(Part 2 of 4) A couple years ago, my husband and I recorded our story as part of the Military Voices initiative at Storycorps. On a cold September morning we sat in a tiny sound booth in the middle of Foley Square and spoke to each other about the last five years of our lives. It was a painful, hour long conversation that sprang from the gulf that war builds between two people. It was a conversation we’d run through many nights in our living room, full of doubt, miscommunication, fear, and insecurity. It was informed by the unhinged feeling of leaving Fort Polk and arriving back in New York without any of the financial, social, or emotional stability we enjoyed before the Army. Yet, it was a story in which we were equal players, each of us speaking from a depth of understanding and experience. We told a story that neither of us could tell alone. When the interview ended, we took the obligatory photo, left the tiny booth, crossed the street out of the park, and lit a cigarette. I watched my husband’s stern expression and asked, “Do you think they’ll ever do anything with that interview?”
“No,” he replied, and flicked his cigarette butt into the street.
And yet, over the next year our story would be used many times. It would be clipped and edited and remixed in order to fit the needs of Storycorps, the Brooklyn Museum, NPR’s Weekend Edition, and Good Morning America. It would play, again and again, sometimes with prior warning and sometimes unexpectedly. Out of an hour of conversation, the various editors of our piece honed in on one particular exchange. In the original recording, it sounds like this:
Drew: I don’t know how I’m supposed to talk to you anymore. I remember…on August 24th, I called you on a SAT phone and I told you that I shot a man. It was August 24th, 2010. And you didn’t really know what to say, so you said, “well, we’ll deal with it when you get home.”
Umm... a lot of people said, well, you should have because he was going to kill you. Or, umm, you know some people thought it was great cause I was a young lieutenant and I had a kill, which is uncommon for officers. Umm…you know I was part of the club, I guess.
But I don’t know what you think…like, I don’t know if you even…I didn’t know if you were going to recognize me anymore. Because I don’t, I mean, recognize me.
Molly: I don’t think, it’s not that I don’t recognize you because that’s never changed. I think…part of the reason that I had a hard time responding to some of the things you would tell me-- cause I remember that phone conversation too-- is I feel like by that point you had pulled so far away from really conveying to me how you felt or what was happening. I had such a limited picture of what your life was actually like, or how you felt about it, or what you were experiencing, or any of that…and so it made it that much more difficult to know what to say or what to do.
(sound of Drew shifting in seat, swallowing)
Drew: I know
That November we received a call from a local Storycorps associate. She told us that the Military Voices Initiative was partnering with the Brooklyn Museum for their exhibition War/Photography. They wanted to play our piece, and they invited my husband to speak on a panel along with several photographers and journalists for the opening reception. We agreed, feeling that this event not only spoke to our interest in photography and the arts, but that it would be a great opportunity for my husband to network (he was still looking for a job.) The local Storycorps office tidied up our piece, giving it the “Ira Glass treatment” as I liked to joke, adding music and softening out the more awkward breaks. The night of the opening we sat nervously in the audience and listened to the clip. Our conversation now played like this:
Drew: I remember, on August 24th 2010, I called you on a SAT phone and told you that I shot a man. And you didn’t really know what to say so you said, “we’ll deal with it when you get home.” I didn’t know if you were going to recognize me anymore, cause I don’t recognize me.
Molly: I don’t think, it’s not that I don’t recognize you cause that’s never changed. I think part of the reason that I had a hard time responding to some of the things you would tell me—cause I remember that phone conversation too—is I feel like by that point you had pulled so far away from really conveying to me how you felt, or what was happening. I had such a limited picture of what your life was actually like or how you felt about it or what you were experiencing or any of that and so it made it that much more difficult to know what to say or what to do.
After our piece played we were invited to the stage, where both Drew and I had the opportunity to say a few words to the audience. The panel discussion followed, and my husband came alive on stage at the opportunity to share his lived experience, given credence alongside renowned photographers and journalists (one of whom he remains friends with to this day). Audience members asked thoughtful questions and engaged in the presentation. In the grand scheme of things, it was a good night. I felt that sharing a painful, uncomfortable story made an impact on other people. More importantly, it felt as though the chasm that Afghanistan left in my relationship was part of a larger arch, one in which my husband and I got to move forward.