I was 10, my two brothers a few years older. We were settling down in the television room to watch the last episode of a miniseries, an Italian production of "The Odyssey" with -- I have no idea why I should remember this 30 years later -- Irene Papas, the Greek actress, as the beautiful Penelope. We had watched the series once already, which made anticipating the climactic scenes that much more exciting: Ulysses finally returning home, beating up on the suitors who'd fouled up his estate then sending them to hell (literally), and reclaiming Penelope by firing his arrow through 12 axes as only he could. The bit about Ulysses reuniting with his father Laertes wasn't yet something to pull at a 10-year-old's heartstrings. My father would be dead a year later, but at that moment he was his invulnerable self in the living room, entertaining a few old friends with my mother and his baritone stories. He'd granted us a special treat. It was a school night. Television would normally be forbidden. For Homer, he made an exception.
We never made it past the opening credits. Ulysses' ship was sailing to Ithaca on the Mediterranean's bluest serenity (we had a black and white TV but I'd grown up by the same sea) when the loudest blast I ever heard shook our fourth-floor apartment and threw me off the couch. I didn't feel myself being thrown off. One moment I was watching Ulysses' ship, the next I was on all fours, bawling, my ears ringing with the sound of a train whistling in a tunnel and the rest of me paralyzed by fear as I'd never experienced fear before. I don't know what was more incomprehensible -- having been shoved to the floor without anyone touching me, or the shock of the explosion, which my brain had no way of processing as an explosion, having never known anything remotely resembling what had just happened. The world had, for a split second of black that I also remember, ended and started up again, off its hinges.
It was late spring, 1975. We were living in Beirut. [...]