Casualties of War: The 2012 Essay Contest Winner
Life Goes On
He left later that day, a sweltering sunny Saturday in August, for an arid country halfway around the world. This deployment would take him away for a year. Good-byes are especially hard on children, so our older two were spending the weekend away with family. The car hummed in park while the baby slept unaware in her car seat. Scott and I stood in each other's arms in the parking lot of the barracks, heat swarming around us like angry bees. No one else existed for those last silent moments. He kissed the top of my head once more, then pulled away, turned his back to me and picked up a jog to the bus.
I couldn't watch the bus leave, couldn't watch the wives clinging to one another in huddled masses, the mothers crying over their sons. I went home, took the baby from her car seat and put her on the floor to play. Around us, life went on, but in our house on the hill, it had come to a screeching halt.
Fayetteville, the main town surrounding Fort Bragg, went on, too, despite the absence of a few thousand soldiers. In September children returned to school, emptying parks of their rowdier element. In my military-housing kitchen, I made dinner for four. The big dining room screamed loneliness without Scott there, so I dragged the baby's high chair into the kitchen and we began eating our meals in the breakfast nook.
In October the kids and I headed for the mountains. I dipped my feet into a creek and carried the baby in a sling on my chest. While I sat there, my husband was a million miles away, checking out the house of a supposed terrorist sympathizer. He carried hand grenades on his body armor and quietly directed his men around the rooms, their awareness heightened to a degree few of us can comprehend. All I knew was that my feet were cold and my children would want lunch soon.
On Halloween I donned a witch hat and stood at the door, baby in one arm, bowl of candy in the other. And a million miles away, my husband went to sleep with the sound of mortars going off in the distance. A day earlier, a neighboring base had been attacked and his unit was on alert that it could happen again, maybe closer this time.
My jet-setting parents announced they were spending Thanksgiving in some place beginning with an "M." Maine? Machu Picchu? We army wives were reminded to get holiday packages to our husbands in the mail early, so the kids and I trudged over to the mall for some portraits. When the pictures came in, I saw that my eyes had a weariness around the edges, deep worry lines that hadn't been there before. I stuck the pictures in the care package and hoped Scott wouldn't notice.
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