An Open Letter to Kari Bales, Wife of Soldier Accused of 16 Afghan Deaths

writingUpdate: for those who have asked, here is the website for contributions to the Bales Family.  BALES LEGAL DEFENSE FUND

Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is now sitting in a holding cell on US soil awaiting a visit from his lawyers after being named as the soldier suspected of shooting 16 Afghan civilians. His name was released Friday, and with it a frenzy of media speculation about his four tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, failed or botched PTSD diagnoses, the undue pressures that may have been created by his financial woes and professional difficulties, and allegations that he has had run-ins with the law that reveal a challenge with anger management. Neighbors and fellow soldiers describe him as heroic and exemplary and demand that these allegations, if true, are a complete aberration from the man they know.

And yet in all this flurry and speculation, the only person I can think of is Karilyn Bales, his wife of seven years.

I combed through internet pages looking for the blog that Ms. Bales reportedly wrote, in an effort to get a picture of her military life experience. I was horrified to come across a comment from a poster identified only as “Afghanistan” in response to a comment Kari Bales made on an unrelated website. The comment said “It is strange to see a wife of a person who killed 16 innocent people, including 9 children, posted here… I hope justice serves well and he burns in hell.” Similar sentiments were easy to find in the comments on every major news story reporting the emerging details. And it sickened me. I thought about what her life on base must be like in these days. And I cried.

*   *   *

Dear Kari,

I can’t imagine the thud you felt in your heart and the ice that coursed in your veins when you heard a knock and saw a uniform standing at your front door. I can’t fully imagine the fear and the shock and the way that you couldn’t breathe as you thought about what this visit could possibly be about. Was probably about.

And then, the relief in your stomach that quickly turned to sickness when the shock wore off that your husband was alive, only to be told that something terrible had happened for which your husband was the primary suspect. Something very very horrible that you could never understand or imagine your husband, the father of your own children, embarking into the early morning hours to accomplish. I can’t imagine the questions that flooded your brain like a rush of moving water, threatening to drown you and offering no relief for a gasp of air.

What exactly happened? Has he been injured? Where is he now? Is he safe? When can I talk to him? When can I see him? Why can’t I see him? Am I in trouble? Is there anyone I can call? Is there anything I can say? Anything I can’t say? How do you know it’s really true? Do I hire an attorney … how much will that cost? Where will I get the money? Is he even getting a military paycheck now?

And I can only imagine what you felt as you stared blankly at the officer who arrived without any answers to give.

I can’t imagine the stress you were under when you were told that you needed to pack up your things and move onto the base for your own protection, a protection that meant you would be safe from the media but surrounded by people who stared and judged you. And I can’t imagine how that stress turned into shooting pain as you heard a baby down the hallway …

What will I tell the kids when they ask whether daddy is coming home? If they convict him, will he ever see them again? How will I explain what’s happening when people ask me questions in front of them? Will the media know before they do? How will I ever explain it to them if it’s true? How will I ever explain it if it’s not true and I don’t do everything in my power to prove it?

And when I thought of my own husband and my own children, and how devastating it would be, I sat at my own dinner table with my mother, another military wife, and we cried for you tonight, thinking about how alone and isolated you must feel right now …

Why is this happening? How could this happen … Was there something I didn’t see? What was in that last phone call, that last email, that I missed? Should I have begged him to stay home? Would it have made a difference? Why did they send him back again? Will they want to question me? Can I talk to anyone before I’m questioned? Did it even happen that way? Who can I talk to? Who can I trust? Who can hold me and cry with me and tell me that this is all just a bad dream?

Where will we go? What will we do? How long will this take? Who is going to take care of me? Of us?!

I just can’t imagine.

But Kari, in the absence of information, I can still offer you this: I want you to know that I don’t condemn you for being married to a man who has been accused, even though there will be venomous vipers spewing their hatred toward your entire family. I know that no matter what, it isn’t you. I know that there is nothing you could have done to prevent what happened. And I know you are hurting.

I’m praying for you. All of you.

Love,

Lori Volkman

I Have Sinned

I know, you’re mad. I started out writing every day, and now I’m slacking big time and I’ve dashed your expectations. But guys, listen, I’m in Phase Whatever (I lost count) and I’m kicking butt and taking names around here. I’m so busy some days I completely forget that I even have a blog.

That’s a lie.

I’m just working a lot and I don’t have anyone to take care of my children (or me), and I thought the Cycles of Deployment thing sounded more glamorous and aloof than “I need a wife.”

The good news is, I’ve decided to quit my job, sell all my belongings, homeschool my children, and move to some out of the way place like … a remote Middle Eastern Country (totally random choice) … where I will be creating YouTube videos of The Preschooler dispensing advice to other children about how to make their parents insane. I think it will go viral. I’m thinking I’ll do this for … I dunno … for like maybe eight months or so (totally random choice). Plus, I won’t be able to leave the house in my shorts unless they are full body ankle-hugging shorts, so it will definitely give me more time to blog. It’s a win-win situation. Doesn’t that sound good?

I wonder if they have a Starbucks.

Alright, fine. Monday I shall blog. Phhhht.

I’ll Take Scars Over The Living Dead Anyday

One of the best things about getting so much publicity this week was the glorious parting of the blogworld clouds. You see, I don’t read blogs. It’s sacrilege, I know. But most are so chock full of typos and chalkboard-screetching syntax that I’m pathetically unable to hear the art and beauty of expression through even minor grammatical errors. Or, as Husband would say, “gramarrical errors.” (It’s okay, I already loved him when I found out he couldn’t spell or speak properly so I’ve learned to deal with it.)

And here comes another big fat confession right here, right now: I really don’t read at all any more. It’s really sinful for a writer to say such a thing. I’ve got Karen Kingsbury’s “Between Sundays” on my nightstand, which I love. So far. But it’s been there for four months because I failed to finish it on a flight – an international flight. I tell myself it’s because I read statutes and legal cases all day, so the retinas are exhausted when I get home. But honestly fiction just doesn’t do it for me. I’m drawn instead to ridiculous combinations of self help titles:

  • Marathoning for Mortals
  • Your $100,000 Dream Job
  • Write it Down, Make it Happen
  • Spanish Phrasebook II
  • Radical
  • Love and Logic
  • Simplify Your Life

Yeah, I get the irony of that last one. The best part is that I purchased most of these in the same shopping trip.

I do read all of your comments, though! In fact yesterday as I read and reread the comments you all left (I love compliments), I also perused lots of new blogs. A comment about being in a hospital room led me to visit “transplanted thoughts,” the blog of a mom with multiple kids diagnosed with a genetic disorder. She recently started her blog after baby boy #4 had been in the hospital for two months. I was there in the virtual hospital room with her until 1 am wondering how she was going to do this all again tomorrow.

Humor is obviously my coping mechanism of choice. But the things I write about here are very minimal invasions of my comfort and repose. Even Husband’s absence is just temporary. It’s true that most days Preschooler is dragging me by my wit’s end to the precipice of insanity. But it’s the usual well-defined precipice and there’s a pretty cushy landing down below. Reading about four little boys fighting genetic diseases and the dedication of their brave mom reminded me of something I had forgotten. It shocked me back to The Preschooler’s first six weeks of life, and it made me overjoyed that he even possesses the ability to dangle me from the ledge at all.

Because back then, we were facing a big ugly word: diagnosis. It turned out to be so very minor that we will probably never even tell The Preschooler that he suffers from a latin phrase of relatively meaningless effect (that’s a story for another day). But I can remember how the world swirled around us as if life was actually going on for other people. I remember how wrong it felt to lay awake exhausted while my newborn slept. I remember how we carted our bundle back and forth to the geneticist, only to sit for hours in lobbies with bald kids and their paperfaced mothers. I remember standing with my eyes closed in relief as Husband volunteered to hold the baby down under the X-ray machine this time. I remember sitting in a dark room with only a computer screen flickering for hours on end, using my legal research skills to become a medical expert. I remember waiting to be ushered into a room full of people in white coats to review bone scans. And I remember the day he didn’t move or whimper any more after they pricked him for a little blood.

*  *  *

A good friend (who actually reads fiction and writes like a Yale-educated scholar) once tweeted a book quote that has always stuck with me … “scars only grow on the living.” And you know what? That’s so right. Otherwise, they’re just fatal wounds, or at very best you’re the living dead. Scars are a pleasant and valuable alternative to death. And I really don’t wanna be a Zombie. That swirling first six weeks created only a tiny scrape on my heart that could have been debilitating. I want to remember it - all of it.

sleepy headSo in case you forget, I just want you to know that I love you Preschooler. I love that you are here. I love that you do the naked dance in the rain on the back porch for dinner guests over my objection. I love that you launch yourself between the two couches, taking the great circle route across the glass table for good measure. I love that you think it’s okay to broadcast the pet names of your private parts, loudly, in public places likely to contain old ladies. And yes, I even love that your curiosity concerning bodily functions often leads you into perilous territory.

Maybe I will read more fiction, after all. Maybe fiction has more value than I give it credit for. And maybe I’ll learn to read past the misplaced semicolons and the punctuation outside the quotation marks (but probably not). Either way, I read on this day, and on this day I was glad for it. And really, this day is all we can hope for.

Don’t be a Zombie, friends. That scar you’ve got proves something: you lived. Wear it well.

Freshly Repressed

If you were somehow trapped under a rock, admitted to the hospital for a rare debilitating (but short in duration) disease, did not see one of my blubbering Facebook posts, or were not one of the seven random strangers who I held hostage to discuss “blogging” yesterday, then you may not know that Monday’s post from Witty Little Secret was featured on probably the leading blog publishing website, known as WordPress. Yay for WordPress! Yay for Witty Little Secret! *Shivers*

One of the most rewarding moments was realizing that I had real live spam. Bona-fide Russian, Singaporian, Levitra-selling spam. Point of fact, I got more of that delectable canned meat in one day than total words I’ve written so far. I must admit, I very nearly approved my personal favorite just to memorialize the event. It read, “I pronounced to remember it as a cyclopean investment; an agency gambler in cleaner feet.”  Isn’t it beautiful? It could have been written by Hemingway himself.

So this must be what hittin’ the big-time feels like, folks. I know, you’re jealous. In a few short hours over four thousand people found their way to ooo and aah over my one month-old baby blog. Four thousand. I can’t even envision what four thousand people in one room looks like. (Really, I can’t. I don’t do numbers. But I know it’s a lot.)

wordpress family blogs

The main portal to Wordpress is this checkered recommendation of ten or so featured posts, collectively entitled “Freshly Pressed.”  Every blogger enters the site here, to peruse the charmed, hypothesize about why the editors loved these stories, and plot their own schemes to get noticed. Frankly, why in the world this editor liked Witty Little Secret is a complete mystery to me. I always assumed these were big-time blogs with lots of notoriety and attention, not one-woman diaries lacking in readership and containing inane subjects explained without proper punctuation leading to incredibly long superfluous hyphen-rich but often well-understood sentences. I never dreamed I’d see my blog on that marquee, not in a bajillion years. I realized for the first time that somebody other than my mother was actually interested in reading this thing.

That’s when it happened …

“What if they come back? What if I’m not funny tomorrow? What if they DON’T come back? What if I never get noticed again? Did I really fritter away my one morning of fame by standing in front of the courthouse in the rain bragging to that smelly guy wearing a tinfoil hat? Why did he call me Winnifred? What if Oprah calls? Should I go on a crash diet? Who’ll watch the kids? Do I need a publicist? Should I let the Wall Street Journal know?”

And then, no matter how hard I tried, I absolutely could not write. I’m pretty sure it was an undiagnosed case of performance anxiety. I was willing, but my body would not cooperate. Now that I was famous, there were expectations. Responsibilities. Duties. I was suffocating, crushed by the weight of my own fame. I was frantically emptying my pockets, looking for that little blue pill that would relieve me of my problem. And then, it hit me. I just needed to check my stats.

That’s right. The girl who hates numbers l-o-v-e-s her stats. Because when your blog is doing well, you just l-o-v-e to look at yourself in the mirror. See, WordPress gives you these pretty pictures that represent site visits, with racy colors and lots of buttons. It’s all so very sexy. This was definitely going to get me in the mood to write. I made my plan. I would look around, admire my huge bar, see where my voyeurs, er, visitors were coming from, and close my eyes. I would imagine them reading my posts, throwing their heads back in laughter, “Ah ha haha, you’re sooooooo witty! I just can’t wait to read your next post!”

I was getting frothed up. Yeah. I was gonna like it … and you know what I got?

bird flipping statistics

Bird-flipping Fame Karma

That’s right. The finger. My stats flipped me the freakin bird.

What’s the meaning of this!? It charmed me, flirted even. It loved me and threw me away like a truck stop whore. I felt used. Abused. Dirty.

Blogland, listen up. Let this be a lesson to you all. You wanna know where you end up the day after your one night stand with Freshly Pressed? You’re a has-been on the blogging-room floor, flipped off by your own graphic numerical representation thingys. You’re a reveller of distant memories, you’re Delta Dawn, longing for your long-lost lover, doomed to walk the halls of the courthouse regaling the day you were published and adored by the world. It’s a fleeting moment, friends. Take it in, breathe deeply and smell the cyber attention. Hold it there as long as you can, exhaling only after you realize that once it’s gone, you’ll be left with the one and only thing you have left in this world:

your own words.

I Declare War

I am officially declaring war on the enemy: TIME.

This is my newly sworn nemesis, mostly because the countdown just started. Me and TIME will be spending a lot of – uh, time – sparring between now and homecoming.

Despite time’s eternal presence, historical notoriety, and persistent nature, I will ultimately win.

My Dad will confirm this. He would raise his eyebrows and tell you it is not a good thing to become my target. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lori. Remember the involuntary mascara-brush tracheotomy procedure I offered the Lancome Lady when her waterproof mascara didn’t live up to standards? There’s a similar story that pertains to two scoffing boys at a High School Debate Competition.

The declaration of war was established when I decided to make an official countdown calendar. This is the wonderful tool all of the helpful military booklets tell you to utilize in order to create a “visual” for your children who may not fully grasp what it all means. The problem is, it created a very vivid visual for me, too.

I am NOT a visual person. I cannot imagine well. I usually need to touch and hear things for them to become a reality. I used to annoy my college roommate to the point of threatened dorm excommunication by reading my world history textbook out loud (sorry, Carolyn!).

So seeing it all in print was, well, a little overwhelming. I didn’t mark down all the holidays and special events that would be missed. I mean come on. I’m at least smart enough to know that highlighting everything Husband is going to miss would be just a little too depressing for my kids to handle right now. But let’s face it, I know (most of) these dates by heart. So as I taped together calendar after calendar and hung them on the wall in a long column, I was immediately gripped by the real duration of Husband’s absence. The calendar stretched past Thanksgiving … Christmas … and Valentine’s Day. No surprises there. But as it rambled on past birthdays, including my 40th, past the wedding anniversary, and went all the way through summer, I started to panic. I looked at Preschooler’s first day of Kindergarten and sat down on the floor.

I looked up. Like the Great Wall of China, I wondered if this string of taped together calendars could be seen from outer space. It created a looming reminder of the many many days ahead of us. TIME, you bastard!

I sat there and stared at it. I immediately fantasized about jumping up and delivering an amazing Kung-Fu kick that would start at the bottom of the wall and reach super-human heights as it tore each month limb from limb, causing the paper to fly through the air and land directly in the trash can, little shards of tape and remnants of numbers crumpling helplessly to the floor.

And then I remembered my toe.

So instead I wiped away a tear, and ripped it down from the wall in one motion (with my hand), wadded it into the smallest paper ball in the history of nemesis-crushing paper wads, slammed open the trash can, and pelted the coffee rinds I saw there with the densely populated calendar orb representing my nemesis. And then I muttered as I cleaned up the floor.

My secondary response to this recently underscored dilemma was a more reasoned approach. I made a very long list of ways to fill the schedule in with activities, an effort to defeat TIME. Now I don’t mean full, that’s not the right word. Overflowing is really not strong enough, either. Let’s call it MAX ESI - events per square inch.

Even though you will soon hear me complaining about it, believe me, this life we are living is done by intentional design. It’s on purpose. We pack our weekdays with everything we can. We take advantage of every program, and I do everything I can to make the very most of every moment I can hog with my children. I will focus on self-improvement, and take the time to enjoy things I didn’t have time for when Husband was home. The fuller, the better. The more time I spend occupied, the less time I will have to think about what’s missing. Who’s missing.

Time, it’s on. May the best woman win.

Dear Grocery Clerk,

I am extremely sorry and remorseful for causing damage to your pen-thingy. I hope it will reattach.

But there really should be a limit on the comments grocery store clerks can make. A code of ethics, perhaps. Or maybe a professional code of clerk conduct. Do you guys have a document that outlines the grocery clerk minimum standards?

Because when I unload my cart onto the belt, slapping each item down like it just insulted me, you should probably think about what you are going to say next. Chances are that I do not want to discuss the contents I have just assaulted, particularly when they include super-sized tampons, pads thicker than a first year law book, chocolate bars, chocolate chips, chocolate coated pretzels, chocolate syrup, chocolate ice cream, Advil, Doritos, and two sappy DVD’s. Chances are there’s nothing you can say about your observations concerning your sister or your mom that I will find funny. In fact, right after you snicker at my tampon coupon, you should probably not speak at all. I realize you’re probably only like twelve or something, but that was your own rookie mistake.

Anyway, hopefully the approval screen on the card reader isn’t permanently damaged. Thank you.

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