We were sitting in Terminal A at RDU one morning last week. I was waiting to see my daughter's plane take off for a family wedding. A voice behind me spoke up to a 30ish African-American man wearing desert camouflage across from us.
"You headed to Iraq?"
"We shoulda finished him the first time. I was over there then. In Kuwait."
"I was, too."
"I hate that whole part of the world. If it wasn't for the oil, I'd say nuke the whole place."
"You in the Reserves?"
"Yup. I was in the Army before, then signed up for the Reserves to get the benefits. I was just stupid, I guess. I just got married. Now I'm heading back."
"Where you deployed?"
"In a detention camp. Not in one of the hot spots, though. Up north. Y'know what? We have to light their cigarettes. We give them to 'em, and then, since they're not allowed to have matches, we have to light them."
The cellphone of the man behind me rings. He answers.
"Hey honey. Yeah, I'm flying out now. I should be home by 3. How're the kids? Yeah, I'll be home in time for dinner. It'll be nice to have dinner together. Uh-huh. OK, well, love you. Bye."
He picks up the conversation again.
"Those people aren't human. A couple of towelheads fly planes into our buildings and kill 2,000 people. They send women and children to blow themselves up. That's beneath human. They don't deserve to be treated like humans. I think it's time we take off the kid gloves over there and do what we need to do. I've got no problem with torture. In fact, I've got no problem with torture at home if we need to use it. When I was over there the first time, I worked setting up hospitals in Kuwait. You should have seen what they did to some of those women. It was horrible."
"That's what I do now--work with hospitals."
My daughter's flight had taken off, so I got up and intentionally walked the wrong way down the terminal to get a look at the man I'd been listening to. He was white, slightly stocky, with a white shirt and a blue jacket. His hair was thinning.
He was quintessentially normal. And he was the unspeakable monster I've been fighting for the last two years.
I just had to see what he looked like.