'I Know I'll Get Through This'

..EX.-FROM "DEN OF LIONS," BY TERRY ANDERSON. (COPYRIGHT) 1993 BY TMS CORPORATION. TO BE PUBLISHED BY CROWN PUBLISHERS, INC.

The green Mercedes, sparkling clean in the weak morning sunlight, drifted to a gentle halt in the narrow road, just a few yards up the hill from the graffiti-covered monument to Gamal Abdel Nasser. Don Mell, the young AP photographer I was dropping off at his apartment after our tennis game, had noticed it earlier at the sports club but hadn't mentioned it-it didn't seem important.

Three unshaven young men threw open the doors and jumped out, each holding a 9mm pistol in his right hand, hanging loosely by his side.

My mind seemed to stall for a few seconds, and by the time I realized what was happening, one of the men was beside the driver's door of my car, yanking it open and pushing his pistol at my head. "Get out," he said fiercely. "I will shoot. I will shoot."

The young man, dark and very Arab-looking, perhaps twenty or twenty-five, pulled me along beside him toward the Mercedes, just four or five yards away, still forcing me to remain half bent.

"Get in. I will shoot," he hissed at me, pushing me into the backseat. "Get down. Get down." I tried to crouch in the narrow space between the front and back seats. Another young man jumped in the other door and shoved me to the floor, throwing an old blanket over me, then shoving my head and body down with both his feet. I could feel a gun barrel pushing at my neck.

The front-seat passenger leaned over the back of his seat. "Don't worry. It's political," he said in a normal tone as the car lurched back and forth, cutting in and out of traffic. There wasn't any real fear yet-it was drowned by adrenaline. just a loud, repeating mental refrain: Anderson, you stupid shit, you're in deep, deep trouble.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, the car turned off the main highway straight into what seemed to be a garage. Someone slipped the blanket away, slipping a dirty cloth around my head at the same time, then wrapping plastic tape around and around. Other hands grabbed at my tennis shoes, yanking them off. After a while-twenty minutes? An hour? No way to tell-they came back. I was pulled upright, guided across the floor, and seated again.

"What is your name?" a voice asked, heavily accented.

"Terry Anderson. I am a journalist."

"Your company?"

"The Associated Press."

"What other Americans do you know? Who works at your office?"

"I can't tell you that."

"We can make you."

"I know you can try. You can hurt me. But I can't give you the names of my friends."

More demands. Refusals. Strangely, the procedure was still without heat. It didn't seem as if they really meant the threats. I could think of nothing except my fiancee Madeleine, still in bed, sleepily kissing me good-bye at seven a.m.; six months pregnant, just a few hundred yards from where I was kidnapped.

I have in my mind a melange of images of those first few weeks: sharp, crystal-clear moments from which I can call up every detail-the creaking of the metal cot; the pebbly texture of the plastic bottle I used to pee in, rolling sideways and straining at the chains so as not to stain the mattress, and the slightly different shape of the nearly identical bottle containing my water; the sounds of my guards walking past the cot, or arguing among themselves; the noises of the street outside the building.

Around and around, over and over, remorse, anger, pain. Replaying endless scenarios in which I escaped, gunned the car, jumped out and dropped my kidnapper with a karate blow, grabbed his gun and shot him-useless, childish plays. Humiliation of being poked and prodded and cursed at. I knew I was on the edge of madness, of losing control completely, breaking down.

"I can't do this anymore," I finally told one English-speaking guard. "I am not an animal. I am a human being. You can't treat me like this."

"What do you want?"

"A book. A Bible. And to move. You must loosen these chains. I will go crazy."

The next day, late in the afternoon, the English-speaking guard came in and threw a heavy object on the bed. I reached for it, felt the smooth covers of a book.

I cautiously pulled my blindfold up a bit, until I could see the book. Red, new. A Bible, the Standard Revised Version. I caressed it gently. I read the title page, the publishing and copyright information, the notes of the editors, slowly, carefully. Then: Genesis. "In the Beginning . .."

It's surprising what you can remember when you have nothing to do but remember. At first, the mind is a blank. Jesus, I always thought I was smart. Where are all the things I learned, the books I read, the poems I memorized? There's nothing there, just a formless, gray-black misery. My mind's gone dead. God, help me.

Think about Madeleine--so beautiful, all dark and flashing and loving. You're so lucky, to win this woman now, after all these years. What is she doing? What is she feeling? Stop. It hurts too much.

What about Mickey, the Japanese woman I'd married while in the Marine Corps, and our daughter, Gabrielle? I've hurt them both, greatly. Especially Gabrielle. She's almost eight. How can she understand? But I'm not sorry about Madeleine. No matter what. We didn't plan this child. Maddy wasn't supposed to be able to conceive. But so much joy when it happened. I'll not apologize for this, God. Never.

All the other memories. The people. The mistakes, offenses. How arrogant I was! It must have been hard to like me. Did they all? Or was I just tolerated? I don't like me much. How can anyone else? So far down. My mind so tired, my spirit so sore. And more to come. I just can't do it.

But at the bottom, in surrender so complete there is no coherent thought, no real pain, no feeling, just exhaustion, waiting, there is something else. Warmth/light/softness. Acceptance, by me, of me. Rest. After a while, some strength. Enough, for now.

Two small fans make it reasonably cool in the room where I am kept with a new prisoner, David Jacobsen, an administrator at the teaching hospital of the American University of Beirut-when they operate. But, as always in Beirut, electricity is erratic. When it goes out, the room quickly becomes stifling. Three and a half months.

After some argument, the guards agree to open the door when the power is out. They do so early one morning. We've been aware of prisoners in the next room, listened to them going back and forth to the toilet in the morning, and tried to count them.

I ask Sayeed about them. Surprisingly, he tells me. "They are Americans. A priest-Jenco. Ben Weir. And a professor at the American University-Tom Sutherland."

"Can we speak to them?"

"I will ask."

"Tell the Hajj I am a Catholic," I add. "I want to talk to the priest, Father Jenco. I want to say confession."

A day later, Sayeed and two other guards bring Father Martin into our room, seating him on David's bed, back against the wall. He takes David into their room, where Ben Weir and Tom Sutherland remained.

Cautiously, I raise my blindfold. Father jenco, a white-haired man with a full beard and a gentle smile, is sitting crosslegged on David's mattress. We clasp hands. "I'm Lawrence Jenco." "Hi, Father. I'm Terry Anderson. I don't know where to start. It's been a very long time since I said confession."

"It doesn't matter. Just go ahead." He nods in encouragement.

"I left the church when I was young. For a long time, I was an agnostic, or at least I said I was. I don't know what I meant by that. just laziness, I guess. Didn't want to deal with it. I came back just a few months ago. Haven't gone to confession, or taken communion yet, though. But I'm a Catholic.

"I was in the process of getting a divorce when I was kidnapped. Mostly my fault, I know. I was not a good man-chasing women, drinking. Seems like I just kind of lost my way for a while."

For a Catholic, ritual confession, or the sacrament of reconciliation, as it is called now, is an emotional ceremony, no matter how informal the setting. This was my first confession in twenty-five years, my first formal step back to the church. This smiling, soft-spoken priest, also a hostage, dressed like me in white cotton shorts and T-shirt, frightened, in his own pain and anger received the full flood of my emotions, guilts, and concerns, returning warmth, love, and understanding.

By the end of our session, the bare floor around us is littered with crumpled tissues. Both he and I are crying. Finally, I kneel beside him. He rests his right hand lightly on my head. "In the name of a gentle, loving God, you are forgiven." He pulls my head gently to his shoulder and hugs me. We sit back and look at each other. In a few moments, we hear a guard turning the lock on the door, and we pull our blindfolds down over our eyes.

168 days. The electricity's out again, and it's stiflingly hot. I've recited mentally the half dozen psalms I've memorized so far, and prayed. Now what? I don't dare start thinking about Maddy, or the baby I know she's had by now. I'm tired of thinking about my sins. Even my fantasies-about escape; rescue; making a million, a billion dollars are getting old and worn. I can find release quietly in the dark, as I have from time to time. Use it or lose it. But that only takes a few minutes, and there's a whole night ahead. What's a nightlong project? Build a house? Well, design one, anyway. How many rooms? What would I really want?

Ben is teaching me Arabic. I've made flash cards out of bits of paper from the few books we have and other things lying around, and practice for hours. I've also started serious study of the Bible with Ben and Father Martin.

We've just had a startling announcement from the Hajj. They've decided to let one of us go home, "as a humanitarian gesture"! It's also an effort to persuade the Reagan administration that these people are serious about wanting to negotiate. The most startling part, though, is that he says we're to choose which one.

Then the Hajj adds that it cannot be Tom. He will be the last to go home, lie says. it's impossible to tell if he's serious. He also says it should not be me. We protest. Ben argues in Arabic with him, fruitlessly.

We quickly decide that, whatever choice is made, it must be unanimous, and it should be by secret ballot. We also agree that we will ignore the Hajj's stricture about Tom and me. We walk around in our circle for half an hour. Very little talking.

Finally, I speak. "We all want to go. I think, if it can't be me, it should be David. He's articulate and forceful. If someone is to speak for us, to persuade Reagan to begin talks, he'd do it well."

David's grateful, but says little. Pastor Ben says he does not want to go, that he will stay. Father Martin says the same. We sit down, tear up some paper, and begin the ballot. First time, one vote for everyone except Ben, two for me. How does Ben feel? His face shows nothing, and be says nothing. Another ballot, same result. We take a break, get up, and begin walking in a circle again. After a few minutes, I ask, "Anybody want to say anything else?"

"Why'? You want to campaign?" David snaps. I don't reply.

Another ballot. This time it's two for David, three for me. I'm in a quandary. Should I vote for myself? Or David? How long will this go on? Again. Same. Again. Now it's four for me, one for David.

"Well, that's that," Father Mar-tin says, obviously assuming the single vote for David is mine. "No, Father. It has to be unanimous," I tell him. It takes him a few seconds to realize that both David and I are voting for ourselves. I'm ashamed at the silence.

Last ballot. Five for me. We sit back. I can feel the tears building. Father Martin hugs me, then Ben, Tom. Finally David.

"Thank you," I manage. "I'm very grateful. I also feel guilty. You all deserve to go as much as I do."

A night of misery joy, confused prayer. I try as hard as I can not to believe it. But it's no use. I can't help thinking about being free, seeing Maddy, my daughter, Gabrielle. The shame and guilt won't go away. I can't even look at Ben. He's so sincere in his happiness for me. And the others, they must be terribly disappointed.

Finally, the Hajj appears. No discussion, no greeting. He speaks in Arabic to Ben, at length, angrily. Ben gasps. "Oh, no. Oh, no." What is it? I know already. "He says I'm the one. I'm going tonight. I tried to argue, but he won't listen. I'm sorry." The disappointment overwhelms me. I expected it. I was prepared for it. It's a relief to have it settled so surely, after all the agonizing. But it hurts. Oh, God, how it hurts.

Since Ben left, relations between David and me have deteriorated. We seem to fight all the time. David keeps referring to the necessary "pecking order," as if we were all a flock of chickens. Tom says almost nothing, and Father Martin is straining to keep things on an even keel. It's as if with Ben gone, the equilibrium in the room has been lost, as if the adjustments we had made to each other no longer work.

This morning, while David was in the bathroom, I asked Tom and Father Martin what was going wrong, what they thought I could do. Their answer was a solid blast at me. "You challenge David all the time. You seem to want to top him, to prove something to him. It's like a pair of bulls trying to dominate the same herd."

I was shocked. Naturally, I'd assumed the others would agree with me that David was causing the trouble. I thought about it for a bit, and when David came back, I apologized, "If I've done things to offend you, I'm sorry. I'd like to start over." I assumed he would make the same sort of remarks, we'd shake hands and try to get along. What he said was, "Yes, you have. You've been a bastard." That just enraged me again, but I kept my temper.

It's not a view of myself I like-argumentative, bullheaded, trampling on other people. Especially in a situation like this. It's hard to accept, but I have to, since both Father Mar-tin and Tom agree. This is the most direct test possible of those things Christ teaches. If I can't put into practice the humility and compassion he calls for in a small room with three other men, how can I do it outside when that time comes, please God?

We discuss how to carry off a coordinated escape attempt. Father Martin didn't want to talk about it. There's clearly no way in which he would attack anyone. Tom's never had any military training, and in fact has probably not struck anyone since he was a boy. That leaves David, with his one or two years in the Army, mostly as a dental technician, and me.

I tried to explain that it's not like the movies-people you hit don't usually fall down unconscious, unless you hit them very hard, many times. Much as I'd dearly love to get out of here, there isn't much point in getting killed.

The night is filled with the sound of guns and with the same thoughts all of us who believe in God must confront sooner or later. if God is omnipotent, and loving, where does evil fit in? Where does justice come in? Okay, perhaps I deserve what I'm getting. Certainly I've violated enough commandments, been unloving enough. But what about the children? it's my evil that brings them suffering, not theirs.

Somehow, I know I'm asking the wrong questions, trying to understand God in my terms. This is not my punishment for adultery, or indifference, or all the petty dishonesties I've been guilty of in my life.

I'm alone now. I've got to keep my mind disciplined. I've got to hold on. But it's hard. Already I slip frequently into deep depressions, lie for hours on the mattress, just wallowing in misery. This isolation is almost more than I can bear, and I don't know how long it will continue, or even why I was separated from Tom.

I'm afraid I'm beginning to lose my mind, to lose control completely. This solitary confinement is killing me. There is nothing to hold on to, no way to anchor my mind. I try praying, every day, sometimes for hours. But there's nothing there, just a blankness. I'm talking to myself, not God. I never realized how dependent I was on other people, how much I needed to be around others, to feed off them mentally. Is everything I thought I was just based on a reflection of others?

I wish I could die. I ask God often to finish this, to end it any way that pleases Him. I can't do it myself I can't spit in Maddy's face, say to her, "You don't matter enough for me to live." But I'm just so tired.

Things sure get weird around here. The guards brought in a birthday cake on my birthday, October 27! A huge, two-layer thing. They took me up to their room, sat me down, and told me they were going to tape me eating the cake. This after weeks of absolutely horrible food. I sat and watched under the edge of my blindfold as they stuck thirty-nine candles on top of the cake, then tried to light them. Of course, they lit them from the outside in, burning themselves half a dozen times trying to light the last candles on the inner ring. I started giggling, then broke out laughing when half the candles melted from the heat and slumped over before they got done. They pulled them out and tried again, only to have the same thing happen. Finally, they brought out the camera, but the light wouldn't work.

My second birthday in captivity. 592 days. I hope Maddy sees the tape.

I've seen Sulome! Two days after my birthday, the guards brought in a small black-and-white television, put it in my cell, and showed me a tape of my daughter. She was so beautiful that it was painful to watch.

Each time I see something like this, or hear from the guards that my sister Peg has been in the newspaper, or my colleagues have held a public meeting to ask for my release, and especially when I get some word about Maddy and Sulome, it's a blend of great joy and great pain. It shatters the little world I live in, and sends me careening between euphoria and love and enormous depression and regret. I would not give up these messages from the outside for anything, and yet sometimes they hurt too much.

Release anytime in the near future is definitely off. We've been moved deep into south Lebanon. Our chains are a very heavy emotional and psychological burden, as well as a physical one. just to feel them even when I'm not moving drags me near to despair.

I'm less frightened of being alone this time. The conditions are better: the room's clean; the food is acceptable, if not too good; I have the Bible and a few books; and the guards are less threatening. I didn't have the chain last time, but I'm almost used to it. Not quite-sometimes the very feel of it on my leg makes me crazy, and I yank on it and tug at the bolt in the wall, even though I know it would take a tractor to pull it out.

I rarely ask God for freedom anymore. He knows how much I want to go home--I've already told Him so many times. Instead, I pray for patience, acceptance, and strength for myself. I give thanks for what I've had. I haven't become a saint, or anywhere near it. I still rage, and sometimes I want to scream in frustration. But less frequently. I'm still deeply unhappy and lonely. But I know I'll live through this.

Still, after nearly three years, I almost cracked. For no particular reason, except frustration. Suddenly, as I was walking around during the exercise period, thinking about home, about Madeleine and Sulome and everyone, my mind started spinning out of control, thoughts just spinning and spinning. I couldn't stop it. I walked over to the wall and began beating my forehead against it, hard, and harder, trying to make it all stop. Mahmoud came in, ran across the room, grabbed me by the shoulders, and pushed me down on the mattress. "What are you doing?" It wasn't until then I noticed my head was bleeding.

They woke me before dawn on May 6. No nonsense this time about my going home.

The ride was a long one, five or six hours, and extremely hot after they wrapped me head to foot in shipping tape. Up out of Beirut into the mountains, on narrow, damaged roads, finally over the top and into what was obviously Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

Then they took me inside an isolated villa, through a door cut in the back of a bedroom closet, and down into a secret cellar. A chain was placed on my wrist, and they left.

There was a moment of silence after the door closed. I assumed I was alone, but as always was cautious lifting my blindfold in case a guard was still there. I peered around and saw Tom Sutherland and Frank Reed sitting against the wall, staring back at me.

It was both good to have company again, especially Tom, and terribly depressing to know that there was no likelihood of release. They wouldn't have carted us all out here to the Bekaa if they planned to let us go soon. And Tom and Frank are at daggers drawn. They bicker constantly. Tom seems to have developed a deep dislike for Frank, and Frank is, as usual, seemingly oblivious to everything. He sits for hours at a time, slouched against the wall, his blindfold down over his eyes. Occasionally, he rouses to join a discussion for a few minutes, usually to disagree over some "fact" or other. Of course, we have no way to check anything. Pointless to argue.

Despite everything, it's amazing sometimes how much laughing we do. Irish hostage Brian Keenan's terrible shaggy-dog stories, John McCarthy's imitations, Tom's awful puns and drinking songs, Frank's tales of Boston. Even the idiotic and frustrating things the guards do set us off in giggles. There's often a bitter touch to it. But not always. Just as often, it's just a relief to be able to laugh at something.

Back to the Big City again. I spent a week in the same apartment we had been in before, but alone this time. The brown stain where I had bashed my head a year or so ago was still there. It was almost a relief being by myself after so long with several other people. I had a few books, and the Bible. No radio, though. Then I was taken out again, without being taped, and dumped into the trunk of a car. I felt a second body being dumped on top of me, and was immediately sure it was Tom. Don't know why. We didn't exchange a word or signal. But I was certain, and correct, as I found out after a short ride.

The two of us were escorted blindfolded into an elevator and up to an apartment, where we were chained side by side to a filing cabinet. The chains were very short there were only about six inches between our ankles-and one chain ran from my wrist to his ankle and my ankle to his wrist.

At least now they've given us some books-a box of paperbacks apparently chosen randomly from a used bookstore. Most were published in the 1950s and early 1960s. They ranged from political textbooks to trashy thrillers. Even a couple of pornographic novels. Worse than that, several are Barbara Cartland romances. The books are a blessing, even the bad ones. I read each one through quickly twice, then put it aside to reread when I've finished the lot.

Once again, we seem to have been swallowed up by greater events. Now the Middle East has gone into another convulsion with the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, and the U.S. leading a jihad against Saddam Hussein. As usual, our analysis focuses almost wholly on what this will mean for us. I have to conclude that whatever was going on toward our release before this way is very likely to be put on bold.

My two thousandth day. I've established contact with Terry Waite, captured while trying to secure our release as special representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury He is next door, as John and Brian thought. 1 began by tapping on the wall and, when he tapped back, painstakingly tapped out the series 1-2-3-4 ... to 26. Then, using numbers for the alphabet (1=a, 2=b, and so on), I tapped out our names. It took a while, but he caught on. I spent all one night tapping out a summary of all the news: Brian's release; Frank's release; the comments and promises of Iran, Syria, and others on hostages over the past year. Then the world news: the Berlin Wall's falling, communism's demise in eastern Europe, free elections in the Soviet Union, work toward a multiracial government in South Africa. He thought I was crazy.

He's been in isolation all that time, without even a scrap of news. I knew he was brave, risking his life for us. But he must also be an incredibly tough man. When I apologized for dragging him into this, there was no bitterness in his gracious reply.

Now what? We've all been packed up and hauled back to the Bekaa Valley! Another terrible move, with us taped up like mummies and transported in the hidden compartments under trucks, the "coffins."

We're now in an unfinished half-basement of what seems to be a villa. John, Tom, and I are chained to the wall in a kind of hallway, three in a row. Waite is in the next room.

Later they move us all upstairs, into a bedroom of this villa. Terry Waite is with us. The four of us are lined up along one wall of the room on mattresses, with a chain around the ankle fastened to the staple. At least, they gave us a choice this time-ankle or wrist. We're all pros by now-we know that the ankle is better, if the chain is long enough to allow you to sit with your back to the wall. These are, just.

Our biggest problem is TW. He's very sick. Spends hours, usually late at night, gasping and wheezing until it seems he'll collapse. The sad thing is the asthma attacks and the strain are affecting the relationships among us. Tom Sutherland and John McCarthy, and to some extent I, find it extremely wearing to listen to the loud gasps and whistling wheezes for hours.

Giandomenico Picco, the suave and handsome Italian deputy to UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, thought he had it all set up. After more than a year of meticulous work involving repeated trips to Tehran, Geneva, Washington, and elsewhere, all the par-ties had agreed it was time to end the hostage problem.

He had a plan, and he thought he understood what everyone wanted and what they would absolutely have to have. But he was telling the Iranians, and through them the kidnappers, that he had agreement from Israel and the United States on things he hadn't even asked them about just yet.

"I had the belief that I knew what they wanted. And I also knew, you see, there is a moment in the making of this agreement when you have got to say more than you have got, because otherwise you cannot make another person say more than they want to say," Picco told me later.

Still the discreet diplomat, he would not say in our 1993 interview what exactly he had promised. But it certainly involved a UN finding that Iraq was primarily to blame for the incredibly bloody Iran-Iraq war. That was important to Tehran both for reasons of principle and because it held out the hope of eventual reparations. That report by Perez de Cuellar was issued on December 10, 1991, formally blaming Iraq for starting the war by attacking Iran. Perez de Cuellar also agreed to travel to Tehran to discuss war damage.

That left mainly the problem of satisfying the Lebanese kidnappers themselves. Subject to Iranian influence and funded by Iranian money, they were by no means Iranian puppets. But Picco was confident the Israelis would go along with the idea of releasing Lebanese prisoners from the prison at Khiam, and would probably even agree to let go some prisoners from Israel itself. They would, of course, have to receive something concerning their own soldiers who were missing or held in Lebanon.

"Mr. Picco, why should we trust you?" an unseen man abruptly asked the diplomat, sitting blindfolded in a Beirut apartment.

"There is a very good reason," Piece answered quietly. "I have made a great act of faith coming to see you, totally alone. This was not a political calculation. The only thing in this situation that works is the reasoning of two people, two men, human beings. I put my life in your hands to come here and talk to you. If you have half the guts I have shown, the least you can do is trust me."

I've finally managed to get the guards to understand that Terry Waite needs something more for his asthma. Now, though, with TW more active and alert, tension in the room has increased. Tom's dislike for Terry has deepened into outright antagonism. We've tried to have a couple of "encounter sessions," to talk quietly and calmly about the problem, but they haven't worked very well. Terry cannot seem to understand that there are things he does that drive the rest of us crazy, especially Tom, whose mattress is right next to him, just inches away. TW is not very observant, or very good at reading moods. Often, each of us just wants to be alone and undisturbed with our thoughts. Maybe read one of the magazines the guards bring in every couple of weeks. TW wants to talk all the time, no matter what we want.

When he does engage in conversation, he has the large man's habit of moving in close, until he looms over you. I tried the other day to ask him not to do that, to tell him that it is disconcerting and disturbing. He just couldn't understand. Tom's blown up at TW a couple of times, and refuses to speak to him at all. That's silly-four men in a room twenty-four hours a day, and one won't speak to another!

It's obvious now there's an overall deal in place, and everyone is now just playing out the script. But it's not obvious it will succeed.

Madeleine has finally broken her long silence, and gone on the BBC's Outlook program with the most beautiful message I could imagine. All those doubts and fears evaporated as I listened to her husky, warm voice tell me how much she loved me, how she and Sulome were waiting for my release, so we could all begin again.

"I love you, Terry," she said. "I always did. I'll always love you. And I'm looking forward to a brighter future where we can pick up where we left behind. I miss you, and we are out here waiting."

John McCarthy's release had finally come off, just as Picco had planned it. It was the beginning of the end, the launching of the carefully worked out dance that involved the release of all the hostages and the release of hundreds of Israeli prisoners, and perhaps something on missing Israeli soldiers, as well.

But a French medical worker was kidnapped in Beirut a day after McCarthy's release. The anonymous kidnappers threatened to kill him if any more American hostages were freed. The unexpected move threw those Picco was negotiating with into a panic.

By now, the fundamentalists are more comfortable with the Italian, and remove the blindfold when he arrives. But the meeting is stormy and very long. "I feel in my bones the danger of things falling apart, or at the best being postponed to such an extent that I would lose the excitement, the momentum," he told me later.

Picco was not going to let it happen. He ignored his interlocutors' flat refusal to continue the releases. He demanded. He shouted. He insisted, over and over. Picco finally clinched it when he said, "Whoever has taken the Frenchman is challenging you. Not only is he challenging, but he's winning if you don't release the next hostage. So, you want to lose, or you want to win? Who is in charge here?"

The 2,454th day, and the last. The two new subchiefs came in this morning to say that I would be going home tonight. They talked with me awhile about various things. Strangely, they seemed mostly concerned with justifying themselves, and the last seven years. They said that their group now realized that this had all been a mistake, and they had gotten little out of it.

They gave me a new shirt, a pair of trousers, and some shoes, then left. I've been sitting here most of the day playing solitaire by candlelight-the electricity is out again-and listening to the radio. The newscasts are full of praise for me-I don't know for what, except perhaps for surviving. It's like listening to your own obituary.

Someone takes my arm, guides me through the door, outside, and into a car. Another Mercedes, just like the one they forced me into so long ago. A guard, "Trust Me" Ali, is in the backseat with me. He's ranting about Bush's ingratitude, his failure to mention the Khiam prisoners in his first statement about my release. I'm impatient. Shut up, man. I don't need any more of this shit. The car stops. I'm pulled out. Someone puts his hand on my shoulder. "I'm a Syrian colonel. You're free."

I took off my blindfold and dropped it beside me, onto the road. Into the small waiting sedan. No rush of joy, no real feeling at all for the first few minutes, just the strangeness of being able to look around freely. The night was clear. I recognized the road--Baalbek, as we had thought. Past the ancient Roman ruins. A sign, the road to Chtaura. Everything seemed new, especially the highway. Lots of new apartments, small office buildings. The beauty of the stars, unseen for so long, suddenly hit me. I leaned forward, peered up through the windshield awkwardly.

There was a long, boring session at Syrian intelligence headquarters, as some general talked on and on about Saddam Hussein, his country's deadly enemy. Then the short ride to the Foreign Ministry. Short briefing, then down the hall into a small room jammed with reporters, cameras, glaring lights. Speeches from the ambassador, the foreign minister, Giandomenico, mercifully brief. Afterwards, in the ambassador's car, my stomach felt hollow, the tension seemed to vibrate through my chest, almost audible. Not unpleasant, but building. A few minutes. Lord, thank you. Let it be all right.

Into the ambassador's residence. My minder, a pleasant young lady whose name I missed, guided me into a room.

"Do you want to see Madeleine now?"

"Yes. Of course I do."

Everyone left immediately.

Madeleine walked hesitantly into the large room. She was looking in the wrong direction, and didn't see me standing near the couch watching her.

Dear God, there she is. She looked so scared, even smaller than her five-one frame. Her hair was still long, hanging heavy and deep black. She glanced my way, spotted me, her eyes huge and dark. We walked slowly toward each other, and she was in my arms, her body slim and taut against mine.

The feel of her, the smell of her, recalled so many times over the years until it was more imagination than memory, instantly seemed to erase the 2,454 days we had been apart, as if it had been only hours since I left her in bed, sleepy, six months pregnant, content. Almost seven years.

I stroked her hair, murmured, "It's all right. It's over. It's okay." She was crying, holding tight, reaching up to touch my face. I could feel the tears pressing against the back of my eyes. "It's over."

ILLUSTRATIONS (4)

I'm writing poetry! I never thought I was that imaginative. I remembered staring out the window in high school, so long ago, daydreaming about all the things I would do, while the teacher droned away in front of the room. Then I thought about how much I did the same thing in here, as a hostage.

I'm not here most days. I stumble wearily through Indochinese jungle, soaked with sweet and fear, trembling with adrenalined excitement, peering through the thick brush for unimpressive men with Impressive, hating eyes. I lie in Levantine sand, pale next to the near-chocolate of my other self; no Asian almond eyes, but huge Semitic ones, dark with love, not kohl; proud Saracen nose shouting of towers, and Damascus, red lips, white teeth whispering of pomegranates, and ivory. I'm not chained; there's no steel door; no bitterness, no anger; those are much less real than these. There's pain in the past and present both, but There is also joy, and love. I'm not here most days.

DAVID M. ALPERN

AS THE CURTAIN RISES AT a performance of "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me," Broadway's hit hostage drama, a prisoner yanks on his chain, bolted to the wall. The scene is frighteningly familiar to one member of the audience. "Maybe this wasn't a good idea," Terry Anderson whispers to Madeleine Bassil, the Lebanese woman who waited seven years for him finally to become her husband and a proper father to their daughter, Sulome. But the couple stays and later judges the play "very powerful, very good."

America's longest-held hostage remains chained-by choice-to his own painful past. For his memoir, the former AP reporter spent months delving into the background getting former White House national-security adviser Robert McFarlane to confirm support by President Ronald Reagan and VP George Bush for the Iran-contra plot. "'Bush said, yeah, it's worth a try,' according to McFarlane. Reagan, of course, was all for it. 'No reservations'."

Then came the writing-with Maddy adding chapters from her own point of view-after which they both spent days reading dramatic portions for a three-hour cassette edition (Audio Renaissance Tapes). Through it all, Anderson has turned himself into a polished speaker on captivity, faith and survival. And he stays in touch with fellow hostages. "I don't have nightmares much-except once or twice the one that all hostages have, of being recaptured," be says, taking a favorite seat on the front steps of a home he recently bought on a heavily wooded hillside in Yonkers, N.Y.

Anderson seems to enjoy the public support he has received, but fears that people see him in an "idealized" way. "The danger is to lend yourself to that image. You have to say 'I'm still myself with all my warts and I'm not going to become what these people want me to be'." What he wants to become is more than a former hostage. That ordeal "has allowed me to do things I'd never had a chance to do before," Anderson says. "I have a voice I never would have had."

To start, there's New York Renaissance, his fledgling grass-roots effort to reform New York state government-and perhaps promote a candidacy of his own. ("Maddy is hesitant.") He declined joining America's U.N. delegation, but might reconsider. He's "amazed" at the quick onset of a Mideast peace be had himself predicted, but fears opposition from radicals like his former captors. A slot at some international relief agency "would be very interesting if it came my way." Now, though, he prefers being home with the family that he, Madeleine, Sulome and several psychologists have labored so lovingly to reunite. "We have plenty of time," says Terry Anderson, contented if not quite free at last.

'I Know I'll Get Through This' | News