A Berkeley progressive, an army reservist cop, their two kids, a bipartisan dog-and how the Iraq war affects them all
Go on a date with a soldier turned police officer? Me? And discuss Gandhi’s experiments with truth with a gun-toting Republican?
The last thing Berkeley-dwelling peace activist Sophia Raday expected was to fall in love with a straightlaced Oakland police officer. As someone who had run away from cops dressed in riot gear at protests, Sophia was ambivalent, to say the least, at the prospect of dating Barrett, who was not only a cop but also a West Point graduate, an Airborne Ranger, and a major in the Army Reserve.
During their courtship the two argued about many of the matters that divide the United States, things like drug policy and race relations. Startled by the freedom she found in a relationship of differences, by the challenge of sparring with Barrett, and by his steadfast acceptance of her, Sophia unwittingly fell in love. Then, just when Sophia believed her family was starting a new chapter with the birth of their son, came September 11. Barrett’s belief that he must always stay in Condition Yellow-the terminology coined by his favorite Guns & Ammo writer for a state of alert in which you realize your life is in danger and you may need to shoot someone-was suddenly in the forefront of their lives. Sophia and Barrett began to confront, on a very personal level, their differing viewpoints on polarizing values like fear, duty, family, and patriotism.
When Barrett’s military duties escalated along with the country’s, Sophia found herself in the surprising position of military wife, living on an army base during the 2004 elections, and struggling to find peace with herself and her husband in this new world. It was a struggle that would continue up to the point of Barrett’s deployment to Iraq.
Love in Condition Yellow not only provides a vivid, poignant portrait of this unusual union, but also tells the larger story of how love doesn’t necessarily come from sameness, and peace doesn’t necessarily come from agreement.
“Captivating, insightful, effortless to read, I could not put this American love story down. Raday deftly weaves a poignant and highly entertaining tale of a marriage that heals various fractures in the American body politic. A meditation on love, fear, conviction, and letting go, this book will resonate with anyone who has struggled with differences in love or with family and friends.” —Caroline Paul, author of Fighting Fire and East Wind, Rain
“As we follow this story of love between a peace-seeking idealist and a police officer/Army Reserve soldier, we find ourselves longing not only for the success of their relationship but also for the repair of our nation. Raday gives us an insightful snapshot of our war with Iraq, a fascinating view of military and police life from the inside, and a page-turner of a love story all in one breath.” —Sybil Lockhart, author of Mother in the Middle
“This deeply engaging memoir by ‘a military wife in Berkeley’ offers a critical lesson for our time. With a stubborn refusal to disregard those whose beliefs she so passionately struggles against, Sophia Raday demonstrates the value of incorporating difference in the creation of a durable bond. Love in Condition Yellow is so fresh and funny that you won’t expect it to make you want to cry too, but it will.” —Alexandra Marshall, author of Gus in Bronze and The Court of Common Pleas
“All marriages are a bit of a journey to the foreign country that is another’s mind and heart, but Sophia Raday’s remarkable Love in Condition Yellow takes us on a true adventure: into a marriage that is both riven and strengthened by political differences that run nearly as deep as those that divide our country. Raday shows us the empathetic imagination behind true respect for those with whom one differs, and in her clear-sighted portrait of the complexities of marriage, she shows us what love is, as well.” —Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land
“Incrementally, bravely, honestly, Raday takes the reader into a territory where love and war trump politics. With an open heart and mind, she offers a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look into what it’s really like to be a soldier’s wife during the Iraq War. As in the best memoirs, the reader is enlightened and enlarged by a true life that’s rendered faithfully and artfully for the page.” —Karen Propp, co-editor of Why I’m Still Married
“Compelling, lively, and insightful. Having married into a foreign culture-one that melds American law enforcement and the United States Army-Sophia Raday has written a witty, nuanced memoir that is both a love story and an anthropological expedition of discovery.” —Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of An Army at Dawn
Review: Midwest Book Review - August 1, 2009
“Love in Condition Yellow is sure to please many a reader looking for a wok of true romance.”
Review: Library Journal - May 1, 2009
“Literarymama.com founding editor Raday’s touching and occasionally revelatory memoir tackles a marriage of opposites. Raday is the peace-activist who enjoys yoga, while her husband, Barrett, is a West Point graduate and former Oakland police officer destined for combat in Iraq. With enormous empathy, Raday and her guiding principle of respect for differences overwhelms her fears about their dissimilarities as the two make their way into a relationship. They make it work—with a lot of couples therapy—and their story will entrance anyone who has ever wondered if love can last between two people with fundamentally contrasting beliefs.”
Review: Kirkus - March 15, 2009
"Besides a clear understanding of who she is and what she wants, Raday has a solid sense of humor, an ear for dialogue and an eye for telling detail."
My cousin George frowns at me. “Did you ever call my friend Barrett? Remember I told you he went into the Reserves and then became a cop in Oakland”
I am instantly wary. Lowering my wineglass from my lips, I put one hand against the textured plaster wall to steady myself. I have prepared myself to talk about politics, about the Dayton Accords, Rabin’s assassination, or the budget impasse. But George’s question is going in an even more unpleasant direction, a direction that could lead into my love life in general. I want to avoid that at all costs. In fact, my mom had to cajole me into attending this party, assuring me no one would notice the redness around my nose and the way my eyelids are slightly swollen.
I stall, mumbling, “What? Barrett? Oh yeah . . .” and glance around my cousin Molly’s house. Is there some way I can derail this conversation from its inevitable terminus? The house is eclectically decorated with my aunt’s modern paintings and my nieces’ artwork; the Christmas tree, strung with cranberry garlands and popcorn, gives off its heady smell of pine. I want to chitchat and drink my glass of wine in peace, avoiding the tangle in my chest. So what if I am over thirty and not married? So what if I got dumped yet again
I point out a woodblock near me, gray clouds against gold and auburn mounds. “George, is this Taos? When did your mom do this”
George waves away the art, saying, “I gave you Barrett’s number, right? Did you ever call him”
I shake my head. Yes, George gave me Barrett’s number a while ago, probably at another family holiday party. I’ve heard about Barrett for over a decade now, ever since he was a cadet at West Point with George. When Barrett was in the Ranger battalion, his apartment was furnished with only a bed, a box as a nightstand, and a nine-millimeter pistol. He once dragged a manhole cover home with him after a night of drinking. Perhaps the favorite family story involves Barrett yelling at a superior officer at Walter Reed when George was in the hospital there with a brain tumor. As a plebe at West Point, George had headaches and dizzy spells for weeks, but none of the authorities took it seriously. Instead they accused him of trying to weasel out of boxing. An inebriated Barrett expressed the whole family’s frustration, yelling at a superior officer: “That’s my buddy in there! The one with the brain tumor! Don’t tell me I can’t see him! You all who thought he was faking, why should I listen to you? You all didn’t even believe he was sick!”
I hear George saying I should just give Barrett a call. Really. Not for a date or anything, just for fun. But I know that’s just subterfuge. I know my cousin is doing a mental calculation of my age and wondering what’s wrong with Sopapilla, as he affectionately calls me. Where’s the boyfriend? Where’s the husband-to-be? My stomach muscles catch as George pulls a pen out of his shirt pocket and grabs a notepad from Molly’s bookshelf.
George and I spent a lot of time together about ten years ago when he was assigned to Fort Ord as a first lieutenant. On the weekends, George and another lieutenant would meet me and my best friend Missey in Tahoe. We’d ski together during the day and argue politics late into the evening. George and Jake were soldiers; Missey and I were peace activists; Reagan was president. We argued about the arms race and the U.S. opposition to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and revolutionary groups in El Salvador. But somehow we always seemed to end up at Vietnam. I think the maddest George ever got at me was when I bemoaned the loss of our soldiers there. “We sent those kids over there to die, and for what? What do we say to those mothers and wives and children? Sorry, we thought this was a domino but it wasn’t? Oops”
That was the first time George jabbed his finger menacingly at me, his words flying out accompanied by small units of spit. “Don’t you ever ( jab) ever (spit) say that a soldier’s death is a waste (jab, jab). No soldier’s (spit) service is ever ( jab) wasted ( jab, spit).”
Our most recent major argument, a few years ago now, involved the Gulf War. I had posted a handmade “No Blood for Oil” sign on my car. At a dinner with George and my mom, I tried to voice my objections to our invasion of Kuwait, my belief that we should have tried economic sanctions first. A cigarette bouncing dangerously from two accusatory fingers, George hissed at me, “George Bush drew a line in the sand, you hear me? He drew a line in the sand and backed it up! Now that’s leadership! That’s what this nation needs!”
Taking my hand off the wall, I push it out palm forward toward George in a gentle protest, in the universal sign for “Back off, I can handle this.” Has he forgotten who I am? What does he think--that I’m going to discuss Gandhi’s experiments with truth with his guntoting Republican friend
I may no longer get arrested at the Nevada Test Site or at divestment protests. And it’s been years since I scaled Moffett Field’s barbed-wire fence with a friend to spray-paint “Work for Peace” across the “Be all you can be” recruitment billboard. But that doesn’t mean I have given up on social justice. Okay, I’m not married. But that doesn’t mean I’ll date just anybody. It doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly given up all my core beliefs!
Besides, I am still hoping that Nathan--the guy I’ve been seeing up till recently--will come around. Nathan is the kind of guy I can picture myself marrying: men’s group attending, Robert Bly reading, naked in the woods drumming. Nathan and I look so good on paper. We like the outdoors, traveling, reading. We are both seekers, do a lot of yoga, read about Tibetan Buddhism. We should work. So why don’t we
Just before our recent disastrous trip to Nepal, Nathan invited me to go see Thich Nhat Hanh at the Berkeley Community Theatre. We were both enchanted by the Vietnamese monk’s soft-spoken simple admonitions to find peace within and let it radiate out. Present moment, wonderful moment. When you are mindful, you see into the true nature of things, how a flower comes from soil, from decay. This is the sort of spirituality I expect to share with a partner. Maybe our getting back together will be the flower that blossoms from the garbage of our recent journey together.
Keenly aware of approaching family members, I whisper to George that I appreciate the thought. Any normal person would get that subtle signal that I am not interested. Look, I appreciate the thought. But not George.
“Tell you what,” he bellows, “here’s his number. I’ll tell him to call you, too.” Brandishing the slip of paper.
It’s time to change the subject. Pronto. I cast about desperately, finally hearing myself say, “Hey, what do you think of the Dayton Accords”
George says, “C’mon, it’s not a date. I just want you two to meet, that’s all.”
Maybe if I just take the damn paper, George will stop broadcasting to the whole party that Sophia can’t find a man.
“Barrett? Are you talking about Barrett? He’s cute!” Molly’s daughter Mallory exclaims.
“I always liked the B-man too. He’s definitely got a special something,” Cousin Matthew adds.
Despite my embarrassment, I realize this is an odd triangulation. Thirteen-year-old Mallory thinks Barrett’s cute and my thirty-oneyear- old gay cousin thinks he has je ne sais quoi. Hmm.
- Sophia Raday and two other military wives post on Slate's Double X blog
- Listen to an interview with Sophia Raday on KVON's Late Morning
- Read a feature piece on Sophia and her husband in the San Francisco Chronicle
Watch the Love in Condition Yellow book trailer here