Miles Henderson dreamt of the helicopter crash that killed nine months before it happened.
“We floated about the helicopter while it burned to the ground,” he told his new wife, Artis, while he dressed for his pre-deployment training.
The dream probably didn’t mean much to Miles, a straight-laced, conservative Texan-born solider, but to Artis—a self-described liberal, “New-Age light” free spirit who as a teenager had a psychic tell that she would marry a cowboy before she turned 25—the dream was a premonition her greatest fear that tragically came true.
Henderson’s narrative weaves together the young couple’s love story—their meeting in a nightclub in Florida where he is stationed and she is home having just graduated from Columbia, the early days of their marriage as she follows him from military base to military base, and their brief, difficult conversations during his deployment—with her new, difficult life as, according to her new military ID card, an “unremarried widow.”
In the dark days immediately following the news of her husband’s death, she finds the support from the military community at once comforting and suffocating. As she slowly and painstakingly deals with her grief, Artis also goes returns to college, explores her career, clumsily navigates new relationships, and talks with her mother about her husband’s—Artis’s father—death in a plane crash when Artis was only five—something her mother wasn’t able to discuss for 20 years.
Her recollection of these experiences are breathtakingly candid and raw and her writing is beautiful, understated, and shows remarkable restraint
Besides her ability to reconstruct dialogue in a way that seems true and unforced, the most remarkable thing about Henderson’s writing is her ability to create tension and suspense even though the reader knows exactly what will happen.
Although one can expect to go through at least one box of tissues in these 240 pages, Henderson’s memoir is not without hope or comfort. It is a testament to resilience and the various ways people experience grief.
Author Artis Henderson will join fellow authors Roxana Robinson and Cara Hoffman for a talk entitled “Women Writers on the Cost of Combat” moderated by author Amanda Eyre Ward at 2 p.m. in the west terrace of the Central Library (third floor).
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