To Walk with Ghosts
Ware, Michael, Newsweek
Byline: Michael Ware
A former CNN correspondent recalls the pain of war and the 'lost love' who saved him.
The news bludgeoned me on a sunny Australian morning. Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros had been killed on a rebel front, in a besieged city, bearing witness.
I last saw Tim in Brooklyn. In what was the worst and darkest of all years for me, 2009, Tim lived a few doors down the hallway in a Williamsburg warehouse converted to a warren of lofts. For me, it was the first time since 9/11 that I'd attempted to live outside of war, and I hit New York like a meteor plunging to earth. Each day, I vanished a little bit more on that black living-room couch until I was transparent, if not invisible altogether. Writhing with a pain I couldn't understand, I caused nothing but pain to those around me. And yet there was Tim.
Though Tim and I hadn't known each other in war but in Brooklyn, we easily recognized the war within each other. In a quiet moment, one of all too few I was lucky to have with him, I remember him telling of the trial it was merely venturing outside and shopping at the store on our corner barely a block away.
That tore at me, for it was something I struggled with too, though far less stoically than he did. While I spent that year inanely trying to dull my pain, leaving the apartment rarely save for CNN live shots or visiting more war, Tim, it seemed to me, persevered. And did so with a quiet, elegant grace, distinguishing him from the white noise that was anyone else I met at that time. He was a man I hoped to be, but now know I shall never become.
Chris I remember well from far too many war zones. Seeing him was always a pleasure, his presence never failing to offer respite from whatever mayhem surrounded us. I search now in the bowels of my computer for our correspondence, long since truncated by the isolation of my own selfish retreat into personal horrors. Way down here in Brisbane, I howl with fury into the night for archives I didn't save or which were lost with the demise of each of my computers battered in Iraq. I just felt him slip tremendously away, a sense of my betrayal at failing him further souring me.
In the field, where, as the soldiers say, "the meat meets the metal," I've found that I gravitate to photographers, the ones who come the closest to revealing the truth, even if we never get to the entire truth. In war, everyone lies; their government, our government, the rebels--even civilians lie through exaggeration or confusion. But what we can get is the shards of truth, like Tim's photo of a wretchedly filthy, dog-tired American grunt in the Korengal Valley, holding his face in his hand, or Chris's picture of a little girl with her parents' blood splattered over her dress, after American soldiers killed them at a Tal Afar checkpoint. …