An earlier draft of this was included on my old blog, and a couple people have told me I should include this as a part of my MFA app. Something is missing in it for me, but I can’t pinpoint what that is. Anyway, any comments could be helpful in helping me decide what to include.
In the photo, a little girl, six or seven years old, squats in a circle of light shed by a light mounted on a soldier’s rifle. She wears a full-length dress with long sleeves and a high neck, with black and red roses sprayed across a light grey background. Her hair is like a lion’s mane, black and disheveled and illuminated by the perimeter of the soldier’s rifle lamp. The street before her is splattered in blood. Her hands are crimson and shining with blood. A red line extends from just below one eye to her chin, as though she were crying blood, and small, red specks stain a face too young to hold such devastation. Her mouth is open wide, and her eyes are tear filled, wild and desperate. I can hear her wrenching wail, never mind it is a photo I am looking at.
Next to the girl stands an American soldier, only his legs are visible, drops of blood on his boots. It is his rifle, pointed down and in front of the girl that lends light to this horrific scene. This girl, by intention or accident, survived the shooting, though I can’t be sure that was a kinder fate.
This image comes to me, a year after I first saw it, whenever it pleases. I’d say I was haunted by it, but it’s not quite like that. When I watched U.S. troops pull out of Iraq last summer, her contorted face floated into my mind. I got drunk once, and in that fuzzy, sea-like space, I forgot what a ridiculous privilege it is to go out drinking and dancing, and there she was, for just a second, like a slide inserted in the wrong slideshow. She’s visited me in dreams a couple times, immobile, frozen, broken, and I wake feeling the full weight of her grief, because I suppose, I am that sensitive. Once, when I was making love, she came, briefly, and she made me cry then, because such bliss is so arbitrary, so undeserved, and there should be no reason I wasn’t born in a country at war, where misunderstandings might leave me an orphan on the side of the road, covered in my parents blood. But I wasn’t born into such an irrevocable destiny.
I wonder about her now. Has she smiled since then? Does she dream happy things ever? Does she play with neighborhood kids? Is she with relatives not yet killed by soldiers who are reportedly defending my freedom to get drunk and have sex and not think about little girls in Iraq or Afghanistan splattered in their family’s blood? Whoever is caring for her, are they mending her, or trying to?
And of those soldiers, who stood there, looking on as her world broke apart: How are they? Are they haunted by that experience yet? Yet, because I don’t believe one can witness such suffering and not be haunted. I wonder if one of the soldiers eventually scooped her up and whispered into her ear, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Do any of them cry at night when she comes to them? Who cares for them when they can’t hold their own daughters without seeing her?
And to the photographer, whom I am most angry at: How did you achieve such professional detachment? How could you stand there and snap pictures and not go to her? Did you resist an urge to hurl damning profanities at the soldiers? Perhaps you are a soldier yourself. The one whose job it is to document little girls’ lives imploding in a warzone. Are you the one who’s responsible for creating a pictorial record for the officers, and also for yourself, because words cannot express the magnitude of these moments. Does she visit you now? She must, and others as well, I imagine. You have bore witness to too much, too many thousands of images of war. I have just this one and she weighs a ton. How do you manage? Who cares for you when you cannot shake them all from your head?
I cannot abide war, for any reason, and though I’ve felt this way since I remember articulating it for the first time in a sixth grade speech contest, this little girl, this seconds-long snapshot of her life, holds everything I need to know about war’s complete futility. Because when this terrified girl, utterly bereft, covered in blood, is delivered to me, before I can get to sadness, love, and compassion, a murky, loathsome desire to kill the people who did this to her flashes through me. And that? That is the cycle of violence that can never be stopped by more violence. If a peace loving, peace-promoting girl like me can be made to feel murderous for even a second, I can only imagine how the girl’s surviving relatives must feel.
I say none of this to sanction terrorism or insurgency; but only to illustrate that all war is terrorism and can only beget more terrorism. It’s not profound, I know, nor is it particularly complicated. I don’t have the answers; I don’t know how to get the U.S. out of the business of war. I don’t know if anything I can do here will make a difference.
Sometimes, all I can do is bow my head and pray for her, and all the other children like her, and all the soldiers who have killed, and those who’ve been charged with documenting it all. Other times I’ll sign petitions, phone my representatives, donate to aid organizations helping kids in the war zones, or read the alternative press for accounts of what’s really happening. I’ll love my little nieces fiercely, and educate them as they grow how to solve problems without using force, about peacemaking, about capital “L” Love, as best I can. But tonight, as this little girl keeps me from sleeping, I write about her, I make her come alive so that I don’t forget why she is so important.
Here is a link to the photo of the girl, but please only look at it if you have a stronger filter than I do. http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/fotostrecke-60835.html