Julia Law arrived home after an ordinary day at work to find the evening had become extraordinary.
Her mother met her at the front door.
"It's happened," she said.
"What's happened?" Mrs. Law asked.
"The war is on."
The moment Julia Law had anticipated and dreaded for weeks had come and gone last night without her knowing it. It came while she was driving to her Northwest Baltimore home from work, listening to an Anita Baker tape in her car and thinking about the pepperoni pizzas she was bringing home for her sons' dinner.
Her husband, Army Reserve Maj. Ernest E. Law, 54, a psychiatric counselor with the 531st Medical Detachment, out of Baltimore, left for Saudi Arabia Dec. 9 to join Operation Desert Shield.
Since then, her attention has been fixed on television and radio, eager for any news about the crisis, even when she was too tired to pay attention.
But last night, as Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm and American attack planes began striking Baghdad shortly after 7 p.m. Baltimore time, Mrs. Law had tuned out the world, driving home from her civilian job at Fort Meade.
At 7:30 p.m. her mother, Irene Justice, was waiting at the door with the news.
Mrs. Law, 53, dropped the pizzas on the kitchen table for her twin 10-year-old sons, Kemar and Omar, grabbed a kitchen chair and pulled it into the living room in front of the television, where she sat with her mother and her sister well into the night.
There were no tears in the Law household last night for Major Law, who heads the Baltimore City Jail social services department, no moans of woe, no hand-wringing.
"It's a crisis," said Mrs. Law. "But you have to keep yourself together.
They had last spoken with him Friday, when he called from somewhere in the desert and talked for 45 minutes. Mrs. Law said she could tell he was well by the way he sounded. She has no idea where exactly he is.
As the evening wore on, the twins ran around the house, teasing each other, spray-painting toy trucks in the basement, eating ice cream and drinking Kool-Aid in the kitchen, barely interested in the endless analysis of their nation's military hardware by grown-ups on television.
Their 76-year-old grandmother said it had to be done: "That man [Saddam Hussein] just wouldn't give in." Their aunt, Charlotte McDowell, said it was senseless: "Just blood for oil."
"This is nerve-racking. I haven't slept well since Ernie left and I probably won't sleep at all tonight. I guess [the administration's patience] couldn't go on forever," Mrs. Law said.
"We say extra prayers for Daddy and hope that he'll be OK. But it hurts me to know that no matter how this turns out, there are going to be a lot of sad families around the world."