SUMMER 1989: Jeffrey arrives home safely from Beijing and I count my blessings that he has avoided harm while photographing the Democracy Movement and its grim aftermath.
I can see in his eyes though, that he’s changed by what has transpired; not in ways that others might notice, but in subtle ways–mostly in the intensity of his resolve.
The brutality of the Chinese government lights a fire in his consciousness that later propels him to create a powerful visual testimony of what took place during the massacre (a story that will be chronicled in my book).
That summer, while we both process everything that has happened, we’re happy to have the luxury of multiple uninterrupted weeks together…at least in between doing several photo shoots for Business Week, Rolling Stone and The New York Times. We’re in the same time zone though, and able to have dinner together nearly every night, so we drink in each others’ presence and appreciate the time we have together. We even manage to squeeze in things like hiking and cycling, concerts and movies, just like other couples.
Normalcy helps balance out the underlying sadness and anger we have about all the young, innocent people in China who have been murdered. Life marches on though, and it becomes clear why journalists must move on too; otherwise they would be paralyzed by what they have experienced.
September arrives in the blink of an eye and Jeffrey leaves me amidst the blaze of golden Aspen trees and heads back to Southeast Asia–this time to photograph the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia. The Vietnamese have occupied Cambodia for more than an decade and it’s a cause for pomp and celebration in Phnom Penh when the last soldiers leave.
In between this assignment in Cambodia and his next one in China, Jeffrey calls me from Bangkok. My heart melts from the sound of his voice.
It doesn’t take long before he’s telling me some crazy story about sharing a ride across Vietnam to the Cambodian border with three journalists from the Iranian News Service.
Knowing he’s safe and that he’s successfully completed his assignment in Cambodia, it’s impossible for me to repress my laughter when he describes being squished in the back of a tiny, sweltering rattletrap car, suffering through hours of heated conversations with three big Iranians who still consider America the Evil Empire.
“You think that’s bad,” he laughs, “You can’t believe the piece of shit Russian helicopter from the 60’s that I flew in across Cambodia. I thought the thing was going to disintegrate during take off. Parts of it were literally held together with duct tape.”
I have no idea what he’s talking about, but when he begins telling me the details of how a Thai journalist had bribed his way onto the helicopter with a bunch of Vietnamese generals, and had invited Jeffrey to join him so he could save three days of driving to a ceremony for the withdrawal of Vietnam’s military, I can picture it all as though I’m watching a scene from an ill-fated movie.
The barefoot Cambodian pilot. The dripping humidity. The porthole windows. The sickening noise of the rotors straining to lift the aircraft.
I count my blessings that Jeffrey’s story doesn’t end with an explosive crash like most Grade B action movies.
“Needless to say,” Jeffrey sighs, “I’m happy to be back in Bangkok.”
Needless to say, I’m glad he is too.
I also realize at that moment that while this life we’re just beginning together verges on nail-biting insanity, I also know I’m already hopelessly in love with the guy on the other end of the phone.