I had fallen in love with Patty on a trip through southern California in April 2003. It was the first time in more than twenty years that I had seen her, and she was one of several old friends I was visiting in the area. We talked for hours about what had happened to our lives. She was fascinated by my newspaper work and by the battles raging in Washington. “I’m so happy you were able to find the kind of work that you always wanted,” she said. She couldn’t understand why Julia resented the long hours or the traveling. Patty could see that I was swooning, but she firmly banished any hopes of something more. She was tired of men, and I was still married. “One thing that won’t happen,” she wrote me after my visit, “is that you and I become romantic.”
But Patty did give me an idea that precipitated the end of my marriage: to cover the war in Iraq. As it happened, I was watching CNN in her living room as US troops entered Baghdad and pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein. “You should have your editors send you to Iraq,” she told me. “You’d be perfect, because the story will be about economic reconstruction.” I scoffed at first, but she persisted and I began to fixate on the idea myself. I was restless for some adventure, unhappy about my marriage, and unable to see any way of being with Patty. “Fine,” I told her. “If I can’t have love, then I’ll take the war.” Wasn’t that why men had joined the French foreign legion?
As it turned out, the editors at the paper were eager to relieve the exhausted reporters who had covered the invasion. They told me to pack my bags as fast as I could. Julia was enraged, vowing to make me sleep in the basement when I returned, and possibly move out entirely. I didn’t care. Deep inside, her threat made me happy. Iraq was the biggest story of my life and one that would tap almost every kind of skill I had as a reporter. Our boys—Ryan, 14; and 12-year-old twins Matthew and Daniel—were initially frightened at the prospect, but they relaxed as I explained that the job would not be as dangerous as they thought.
Less than three weeks after I had seen Patty in Los Angeles, I arrived at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad and began a two-month stint as a war correspondent. I wrote her constantly to describe what I was seeing and experiencing in Iraq. We didn’t talk much about romance, though the undercurrent was always there. I wrote in the afternoons and evenings from Baghdad, and she would read my emails in Los Angeles each morning. At one point, Patty warned me that I should stop writing if I thought I was jeopardizing my marriage. I reluctantly broke off communication for several weeks, but I was so miserable that I soon resumed.
By the time I returned to Washington in July, my marriage was all but over. Julia, still furious that I had jumped into a war zone, made good on her promise and ordered me to sleep in the basement. I was relieved to be sleeping on my own. I was tired of defending myself, torn by my emotional conflicts and longing for love. I would have gladly stayed in Iraq for several more months, but I had missed my boys.
“Don’t you want to be a better person?” Julia asked me, during a meeting with our marriage counselor after I got back. “No,” I said, surprising even myself. “I want to be a happier person.”
A few weeks later, Julia got her hands on a raft of my emails to Patty. It was clear that we hadn’t so much as kissed, but it was also clear that I had become far closer to Patty than to my wife. “You have to stop communicating with her,” Julia demanded. If I didn’t, she warned, I would have to move out of the house and the marriage would be over. She was right. I told her I couldn’t or wouldn’t break off my contact with Patty. I didn’t have the heart for my marriage anymore. I had to get out, whatever the price might be. I moved out the next day.