The lottery

I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning with a vague sense that I’d had a nightmare, but I didn’t remember what it was. I was at my parents’ house, in my sister’s room, where I’ve been sleeping while she’s home. Later, Meg said she had heard me whimpering in my sleep. This is nothing new. I’m a famous sleep-talker. I’ve been known to order people around in my sleep in much the same tone as I do when I’m awake.

Meg had a nightmare, too, she told me later. She dreamed that she was on a boat. There were dead animals all over the deck. She looked down, and saw a baby chick, still alive, struggling for air. She picked it up, and fed it a sunflower seed, and it flew away.

The next day, I decided to work from Mom and Dad’s. I felt like crap, like I hadn’t really slept all night. At about 10:00, I checked my personal e-mail and saw the headline on Yahoo! news: 22 Dead in Mosul.

My brother-in-law is a first lieutenant in the army. He was ROTC in school, not because he had to be, but because he — get this — wants to help people. He’s currently in Mosul serving in the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, also known as “Deuce Four.” No matter what I think about why we’re over there, I know he’s doing good things.

The news said that 22 people were dead, and more than 50 wounded, and that it had happened in the mess hall at noon their time, and that multiple units and civilians were involved.

My first thought was, “How do I hide this from Meg?”

Fortunately, people in my family are EXCELLENT at denial, so I had an inspiration right away. All I had to do was turn on E! Entertainment Television, let Meg sleep til noon, and keep her away from her e-mail if and when she got up. Hopefully, by then, her Family Readiness Group leader would have called to tell her that everything was okay.

She got up at 10:30, and her mother-in-law called right away, hoping that she had heard something.

So then we started the game, the morbid calculus of hope. We scanned all the news channels and every Web site we could think of, looking for news.

“13 were soldiers, CNN is saying,” I told her. “And two were from Virginia. That leaves only 11 to worry about.”

“He never eats lunch,” Meg said. “He hates food. And he always has a lot to do.”

“Maybe they’re mostly Iraqis,” I said. “Oh my God. OH MY GOD. What has become of me? I’m thisclose to signing over our civil liberties and supervising the interrogations at Guantanamo.”

“You’re not,” said Meg. “We don’t want anyone to get hurt, right? Not anyone. But people have already been hurt. And I’d just rather one of them wasn’t my husband.”

Meg is so brave and fine in these situations. She reminds me of a Douglas Sirk heroine, someone in full skirts and perfect pancake, looking dewy and teary-eyed but never snotty. And she never ever puts her fist through a wall, which is only one of many reasons why I know she’s a much more stable person that I am.

At about 1:30, one of her friends called to say that her boyfriend had spoken to John after the incident, and he was okay. I felt like someone had ripped a two-foot wide bandaid off my chest. I felt like slumping to the floor and crying.

Meg put on her hat and coat, and went out to buy Christmas gifts.

“If anyone calls,” she said calmly. “Tell them they can reach me at any time on my cell phone.”

I sat down at my desk and got back to work.

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2 thoughts on “The lottery

  1. This is the piece that you should submit to that competition for replacement columnist. Between this and the hazlenut coffee yesterday, I am truly humbled by your ability to tell a story. James Francis lives on, not only on your face, but in this, one of your many writing talents. What we lost when he was prevented from going to school, we have recovered in your generation. Trust me, send this one.

  2. It’s even more amazing when you know Mrs. Piddlington. And John. I didn’t know he was in Mosul, but when I saw that headline, my stomach crashed to my feet. Jesus.

    Hug her tight for me, would you, Jennie? Hug all the Hubleys. Love you.

    Kara

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