A Berkeley progressive, an army reservist cop, their two kids, a bipartisan dog and how the Iraq War affects them all
Berkeley peace activist Sophia Raday never imagined she would fall in love with an Oakland police officer and major in the Army Reserve, much less marry one. Barrett is loving and loyal, but in his world a threat lies around every corner, and so he asks Sophia to stay in Condition Yellow always aware that her life may be in danger soon. Sophia’s heart-wrenching yet humorous narrative about coming to a new understanding of peace and partnership gives hope for healing the deep divisions in our country, from the front lines of a most unusual union.
“[In] this ultimate bipartisan love story . . . the most important thing Raday has culled from her relationship is that it is not essential to agree with your partner to be emotionally close.” —Jessica Yadegaran, Oakland Tribune
“A lovely book filled with stunning, substantial prose.” —Kayt Sukel, Literary Mama
“A refreshing and penetrating look at how respect and willingness to compromise can span seemingly unbridgeable gaps in a marriage founded on differences more than commonalities.” —Deborah Donovan, Booklist
“Raday has a solid sense of humor, an ear for dialogue and an eye for telling detail. . . . [She] honestly and perceptively explores the strains of a peacenik/warrior relationship.” —Kirkus Reviews
“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.” —Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land
“Love in Condition Yellow tells the tale of two opposites. . . . Their relationship is unique; as their love grows closer, America drives itself further apart. . . . A work of true romance.” —Midwest Book Review
“[This] story will entrance anyone who has ever wondered if love can last between two people with fundamentally contrasting beliefs.” —Library Journal
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.
Three: Cultural Exchange
Four: Behind Enemy Lines
Five: Individual Liberties
Six: Constructive Engagement
Eight: State of Alert
Eleven: Culture Wars
Twelve: Drive On, Soldier, Drive On
Fourteen: Hearts and Minds
- 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