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Pepino in Diamante

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I am off to Italy in two days. It is Oct. 20, 2003. I could die, be blown out of the air by Al Qaida, whose soulful-looking, soulless leader advises in a new cassette broadcast via Al Jazeera, that Italy -- one of the pitiful few in the US "coalition" that invaded Iraq -- is a fair target for Osama's suicidal henchmen.

I practice my Italian: "Una cartolina e un frankobolo, per favore -- cuanto costa?" And try to ignore the death's head in my peripheral vision when thinking of flying back and forth to Europe. Hasn't that skull always been there, or at least ever since I turned 40?

Gracie demands to sleep with Daddy one night before I leave. I twine my fingers in her hair, smell its freshness, feel her sweet warmth beside me all night long. (Mommy sleeps in Gracie's bed as part of the deal). I awake from dreams in the darkest part of the night to find Mocha the cat gone from her usual curl at the end of the bed. I cast myself back into the well of dreamtime, thinking of plane crashes and never returning to this place again.

The alarm goes off at 6:25 a.m. I punch the snooze button to shut off the bad news on "All Things Considered," it always seems to be bad news these days. Gracie pops her head up ten minutes later: "When are you gonna' get up, Daddy?" "In a few minutes," I answer, pulling her into a snuggle.

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