Prologue

PROLOGUE

LABOR DAY 2004

 7 AM, September 6

The morning was already too oppressively hot for me to sleep any later. I eased myself out of bed and padded barefoot toward the kitchen. Mario was already up, watching the television news channel. We planned a relaxed Labor Day morning before attending the memorial service for a local Marine, killed in Iraq, whom we did not know but wished to honor.

As I pressed the start button on the coffeemaker, Mario recounted a dream that left him unsettled.

His gaze drifted as he recalled, “You know me—I usually can’t remember my dreams. But this one is different somehow. In any of the dreams I’ve ever had about Daniel, he is always a little kid, no more than two or three years old, sitting on my lap. What’s strange about this dream is that he was the age he is now.

“As I walk down the hallway from our bedroom, Daniel comes from the opposite direction. He’s wearing those tan cargo pants and the light blue shirt that he likes to wear—you know the ones. In real life I always give him a hug, right? Well, in my dream, I reach out to give him a hug and to kiss him on the neck, and, for some reason, we both start to cry.

“But the weirdest part? Even though I was dreaming, I could actually smell him! His scent was real; it was like Daniel was here. I woke up at that point, but the dream is still so vivid that I can’t get it out of my mind. It’s like he was really here.”

I pondered Mario’s dream as I poured my coffee. Mug in hand, I moved to the adjacent room to scan our desktop computer, eagerly checking for any overnight e-mails from Daniel, but there were none.

Mario sipped his coffee in the family room, leisurely watching the television news. As I answered e-mail correspondence, I half-listened to the commentator. My attention was suddenly riveted by the news that, during our nighttime, a suicide bomber in the Fallujah area had crashed into a military convoy, killing seven Marines.

Instantly Mario and I looked apprehensively at each other across the expanse of two rooms. “Shit!” he exploded.

I vainly attempted to push down my rising anxiety. I scolded myself: Now, Nanette, there are hundreds of 2/1 Marines based in Fallujah and hundreds more Marines from other battalions scattered over Al Anbar Province. It’s unlikely that this is Daniel’s group.

Then I remembered that, two days before, Daniel had sent us an e-mail mentioning he had just come back to the base after several days’ patrol for some “down” time. Perhaps his platoon had not yet returned to patrol duty?

I checked his e-mail account. If e-mail sent in the past few hours had been opened, it meant he would have been safely on base at the time of the incident. Nervously I looked at his inbox and was disheartened to discover several days’ worth of e-mails still unopened. My palms began to perspire and my adrenalin surged. I reminded myself that even if it was Daniel’s battalion, that did not mean he had been involved in the incident.

Then, I opened an e-mail from Phyllis, a mom whose son was also in the same battalion:

 

Prayers and hugs to all this sorrowful morning. As we wait for more news of our losses in the Fallujah car bombing, I know we are together in spirit and am so grateful once again for our group. God bless you all.

 

So she too assumed the bombing involved our sons. I could see that this day would be a very long one.

The bombing had occurred at approximately 11:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time—incredibly the same timeframe in which Mario had his dream. I wondered how long it could take for a casualty officer to get to our house to inform us if Daniel had been one of those killed. Allowing for a delay so that officials in Iraq could confirm the identities of the dead and organize a local bereavement team here in northern California, I speculated we might get word in twelve to sixteen hours after the incident—in other words, by the afternoon.

Mario and I now had a difficult time going to the memorial. We wanted to pay our respects, but it was all too easy to imagine that perhaps we might have to go through a similar ritual the next week.

Several parents from our Military Family Support Group also attended the memorial, had heard the news report, and offered their love and prayers. The mother of a man killed in action the previous year embraced and comforted me. It was as if everyone sensed Daniel’s group was involved with this tragedy.

After a seemingly endless drive home, we took a deep cleansing breath and scanned the parked cars before we turned down our street. No Marine Corps vehicle.

At a turtle’s pace the blistering afternoon crawled by. I tried to do things that ordinarily soothed me, reading or stitching, but I was too jittery. As my mind continuously wandered to the day’s news, my panic would begin anew. Was there a mother somewhere just now learning her son was gone? By hoping for Daniel’s safety, it felt as if I were hoping it was someone else’s son who was dead. I knew I didn’t want that; yet, I felt guilty all the same.

Many of our friends had been e-mailing, asking if we had heard anything. I hadn’t looked at e-mail for the past twenty minutes—maybe there were some new ones? Maybe there was even an e-mail from Daniel? And I suppose now was as good a time as any to answer all the e-mails I’d been putting off.

And so it went. As afternoon dragged into evening, I began to feel more confident that the Angel of Death had bypassed our doorstep. Mario assured me, “If Daniel had been badly injured or killed in this, we would have gotten a visit by now. I think he’s okay.” By the time we went to bed, we dared to allow ourselves to feel relieved.