The Death of a Journalist

A love story
by Lynda Schuster, from Granta
September-October 1996


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I can write about this now only because enough time has passed. I have moved on—covered other stories, lived in other countries, found another man to love. But for a long time it was impossible even to talk about what happened, let alone write about it. For a long time I—who prided myself on my dispassionate journalism, my ability to report shocking details with equanimity—was rendered dumb.

These are the facts. Sometime on the afternoon of June 21, 1983, a rented white Toyota Corolla was traveling along the desolate road in southeastern Honduras that hugs the border with Nicaragua. The car eased past a slow-moving truck and, not long after that, perhaps 20 or 30 meters further on, it strayed too close to the center of the road. As it did so, the left front tire made contact with an anti-tank mine that had been planted there.

What happened next is unclear. The tire might have tripped the mine or, as reporters who later visited the site suggested, someone sitting by the side of the road might have pushed a detonation button as the Corolla passed. The explosion was tremendous. The force of it shot the car into the air, then split the body in half; the motor, blown out of the chassis, was found a football field away. The blast left a smoldering crater two meters in diameter in the road.

The two occupants of the car were killed instantly; the coroner assured me of this. At most, he said, they saw a flash of light; light travels faster than sound, and by the time the detonation reached their ears, the passengers would have been dead. One of them was Richard Cross, a handsome young freelance photographer; the other was Dial Torgerson, a veteran correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. Although both Cross and Torgerson were severely mutilated, Torgerson, who was driving, bore the brunt of the explosion. The upward momentum of the charge tore off his legs, lower torso, hands.

Those are the facts. But there is one element of this story that sets it apart from all the numbing war reports I filed from Central America: Dial Torgerson was my husband. We had been married for 10 months when he died.

 

I had met Dial a couple of years earlier, in San Jose, Costa Rica. Ours was not an auspicious beginning. Sitting in the coffee shop of a faded downtown hotel, I was busily concentrating on not becoming hysterical. I had been working for the Wall Street Journal for barely a year, and this was the third day of my first foreign assignment.

Unlike my colleagues, who all seemed to have written for their school newspapers since kindergarten, I had majored in Middle Eastern languages and literature as an undergraduate. In my final year, I decided I was too young to die in academia. So instead of pursuing a Ph.D., I entered a graduate program in journalism. I spent a summer as an intern on a newspaper in Israel, talked my way over the border into southern Lebanon (it was just after the first Israeli invasion), and emerged with a handful of stories. I sent my clips, along with job-application letters, to 43 U.S. newspapers, and received 42 rejections. Only the Wall Street Journal, then a paper that prided itself on molding promising young reporters, agreed to take me on.

During my interview with the Journal’s editors, I earnestly explained that I wasn’t interested in working domestically, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. They nodded understandingly and dispatched me to their Dallas bureau. It was a severe shock, going to a place where I was addressed, with true Texan courtesy, as “little lady.” My beat was agriculture: For months I covered sheep auctions in Oklahoma, wheezed in wheat fields in Kansas, hitched rides on harvesters in Arkansas.

Then—as usually happens in this type of tale—I got a break. The Journal’s Dallas bureau was responsible for reporting on Central America. The correspondent was suddenly transferred to Los Angeles and the other reporters in the bureau were engrossed in business beats they didn’t want to relinquish, so it fell to me to cover one of the hottest foreign stories of the decade. (These were the early days of Ronald Reagan’s administration, when the United States was becoming deeply involved in the region.)

That was why I found myself in a hotel coffee shop in Costa Rica: The country was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and the Journal’s 2 million readers back home were waiting to read about it. I knew how to write about winter wheat, but an entire nation? To calm myself I was taking deep breaths through my mouth when my stringer, a brash kid from the States who did odd jobs for several newspapers and boasted an extravagant body odor, suddenly appeared among the potted plants. He explained that today he was working for Dial Torgerson of the Los Angeles Times. Did I want to meet him?

Of course I did. I had read about Dial’s exploits and remembered in particular how he had foiled the Israeli military censors’ attempt to quash a report of war atrocities by flying to London and filing his story there. It caused a huge furor, and his subterfuge seemed to me a noble thing. I expected to be introduced to a quintessential foreign correspondent—tall, handsome, trench-coated. Instead, I was shaking the hand of a small, wiry, middle-aged man in a blue seersucker suit and ugly, squared-off black shoes. What hair he had left was silver, and he walked with a peculiar, slightly rolling gait.

His voice was deep and resonant and lingered over each syllable like a radio announcer’s. “So,” he said, “what’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing in a place like this?”

“Woman,” I replied, rather irked. He looked confused. “We’re called women nowadays.”

Not exactly a transcendent moment.

After I had finished my interviews for the day, and Dial had been taken around town by the stringer, we all met for supper in a pseudo-French restaurant near the hotel. We ordered food—steaks for them, snapper for me—and wine and settled into the cushiony chairs. Then Dial and I began to talk—and I was utterly transfixed. He bewitched me with tales from the Middle East, Africa, the Maghreb. He was a hypnotic storyteller with an actor’s phrasing and a Southerner’s ear for language (his mother’s people came from North Carolina). Platters of food came and went, untouched. Never had I encountered such a union of wit, intelligence, charm.

The poor stringer stolidly made his way through every course while we ignored him. I didn’t want the meal to end. Hours later, when we finally had to leave the restaurant, the whole world seemed transformed. The mundane had become magical: the moon-faced vendor trying to sell one last lottery ticket; the dog trotting purposefully down the echoing avenue; even the policeman, leaning against his squad car under a street light, squinting at a comic book.

The next night we met for supper again, this time in a Chinese restaurant. I spent the entire day waiting for those few hours, barely able to concentrate on my work. I was dimly aware of the half-dozen or so other people at our table, journalist friends of the stringer. I was dimly aware of the food that kept passing by on a large revolving tray. But all this was a backdrop to Dial. He and I talked until nearly dawn, moving from the restaurant to a bar to the hotel lobby. Later that morning, Dial departed for El Salvador, leaving a note in my message box: “Dial Torgerson fell in love at 11:37 p.m., Thursday Oct. 1, in San Jose, Costa Rica.”

So our love affair began: a frenetic, breathless sort of relationship, squeezed in among the wars and coups we had to cover for our respective newspapers. That we would rendezvous in such dangerous places—El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Hondura—only heightened our intoxication. A few of Dial’s colleagues on the Los Angeles Times started muttering to his editors about a conflict of interest, something that Dial dismissed as nonsense: Our papers played to very different audiences; we wrote very different stories. My bosses certainly didn’t seem worried, for despite my self-doubts I blossomed in Central America. I have never written so much nor, I believe, so well; often I would return from the day’s interviews to find a “herogram” —a laudatory telex from the Journal’s managing editor—in my message box.

I was too young then to appreciate the miraculousness of what was happening. I knew only that I had never been in love before; everything about it that had once seemed so trite and silly and that I had derided in others now appeared fresh, meaningful, ineffably sweet. Of course, acquaintances alluded, with exaggerated winks and nudges, to the difference in our ages; even Dial’s teenage daughter exclaimed, “But Lynda, how can you kiss him? He has wrinkles!” They didn’t understand that I could never have fallen in love with a younger man. If a man were ever going to grow up—never a certainty—I figured it would take him at least until middle age to discover his humanity. For his part, Dial attracted much ribbing of the ha-ha-you-old-billy-goat sort. A reporter in my bureau, when he learned of our affair, maintained that a man of Dial’s age—the same as his own—could be in such a relationship only for reasons of sex and ego. But to me, Dial spoke only of love.

Several months after we met, he wrote from San Salvador:

“It was here that I composed for you my first letter of love and trivia, away back last October, when I came here newly and madly in love. How long ago that seems, so many miles and so many feelings and so many capitals. And what changes in my life, my ways of living it, my perceptions of myself and where I stand in time and place—and all because of you. Sometimes I wonder: Could I ever go back to being that old me? Now that I’ve gotten back to feeling, to really caring, I don’t think I could ever return to my old ways. To measuring myself out in coffeespoons and two-week increments, to pleasant-enough times with friends who never learned that when I tell the truth, my eyes tear over.”

Dial started carrying his divorce papers around with him wherever we went—he had been divorced for several years—on the off chance that I would agree to marry him in one of the tropical capitals we frequented. He became downright insistent when we were both sent to Argentina in the spring of 1982 to cover the Falklands War. I refused; I didn’t want to embark on a life of conjugal bliss in a country engaged in a thoroughly idiotic armed conflict. But I promised to marry him before my next birthday.


I was in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on August 23, when Dial called from his home in Mexico. “Lynda, I cannot not be married to you any longer,” he announced. “Your birthday is in three days, and if you are a woman of honor, you must marry me. I’m flying down tomorrow with Jordy (his daughter) and two rings, and we’re going to get married.”

“But I have interviews all day,” I said.

“You can still do your interviews. Just be back at the hotel by five.”

I set out early the next morning. There was a dreamy quality to the city that defied the knife-edge atmosphere in the region: the cottony clouds sailing low across the horizon; the tiny, pastel-painted houses that dot the hillsides; the plodding burros. I raced from interview to interview with no time to think until, during a break at noon, it occurred to me that I had nothing to wear to my wedding. After making inquiries, I was directed across the main plaza, its phlegmatic fountain dribbling forth a rivulet of greenish water, to what was probably Tegucigalpa’s only boutique. There I bought a white blouse, a white skirt, and a knitted white belt.

For my last meeting of the day, a man I didn’t know, but whose car had been described to me, picked me up at an appointed street corner and drove a circuitous route to a house on the outskirts of the city. The rendezvous was with representatives of the Contras, the guerrilla group trying to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. It was an astonishing interview at a time when the U.S. government was refusing to admit the Contras’ existence, let alone the fact that it was providing them with aid. Suddenly I looked at my watch: it was 4:50. “Gentlemen, I’m very sorry but I have to go,” I said. “I’m getting married in ten minutes.”


I dashed back to the hotel to find Dial sitting on the edge of the bed in my room—he had somehow coaxed the key from the receptionist—dressed entirely in white, with matching knuckles. “I didn’t think you were going to show up,” he said tersely. I changed into my wedding outfit. Dial, Jordy, and I then crowded into a taxi, along with a journalist friend who had been enlisted as a witness, and drove downtown to the 400-year-old City Hall. The toothless old registrar, whom Dial had bribed to perform the ceremony—one could get the certificate only on Thursdays, and it was Tuesday —was waiting for us outside. He looked at Jordy, then at me, and said in a spray of Spanish, “Which one of you is getting married? Ha ha!”

We trooped inside the building, an elaborate colonial relic with beamed ceilings, gilded moldings, and wood-framed windows. The registrar mumbled something entirely unintelligible, to which Dial and I answered, “Si, quiero,” the equivalent of “I do.” My knees were shaking, and Dial had to steady me as I signed the register. Then he signed; when he looked up, his eyes were filled with tears. It was such an overwhelming moment that we almost forgot the rings he had brought from Mexico: delicate bands of twisted, burnished gold. We laughed and kissed and posed for Jordy to take pictures. Only one photograph came out, and even that is strangely overexposed. Dial stares steadfastly into the camera with an ebullient smile, while I demurely avert my face; behind us, the room is suffused with a pinkish aura that gives the scene an ethereal, fragile feeling.

Back at the hotel, we bought the only bottles of champagne to be found and shared them with a colonel in the Honduran air force who happened to be in the bar. He regaled us with an anecdote of how his helicopters had made a wrong turn that day into Nicaraguan air space and come under fire from Sandinista soldiers. We laughed (Dial taking notes all the while), finished off the bottles, and retired to our room to call our families in the States. ‘Hi, Mom,’ I shouted into the phone over what sounded like chattering rodents. “I’m calling from Honduras. How are you?”

“I’m just fine, dear. How are you?”

“I’m married, Mom.”

Dead silence. Not surprisingly, this sudden telephonic announcement evoked virtually the same response from all my relatives; Ida, a younger sister, sobbed, “But I don’t even know him.” Dial had better luck: Informed of our nuptials, his son Chris was positively ecstatic.

What I quickly discovered that a journalistic marriage differs little from a journalistic romance: Everything is dictated by the story. Our honeymoon was a reporting trip to the country’s interior during which we became hopelessly lost and ended up at the Gulf of Fonseca, staring across the inlet at Nicaragua. Dial hurried back to Mexico two days later because the president nationalized the banking system, and we returned to our frenzied attempts at togetherness.

Then I got what seemed to be another break: The Journal’s Mexico correspondent asked to be transferred to New York—his pregnant wife couldn’t tolerate the smog—and I was chosen to replace him. My beat now comprised only Mexico, a story of great importance to the Journal because of the country’s huge foreign debt. It was also a sedate story, and I soon found myself missing the adventure of Central America’s wars. Worst of all, I actually saw less of Dial than before, because he had to stay in El Salvador and Honduras much of the time. But we did, at last, have a home together: a spacious, airy apartment in the downtown district of Colonia Juarez. And, as Dial liked to say, what really counted was that we could keep our underwear in the same chest of drawers.

Dial managed to come home the last weekend of his life. We had two days together. In a raggedy salmon-colored T-shirt and baseball cap emblazoned with the word BEETHOVEN, he assembled and painted bookshelves we had ordered from the States; I brought him cold beers and planted kisses on the back of his neck. Dial and I talked a lot that weekend about when I might become pregnant. He adored Chris and Jordy and yearned to have more children; I was worried about taking time off from my career; we talked without resolution. I left first; I had to file a story on Mexican labor unions from my office. He set off for Tegucigalpa later that afternoon. It was the only time that I didn’t walk him to his taxi.

I might have been one of the last people on the planet to learn of Dial’s death. By the time I found out, evening television programs in the States had been interrupted; my Aunt Blanche in Chicago had called my mother in Detroit; Dial’s kids had heard it on the radio.

All this happened while I was in a hideously touristic nightclub, sitting through two performances of Mexico’s oldest mariachi performer so I could interview him afterwards. I didn’t get back to the apartment until about 12:30 a.m.; as was our custom, I called Dial to say goodnight. The hotel receptionist in Tegucigalpa let the telephone in his room ring several times, then came on the line to say that Señor Torgerson must be out. I was not concerned. The previous night, Dial had said he was going down to the Nicaraguan border for a day or two and would leave his things at the hotel. I asked the receptionist to put a message in his box saying I had called.

Then I poured myself a glass of grape juice and settled down to read a relatively recent New York Times, a real luxury. The telephone rang. It was Eloy Aguilar, the Associated Press bureau chief. His voice was choked almost beyond recognition. It prompted an odd reaction in me. In a freeze-framed instant, my brain said, Hang up the phone. It’s one o’clock in the morning, the AP bureau chief is on the line, and he’s crying. You know exactly what he’s going to tell you. But if you don’t hear it, nothing will have happened. So hang up.


“Hi, Eloy,” I said.

“Lynda, has anyone phoned you this evening?”

“No—I’ve been out.”

“You need to call the Los Angeles Times.”

“What’s happened?”

“Just call them.”

“Eloy, you know how hard it is to make overseas calls from here. What’s happened?”

“It’s Dial.” Eloy was practically weeping. “He’s had an accident.”

“Is he alive?”

“No, Lynda, he’s dead.”


Four words, and the earth shifts 90 degrees beneath your feet. Had Eloy said, “Yes, Lynda, but he’s hurt,” my world would have remained essentially intact, my life continuing on the same trajectory. But he didn’t, and everything was changed.

I somehow reached the Los Angeles Times and was connected with the managing editor, who read me the paper’s press release—something about a rocket-propelled grenade being fired from the Nicaraguan side of the border (the Honduran government’s initial explanation of what happened), killing Dial and the photographer. He was startlingly laconic. After reciting the statement, he told me that the foreign editor was trying to get to Honduras, then he hung up. I was left in the stillness of a Mexico City night, not knowing what to do.

The telephone rang again. It was the duty officer from the State Department in Washington, informing me of Dial’s death. He said that the Honduran government was intending to bury him in Tegucigalpa if the body had not been claimed by three o’clock that afternoon. This was too much. “But there are no commercial flights to Honduras today!” I screamed at the man. “I can’t get there by three o’clock! Stop them! You must stop them!”

The rest of the night was a delirium of telephoning. I called every foreign correspondent I knew in Mexico to see if anyone had a way down to Honduras. I called the television correspondents based in Miami to try to hitch a ride on one of their small planes, but no one could land in Mexico. One reporter paged through several U.S. directories, reading off the telephone numbers of air charter services in Miami, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles; I called them all and finally found one open at that abandoned hour, to hear that the company didn’t have permission to land in Mexico. I called the press attaché from the U.S. embassy and insisted that he wake up the ambassador to get me landing rights. I called the Los Angeles Times again to demand—from a junior copy editor, the only person still on duty—the use of the corporate jet. I called the U.S. consular officer in Tegucigalpa to beg her not to let Dial be buried there. I called Jordy and Chris, who were very sweet and brave—no easy thing; their mother had died of cancer two months earlier. I called my parents. I called my sisters. I called and called, unable to stop the mad frenzy of dialing, afraid of being alone in my silent apartment.

The weird gray-green light of a Mexico City dawn began to filter through the windows. On that first morning of Dial’s death, I realized I would never again see a sunrise with him; from now on, my life would be a series of small subtractions from what had amounted to a glorious fullness. It was an unbearable epiphany. I went outside to look for a taxi; I needed to talk to Lilia, my secretary, who didn’t have a telephone. The cab driver shuddered when he saw my swollen face.

At Lilia’s house, I pounded on the door, softly sobbing. Workers glanced at me curiously as they passed on the street. Finally Lilia answered, and I fell into her arms; from then on, she was in charge. She drove us back to my apartment and within a couple of hours had found a Mexican air charter company to fly me to Honduras. With some difficulty, she procured the landing rights for Tegucigalpa and Los Angeles, where Dial’s children lived and where I wanted to bury him. By now the flat was filled with journalists come to help: Eloy Aguilar brought dollars to pay for the aircraft’s refueling; Chris Dickey of the Washington Post offered himself as an escort on the journey; his wife, Carole, followed me around with a spoonful of scrambled egg, murmuring, “Eat, you must eat.” I was in the bedroom trying to find black clothes when Lilia yelled that it was time to go. The reason for the haste, besides the three o’clock deadline, was that Tegucigalpa’s airport had no runway lights: we needed to be airborne, on our way to Los Angeles with the body, before dusk. I made a last call to the U.S. embassy in Honduras to request that the body be waiting for me on the tarmac, and that the press be kept away.


There was less room inside the jet than I had imagined. Chris and I sat on opposite sides of the aisle, facing the cockpit; nevertheless, our arms were practically touching. I’m usually uneasy about flying, especially on small planes, but this time I didn’t even bother to fasten my seat belt. It was, I think, the only time in my life I have understood the desire for suicide. To obliterate memory, to slip free of the relentless, crushing pain, to feel nothing, all seemed irresistibly alluring. I couldn’t even watch the stewardess serve Chris a beer without recalling the way Dial gripped his glass with both hands, thumbs tapping a little tattoo on the sides. So I secretly welcomed every bump, every sudden, stomach-tightening dip the airplane took.

My longing for oblivion intensified as we approached Tegucigalpa. The plane passed over the familiar, squat houses clustered on the hills, banked hard, and landed on a runway flanked by lines of drying laundry. It was well before three, but the place seemed deserted: no hearse, no body, only shimmery undulations of heat rising from the tarmac. Then I noticed the phalanx of television cameramen on the airport’s observation deck, the deck where, on a similar afternoon a few months before, Dial had caught a strand of my hair between his fingers and kissed it, murmuring, “See how it glows golden-red in this light.” I looked away.

Al Shuster, the Los Angeles Times’ foreign editor, was suddenly walking toward us across the tarmac. He looked ghastly: He too had been up all night. The U.S. ambassador to Honduras was with him. The ambassador and I were not on good terms; he had flown to New York to complain to my editors about the Contra story, not because he disputed its accuracy but because he believed that it should never have been written. He explained the hearse’s absence: To enter California, Dial’s body had to be in a hermetically sealed casket. Such a box wouldn’t fit in our little plane, so we would have to spend the night here and take a commercial flight to Los Angeles the next day.

I could not spend the night there. I could not stay in the city where Dial and I were so lately married. I could not sleep in the hotel where, on our wedding night, we had turned off the lamps and opened the curtains and gazed at the hills aglitter with thousands of little lights. I furiously communicated this to Chris in whispers, trying not to cry; I didn’t want to break down in front of the ambassador.

The embassy’s consular officer appeared, asking for our passports. Chris walked to the terminal with her and the ambassador. She returned a few minutes later, saying that the ambassador would try to arrange something. In the meantime, we needed to go to the embassy to collect Dial’s belongings and sign documents. The consular officer directed her driver to a back entrance, knowing that I didn’t want to talk to the press. What, after all, could I say to them? True, they were colleagues; some of them were friends. But now, seen from the other side, they were contemptible. Our common profession made me no better disposed toward them.

The consular officer brought me the worn leather carry-on that Dial had left in his hotel room; alone, I buried my nose in every shirt, every pullover, trying to detect his scent, so precious to me. She returned a while later to say that the ambassador had managed to get the rule about the casket waived; I could take Dial home in a body bag. I signed papers, stuffed Dial’s clothes back into his carry-on, and joined Al and Chris in the consular officer’s car. When we reached the aircraft, the sun was already casting long shadows across the runway.

A hearse drew up, and two men pulled something out of the back that looked like a sleeping bag; the realization that Dial—or what remained of him—was in there caused me to break down, my face in my hands. “The TV crews are filming you,” Al whispered, gently leading me around to the other side of the plane, out of sight. After a few minutes, when the hearse had gone and I had regained my composure, we walked back around. A producer I knew and her cameraman pursued us across the tarmac. This was beyond my tolerance. “Jesus Christ, he was your friend too, Viviana,” I exploded. “Can’t you be human for once?” She motioned to the cameraman, who snapped off his equipment.

The pilot helped me onto the plane. The body bag was on the floor in the aisle, and I virtually had to step over it to get to my seat. I was dazed by the sight: To behold your husband stowed on the floor is a shocking thing. The pilot started the engines and taxied to the end of the airstrip. I stared out the window at the fast-fading light, blinking hard to hold back the tears. The plane gathered power, then raced down the runway and rose, leaving behind the hovels, the swaying clotheslines, the children wildly waving good-bye.

Once we were airborne, the stewardess filled enormous tumblers with vodka and a splash of tonic for Chris and Al, which they gulped like soda. I couldn’t stop looking at the bag; every curve, every projection, was outlined under the thin material. I was astonished at how little there seemed to be inside. And it took all the restraint I could muster to keep from getting down on the floor, putting my arms around whatever remained of Dial, and holding him one last time.

After a while my companions fell into an intoxicated sleep. The sun hung just below the port window, the sky smeared an incandescent purple-pink. Al stirred suddenly, opened his eyes, and said, “My God, it’s my thirty-first wedding anniversary,” then went back to sleep. On and on we flew, hurtling through a dusk of matchless beauty: the glory of the heavens at my elbow, the pieces of my husband at my feet.


I don’t remember much of Dial’s funeral. An exhaustion, a kind of emotional numbness, set in after we reached Los Angeles, as if all my strength were spent in that single act of retrieving his body. I do recall one thing vividly: On the morning of the funeral, I awoke to find I had my period. Oddly, this seemed more real than Dial’s death. Here was something palpable, concrete, conclusive: I would never have a child with him.

I received hundreds of letters, telegrams, and telexes of condolence. They came from journalists in Atlanta, Beijing, Bonn, Boston, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, London, Manila, Moscow, Nairobi, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Tokyo, Washington; from the Foreign Correspondents’ Associations in Hong Kong, Israel, El Salvador, Florida; from the U.S. ambassadors in Mexico and Honduras, the U.S. embassies in Nicaragua and Panama, the consulates of Australia, Britain, France, and Israel in Los Angeles; from senators, congressmen, and the vice president of Honduras; from bankers, businessmen, and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith; from complete strangers who felt compelled to write. I read every one and cried over them all.

The comfort these rituals provided was tempered by the emerging political implications of Dial’s death. The coroner in Los Angeles concluded that Dial’s injuries could have been caused only by a massive upward explosion—despite the Honduran government’s claim, supposedly backed up by three witnesses, that Nicaraguan soldiers had fired a rocket from across the border. An American reporter and photographer went to the site of the attack, where they saw the land mines embedded in the road, the demolished car, the crater. They took pictures of everything and showed them to officials at the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa. Subsequently the Honduran government and the embassy decided the occupants of the white Toyota were indeed killed by an exploding land mine—planted by Nicaraguan soldiers. But other military analysts, who saw the photographs, believe the charges were of a type used only by the Contras, the U.S.-supported guerrillas. I will probably never know the truth.

Not long after the funeral, Dial’s death ceased to be news. Benigno Aquino, the Filipino political dissident, was shot dead on the tarmac at Manila airport by government soldiers. Two hundred and forty-three U.S. Marines were blown up in Beirut. American troops invaded the Caribbean island of Grenada. The world, in other words, moved on. And so, eventually, would I.

Through the years, I’ve been sustained by the belief that Dial wouldn’t have wanted his life any other way. He had been a desk man, an editor, before becoming a foreign correspondent and got out because, as he described it, the walls of the city room seemed to close in on him a bit more every year. Dial delighted in the challenges of foreign reportage: the hostile governments, impossible terrain, poor telecommunications. Surmounting those difficulties required the summoning up of what he called ‘Greek excellence.’ Given the choice, Dial would surely have preferred to live, but the security of the newsroom would, for him, have been no life at all.

For my part, I came to feel differently about the profession. I continued to work as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, South America, southern Africa. But it was never the same. The sense of glamour, of boundless expectation, had vanished; something in me had changed. Perhaps it was because I would never be 25 years old again and not have had the person I loved most in the world blown to bits. Perhaps I just outgrew it. I eventually left daily journalism to write about the world in a more measured way, bequeathing the coverage of coups and earthquakes to others. Only one such story, Dial’s story, I carry in my heart always.

Lynda Schuster is a freelance writer and lives in Lima with her husband, Dennis Jett, the U.S. Ambassador to Peru. They have two children. Reprinted from Granta (Spring 1996). 


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