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I let a moth go.  I noticed it last night, fluttering around the light over the oven, dancing and flitting above the little billows of steam as I boiled spaghetti. 

When I was a little kid, with baby-soft skin and invincible curiosity, I concluded that the large brown moth was the gentlest creature on earth, perfectly benign, soft, and--as far as a little boy could tell--kind.  She never bit or stung, and she never seemed afraid of me.  But I learned that she was terribly vulnerable, sometimes tragically so; the moth's tiny soul is often incompatible with human bone and muscle.  Sometimes even a child's gentle touch can be too much.  But her delicate steps across my little hand always felt like love. 

I have a friend whose ex-wife was near death two days ago.  She may already be dead as I write this.  My friend has loved his ex-wife dearly since they were married thirty-five years ago, and all through the twenty years they raised their only son together his love for her grew, but her love for him did not.  Or maybe her love for him did grow, and maybe she felt more vulnerable than she could bear.  My friend's ex-wife hasn't let him near her in years.  

And now she is vulnerable again.  They told her after she was admitted to the hospital last week that she would not be going home.  She still will not let my friend see her. 

I saw the moth when I went to bed last night.  It startled me, but it was asleep--if that is what moths do.  It was dormant, and clinging to the tile in the corner of the kitchen.  The decorations on its wings looked like two tiny brown eyes, watching me.  I thought, I may never see it again.  It may die, and dry up, and next time I clean--three months from now--it may be swept away, unnoticed. 

But she greeted me this morning, fluttering in the light as I retrieved the whistling teapot.  I reached; she landed on my hand.  But she would not be held.  I caught her between my hand and a giant plastic cup, and as she bounced around trying to find the space between my fingers, I dashed to the bathroom window.  I raised the blinds with one hand, and tried to raise the sash without losing her.  But I dropped the cup and she landed on the window sill.  I raised the sash and the two storm windows as quickly as I could while she fluttered--either joyful, or terrified--in the warm sunlight.  She stayed with me for a moment, flitting and fluttering as we felt the warmer-than-usual September air come in through the window.  I think she was happy.  She flew around the edge of the window opening and, gently, she was gone.  

t r u t h o u t - William Rivers Pitt | The Story of Steve


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    The Story of Steve
    By William Rivers Pitt
    t r u t h o u t | Perspective

    Tuesday 13 September 2005

In cold blood he leapt into burning Etna.
-- Horace

    Paging Oprah Winfrey. You're going to want to sit up and take notice of this one.

    So there's this guy named Steve, who grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts. Steve is what you would describe as an average guy, works construction, went to a tech/voc high school, a townie with oak leaf clusters. A solid citizen. A good man.

    A little back story, to set the Steve stage, to tell you about the kind of man he is. Steve loved this woman once upon a time, and dropped somewhere in the neighborhood of two grand on an emerald ring for her. As it turns out, the woman in question was barking-mad insane, and wound up stabbing him in the back - literally. Steve got the ring back after the relationship finished its little Hindenburg routine, and took it to a bridge.

    He fully intended to toss the ring into the river under the bridge. He stood there with the emerald band in hand, composing his thoughts. Across the bridge came a very young woman with a couple of babies in tow. Steve could tell right away that she was not anywhere near the well-to-do neighborhood. Instead of giving the ring its symbolic drowning, he gave it to the lady with the babies. He told her how much it was worth, and told her to pawn it, told her in the best Steve Miller fashion to take the money and run. She flipped out completely, weeping with gratitude.

    This is a Steve theme. Now you know what you need to know about the man.

    Anyway, Steve fell in love with a woman from New Jersey named Linda. Linda at some point last year got fed up with Jersey and checked out to New Orleans. New city, new culture, new climate, new everything. Everything was cool, until Katrina showed up. Steve lost track of Linda, as did her family, as did the country, once her city got wiped off the map.

    Steve sat and watched CNN like the rest of us, and called Linda repeatedly to no avail. He called her parents and asked if they had heard from her, and they hadn't, and were flipping out. Finally, two Sundays ago, he said enough was enough. He told his boss that he was heading to New Orleans to find her, and his boss cut him two paychecks to help him. He called Linda's father and said he was going to find her and bring her back if it killed him. He hopped a plane to the closest available spot, and poured himself into the worst, most dangerous place in America, to find the woman he loved.

    Snapshots of Steve in the Big Easy:

    He banged from one shelter to another, to another, doing a loop through the five of the biggest shelters over several days looking for Linda.

    At some point, Steve got his hands on a flat-bottom boat and rowed around the city. He found dozens and dozens and dozens of people, and rowed them to shelters. He saved perhaps a couple hundred lives.

    One day, he met Harry Connick Jr. at a shelter, and asked him if he had seen a pretty white girl named Linda.

    One day, he met an Iraq veteran in a shelter who was just back, who was permanently in a wheelchair from shrapnel wounds, who was desperate to do what Steve was doing, who had lost his whole family to the storm.

    One day, he pounded through a rooftop to pull people out of their attic.

    One day, he heard a baby crying in a house, and went in to find the baby on the floor in between two dead bodies, and took the baby to a shelter.

    He turned almost yellow at one point from the foul water. He got a fungus on his feet from the water at one point. Doctors at the shelters he kept checking, and kept bringing people to, took care of him. He rowed, and searched, and saved, and looked for Linda. He didn't sleep.

    And then, after days of searching, Steve found Linda.

    She was in a shelter, and was well enough given the circumstances. She lost her mind when she saw him, Steve from Lowell in the midst of the worst place in America. She didn't want to leave when he said they were going. "It's martial law," she said. "They're pointing guns at people." To hell with that, Steve told her, and took her out. They rowed, and walked, and got on a bus to Baton Rouge.

    He got her new clothes, got her a meal, and got her in touch with her parents. When Linda called her parents, her father asked to speak to Steve. "I don't know what to say," said Linda's dad. "I want you to come home. I want to shake your hand. I want to thank you." The next day, they got plane tickets home.

    I hope Linda is smart enough to marry this man. I hope Steve didn't catch anything in that water. I hope everyone he helped rescue in his flat-bottom boat finds their own personal salvation as best they can. I hope the baby he rescued from between those bodies grows up to be a wise President of the United States.

    Thanks to Steve, of Lowell, Massachusetts, I hope.

    William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.


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