A grizzled tribe of Middle East correspondents has gathered at the Mayflower Hotel’s wood-paneled bar in Beirut. Wine is poured, mugs of beers are guzzled, and cigarette smoke hangs in blue clouds. I don’t really belong. I’m here by marriage.
After being apart so long, it’s still pretty raw, this life my wife and I are making together. There are the shared meals and a morning at the American University park and a Saturday run to the farmer’s market downtown. But Kelly’s leaving again soon, this time for Yemen.
Earlier that evening, it’s a play date. My daughter is the oldest in the room, and she seems to enjoy the role, telling a little girl, “Please, play with the fire truck, it’s lonely.” Then she hands me a star-shaped gob of Play-Doh. “You’re a good girl,” I say.
Even at a playdate, talk soon turns to neighboring Syria. It’s on everyone’s minds. Will Kelly go? How does that make me feel? Not knowing how to answer, I dash for a cup of milk and discover even the nannies embroiled in tough talk.
“So that’s the difference between the Protestants and the Catholics,” our sitter says, sitting in the kitchen, eyes wide. There’s no escaping it—all these deadly divisions, everything cut along lines of sect and religion.
In the bar, with the journalists, I eavesdrop on heavies from New York and London, people comparing notes about crossing the border into Syria, a story worth risking life and limb. Above us hangs a dead deer, missing an eye, beside a musket and brass horn. Nothing’s changed in here since the last war, probably, or the one before that.
We settle our tab and walk home arm in arm, Kelly and I. The rain has stopped and the air is clear. Then we drift off to sleep, and the idea of living together, for the moment, is as simple as the reality.
Later, I dream of Kelly hunched over a laptop, browsing the internet for her own eye patch.
UDPATE: On the morning of February 22, 2012, it was reported that Sunday Times of London correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed in Syria. The news came less than a week after the death in Syria of New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid.