She knew he was going to kill her. When the children were in the basement, locked in the bathroom, her daughter called 911. Then they heard it. All six of them. They lost their mother forever.
In the days following, those children were everyone’s focus. I poured out everything I could for them, being so far away. My friend assisted in keeping them all together, as they had different fathers. Then suddenly it was understood that I knew everything about the physical abuse leading up to Sam’s murder, and that I did nothing to stop it. The truth is Sam hid it from me. I try to think back over conversations thinking maybe she had hinted. What if she really did tell me and I did not hear her. I was excommunicated from her family. I did not fight it. It was not about me. The focus had to be on those children. Whoever they had to blame for closure, it did not matter. But I never got closure.
My wedding day came and went and before I knew it I was back in that third world country surrounded by dirt and death. The days would drag on and I fell deeper and deeper into depression. I lost more weight than I should have and eventually started passing out. After the third incident I was sent home to be medically tested for a more serious condition. I was ready to go. My soul was tired. I could not handle many more weeks in that depression.
It took me a long time to be able to do anything once I was home. I could not go to certain places or drive down particular roads. I was scared I would bump into someone and they would ask me how I was doing; or accuse me of knowing.
“You might as well have pulled the trigger yourself.” Was sent to me in an email. I would reflect on everything she ever said to me; all the songs she would sing at karaoke should have given it away.
“I was so young, you should have known better than to lean on me…” We would duet this song. That was my part. It was always my part. It will always be my part. To this day, I have never reached out to her family for closure.
Even after the short years it has been, I have come to the conclusion that I lack the emotional capacity to truly hate. I had no energy left to wish any evils on Tim for taking my friend. His sentencing finally came and with much disappointment of mutual friends, he only received a fifteen year term in prison. That very moment I realized that if it were five years or fifty, it would not fill the gaping hole in my heart. I will not draft letters to him about my pain. I will not check on his parole status. I will not look him up when he is out of prison to make him answer for what he did.
I take abuse of all kinds very seriously, now. I listen when people mention their spouses or significant others; maybe I would check the hints Sam tried to give me. I think that she has visited me on occasion but not frequently. This past holiday, at 11:30pm on Christmas Eve my living room television came on by itself, volume turned up, on a channel with static. I knew it was her, but it spooked my husband so bad he could not sleep. I have gradually healed from this great loss, but I have a scar on my heart that is named after her. She will always be there.
Reflection (Required for my assignment. I left it attached this time because I really think it gives insight to the writing.)
I have never taken the time to get this out of my body and onto paper. I have told the story a few times but never so permanently as writing. The story itself seems so cliché of domestic violence, but there was a sense of necessity to tell the story because it truly belonged to me; it was not just something you read in the news that happened to someone else.
I used Kick-Start number eight for this writing. I knew by just remembering where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt at the time that the words would flow onto the screen. The most liberating part was including the physical feelings I had when I found out. I never told anyone the real reason I stopped sleeping and why I did not want to be alone. I never told anyone about feeling of collapsing onto the floor. I really hung up on my friend after she told me. I guess I panicked. I never told anyone how utterly desperate I was for her to be wrong, and how I tried to convince her from Iraq that she did not see what she saw and it was someone else.
This course has taught me quite a bit about my own writing style. It has brought out some strength and exposed some weaknesses that are now hard to ignore. All of the lessons have really boiled down to this one essay. I knew I had to write it one day, I am just thankful that I had the tools to do so. Creative nonfiction has really opened my eyes to a more colorful way of expressing myself daily. Poetry has helped me pull some of the emotion that I normally lack in writing and add depth and better description to my pieces. Playwriting helped me become immersed in dialogue; something else I try to avoid in writing. The short story is where I thrive, have the most fun, and my default genre of writing when I have the choice. Creative writing was the only reason I started going back to school.
I think a memoir holds a special place in literature. I know there are so many stories in my life worth telling. I believe this genre really allows anyone to tell their side of the story, include their heart and soul, and really help people understand what they truly went through. A lot of history can be told through personal experiences.
Below is a link from the local news.