* * *
Diane sat in her car and thought about it. She decided that it was an NPR kind of day. So she turned on the radio and switched it from Q100, the more popular channel. Andrew Pete and his BBC Newshour were on. To her, America’s obsession with the British accent felt comical. And NPR being the National Public Radio, gave her an air of elitism as a listener and the news was almost always unsurprisingly somber.
It was 3pm in the parking lot of Lockheed Martin in Marietta, Georgia. With traffic, it would be 3:40pm before she reached her home in Johns Creek. She actually hadn’t felt the commute was killing her until she had Ella. At 37, she had all but given up on her dream of becoming a mother [to her own child].
She had called her baby sitter and got her voicemail while she walked to her car. 9 month old Ella and not her iPhone was the focus of Taylor. That‘s a good thing, after all, 20s is the new teens and babysitters are subjected to higher standards of moral code.
She looked at herself in the rear view mirror as she drove towards the highway and realized her face looked as if it was amused. That’s how she ended up looking, with smiling lips and twinkles in her eyes when she thought of her brand new baby.
“The Islamist state of ISIS has beheaded the American journalist James W. Foley in Syria. The US government has confirmed the authenticity of the barbaric video and that Mr. Foley has died in the hands of the extremists. The video that has been circulating the internet for the past 24 hours has been condemned around the world.” Andrew Pete told her as a matter of fact.
Diane Kelsh oozed heart. To her, some world events just seemed to mitigate the daily grind and the travails of life. She often remembered of where she was and what she was doing on the day the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11 or when Katrina made touch down in New Orleans or when she heard news of the kidnapping of 250 Nigerian schoolgirls. Where are the girls now? Why doesn’t anyone talk about them anymore? Hasn’t it been 6 months, surely not all of them must be dead?!
As she got closer and drove passively, she stopped at Crème de la Crème and picked up 6 year old Quentin. She came home and took Ella into her hands gently from Taylor. Taylor left beaming after seeing the cash handed to her and after showering praise on the infant girl for her great attitude.
But for Diane, after what she had heard on the radio, life that afternoon moved like a time trial video. In spirit, she stayed with James Foley’s mother. She could not watch the latest on the case on TV now, it would be too gruesome for Quentin, she rationalized with herself.
She felt nauseous and laid down on the couch in the living room. Her mind was stuck in an endless loop.
How was his mother doing now? Has she seen the video that everyone is talking about? A mother never brings a child into the world with the intention of burying him one day. Do the words like US Foreign policy – something that the government spends billions of dollars and on which many diplomats and their families depend for their livelihood performing daily duties of hostage negotiations – mean anything to her? All the resources in the world could not save her son – just one human being. May he rest – in peace? Isn’t peace the costliest commodity of all? Without it, does anything else matters? Of course, not if you are already dead. Then, nothing matters.
She waited for Nate while the kids played around her. Nate would come and make all her troubles go away. They always did a “brain touch” as they gently head butted each other in the evening as soon as he came home and she would feel a rush of calm come to her central nervous system.
She had met Nate through a childhood friend towards the end of 2009. When they went on a blind date one weekend while she was visiting her parents’ home in Atlanta, he had shocked her with a few of his first words. “It is important for you to know that I have reconciled with my wife now.”
She was not amused, but did not want to sound irritable to a stranger on a first date. “That’s great news I guess? Hmmm.. So, what are we here for?” And those words came out with the sarcasm that she had intended them to sound like.
“She died in a car accident last February.” He had smiled sadly.
She had felt her knees weaken and her heart melt. She instinctively stood up and bent across their dinner table in Cheese Cake Factory to take his face into her palms and kiss him tightly on the lips. After those two seconds, she was left with a lifetime of embarrassment and much to Nate’s amusement.
Later when he introduced her to his infant son Quentin, whom he was raising as a single dad, she couldn’t wait until the fall of 2010 when they got married. Her infrequent trips to Atlanta turned out to be twice a month shuttles back and forth from Seattle where she worked for Microsoft.
She did not care that her work suffered and the flights were too much for her physically and mentally. She did not care because her time and life were filled with love kisses in the sunset, weekend getaways to Mexico, the Bahamas on a whim, clever banter, and passionate embraces in public while tasting rain. She hadn’t felt that good about life again until 2013 when she read the book Eleanor and Park, the story of the two 16 year old misfits falling in love.
At 6:30pm, Nate walked into the house with his usual air of light heartedness he carried around everywhere. Quentin was watching cartoons on TV and Ella was holding her milk bottle in her left hand and sipping on it as she bounced with her diapered bottom on her mom’s tummy.
“Hey, you alright Di?” He walked upto the couch and said reaching up to Diane’s face and putting his palm on her forehead.
“I am OK.”
“Is it work? What’s up, come here.” He said sitting down taking her head into his lap.
“Have you heard? James Foley?!” She looked up in his lap to make eye contact with him.
“Yeah, I didn’t mention it yesterday night. They were talking about it on CNN. Didn’t want to upset you.” He drew a deep breath before he spoke again. “It’s OK baby, shit happens. Please, if you are like this, the rest of us can’t function. Have you guys eaten? Let me take you to Jason’s.” Jason’s Deli was their favorite place to eat and they went there once a week.
Back home after dinner and after tucking the kids into sleep, Diane sat down on bed holding her iPad between her fingers searching through news. For a long time after reading, she lay awake in the dark wondering what to do next. Just like how many of us, who ponder on how to save the world and to make a difference, only to curl up and snore off the tedious proposals that might actually save the world.
She thought of the final video of Mr. Foley. His blank, scared stare into the camera a few seconds before he was killed by the masked beheader. How can anyone shoot that on film? Such monsters. Such cruelty. And it did not help she shared the same name with Mr. Foley’s mother. Diane. Diane Foley. How will this Diane put back all those nerves in place that have exploded in agony? Will she replay his last stare in her head? Is a mother equipped to survive not being able to give a final hug?
Diane then thought of the cleaner with the burnt face and hands at Jason’s Deli. His clothes must be hiding his burnt body. She saw him every time they ate there. She wondered if he smiled at them broadly mostly because he was grateful for the 5$ tip she left at their table. But, today, he told her a different story. A story of irreversible loss, letting go and the celebration of life.
If life is a pursuit in one’s vanity, how would this guy survive? What was his plan? Ego – how many times has she seen it shape lives and destinies? Doesn’t everything seem to surround around how better one felt about oneself? Nobody has a trademark on tragedy – all of us have a few of them, some more obvious than the others. If the burnt man could manage to smile, surely, she could be happier too. Couldn’t she?
Hadn’t it started when she wanted a great job? Then she wanted a great husband, a great life with him. Then she wanted to move closer to Nathaniel and Quentin. Actually, she wanted any job and anywhere in Atlanta just to be closer to them. Then, all they wanted was to have a baby. Just, one baby. Now, all she wants is a short commute so she can get home faster before Ella was not too tired to play with her.
She felt sleepy and tired as she thought through endlessly. As she went into sleep, if she had looked at herself in a mirror she could see she had a determined look on her face. She had a husband who loved her to the bone – at least, he pretended he did. And, she had these amazing kids that were hers.
The next evening after work, Diane fixed up their bikes. She placed Ella on her back in a cushioned sling basket facing Nate who rode behind her. Quentin rode in a bike cart that was fixed to his dad’s bike. Together, they rode to Publix where Diane decided she had to buy peanut brittles for herself. As she rode back home, she felt the freedom her country had given her gently blow through her hair.
Life is brutal, cruel and frustrating. Life is endless and tragic. Yes, indeed, her life seemed to be filled with irrational challenges – the daily commute notwithstanding. But if things were happening to her, didn’t it also mean that she was still alive, well and actually breathing? James Foley is dead. To be dead, now, wouldn’t that be tragic?