As others rejoice in the safe homecoming of American hostages from Iraq and Kuwait, Claudia Ledesma celebrates the holiday season stoically in San Diego, behind a tinsel veneer of good cheer.
Her husband of eight years remains in Kuwait, a captive in his own country.
They have not talked directly since their separation Sept. 7, when Ledesma and the couple's four young boys--including twins who were born just days before--flew to the safety of her parents' home.
She has heard indirectly from him four times--thrice, in communiques relayed second-hand by the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, and once last week, through a friend's phone call from Baghdad.
Now that the embassy has been vacated, Ledesma can only hope to hear of her husband's safety through friends. She holds no hope of direct contact from her husband. No telephone calls, no cables, no letters.
So as other families that were torn asunder by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2 are now reunited for the holidays, 27-year-old Claudia Ledesma and her four boys can only hope, and pray, and wonder.
It was a Dec. 2 message, relayed by U.S. embassy officials, that let Ledesma know her husband would not be trying to escape from Kuwait.
"Dear Claudia, I love you so much and I love the children. Take care of them. God bless America. I have decided to stay until this is over."
The last she heard of her husband was word passed on by the friend calling from Baghdad last Monday. "The message was, 'Don't worry. I'm fine. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!' " Ledesma related.
She has resigned herself to not seeing her husband until peace comes to the Persian Gulf. "How could he leave? That is his country."
Fearing for her husband's safety, Ledesma does not want his identity released--nor, even, the specifics of his job in Kuwait before the invasion, except to say that he was involved with social work.
"He has helped many people in his job, and he feels a commitment to the country," she said.
"Hopefully, he's fine. I keep thinking positively, that everything is as it was when I was there. If I get depressed, and I think negative things, it's worthless. I have to think positive. I have four children. I have to be for them. If they see me sad, it's not good for them."
She assumes this much: that her husband is safe at his family home in Kuwait, which is serving as a refuge, too, for his father, three brothers, a sister and his nephews and nieces.
She doesn't believe he's an insurgent fighter, a member of some underground militia group fighting to retake his homeland from the invaders. That's not his style.
"He's a very peaceful person. I know that he won't do something to disturb his family's safety. And he's thinking about me and the children." Presumably, she said, he and his family are lying low in the family home.
Ledesma says she has taken joy in the release of American and other foreign hostages, including Jack Hogan of Lakeside. When Ledesma flew out of Baghdad on Sept. 7, she met Roberta Hogan--and learned that Roberta's husband and his roommate, Randall Warren--who hid out together in a fourth-floor apartment in Kuwait--were among those who had talked by phone to Ledesma and her husband while they, too, were biding their time there. Small world.
"She is now a very close friend," Ledesma said of Roberta Hogan. "I feel very happy for them, and for all the people who returned. It was a different situation for them. It was not their country. But for my husband, it is his country. He had to remain."
The older boys--7 and 5--are coping well despite the separation from their father, she said.
"It's hard for them, but they're happy here," she said. "The school has been very supportive. But they still miss him. They talk about him all the time.
"I think they don't realize what is going on out there. They don't understand the danger he is in. Sometimes they get angry because he hasn't come home to them yet. I tell them he has to stay there to care for his father."
For the time being at least, the older boys--who speak English because they attended an American school in Kuwait--are enjoying the attention of doting grandparents, of going to movies, and the less-structured lifestyle.
"But they miss their friends and family in Kuwait," she offered.
Ledesma's memory of leaving her husband 3 months ago remains as clear as the desert sky.
Her final order to her young servant of three years was to the point, punctutated by the tears streaming down her face:
"I told Ela, 'Don't let my husband see anything that will remind him of me or the children. Get rid of my cosmetics, my clothes, the baby cribs, the bottles, the diapers, everything. Because I know that if he sees those things, he will be very sad.'
"Then I hugged her, and we cried. I told her, 'Take care of him.' And she was quiet."
Next, she said goodby to her father-in-law, who gingerly kissed the couple's four boys on the forehead. "Now you will go see your other grandfather," he said.