Badrah, Iraq, May 20, 2003: I stand atop my vehicle with my weapon at the ready, balancing friendly with guarded. We want the people to know we are here to help, but looking passive is an invitation to trouble. A man in his early 20s passes on the opposite side of the street. He is fit and good-looking in that brooding Middle Eastern sort of way.

I follow him with my eyes. So I’m watching my Iraqi soccer player walk down the street and he looks back – in that way. There’s no way we can do anything, but I’m desperate for a verbal acknowledgement of what we both know. He figures out how.

“You have wife?” he asks.

“No, no wife,” I say. “You?”

“No wife,” he answers.

Then those beautiful brown eyes light up. I just smile. We’re making out big-time with our words. “You’re beautiful,” he says quietly.
We stand there, enjoying the torture of our situation. “You have…?” And he pantomimes the action for lip balm. I dig in my pocket and produce my dirty, half-used tube. I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think anyone’s ever put on lip balm in a sexier way. “What you call…?” And he kisses the air, making a kissing noise. “Yes, kiss. We call it kiss,” I reply. “Kiss,” he repeats and hands back the ChapStick. “No, you keep it,” I say, putting my hand up to refuse it. “Kiss,” he repeats and pushes it into my palm.

Well, I’ll be damned, he giving me a kiss. I smoothe the stuff over my own lips as he watches, and in an instant my anger at both our cultures’ ignorance is diminished and shame is overcome by bliss and absolute pride – in us, in our love, to show love no matter what. We are everywhere.

-- Lance Corporal Jeff Key, USMC, The Eyes of Babylon