by Dan Dutilly
Evidently, I still struggle when a Muslim woman in a head-to-floor, black hijab walks into the cramped quarters of a lucratively located neighborhood coffee shop. She’s not really a she. It is a dude fresh back from Yemen with a bomb strapped underneath the fabric of his man-dress, and that cell phone in his hand is actually the detonator. In my mind a picture of body parts erupts with a roar, flying from that side of the room in charcoal gray clouds of smoke, particles and the deliciously off-putting odor of burning cordite.
Women – or men disguised as women – wearing black hijabs can be a real pain in the brain, torso, and limbs, given the right circumstances. You know, the right circumstances? A dusty alley in Baghdad, or following a donkey cart with some 105mm shells under the hay and straw, or 13 years ago in the summer heat of Ramadan. And what about a hipster coffee shop?
A curiosity, that seeing a figure clad in a hijab still fills my insides with a crackling, sparking current of energy these many years later.
I try to freeze a mild look of disinterest on my face as I glance at the other patrons, but the rapid thumping of my racing pulse is peculiar. Suddenly on guard, my alertness is at a peak and I really can’t look away and ignore. Something about ‘her’ keeps me focused, to the point that I mentally calculate whether the very attractive and slightly effeminate guy sitting nearby on his laptop looks strong enough to help carry the litter urgent casualties outside, or whether or not the cute twenty-year-old in her scrubs, ready for a day of work, is an actual nurse or just a cosmetic technician from the beauty “enhancements” salon nearby. Sure would have been nice if she had been a RN so she could have helped me handle all of these trauma victims…
Wait. There are no trauma victims here. No suicide vest was just detonated in line. She may actually just be a woman raised in a culturally different land and sent to the States for a degree. This room may just be a bunch of middle-class workers and some college students grabbing $5 coffee to start their day.
Get a grip, and quit being such a sissy, cliché ‘war vet’ who sees Charlie behind every shrub and palm grove. Stolen victimization is just as bad as stolen valor. “Oh yeah, but what about ‘Be vigilant, because your adversary is a roaring beast seeking out who to devour next.’ What about ‘evil triumphs when good men do nothing’? What about that?”
A tiny smile flits across my face at the internal argument taking place between my soul and spirit, and presently the barista calls my name. The hot cup warms my hand as I stroll outside, gingerly stepping past the dangerous line of customers still at the cash register. It feels good to put some distance between my back and the plate glass coffee shop windows as I range-walk to the car.
And the healing continues.
Dan Dutilly is a 3rd generation Soldier, having served in the U.S. Army as an Officer in the Armored Calvary. Mr. Dutilly is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and now works as a marketing director and veterans advocate at a law firm in Greensboro, North Carolina.