Breaking News – Part 66

Taking full responsibility for the length of our meal, attributable in equal parts to my indecisiveness and my consumption speed, we return to the eighty-mile-per-hour interstate. An hour later we pass Glendo as another Wyoming memory crosses my mind.

On my drive from point A to the Bighorn National Forest on my initial arrival in Wyoming, I camped at the state park named for the nearby reservoir.  I recall the water levels being dismal, and the surrounding brush displaying the impact of the dry spring preceding my camping in its brittleness.  The one night, I found it chilly, but sultry by May-in-Wyoming standards, reminds me of how tough my exterior has become since my first drive into the state.

Green in my own willingness to adapt to the changes that would bend and twist me in the breezes of my first few weeks in service of the Bighorns, I probably didn’t realize how out of place I appeared in the near-drought conditions of Glendo.  Ill-prepared for both the Wyoming weather and the windy weirdness of my encounters with Daniel, I expect the transformation from the naïve woman to today’s forester might reflect the current appearance of the southeast corner of the state – more lush and fertile.  Life goes on again, reborn and refreshed, and the symbolism of the scenery looks me straight in the face as we pass the exit to my first Wyoming campsite.

The ringing of Jackie’s phone interrupts my reflection on what now foolishly feels like easier times, which, a few days ago, I would have challenged to a dual anyone who might have suggested such nonsense.  She must recognize the ringtone as she immediately begins a conversation with Mr. Waterfield over the car speakers.

“Darling, we’re only another ninety minutes up the road.”

“I have news.”

Jackie looks at me as she continues forward.  “Should we pull over?”

“No, you should keep going.”

I’m too impatient with this casual conversation.  I expect she wants to brace me for bad news, but just tell me.

“What do you know?  Is Daniel alive?”

“Yes, he’s alive.”

“Oh my gawd!”  Of course, I start crying again drenched in relief.

“Natalie, he’s alive, but he’s been injured.  Significantly.”

I try to listen and prepare for the bad news delivery after the first round of good news.  “How significantly?”

“They are airlifting him to Germany.”

“What kind of condition is he in?  Did they tell you anything?”

“He’s serious, but stable.  Or I guess, stable enough to be transported.”

“Did they tell you anything about his injuries?”

“No, not much, the…” the cellular service in the ravine we’ve entered cuts off his update.

“What did he say?  Could you hear him?”

“No,” Jackie replied, but could obviously tell how anxious I am for more details as she attempts to reassure me.  “Once we get to the top of this next hill, we can call him back if the call drops.  Let’s just keep going and hopefully we’ll get a stronger signal.”

The call hangs on, even with no sound from the other end until we hear him checking the connection.  “…can hear me.”

“Yes, darling, we can hear you.”  She squeezes my arm and makes a deliberate breathing movement to remind me to inhale.  I realize I am holding my breath, and it’s a blessing that she is astute enough to walk me through this.  “We missed some of what you said, though.”

“Yes, about his injuries.  How bad is he hurt?”  I am begging for any details.

“He’s still in transit, so we don’t know much, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be some type of surgery needed when he gets to Landstuhl.”

I’ve heard this location before – it’s the military hospital in Germany.

“Can he be treated at a military facility?”

“Technically he’s a DOD contractor, so yes, but I get the impression he is not the only casualty being evacuated.”

Casualty.  My Daniel is a casualty.  He survived military fire fights in Iraq, but he becomes a casualty while building a school.

“Is he there already?”  I really don’t know what to ask, but I do want to be able to speak to him as soon as I can.  I desperately want to hear his voice.  Thank goodness for the stack of napkins Jackie provided earlier.  I am using them up rather quickly, accumulating a pile of damp ones in my lap.

“No, from what I have gathered, he’s departed Afghanistan, but I don’t have an ETA on his arrival.  I’ve got a few calls into people, so they know I am waiting for more details.”

Aren’t we all?

“Darling, thank you for letting us know.  I know we are concerned, but this is at least some relief.”  Jackie’s glance towards me confirms my sentiment to Mr. Waterfield accurately.  I smile weakly in affirmation.  “We’ll be home soon.”

“That’s the other thing.  I think it might be best if…”  Again, the signal cuts out, and this time the call drops.

“It’s alright, dear.  At least we know he’s okay, and he’s being cared for with the best resources possible.”  I nod in response, having already tried to convince myself of the same, but I still wonder what other information he planned to share.

When we reach the next hill, the phone rings the same distinct jingle, and she again engages the car’s bluetooth.

“You were saying, darling?”

“It leaves in just under three hours.”  She looks at me with the same confused look I must be wearing.

“The flight to Denver.”  He states flatly as if we know the rest of the conversation.

“Darling, we missed everything about a flight.  You must have cut out before then.  The last thing we heard was you telling us not to come to the house.”

“Just go straight to the airport in Cheyenne.  I’ve got Natalie booked on a flight from Cheyenne to Denver, and then on to Germany.  It might stop in New Jersey, I don’t remember, but you are booked on the only other flight out today, so just go straight there.”

I wonder if I need to pay for the ticket when I arrive.  No telling how expensive a same-day ticket to Europe must cost.  Thousands, I presume.

“Do I need to pay for it when I get to the airport?”

“There’s no way in hell I’m letting you pay for this ticket.”  I never imagined Mr. Waterfield swearing, even a timid one like, ‘Hell.’  His tone is emphatic.

“Thank you.  I absolutely can’t thank you both enough for everything.”

“Let’s just get you…, oh my dear, I’ve got an incoming call, so I need to let you go.  I’ll call back if I hear anything more.  If not, I’ll meet you at the airport.”

At least I would be on my way to Daniel.  When I am able to get enough bars on my phone to search the internet, I avoid news of the explosion and concentrate on how long it will take me to get to Germany – to get to Daniel.

Between the sporadic service points along the Wyoming landscape, I spend the majority of the time to Cheyenne crying and thinking about the broken body of the man I love.  He’s alive.



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