This is my memory of the day my dad deployed to Iraq.
|“The second tower has been hit. We are under attack.” I stared at the television as the reporter did his best to stay calm. In my entire fifteen years I had never experienced fear and confusion so tightly intertwined. I loved history class,as a army brat, WWII was one of my favorite subjects. But in all my studying, I’d never even considered what it had been like for teenager in 1941. I can only assume they felt like I did at this moment.
An hour later, the high school were a sea of rumors. People were being drafted. Aliens did it, the Koreans, Russians, even the Canadians were getting blamed. Nukes were headed toward us. In the space of one class period I went from hearing insane theories to hearing words that turned my fear to maximum. We were going to war. National Guard units were being deployed.
I calmly asked to leave class and Coach White only nodded as he stared at the tv. I raced through silent hallways to the payphones, dropped in my quarters, and prayed that Dad would still be at the house.
“April, are you okay?”
“Are you deploying?” My voice came out far louder than I had meant it to.
“I haven’t got the call yet. Calm down and go back to class. Mom will come get you, if ‘they’ call."
Eighteen months later, Mom and I sat in a silent car, driving to the armory. Usually, we’d be singing off key at the top of our lungs, but we didn’t dare turn on the radio. Every radio station DJ would be talking about what we were about to face.
We turned on the 32nd street and I could see the US Flag and the engineer flag waving proudly at the top of the hill. Tears poured down my face. This couldn’t be happening. I wasn’t ready.
Mom said nothing until we parked the car. She pulled a Kleenex from, who knows where, and slid it into my shaking hands. “Don’t you dare let him see you cry. We have to be strong. He can’t be worried about us.” Her words fell from her lips with a resigned finality.
I wiped my face and together we went inside to help him finish preparing what little he had left to pack, and throw his bags on the bus. The drill hall floor was fuller than I had ever seen it, and quieter that I had believed possible, even when empty and all the lights turned off.
I’d come to this building at least once a month, since age four. The other soldiers where a second family to me. Their children my playmates. Their boots, a soothing rhythm that comforted me.
This day, I hated this building. The people in uniform were too busy to tell me hello. Their spouses and children wouldn’t look me in the eye. Their boots, a drumbeat in time with the pounding in my chest.
I sat on the floor next to my father, as he showed me how to properly fold each piece of his uniform. I’d seen and done it so many times before, that I could have done it blindfolded, but I listened with rapt attention and followed each instruction to the letter. I refused to fail him.
“All done,” he smiled and we high-fived.
“Fall in!” The First Sergeant gave the command, and everyone ran to stand in perfect, straight lines.
“Hooah,” they screamed.
This had always been my favorite part of drill weekend. The men would be told how great they had done over the weekend and now they could go home. But not this time. This time, it meant that we were nearing our final goodbyes.
The First Sergeant spoke, the Captain spoke, each speech followed by a chorus of “Hooah.” I remember nothing of the speeches, just my father standing tall and proud, third from the left in the second row.
“Fall Out!” The Captain ordered, “Do what you gotta do.”
I think he purposely chose not to say, ‘tell them goodbye’, but I’ve never had the guts to ask him.
Dad hugged Mom, then me, backed up and clapped his hands, “Time to go.”
We nodded, he headed to the bus. He didn’t look back. I watched them file inside. I watched as they shut the door. I followed the crowd as the bus drove out the garage door into the parking lot. I watched as the bus pulled away, taking my father with it.
I turned to see my mother’s wet face staring at me. She had watched me, not the bus.
“Is that the last time I will ever hug him?”
She pulled me to her chest but didn’t squeeze. “He can’t see you now. It’s okay to cry.”
“Are you sure?”
She pressed me against her body as her own shook. “It’s the only part of any of this I’m sure of.”
I don’t remember walking to the car. I don’t remember the drive home. I don’t remember what we ate for dinner, or even if we did. But, I will always remember the tightest hug my mother ever gave me.