In the meantime, a friend hooked me up with Eason Jordan, the head of international news gathering at CNN. During our phone conversation, Jordan said he would consider sending me but that many of his network's most experienced journalists were eager to go. But he didn't say no. As long as Wardak remained at his headquarters in Pakistan, gathering his men, I had time to convince Jordan to send me there. Once Wardak traveled into Afghanistan, logistics would become impossible. The clock was ticking.
I believed my only chance of getting this assignment was to have a face-to-face with Jordan, so I flew to CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Jordan again insisted that too many other reporters were on a waiting list—but, he had to admit, he found the Wardak angle intriguing. As I left his office, he said he would think about it. At the door, I paused, gathered up some courage, and said, "You should think about it really hard. I can do this." I held my breath, my heart pounding. He shook his head and smiled. "I'm sure you can," he said. He didn't say no. Again.
A couple of weeks went by. On Good Day, I was doing stories on how to rake fall leaves and make the perfect martini. The straw that broke this humiliated camel's back came on November 12: As Kabul was falling, I was reporting on Girl Scout cookie-selling season. There I was, live on Fifth Avenue, dancing with little girls dressed as Thin Mints.
That night, dejected, I mixed a perfect martini, turned on CNN, and watched Kabul fall. I called General Wardak, who, understandably, was very preoccupied. He was going in soon. Time had run out.
I hung up and booked a ticket to Pakistan leaving two days later. I needed to pack, organize, walk out of my Fox contract, and—just a small detail—convince Jordan to give me the assignment. At the crack of dawn the next day, I called him. I don't remember what I said, but I know I didn't stop talking for at least five minutes. There was silence on the other end.
Then, finally, he simply said, "Okay."
"Okay. You can go."
The next day I began what would be the most extraordinary five weeks of my life. I spent time on the front lines in Tora Bora, as the Spin Ghar Mountains were pummeled with artillery. But most of my pieces for CNN were in and around Jalalabad. Day-in-the-life kind of stories. I felt I'd make the most difference by bringing the faces of the Afghan people into the homes of Americans. So I reported about women emerging from under the oppressive burqa, and about the desperate hope that Afghan parents have for their children. Now that I am back home, each day I say a prayer never to forget those five weeks, and to remember how I got there.