In 2006, Michael returned to Brown’s campus as a visiting scholar at the Watson Institute. That year he attended a military conference about the idea of putting social scientists in war zones; months later, he signed up, surprising many of his colleagues. He left for Afghanistan in November 2007.
Linda and Michael e-mailed regularly, but she told him she needed to hear his voice. Call, she said. She worried every day about his safety. He told her he was happy: he was intellectually engaged, believed he was making a difference and, in his own way, he was serving his country. She sent him packages of coffee and chocolate.
The evening of May 7, 2008, a military chaplain knocked on her door. She knew right away he was gone. The Humvee he was riding in had hit an IED; he died instantly. The chaplain asked about the Cadbury chocolates on her chair. She said, “those are for Michael.”
To cope, she attends Mass, daily if she can. She tells herself that Michael was doing what he loved to do. He was in the field, not cooped up in an ivory tower. The controversy over the new military program is not of great concern to her; she lost a son. “I just think every academic has to listen to his own heart, his own mind,” she said.
All of Michael’s things from Afghanistan are precious to her, but one stands out: his watch. It ticked for two years and only stopped working recently, resting at 2:54. She might fix it and wear it. It’s a man’s watch, too big, really, for her small wrist, but it would keep him close.