Casualties of War: The 2012 Essay Contest Winner
Army Wife 101
I couldn't watch the wives clinging to one another in huddled masses, the mothers crying over their sons.
While my husband dined on a Thanksgiving feast in a mess hall a million miles away, the kids and I ate sweet potatoes and peas in the breakfast nook, with a lit candle for decoration. The baby chirped "dada" but had no concept of who that was. I smiled, but her babbling stabbed at my heart.
In December Fayetteville became a madhouse of happy families with husbands and fathers home on leave. Scott wasn't due back until spring. But I put up a tree and decorated it. I hummed Christmas songs and filmed the baby tottering around on shaky legs. A million miles away, my husband strung some Christmas lights around his cracker-box-sized room and went to bed at 1:00 in the afternoon, exhausted from an all-night mission.
My parents went traveling again. A friend invited me to spend the holidays with her family, but I found it painful to be around families not broken up by deployment. One afternoon, while the baby napped and the older two played outdoors, I lay on the bed in my sun-washed room and projected prisms of light on the walls with my wedding ring.
While I was entertaining myself with a piece of jewelry, a million miles away my husband left the base on patrol with his men. While they were out, someone planted a land mine in a pothole near their gate. Returning to base, Scott's Humvee rolled over it, unaffected. The vehicle behind his was not so lucky. It tripped the mine and the Humvee blew apart. One soldier was injured, two were killed. The phone lines were shut down, as always after this kind of incident, so it was two days before I learned what had happened.
My younger sister flew in for a few days right before Christmas. "Well, you seem happy," she said as the two of us sat in the den.
The bullet bounced off the wall, missing my husband by four inches. It hit the soldier next to him.
"It's an act, you know. They teach us that in Army Wife 101."
In January it snowed. I sat in the breakfast nook and looked down the hill to the other houses. The view, spectacular with its twinkling vistas of unbroken white, did nothing to cheer me up. The long days and nights of winter dragged by like a sled on gravel.
For my birthday, in February, Scott sent chocolates and pink roses. I went into ecstasies over the presents when he called, but secretly the flowers depressed me and the candy tasted like sand in my mouth.