[From the diaries - BarbinMD]
As I woke up yesterday morning to the piercing sound the alarm, my first thought was of pulling the covers over my head and going back to sleep. Sleep. Between work, kids, and everything else that comes up, sleep always seems to get pushed down to the bottom of the list. As I reluctantly rolled out of bed, my wife rolled over to face the other direction and moaned at the inconvenience my waking had caused her. I wished again that I could just crawl back into bed. I felt my way to the bathroom, not wanting to turn on the light and face the wrath of a woman who has been woken against her will. It’s already the time of year when it’s dark outside when I wake up. Pretty soon it will be dark when I get home from work, as well. That’s the time of year when my life feels like a constant dream; never really awake, never really asleep. All I know is that it’s always dark outside. Stepping into the shower, my thoughts turn towards the day ahead. First thing’s first, gotta get my son out of bed and get him to school.
Haythem was dropped off at work that day by his wife and son. They then picked up a college application for Maryam, who is hoping to enter dental school.
... Haythem's wife... was a doctor and his son was attending medical school with hopes of becoming a surgeon.
Haythem first began worrying when his wife was late picking him up from work. Then calls to her cell phone went unanswered. In the chaotic world of Baghdad -- where violence and kidnappings are common -- anytime a loved one doesn't show up on time fears of the worst begin.
At 15, my son wants pretty much nothing to do with me at this point in his life. I was the same way at his age. He’s the middle of three boys, and his older brother has been away at college for a couple years. We rarely spend any time together anymore. But we do share those 15 minutes on the way to school. Just him and me. We mostly sit in silence as we listen to the radio. One of the local stations has a call-in segment with John Madden every morning that we usually catch. It’s pretty entertaining, but I can’t help but think, man, John Madden is getting old. So we sit in silence and listen. But it’s a comfortable silence. Of course, there are times when important things could, and should, be said. But they rarely are. I like to think that we both know what they would have been.
Haythem's brother then went to the scene and found a burned-out car. He called Haythem and asked for the license plate number.
"My brother collapsed and said, 'The family car is burned and may God bless their souls,' " Haythem said.
Arriving at work and trying not to burn my tongue with coffee, I sat down at my desk and turn on the computer. I don’t even like coffee. But it keeps me awake. Here we go... another day. Soon I would be lost in a whirlwind of meetings, phone calls, and reports, all interspersed with mindless chatter. Eventually it all blurs together into a kind of fluorescent, mechanized hum. My thoughts turned to my wife. She’s probably just getting out of bed and making some coffee for herself. She actually likes coffee. For the taste. I pictured her in her sweatpants, getting ready for a day filled with... whatever it is she does all day. After all these years I still don’t know that much about my wife’s day. I hear bits and pieces when I get home. But I’ve never lived it with her. We’re always apart for those hours, working away at something, for someone else.
Around noon I headed out for lunch. I never eat lunch at my desk. I need to get outside and see some daylight, if only for an hour. I walked out to my car, purposely leaving my cell phone in the office. I get one hour of freedom a day, and I’ll be damned if I spend it taking calls. I headed over to the park a couple miles away. During that one hour, that park is my park. It’s as if no one else exists. Usually I eat fairly quickly, and spend the rest of the hour walking. Just walking. For some reason I just feel the need to go somewhere. Often I have the urge to keep walking and never turn around. Forget my job, forget my family. Just keep walking. But I never do. Today, however, it happened to be raining. I still got out and did a quick lap of the park. I knew if I didn’t I would feel restless the rest of the day.
I got back to my desk a little damp from the rain. It felt good, though. We needed rain. I looked at my cell phone and noticed I had a missed call from my wife. I felt myself smile a little. It’s always nice to hear from her during work. Her soft voice stands in stark contrast to the cold, numbing sounds of a busy office. When I picked up the voicemail, however, it wasn’t my wife’s voice I heard. Instead, it was man. "This is Officer McCarthy with the Santa Clara Police Department. Your wife and son were involved in a car accident. Your wife is injured, but she is conscious and speaking, and the Fire Department is currently extracting her from the vehicle. As soon as they get her out she will be taken to Valley Medical Center for treatment. If you get this message, you can call the hospital for more information." My heart stopped. My head started spinning and my knees felt weak. I didn’t know what to do. How badly was she injured? Extract her from the vehicle? And why didn’t he mention my son?
Haythem could only recognize his oldest boy from his tall and slim physique as well as what was left of his shoes. His son's head had been blown away, his body charred beyond recognition. His wife of more than 20 years was torn apart.
"Only part of her neck and jaw remained," Haythem told CNN. The rest of her was covered by a body bag.
Haythem's wife, Mahassen, and his 20-year-old son, Ahmed, were among the 17 Iraqi civilians killed and 27 others wounded in a hail of gunfire September 16 in Baghdad.
I drove to the hospital as fast as I could. Probably a little too fast. It was still raining. When I arrived, I found my wife’s parents in the ER waiting room. My mother in law was on the phone with somebody, visibly shaken. My father in law came over to me. "They won’t let us into the room yet." "What happened?", I asked. "It looks like they were pulling out of the Rite-Aide parking lot. Probably getting something for the boy’s cold. We haven’t heard all the details, but they were broadsided by a pickup on the driver’s side. She was pinned in the car, and it looks like both of her legs are pretty badly broken. The boy came out ok for the most part. Just scared as hell. They’re looking him over just in case."
All Haythem and the family know about the final moments of their loved ones is what two Iraqi police officers who witnessed the shootings have told them -- that Ahmed was shot as he was driving his car in Nusoor Square and his mother clutched him tight as he was bleeding.
"Those who witnessed the incident say that my son's head was scattered and my wife held him and hugged him," Haythem said. "She was screaming, 'My son, my son! Help me! Help me!' "
The car slowly rolled forward until Blackwater guards unleashed more shots that turned the vehicle into a fireball, according to the witnesses.
"They understood the call for help. They sprayed her with bullets," he said.
By the time they finally let us in to see my wife, my youngest son had already been looked over and cleared, so he came into the room along with me and my wife’s parents. The doctor had told us she would need surgery on her legs, but other than that she should be ok. They would let us see her briefly before she went into the OR. As we entered the room, I saw her lying on the bed. Tubes were coming out of her arms, and she was surrounded by machines making various electronic noises. They had given her some sort of morphine equivalent for the pain. Then I saw her face. She looked so serene. She looked over, and when she saw us, she just smiled. It was that same smile she gives when we first see each other after a long day of work. I lost it. Tears started flowing down my face, and I ran over and grabbed her and held on for dear life. I just needed to hold her. "It’s alright honey, I’m fine", she said. So calm. I’m sure it was the meds. But at that moment, she was the one comforting me. I looked down and noticed our son had ended up between us and was also holding his mother. So we stayed like that for a while, just holding each other. I remember thinking that I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried. I remember thanking God that she was alive. And I remember, for the first time, thanking God that I was alive.
"They destroyed my family and they killed my beloved wife, my better half," Haythem said calmly. "They deprived me of my eldest son who I have raised into a strong, young man. They deprived him of fulfilling his dream to be a doctor and a surgeon. They planted pain and misery in the hearts of my two younger kids."