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Husband, Father, Writer, War

Right Into the Fire

Right Into the Fire
Credit: Evgeni Zotov

This week we’re debuting a new microfeature series, “Husband, Father, Writer, War,” in which Nathan Deuel recounts what it’s like to be an American citizen, young father, and supportive husband while he and his family settle down in Lebanon.

My daughter is bawling, red faced, legs held ram-rod straight.

Loretta was born in Saudi Arabia, turned two in Turkey, and we’ve just moved to Lebanon. In a stroke of luck, we found a rare flat in a stunning French Mandate house. But until our boxes arrive, the place is empty, echoing.

I reach out to touch Loretta’s head, assuming she’s hot again with fever. But maybe it’s something else.

All week, it’s been talk of my wife, Kelly, heading back to Iraq, where for nearly a year and a half she was NPR’s Baghdad correspondent. How we’ll all meet in Istanbul, where we’ll close out the old apartment there. Our new life in Lebanon, where after so much time apart we’ll finally be living together again.

“We live in Beirut now, honey,” I say to Loretta. “You’ll come to like it, we hope.”

Or Syria will explode and Lebanon will come apart, and we’ll have to leave.

The little girl squirms on the couch, and it’s hard to imagine she will ever calm down.

Our new nanny, Lita, is ironing in the living room. I smell smoke from our downstairs neighbor, a chain-smoking NGO worker. It’s the first anniversary of Lita’s daughter’s death, from cancer. My own daughter is sprawled across the couch, legs pumping, face wet.

My eyes flick to the computer, where I hope for email. In Baghdad, the road from the airport has become dangerous again. There are renewed car-bombings and Kelly’s plane has just landed. Editors are eager for stories.

Then Loretta stops crying. She walks over to Lita, who opens her arms. They’ll head out for a walk, Lita says.

An email arrives from Kelly, who apologizes for not writing sooner.

“I of course fell right into the fire, as soon as I got here.”

It’s a familiar message, one she is used to sending and I’m used to getting. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

I gaze out a black window. The call to prayer has subsided, and I can hear the roar of generators. Somewhere in our dark new city, a nanny is holding our daughter’s hand, and they’re walking slowly down an unfamiliar street.

Week by week, year by year, this is the life we’ve chosen, and we’re trying to do it all without getting burned.

Nathan Deuel has contributed to Harper’s, GQ, The New York Times, and many others. His first book, a collection of essays, will be published by Dzanc in May 2014. He lives in Los Angeles. More by Nathan Deuel