In the land of media overkill, Allyssa Keough, age 19 and the daughter of a hostage, has become Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe, Linda Ronstadt and Yoko Ono, Margaret Thatcher and Gloria Steinem -- a kid, a woman, a family member, but best of all, an interview.
She sits now on a couch of a hotel lobby here. To her left is a writer from Time. I face her. A correspondent from a Norwegian magazine is in attendance as are the New York Times, the Boston Globe, National Public Radio and God knows who else. Her every word, after all, is golden.
The fact of the matter is that Keough was for days the only hostage family member here. She came in violation of the unstated rule, the one that has never been set down and is said not really to exist -- that relatives of the hostages should stay away. Newsmen feel obliged to ask why she came anyway and she feels obliged to explain:
"My father and I were very close. We have a very close relationship . . ." She is a chubby, blond woman, laden with rings and bracelets and other things golden. Her mother and father were divorced, she explains, and she has this particularly close relationship with her father. She has written something like 270 letters to him since he was taken hostage -- so many, she is not exactly certain of the number. "Maybe 220." She looks to the Time writer for the right answer -- the official answer.
Here the world has turned upside down. Here she is being asked why a daughter wants to see her father. It is not anymore the norm. The families, good soldiers all, have stayed away and so when one comes, she feels that she has to establish a special relationship -- a special closeness.
"My father and I are very close," says Allyssa Keough.
Nothing is like it used to be. Family love must make way for the medics and heroism has been banished by the shrinks. Instead of the old tickertape parade, the crowd cheering and the mayor bestowing a municipal medal, they have been isolated. Their spokesmen are not publicists but doctors and psychiatrists and the talk is not of bold deeds, but of depression.
They are, some of them, depressed. Some of them are more depressed than others. And some of them are, from the evidence, downright cheerful. But they are being watched, observed, measured, tested. They are being given psychological tests and talking to the shrinks and the terms being used are "depression" and "transient psychological illness" and "flashback syndrome." Some of them feel guilty -- "inappropriate guilt," a medical spokesman said -- because of things they were made to do when they were in Iran.
The nation has come to expect this. World War II produced heroes, of course, but even back then there was a film about the difficulties of adjusting to civilian life. It was called "The Best Years of Our Lives" and it won several Oscars. In Korea we learned of brainwashing and in Vietnam we learned that cowardice is not a failure of will but maybe a psychological state or a political statement. There were few heroes in Korea, almost none in Vietnam and we could not even decide anymore what represents heroism, what represents cowardice. It had become too confusing, too complex. John Wayne had been put on the couch: "Tell me Mister Wayne, how did it feel after you singlehandedly beat Japan, Germany and Italy?"
So, now, in this place, there are no heroes, no cowards.The former president comes to visit, and there is no parade, no award ceremony. Instead, there are some closed-door meetings, some rough moments, then reconciliation, then a goodbye and then the medics move back in. There is at least one "returnee" who won't come out of his room. There are others who are just plain depressed. And there is no correlation between the kind of treatment they got in Iran and the way they feel now. Two and two no longer add to four.
Soon the testing will end. Soon group therapy will begin and soon after that they will go home to some isolated place in America -- a special place within a special place for some very special people.
Allyssa Keough sits on the couch. She was, for a brief moment, the media's pin-up girl and she is asked over and over again what her father was like when she saw him and what he said. She reveals nothing and so the press goes back to asking why she came all this way to see her father. She recites the usual answers. She is young, but she knows something we have forgotten.
This is the way you greet a hero.