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Love and Air-conditioning

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Love in the Time of Shock and Awe
By Lily Burana

Summer came early in 2003. American troops had entered Iraq only months before and the conflict was hogging the headlines. I was a newlywed War on Terror bride with a soldier husband halfway around the world sweating in the desert. Fretful and alone, I was afraid to watch the news. I was also host to a case of heat rash that made the inside of my right thigh look like it was covered in pink candy dots.

I’d recently moved from New York to Maryland, where my husband was stationed. It was a tough transition for us—not just because we were both New Yorkers (him by birth, me by choice), but because we knew a deployment would likely pull us apart. We had come together from opposite sides of a daunting cultural divide. He was a Reagan-worshipping blue-collar whiz kid from Woodhaven, Queens, and I an ex-punker dropout from suburban New Jersey. I didn’t understand the acronym-heavy military jargon (APC, PCS, COB); he had never heard of X.

New York had been our playground, our courting turf. We’d met in a graveyard in Brooklyn. We were together the first time he’d ever walked the Brooklyn Bridge. Even when prowling my old haunts together on the Lower East Side, country music was the bridge between us—George Strait, Patsy Cline. So to reach across the 6,500 hundred miles that now kept us apart, I sent a care package containing CDs of songs with lyrics more plangent and earnest than a cynical punk-rock girl would dare express herself. I liked knowing that my husband would lie in his cot at night, Sammy Kershaw delivering a valentine from me: “You are the love of my life. You are the reason I’m alive.”

We talked on the phone whenever we could. I’d told him about my heat rash—not exactly pillow talk—and he said that in the 120-degree days, he was dependent upon the Johnson’s baby powder he’d bought at the camp. Even apart we found things in common: We were both miserable.

After the hazy Old Southern sunsets, I’d settle in for lonely nights of Gold Bond and steel guitar. I imagined my husband’s return, when we could finally pack up and move back to New York, these sweet songs playing, us slow-dancing among the packed boxes.

It wasn’t meant to be. When he came home from the war, he accidentally left the CDs on the plane. That was okay—we didn’t need them anymore.

But we did get to move back to New York—to West Point, an hour north of the city, easily within orbit. While our Army quarters were being renovated, we holed up in run-down temporary single-room housing on post. With 130-degree Mideast days and endless lonely Southern nights behind us, the muggy New York weather—gritty, familiar—seemed pleasant by comparison. He was home. We were home. We lay side by side in our dark, chilly West Point room, the ancient air conditioner growling away, healed and whole. The powder stayed stashed in our luggage. We knew this would be the coolest summer ever.


Lily Burana’s new memoir is I Love a Man in Uniform.


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