“For you,” he says, arranging the sprawling bouquet in a vase. He kisses your forehead. “You’ll be all right, Hed. Get better so we can go home.”
Home. You don’t remember what that means. The image of your rental house comes back to you—that awful day—no, you refuse to remember it and shake your head with anguish.
“Not there,” he says. “The villa.”
Yes, your villa. But you shake your head again. You don’t know; you don’t know if you can go back.
“You’ll be all right, Hed,” he says again, as if he were trying to reassure himself. “Just give it time.”
It isn’t until later, after you’ve had some water, some apple juice, a small bite of toast that you remember you might have killed someone. The idea of it fills you with unspeakable dread. And yet when that bullet flew out, there was nothing you wanted more than to kill. It was basic; primitive. The man you shot had gone down.
But now you are not so sure. There are cops in the hall. One sits on a squeaky chair outside your door. Later, one comes to take your statement. He sits in the green vinyl chair by the window, writing down what you say, his eyes dim with accusation. Vaguely, you wonder if you are in some sort of trouble. After he leaves, you weep like a woman condemned.
Left alone, you watch the day drop to its knees. The hours drift. The sky is very pale now, almost lavender, and you sense that it may rain, but the nurse shakes her head and says it never rains in the desert. Still, all through the night, the sky howls with something like loss.
In the morning Tom comes—this man who claims to love you, who has promised to leave his wife for you. He wants to start again, he says. “For the rest of our lives.”
He brings you little presents and dumps them out on the end of the bed in a frenzy of willful deliverance. Magazines, a tin of lemon drops, comics, even whiskey, which he conceals inside a rolled-up newspaper. When the nurse disappears, you let the liquid slide over your tongue. It tastes of straw, remorse. None of it interests you, not really. His eyes are guilty, impatient; greedy. You look at him and think:
You are too late.
You sleep and wake to their whispering—hissing whispers like the buzzing of trapped flies. Their words sting your ears: trauma; stress; denial. The nurse admonishes Tom’s impatience,
She’s going to be all right, I promise
—but you are not really sure if you will be all right. The nurse insists, “You’ll be back to your old self in no time.” But you know it is a lie. Because your old self has already gone.
She has taken your marvelous car and left this place, driving the open highway with the windows down, the wind roaring in her ears. You can picture her there in the seat in her white blouse, the heavy beads around her neck, her hair unconfined in the wind as she drives, barefoot, as fast as she can.
There is something beautiful about a woman making her escape, you think. Something beautiful as she crosses the desert, a fearless pioneer. Heading west. Straight into the sun.
I would like to acknowledge the men and women of the military who have risked their lives for our country. I am especially grateful to a very special marine named Sean who shared his experiences in Iraq with me. The marvelous book
War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
by Edward Tick, PhD, served as a reference point for the creation of Denny Rios. Had it not been for the courageous and excellent reporting of several journalists I would not have been able to fully understand the war in Iraq and its ultimate effect on the country, our soldiers and their families.
I am indebted to my editor, Carole DeSanti, for both her critical judgment and ideological support, as well as to my agent, Linda Chester, for her sustained belief in my work. My deep thanks also to Clare Ferraro, Kristin Spang, Christopher Russell and Gary Jaffe.
Special thanks to Susie Landau Finch, Rafael Papaleo, MD, Marilyn Men-dell, Will Taylor of Bavarian Autosport, Joe Aberdale of A& J Gun Shop in Housatonic, Massachusetts, Scott Morris, MD, Betty Sigoloff, Pat Van Gorp, Harris Appelman, Anita Straussberg, Vivian Friedman, Beth Pine, Stewart and Susan Kampel, Helen Beck, Janice Denburg, Gloria Winston, Grace Dugan, Beth Appelman, Lynn Hidek, Ginny La Juene, Becky Marvin, Matthew Tallow, Jeff Jacobus, Cheryl Kravetz, Paula Lippman, Gladys Cook, Toby Cooperman and Killara Burn of Hampshire College. Finally, I would like to thank my parents, Joan and Lyle Brundage, and my aunt Dorothy Rosenberg, for their incredible support and guidance.