Stoplight Epilogue

26OCT 05, United States of America

We were almost home when a round number fell out of the radio.

I put my hand up to my mouth, remembered that I don’t smoke anymore, and put it back on the steering wheel. The traffic light ahead flashed to red, and we all stopped together.

Looking straight ahead, I mumbled, “By the time I got to Camp Freedom, KBR had two kills.”

A year or a lifetime before, I had walked into one of the army’s recently de-Saddamed palaces with my freshly laminated Task Force Olympia access badge, a sort of all-areas backstage pass to war, and flipped through the safety bulletin pinned up on the polished, gray-veined marble of the lobby wall. Three pages down, the notice caught my eye.

“What? Who?” Maybe she hadn’t been listening to the radio show, or maybe she was still listening. Solemn voices continued out of our dashboard, confirming the toll.

“Kellogg, Brown and Root,” I said. “They had two kills.”

We were newbies then, with big eyes in our swiveling heads. Hot chicks from the CIA carried Glocks to lunch, where mortars fell into the mess tent from over the Tigris River. You could buy desiccated Havana cigars and fresh chai in the castle’s basement lobby, trade American Camels to South African mercenaries from the next pad over for whiskey and beer. Rogue Kurds busily translated English into Arabic for us to broadcast through dusty American loudspeakers in order to influence Sunni insurgents roaming the Shiite neighborhoods, who bombed us anyway so we shot at them in the international language.

Nothing was believable. Just as it seemed incredible to her, being so removed from her world.

“KBR lost two people?” Lily’s forehead wrinkled up. She was from Houston. A highway on the outskirts of Houston has a whole bypass dedicated to the KBR employee parking lot. “How?,” she asked.

“Killed two people,” I corrected her.

I hate traffic jams. I looked every which way, drumming my thumbs on the steering wheel, pounding rim shots the way Mom used to do after her divorce. I had forgotten all about those two. Most taxpayers probably have. I wondered what my army had told their families.

“Iraqis?” She worries about these things.

“GIs.” I wondered whether they were counted in this day’s Big Number.

“KBR killed two soldiers? How?”

The radio informed us that the Senate had observed 22 seconds of silence. Each Senator who was on the floor that day devoted a full eleven-thousandths of one second—on the clock—to each soldier killed in Iraq. They are the world’s greatest deliberative body.

“Two guys were electrocuted in the showers,” I said. “Two different FOBs in Mosul.”

“To death?,” she asked.

“Yeah. That’s what ‘electrocuted’ means.”

I wondered if those two names would ever be read out in the Senate. I wondered if someday all 2,000 of them would be read out to that august body.

It would take a long time, and maybe there’s no point in looking back. Time is precious, and never to be squandered. Liberals want to Move On, while conservatives encourage us to “get over it.” If we can all just agree that there is no time to waste, we can keep moving forward together. Even our army has a slogan for it: “Drive on!”

“Oh, my God, that’s terrible!,” she said. “We never heard about that on the news.”

Taking another pull on my imaginary cigarette, I said, “Yeah. How ‘bout that?”

The light turned green.

We drove on.

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