Nahla al-Nadawi’s first husband was killed by a car bomb in Baghdad in April 2007. The suicide bomber detonated at a checkpoint on al-Jadiryah Bridge, killing 10 people. When Nahla received her husband’s body from the morgue at the Yarmouk Hospital, it was a “completely burnt skeleton,” she said.
"Suddenly this scorched thing is the same thing that used to be a beating heart, standing next to you in life," she said, pain etched across her face.
Those steps toward the hospital morgue played out over and over again in her mind.
"I remember a blue-colored sheet covering something. At one end the pigtails of a little girl with red ribbons, on the other a tiny foot. The sheet was drenched in blood,” she says.
“At that moment I forgot why I was standing there. I was crying for all those other people."
She was left widowed at the height of the Iraq civil war with her young autistic son, Osaid. CNN met her a year later in 2008, when she was working at a radio station, and has followed her story ever since.
Nahla wasn’t expecting to fall in love again, but then she found Aqeel. When they met in 2009, at a gathering for Iraqi women organized by an NGO, it was love at "first glance."
They married in 2014 and still live in Baghdad, where Nahla teaches Arabic to foreign students. Aqeel has helped Osaid to grow in confidence and recently they all traveled to Europe for a long-awaited family trip. Nahla’s love and appreciation for Aqeel during that traumatic time is conveyed beautifully in her letter to him.
To my sweetheart Aqeel,
Remember the first time we met? I was in black, holding the hand of my 7 years old boy. At that time, both Osaid (my son) and myself were miserable people, after we lost his dad in a bombing that took place on the AlJadiriyah Bridge in Baghdad in April 2007. Tens of people were killed on that day. We received my husband’s body from the morgue at the Yarmouk Hospital. It was a completely burnt skeleton.
This was not the only reason we were miserable. My son was autistic, as you know. At that time, Iraq, our country, was just coming out of a terrible civil war caused by political differences and fights over authority and power. Remember, Aqeel, how Baghdad at that time entered into an era of violence?The streets have turned into cemeteries with dead bodies thrown everywhere.
Amongst all of this, I was going through ajourney of struggle against autism with my son. We felt lonely, despite the fact that we had many members of our family and friends around us. We were afraid of losing the fight, until you showed up in our life.
Our love story started with that first glance, but our marriage came late. We were so afraid of our differences and our fights, which are caused by our two different backgrounds and the generations each of us comes from. Both of us carry heavy legacies of personal struggles, like any other Iraqi who lives through previous political regimes.
Days have gone by, and our love continued to grow. We accepted our differences, and our fights decreased. Six years later, we found commonalities between us, and that’s when we decided to get married. You embraced me with passion, gave me energy to love again. You were Osaid’s new father, gave him confidence, and took him from childhood to adulthood. You taught him swimming and shaving. You took him through the streets of Baghdad in the car or just for a walk. You were discovering the new safe Baghdad, but at the same time remained cautious and worried.
To my soul mate and beloved husband Aqeel:
All days are worthy because of your love, but Valentine’s is so special. It gives us an opportunity to express our feelings to those we love. I understand the core of love is bigger than individuals and their love stories, but it can be expressed through their experiences. Our story could be one of many expressing love and its warmth. With all that, I will continue to dream of a love letter that we write together; you, Osaid, and me, on Valentines’ day. A letter that tells the stories of young Iraqis who work together to carry our beloved country away from wars and battles to new landscapes, where kids are playing and laughing, while enjoying safety. This new place will also see beautiful young Iraqi women planting and getting ready for the crops season, singing beautiful songs they inherited from their old ( Sumerian ) grandmothers, who discovered agriculture in the earlier history, and spread it to the rest of the world.
I know you are dreaming of writing this letter with me, and until then, my love to you will continue forever.