Today is is the last day of February, and it has been bitter cold. So cold you feel it deep in your bones. So cold you think you’ll never get warm. To be honest, it has suited my mood. I have struggled this week to maintain my game face, but inside I am a bitter mess, and I feel cold.
Earlier this week, my youngest son deployed for Afghanistan.
Quite frankly, I still can’t wrap my head around the enormity of that sentence. I wake up every day and, just for a moment, the day is new. And then I remember. I remember and I am overwhelmed once again with the cold fear that I will never see him again. It overwhelms me and suffocates me. I cannot breathe, and I feel like I will never be the same. I realize DangerBoy chose this path, and I realize he is answering a personal calling, a need to serve his country. Over the last year, I’ve managed to come to terms with the fact that he’s living the life he wants to live, the life he somehow needs to live. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted for each of my kids but, somehow, it took me a while to accept the path he chose. Probably because he’s always heard a different drummer. I’ve watched him grow up, take wild chances and explore the “What if?” of the world around him. It was a challenge to see him through middle school — where they want to see students conform, to prepare them for the rigors of high school. DangerBoy was a little too inquisitive, a little too “outside the box” for them. The curse of the “What if?” But I defended his right to think for himself (yes, even now — especially now — the irony does not escape me), and by the time he made it to high school, he sailed through an overclocked schedule so he could take more classes. He followed the architectural track and he was good at it; and I was lulled into the false comfort that he’d found his path.
I saw Architecture. He saw Army.
I made peace this past year with his choice of military as a career. But now this is a year deployed in Afghanistan, a year of being separated by so very, very much. The Army does a good job of handling expectations for families. It’s a necessary albeit cold truth that they keep the information on a need to know basis for the safety of their troops. Other than knowing their loved ones have deployed for a war zone, the family doesn’t need to know. So with nothing more than an impersonal APO address for parts unspecified in Afghanistan, our ties have been efficiently cut, fluttering uselessly in the cold winter air.
I wrap my hands around my coffee, but I can’t seem to feel the warmth of the cup. My mind has lost focus, and I have lost my way. I have become one of those people. The mother who focuses unnaturally on all news stories out of Afghanistan. The mother who feels both pride and prejudice that her son is in a foreign country around hostile people for a reason she can’t entirely explain. The mother who remembers her own experiences living in that area of the world years ago, and can’t help but recall the hostility towards American expatriates even then. The mother who keeps replaying images of a small boy growing up happy, and wondering if she will see that face again.
Other veterans have patted my hand, saying, “He’ll be fine.” Or, “Trust his training.” Or I especially like, “Remember, this is what he wanted.” I wish I felt as reassured but, right now, all I feel is a screaming cognitive dissonance at this turn of events. Every fiber of a mother’s body and soul (yes, even us soulless mothers) is wired to protect her young. Now the tables are turned, and our children put themselves in harm’s way to protect us.
It is a bitter, bitter irony, and I struggle with this every moment of my day.
Rationally, I know I will get past this immobilizing fear. I realize it is fear of the unknown, and I pray for acceptance and understanding. I hope I’ll soon be able to reconcile the face of a young man with the highly trained skills of a soldier. I’m already eager for any scrap of news that will tell me my son is safe. But I know I will mostly be shut out of the information loop, because it is what is needed to keep our troops safe. I resign myself to the fact that I won’t really feel sure about anything anymore for a long long time, and I wonder how other mothers get through this. How they manage to control the uncontrollable crying, the anxiety of not knowing. I wonder how long it takes before they feel calm inside. It feels like that serenity will never be within my grasp.
Even now, I struggle with making this public. It’s still so raw, and I know full well it’s not my best piece of writing. So many of my friends have children much, much younger than mine, and this burden I’m feeling is really no one’s but my own. In many ways, it feels like wallowing, but writing seems to be how I cope. How I process all the feelings. I just can’t manage to find my center, to get my feet underneath me so I can move on. LoveJunkie nervously watches me, alternately climbing up to lick my face, as if that will stop the tears, and then settling down in my lap, as if that will provide some solace.
To step away from the words seems like a good idea, and I check my phone, only to see a large number of Facebook notifications. I can’t imagine my latest posting of LoveJunkie’s shenanigans is that popular, but what I see next breaks me. Post upon post upon post of friends who are wearing red in honor of DangerBoy and those deployed. I am stunned, I am speechless, and what little poise I can muster is broken by this show of love and support from friends across nations.
And the dam breaks, and the tears come, uncontrollable once again.
I’m not sure how I am going to get through this year. But it’s clear I’m not going to be doing it alone. Thank you, friends, for your thoughts and support as our family wrestles with this coming year. Please add DangerBoy to your thoughts and prayers, if you are so inclined, as well as the rest of those men and women who feel compelled to protect and serve. I know no other way than to take this journey a day at a time, and I really hope I get better at it. Quickly. Godspeed, DangerBoy. We love you. Stay safe.
For us, the only way out is through.