If you were serving in Iraq, housed in a grimy outpost lacking electricity and running water, where soot, sewage, and boiling temperatures created miserable living conditions, what would you dream about? A nice long shower? Cherry Garcia? Dorothy’s ruby-red slippers? Maybe just your bed back home?
For military police sergeant Owen Powell, it was Natalie Portman. But not in that way. According to Powell’s haunting, piercing runner-up entry in the New York Times Modern Love college essay contest — Go read it! Run, don’t walk! — his take-me-away visions included the lovely Miss Portman glowing at him from across a romantic table, doing the lambada in his arms. Or, on a bad night, breaking up with him.
But either way, in a way, she saved him. “In the Humvee, I searched for that elusive image of Natalie from the night before; I hunted for her through the blood-warm passages of my mind, chased the feeling of her down tunnels collapsing with the weight of status reports and threat conditions. The thick brushstroke of a single arched eyebrow. A glance across that crowded dance floor, somehow simultaneously sharp and accusatory and mesmerizing. It was as if I had something secret and untouchable that was wholly mine, a delicate and perfect gift in a city that seemed to feast on hate.”
Powell is now back in New York City, both glad and sad to be home. The dreams are gone. But this is the reality: he could totally run into her on the street.