The ISAF base was a European village filled with German, Italian, French, Canadian and American flavor. It was a poor man’s “It’s a Small World” for the alliances of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And it was the same base where my husband had been deployed when he started an affair as a way to get out of our marriage. I walked past coffee shops and work sections that he described on his phone calls home during his deployment. He told me all about the movie room where people hung out after work and the recreation room where people played Ping-Pong and pool. From his phone calls, I recognized the women’s dorms where she surely stayed, right next to the men’s dorms where he would have stayed. When he returned home, he even told me stories about her, his friend who “they all” hung out with during their downtime. But as soon as I laid eyes on him again, my heart knew everything was wrong. The man who I loved for more than a decade, who I shared children with, and who I had woven the beginnings of a life with, was capable of disregarding me so completely. They would have been on these walkways together about a year before I arrived, laughing and talking on the same streets, at the same coffee shops, in the same rec rooms, in the same dorms. But in the past, I was not here, not physically, not in his memory, and not in his heart. I wasn’t here then, but I was here now with their ghosts. Being at ISAF was breaking me further down and my anger was wrapping itself around my heart and suffocating my newly discovered faith that God would perform miracles for me.
When I wasn’t haunted that every place I walked past held memories of the two of them together, I was learning my mission in the Joint Visitors Bureau. We were responsible for arranging all travel for very important persons (VIPs) throughout Afghanistan. War is great re-election fuel, and getting “boots on the ground” in a war zone was the thing to do. It wasn’t unusual to see a well-known senator, congressman, or even the occasional movie star’s name on a visitor request. The JVB, as it was known, was responsible for any visitor who was allowed to tour the battlegrounds, and only the most important politicians, civic leaders and military leaders fit the standards. I should have been excited to meet the Vice President, Secretary of State, Speaker of the House, Ben Affleck and Chuck Norris, but I was not. Instead, I was, once again, a half-person with a heartbeat, but no heart. Each passing day drew me deeper and deeper into a dark mental state. I hadn’t laughed in weeks, and I rushed to every church service offered so I could focus on the promise of something greater than the pain in my heart. I slept every chance I could get and focused doubly on my work.
After nearly three weeks in country, the Colonel who led the JVB asked me if I was interested in moving to New Kabul. My misery made me an impressive machine in the office, quickly picking up on my duties and soon being rewarded with the sole responsibility of a very impressive group of VIPs. I guess I handled that visit without a hitch, I don’t remember caring about it, but now there was a position opening up in the Chief of Staff’s office, and the Colonel thought I would be perfect for it. New Kabul Compound (NKC) was almost directly across the street from ISAF, but with the security measures, checkpoints and roundabout routes to avoid getting blown up, it took about 20 minutes to load up the vehicles and drive there. It was a much smaller compound in the center of the city, more exposed than ISAF, with only a concrete wall to protect those who lived there from those who wanted to kill them. But it wasn’t ISAF. It wasn’t filled with memories I didn’t make. There were no ghosts there. “Yes, sir. I’ll take it.” It was the day before my thirty-sixth birthday, and this was the best gift I would receive.