Casualties of War: The 2012 Essay Contest Winner

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Go to Work

The baby turned 1 year old in March. Her daddy sent toys and I threw a small birthday party. A million miles away, my husband left on another mission. And while he and his men were patrolling a street, someone stood on a rooftop, aimed a Russian assault rifle at my husband and pulled the trigger. The bullet bounced off a wall of the building behind him and missed Scott by four inches. It hit the soldier next to him. I learned about the incident from another army wife, who called a few days later to recount the story. I held my poker face and stuffed the fear back inside.

Scott came home for two weeks in April. To escape Army World we took the kids to the beach -- nothing bad could happen there. But Scott twitched a lot in his sleep and once he bolted upright, grabbed my arms in the darkness and said, "What happened? Is everyone okay?"

A week later I stood crying in the airport parking lot. He kissed the top of my head, waved good-bye to the kids, hoisted his luggage bag onto his shoulder and was gone. Again.

Spring bled into summer and we headed into the home stretch of the deployment. Like migrating hummingbirds, the wives who'd gone off to live with their parents while their husbands were away began returning to town. "Welcome home" signs cropped up in yards like wildflowers. There was excitement in the air, but also loss. Not every soldier was coming back.

The plane touched down on the tarmac in late August. Waving their flags and posters, families stood in breathless anticipation as their soldiers exited the plane. The kids and I stood off to the side and watched for Scott. And then suddenly I was in his arms again, and the fear fell off me in great waves of relief. Sunshine would now return to our lives.

After He Returned

The nightmares came first. Then the shaking hands. Scott sold the motorcycle one day while I was at the grocery store. The baby walked toward him hesitantly, but he didn't seem interested. On weekends he refused to drive, so the task fell to me. He warned me constantly about potholes in the roads. I started sleeping in one of the kids' rooms as his nightmares worsened. He insisted he was fine, but his eyes told a different story. The war had followed him home and hung over us like a silent sentinel.

And now I'm in the bathroom, standing over Scott as the memories of the past year flash through my mind in less time than it takes to tell them. I grab the broom and dustpan from the hall closet and smile at him. "Go on to work," I say gently. "I'll clean this up."

My hands work mindlessly as I sweep bits of glass toward the dustpan. I'll clean this up, I'd said. But I don't know if I can.

Tammy Dominski, an army wife for 17 years, has homeschooled all three of her children. One measure of her success: Her daughter Tori enrolled at the University of North Carolina when she was 13.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2012.

 

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