"I am not the same fucking person," he tells me. "I am not the same person. I don't know how to come home."
It's October, six months after our first meeting, and Michael Ware, 39, is at his girlfriend's apartment in New York, trying to tell me why after six years he absolutely must start spending less time in Iraq. He's crying on the other end of the telephone.
"Will I get any better?" he continues. "I honestly don't know. I can't see the -- right now, I know no other way to live."
To begin to understand where he's coming from, Ware wants you to see a movie. He filmed it. It's just after midnight during the second battle of Fallujah, November 2004. The marine unit he's hooked up with has cornered six insurgents inside a house, and with no air support available, the only way to take them out is person-to-person. Staff Sergeant David Bellavia doesn't like the sound of that -- odds are one of his men, or he, will die in the pitch-black of an unfamiliar house -- but he knows he can't just let these guys go. So he asks for volunteers to go with him: Three men raise their hands, followed by Ware, who as a reporter (then for Time, now for CNN) is the only one without a gun or night goggles, and still can't explain why he went along. He just couldn't not.
Ware flips on his video camera and creeps into the house six feet behind Bellavia. His device is picking up nothing but darkness and the slow, creaking sound of footsteps. Then, light, blinding light. Bullets ping around the living room, and before he knows what's going on, two bodies drop. Bellavia has knocked off the first of them. For the next hour -- until all six insurgents are carried out dead from the house -- Ware captures that same pattern of blackness and near silence (in the background you can hear the insurgents chanting, "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar") pierced by gunfire and screaming.
Ware believes he recorded the perfect war experience that night, a snapshot you can get only from terrifying proximity. He dreams of renting out a theater and subjecting an audience to it in full surround sound; that way people would know what it's really like over there. "It's my firm belief that we need to constantly jar the sensitivities of the people back home," he says. "War is a jarring experience. Your kids are living it out, and you've inflicted it upon 20-odd million Iraqis. And when your brothers and sons and mates from the football team come home, and they ain't quite the same, you have an obligation to sit for three and a half minutes and share something of what it's like to be there."
It's an obligation now owed to Michael Ware, too.