Somewhere in her office, Kelly McEvers — the former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” and current host of NPR’s “Embedded,” a podcast that deep-dives into deserving news stories — has hidden a letter between the pages of a book. The letter is addressed to McEvers’ husband and their young daughter. It was meant to be opened in the event of her death.
At the time of its composition, while McEvers was working as a war correspondent in the Middle East, this outcome seemed possible — likely, even.
“Increasingly it felt like it’s not if, it’s when I’m going to be sitting at her funeral,” recalls her husband, the writer Nathan Deuel, while sitting next to McEvers on the porch of their Venice home. Their dog, Summer, is nestled between them. Migrating butterflies drift through their yard.
Five years ago the family left their apartment in Beirut, a beloved Ottoman-style three-flat. Violence from the Syrian conflict had begun to spill across the border, and after a series of chilling incidents — the death of several colleagues, a massive car bombing across town, and a particularly harrowing night when a large-scale shootout occurred on their block — they decided the risk was no longer worth it.
“There was a rain of 50mm shells on the steps where our daughter played.” says Deuel.
“No, no, no,” corrects McEvers. “There was not a rain of 50mm shells.”
He thinks for a second, then his eyes light up.
“It was like a storm!”
The couple spent five years living in and covering the Middle East: two years in Saudi Arabia, two years in Beirut, and one in-between with McEvers living in Baghdad while Deuel stayed in Istanbul with their one-year-old daughter.
When they returned to the U.S., “…we were bored out of our minds,” recalls Deuel.
“I despised it,” adds McEvers.
But Venice, which charmed them in the early days of their relationship, has proven dynamic enough to keep them interested. They surf regularly and enjoy taking their daughter, now nine years old, down to the boardwalk.
“It’s a good lesson for our kid,” says Deuel, author of the book “Friday Was the Bomb: Five Years in the Middle East” and a lecturer at UCLA. “She goes there and she’s comfortable among the chaos, the unpredictability.”
Even though war no longer threatens their family, Deuel won’t read the letter that McEvers wrote back in the Middle East.
“We actually talked about ceremonially burning it when we first moved here,” says McEvers. “And then we just blew it off — but there’s no symbolism in the fact that we didn’t do it. I actually think I lost it. It’s gone!”
They high-five each other. Nathan scoops up their dog and bounces her on his knees.
“Hey Summer!” he says. “Do you want to stay in Venice, or do you want to move to South Sudan?”
— Danny Karel
Photo by Courtnay Robbins