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Garbled Dispatches


It’s a sunny afternoon in April 2004. Although I’ve consumed three doppios since rising at noon, I’m half-asleep when I grope for the telephone from behind three code-filled monitors — one buzzing with dangerous static. The phone’s chirped five times before I answer.

“You sent a letter to my son.”

It’s Jim, my oldest brother. We haven’t spoken in months. He doesn't sound drunk, just furious. The webs inside my brain lurch.

“Um, yeah. I'm sending him a board game and some recordings. I'm a taper, you know.”

“He forwarded me the letter. Young man, what the hell were you thinking, saying you don’t agree with the war. He puts his life on line every day to save your cowardly ass! You liberals are all the same: griping about President Bush who has the backbone to defend our country, spouting views that we’re better off without Saddam Hussein, but moaning about the only person who has guts to fight back.”

I ignored his hostility. He'd had a stroke.

“I thought some entertainment... He’s away from his wife and kids.”

“He’s busy killing terrorists before they come over here and kill cowards like you who wave the flag, but fail whenever they’re asked to defend it. Board games!”

“Puzzles, maybe?” I said to provoke him. His aggression had ruined my day, but I didn’t want to grant him the satisfaction of ruffling me. “Goddammit!” he said. The line went dead.

I waited a minute before calling. “They didn’t find —” He hung up again.

Seconds later, my phone rang. We spoke five minutes. I asked about his grandchildren and my sister-in-law. He gave polite answers and reciprocated similar questions, all chilly though. Later, I reviewed my well-intentioned letter wondering how it triggered such a response.

Those events taught me to avoid contacting them. When I carried him to his grave, our relationship was cool, but not Arctic.

Wiser now, I understand his outrage: My reasoning travestied his son’s daily danger, and his self-righteousness fertilized his hopes for a safe return. Skepticism poisoned them. He had no choice.






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