A delayed speech disorder led DK’s parents to introduce her to various forms of expression: Dance. Paint. Music. Journals. Although she dabbled in each, neither was able to say all that she wanted to communicate.
One Sunday afternoon, while reading the latest book from the Goosebumps series, DK spotted a magazine wedged between the family bookshelf and her father’s desk. Based on the red ink framing the cover, she knew it belong on the shelf her mother labeled “Adult Reading”.
Knowing the magazine was considered off limits, she couldn’t ignore its presence lurking in the corner of her view. The danger of reading something she wasn’t supposed to read excited her. She checked over her shoulder as she rose from the couch and walked over to the forbidden text. DK crouched down, wriggled her small hand into the gap and slowly pulled out the magazine.
Before opening the pages, she sat still and listened for footsteps. None. The coast was clear.
As DK turned the magazine over, she was taken aback by the photo on the cover of a small girl covered in dust looking directly at her. The intense watery-eyed stare of the young girl in the photo pierced her. Without knowing what had happened to this girl, she understood. Pain. It was the first true connection she ever experienced.
DK looked across the room at her Goosebump book, dangling haphazardly from the couch, and then back at the magazine in her hand. As her eyes shifted back and forth between Goosebumps and the “Adult Reading” magazine, she couldn’t help but to notice the marked difference of their covers. One was of girls getting ready for a sleepover and the other was of a girl, same age, crying with seemingly nowhere to go. One required hours of reading to find the story and the other told her everything in one breath.
DK’s connection to the image on the magazine cover gave her firsthand experience in the power of images. For her birthday, which was in a few weeks, DK requested a camera so she could capture moments like the photo on the magazine cover. Thrilled to learn that there was something DK liked, her parents made arrangements to fulfill this birthday request.
Giddy with excitement, DK opened the beautifully wrapped gift box. Inside, she found her dream camera, which she named Betsy. Powered by its lens, DK began her journey as a photographer. She started with family portraits, then elevated to taking photos of sporting events at school. With each photo, she aimed to recreate the feeling of the photo on the red-framed magazine cover.
Upon graduating from high school, DK knew she wanted to be a photographer. However, her parents advised her that options like medicine and business would provide more stability. Exercising her freedom to choose, DK decided to plunge into the world of photojournalism. But she soon grew bored with the mundane political engagements she was often booked for.
Desperately wanting to fulfill the side of her that yearned for adventure, DK decided to join the Army as a candidate for their Combat Camera Unit. Like the little girl, who secretly flipped through red-framed magazine DK saw this move as a leap from being a naive teen to a woman of the world.
In her eagerness to sign the recruitment form, DK failed to notice the line that read, “your service is not limited to the position for which you’ve enrolled. You will be expected to be all that you can be in the presence of a threat to you and your fellow mates”.
DK’s first year of service was filled with the excitement of learning various forms of photography suitable for an array of weather conditions and environments. Not the athletic type, DK was proud of the ways in which she was being physically pushed in order to keep up with her fellow mates.
On drills, she scored high marks for maintaining a safe pace while expertly capturing key moments; the invasion, the securing the field, capturing the “target”, the journey back to base and the debrief.
Proving herself a valuable member of their camp, DK developed a strong bond with her fellow mates. She was one of the guys. Except to Ryan Carter, a fellow soldier who was smitten by her and with whom she’d often flirted with. Their romance, although secret, blossomed with possibilities. For the first time, DK felt as though she had it all; adventure, a fulfilling career, strong circle of friends and someone special to share the journey with. She knew, without a doubt, that her decision to join the Army was the right choice.
Halfway through her third year of service, things took a dramatic turn when her division was deployed for combat. During the monthly training drills, there was a level of comfort knowing that no one would get seriously hurt. The reality of having to keep pace and document the mission, while dodging live rounds of ammunition, terrified her.
As fear crept up, DK thought of the young girl on the magazine cover. It brought her comfort knowing that images from this mission would help to tell a story that many would otherwise not be able to see. She found strength in the importance of her purpose.
Armed with camera in hand and a weathered photo of the young girl from the magazine in her Army vest, DK forged ahead. She spent years on foreign soil capturing moments words could never describe. She grew accustomed to months without proper food and shelter. However, the inability to rest due to the fear of an attack and nightmares began to take its toll on her. Nevertheless, in an effort to maintain her status with her team, she fought hard to cover it up.
While on a mission in the mountains of Afghanistan, a surprise night attack forced DK’s camp to spilt and seek cover from the onslaught of ammunition aimed in their direction. Having grown accustomed to sleeping with all of her gear in the event of moments like this, DK sprang into action. The reality of the attack forced her to abandon the protocols they endlessly practiced. She couldn’t think clearly over the screams of terror and death.
Suited up in her night vision gear, DK made her way into the damp, cavernous forest behind their camp. She repeatedly looked back for Ryan, as she remained hidden from sight. After finding what was believed to be a safe place, she covered herself with debris of fallen leaves and branches. Armed with her telescopic lens, she began firing rounds of shots, desperately capturing moments of the ambush. As she clicked away, she couldn’t help but to search for Ryan in the mayhem.
DK began to hyperventilate as she saw her fellow mates, bloodied from their wounds, fall one by one to the ground. As she pulled the trigger on her camera, she could no longer tell the difference between the debris of war and the flying limbs. She tried to maintain a steady hand, breath, and shot.
As she snapped another shot, her camera stopped. The SD card was full. She quickly reached into her vest and swapped out the cards, like reloading cartridges of ammunition into her weapon. As she waited for the camera to load, she tried not to cry.
She pressed her eye against the view finder, as her camera began to load. While focusing the lens, she sees Ryan limping away from the camp. She can’t tell where he’s been hit, but she knows its bad. She desperately wants to scream but knows it not part of the protocol, so she continues to track Ryan from afar.
As Ryan makes his way to safety, she spots the 3rd line of defense organizing to push back the enemy. The 3rd line fires an endless line of ammunition, which lights up the sky like fireworks on the Fourth of July. For the first time during this ordeal, her platoon seems to have the upper hand. She tries to capture the events of the 3rd line, while keeping an eye on Ryan, but she loses track of him.
Frantic, she pans left then right in search of Ryan. She begins to panic, but then catches a glimpse of him as he makes his way towards the 3rd line. DK fires away vowing not to loose him again. She begins to cry tears of gratitude at the sight of Ryan nearing safety.
As DK exhales with a sigh of relief, she hears a high-pitched whistling sound. The sound pierces through the noise but she can’t place it in all of the commotion.
As the breath makes its way out of her lungs, she spots the whistling object on path to where Ryan is standing. Like a photo, the image of Ryan and the whistling object freezes before her. Breathless, she gasps for air and shoots. She is blinded by a flash of light.
Dazed, DK rubs her eyes and scrambles to regain focus on her camera. As she zeros in on the area she last saw Ryan, all she sees is smoke. She franticly murmurs to herself as she waits for a clear shot of him. As the smoke clears, all that’s left is a hole.
Just a gaping hole.
Having lived many years on the front line as a military photojournalist, DK suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Witnessing the brutal murder of her mates through the telescopic lens of her camera has left her severely scarred. She carries with her the SD card containing the last moments of Ryan Carter, her mate and lover’s life.
At the last point of attack, DK blacked out. She doesn’t know what happened or how she was brought to safety.
Unable to contend with difficulties of Ryan’s death, she drowns her thoughts and emotions with cocktails of tequila and pills. She constantly replays the night of the ambush in her head. She can’t believe in the moment when Ryan and her mates needed her most, she pulled the trigger on her camera instead of reaching for the semiautomatic, which was strapped to her back the entire time. Her failure to use her weapon at the time of crisis led to her being dishonorably discharged from the Army.
DK’s downward spiral has made it hard for her to assimilate back into society. Her addiction to alcohol and pills coupled with her bouts of night fright and violent outbursts, forced her parents to admit DK to a rehab/mental institution. At the institution, DK was heavily medicated to cancel the noise and images that play out in her mind. She’s grown dependent on the deafening silence the medications provide. However, it doesn’t silence her pain.
DK has experimented with every form of recovery imaginable to erase these images from her mind but she can’t. Having exhausted every resource available to her, DK blames her parents and the military for where she is today.
DK is an excerpt from New Amsterdam (working title), the Feature Film/ Digital Series continuation of the short film, OORDEEL, written and produced by Nia Fairweather.
Copyright 2014 Nia Fairweather. All Rights Reserved.