I’m stuck in traffic on Carteret Street, just past Bellamy Curve, near the university.
We haven’t moved in at least five minutes. The Woods bridge must be open. Or maybe there’s a wreck on Lady’s Island. Who knows? Traffic’s always a nightmare this time of day.
In the car with me are my young daughter and a couple of her friends. They’re laughing and singing to the radio. They don’t care if they’re late to dance class. I lean out my window, try to peer around the snake of cars, but it’s too long. There’s no end in sight.
Then, I see it. The sky ahead of us, down near the river. It’s filled with massive, dark clouds of smoke. But it’s not normal smoke, and they’re not normal clouds. They look solid. And they’re rolling. Moving forward. Fast. The sky is turning black, and that black sky is coming toward us. And it’s not just black, it’s loud. Roaring. Thundering. And suddenly I know what’s happening.
Bombs! Bombs are falling from the sky, exploding IN the sky…
“Get down!” I scream, stunning the girls from their play. Now, they see the black sky, too, and they scramble to the floor of the back seat, no longer laughing or singing. “Miss Margaret, I’m scared!” Me too, girls. Me too.
In the front seat, I cover Amelia with my body and pray. Please God. Please.
The car goes black, the roaring is right on top of us now.
And I wake up.
I’m covered in sweat. Shaking with relief. It’s dark, but the only thing roaring is my heart in my chest. Thank you, God.
This is not the first such dream I’ve had since the war in Ukraine began. The last one was set on a trampoline in Alabama, where my high school friends and I were lying on our backs under a beautiful summer sky, sharing secrets, talking about boys, and then . . . the black, roaring, rolling bomb-clouds came.
I always seem to wake up just in the nick of time. A blessing, I suppose. What’s that they say about dying in a dream? That you die in real life, too? Not sure how anybody figured that out. But I have no desire to test the theory.
Do you follow this war as closely as I do? According to some polls I read, 90% of Americans are following closely, so your answer is probably yes.
But I hope you are not as obsessed as I’ve become. I hope you aren’t spending hours a day reading news and analysis – watching videos of bombed out hospitals, crying children, and dead bodies – instead of doing the work that feeds your family, or reading the memoir you’re supposed to be finishing for book club, or admiring the Painted Buntings that have returned to your backyard feeders.
I hope you’ve found a better balance.
When something is enormous and completely beyond my control, I tend to fixate on it. I’m overcome by a desperate yearning to learn everything I can about it. As if understanding the war in Ukraine – from all its many angles – could somehow help me end it. Never fear, NATO. This keyboard warrior from South Carolina is on the case!
What a colossal waste of time, energy, and mental health. I could be learning everything there is to know about… cooking. Or gardening. Or skincare for women over fifty. Knowledge I could actually use.
But no. Obsession-wise, I’ve moved straight from the US evacuation of Afghanistan to Russia’s war on Ukraine.
I took a little time off around the holidays.
Speaking of Afghanistan… if you’re even half as obsessed with the Ukraine war as I am, you might have missed the news that the Taliban – those bastards! – have reneged on their promise to let girls attend high school. And they did it in a characteristically cruel way, too. After months of anticipation, the girls returned to school on the designated day in March, only to be told, upon their arrival, that plans had changed. Go home, girls.
The New York Times reports: “The news was crushing to the over one million high school-aged girls who had been raised in an era of opportunity for women before the Taliban seized power in August last year — and who had woken up thrilled to be returning to classes on Wednesday.”
I know that many (most?) Americans supported our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and I certainly respect that sentiment. But I have a hard time sleeping when I think about the way we established a sense of hope in that troubled country, then up and left those women and girls to the tender mercies of the Taliban.
And when I do sleep, I dream of bombs.
It’s not lost on me that the enormity of these issues – the war in Ukraine, the women in Afghanistan – and their remoteness from my everyday life, removes any burden of responsibility from my shoulders. I can read and watch, rage and cry, and nothing will be required of me. Nothing very difficult, anyway.
I can write a check to support Beaufort’s sister city in Ukraine, wear my pretty Ukraine flag pin from Thibault Gallery, pay more at Parker’s and Publix… then go home to a safe, comfortable house and have dinner with my husband. There will be no bombs. No weeping girls in hijabs.
Until I close my eyes to sleep, that is.
I guess my obsession – all the reading, watching, learning, losing sleep – is simply a way of bearing witness. A way of saying: I see you. I see your pain. I see your courage. I see your loss and your sorrow and your beauty. I will not turn a blind eye to your suffering. I will watch it. I will feel it. I will suffer with you in my dreams.
I will bear witness.
It’s the least I can do. Literally.