THE MORNING BEGAN like most of my days at that time. I opened my eyes, thankful that I didn’t have to get up that early. The ski season was long over. That winter I had taught skiing to three-to six-year-olds at a local ski resort. I had risen out of bed at 4:30 A.M. each morning. It was a necessary evil that allowed me to take care of things at home and still get to the mountain on time for work. There I’d endeavor to inspire little people to venture into the cold and attempt incredible feats of physical acts almost beyond their abilities. It was a lot to take on, but I had to admit getting up early had been enjoyable in unexpected ways.
You see, it seemed not much of the rest of the world was awake at that hour. Often during the winter, there was a new snowfall overnight that made the morning especially quiet and serene. Spirit, my very energetic four-year-old Shepherd/Husky/Collie mix, required a long walk at least every morning, which kept her somewhat calm during the rest of the day. So we’d venture out, just the two of us, into the dark, peaceful morning, exploring and enjoying the winter wonderland while most everyone else slept.
Most important, though, getting up early that winter had afforded me the ability to chat live with my brother, Mark, through instant messaging. That’s not so earth-shattering, until you factor in that he was halfway around the world in Afghanistan, serving his tour of duty in the war that raged on. For months I worried about him day and night. I was thrilled when we learned he had set up a computer and installed Instant Messenger. I could IM with him if I was lucky enough to catch him online. As it happened, because of the time difference, our schedules lined up in such a way that I was starting my day about the time he was ending his. The time was ten hours ahead in Afghanistan. For weeks, we chatted online first thing in the morning, giving me comfort knowing that he was safe another day.
It was June now, and I was no longer working at the mountain. The 4:30 A.M. wake up was a thing of the past. I could sleep in if I wanted to, but today I didn’t. Instead, I popped out of bed, threw on my standard morning attire (sweatshirt and sweatpants) over my standard nighttime attire (whatever T-shirt was on top of the pile the night before). I stumbled down the stairs, readied Spirit to go out into the yard, and sent her on her way. I knew it was a poor substitute for our long, serene walks of the winter, but I was on a mission. I was headed to the computer.
Most days, I’m one of those poor souls who is compelled to turn on the computer before I start the morning coffee. To me it feels like worse than a bad habit, more like a sad habit. Today, though, it seemed acceptable. Today was different. Today, tomorrow, or maybe the next day there would be news—important news, and I had to have it as soon as it came and as soon as I could after waking.
The news I was waiting for would arrive in an e-mail from Mark. He was on his way home from Afghanistan, having been there for six months. I had treasured his e-mails each and every day. They were filled with the latest of what he was up to. The news he sent made his deployment seem less real, less dangerous, less threatening to the life and love that had come to mean so much. And we had gotten plenty of those e-mails throughout his time overseas. But these days I was waiting for an e-mail that would bring news of a different kind.
As my computer connected and I sent for my e-mail, I reflected on how lucky our family was. Mark had left home for training in late October 2005, with orders to spend a year or more overseas. But now he was coming home more than six months early, and his service up to this point was virtually uneventful. Virtually.
It was Mark’s trip home that turned out to be far more eventful than his time in Afghanistan. Mark was in the city of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, part of the former Soviet Union. He had been there for several days, having spent most of the past ten days on an in-depth search for something gone missing—something very important to him that he was desperate to find. Mark’s final flight home to the U.S. was to leave in just four days. Should he depart Bishkek without finding what he had lost, when he arrived home the distance could make it impossible to locate, and he would have lost a part of him that could not be replaced.
The e-mails started to come in, and, as most people do, I quickly scanned for the ones I would open first. That’s when I saw it, an e-mail from Mark.
I skipped over all the other e-mails, barely even noticing them. I opened his mail, scanned it, and reached the bottom in disbelief. I started over. I read it again. I tried to absorb what it said, but it wasn’t really making sense, wasn’t sinking in. What he wrote couldn’t be true.
The room started spinning. I couldn’t focus. I felt the blood drain from my face and my mouth go dry. My mouth dropped open as my hand slammed over it. I was having one of those out-of-body experiences. I could see my surroundings but felt completely detached from them. I was floating above myself. The room kept spinning.
I took a deep breath and forced myself to start over one more time, to read every word, making sure this time not to miss a thing, to digest every bit of information there on the screen. And there it was—what had sent me reeling, what I didn’t want to believe: the final lines he had written.
At this point, all we’d want is some assurance that Cinnamon is OK and living a life that is better than the one she was living in Afghanistan. The peace of mind that information would bring us is immeasurable, but we aren’t condent that we will ever hear more about her . . . Please pray and hope that Cinnamon is doing well and is happy. That is what we will do. That is what we wanted.
The lump in my throat choked off any air. My eyes welled, and the tears began to flow. I couldn’t stop them or the sobbing that now took over. This couldn’t be happening. We had come too far. She was almost home. My brother and his wife had been through far too much in recent times for Cinnamon’s fate to end this way. She was too special. She meant too much—and so did he.
The words finally registered, but they were hard to accept. The puppy that had kept my brother company and had watched over him during his time serving in Afghanistan, that he helped raise and had come to love enough to adopt and bring home, had been lost on her way to the U.S., abandoned at a foreign airport seven thousand miles away by the dog handler entrusted with her care and who had agreed to bring her home.
It couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t be true. But there it was, plain as day. I’d read the words he’d written but still couldn’t believe them. My mind raced, and the questions flooded in. Where could she be? Was she all right? How could the dog handler have done this? What will happen to her now? But none of it mattered. According to Mark’s e-mail, the answers will probably never be found. I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably.
Copyright © 2009 by Christine Sullivan. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.