The clock on his bedroom wall stopped many months ago-I can't remember exactly when.
He hasn't been home since last Christmas, and my projects and hobbies have gradually drifted into corners here and there, like dandelion fluff. Summer clothes are crammed into his closet, where only his bathrobe had hung.
Now I am driven to clean and organize, freshen the room, put new sheets on the bed. An e-mail confirmed he's coming home.
Since February of this year, he has lived on an amphibious assault ship with several thousand other
Marines and Navy personnel. He has been carried into battle on helicopters, driven miles into mountains in Humvees, and for the first time, known what it is to command under fire.
There have been endless frustrations and deprivations, and now, finally, a brief respite before being reassigned-- because this is his life, his career. His boyhood room is just a brief stopping point before moving on again.
I wonder if this larger man will fit into this tiny room now. Surely it is bigger than the bunks aboard ship. Maybe the size of the room isn't what I should be measuring. Maybe he will tell us how he measured up out there, in a very hard school of hard knocks.
I only have little bits and pieces, you see. Remember V-Mail? Well, email is the descendant of that super-thin, crinkly letter in pale blue arriving weeks, sometimes months, after it was written.
Now cyberspace zips messages across continents and oceans. Often in the early morning hours I would tiptoe upstairs, and with only the ghostly screen's gleam to guide me, I would sit in the dark waiting for a message to download.
It was like a reassuring hug when I saw his name pop up. I could imagine him sitting somewhere hunt-and-pecking. I noticed he still misspelled the same old words, but it was reassuring to read them, to see the familiar wrongs seemed to make everything right. In the dark...before the dawn.
Sometimes he sent photos: a stray dog the unit befriended in Mosul, lying in her own foxhole dug by the guys, or him standing on someone's porch beside a large portrait of Saddam Hussein (I wonder how many others posed that day?)
Mostly he sent one-liner mundane replies to our mundane questions. As long as the messages came-frequently or infrequently, I knew he was okay.
In a Flap
Then for a while we didn't hear from him. I kept the television on CNN, at first mesmerized by the video clips, then listening with half an ear for any familiar unit names.
The mail came, and in the roadside mailbox was a piece of cardboard, the end flap of a box (as I found out later, a box of Meals-Ready-To-Eat, or MREs)
One side of the cardboard had his name and military unit in the top corner and our name and address centered. Where a stamp should be he had written "FREE-OIF" and the postal authorities had dutifully acknowledged that stiff brown flap's right to free postage in a combat zone by postmarking it.
The familiar writing, scrawled across the bumpy corrugated lines told us he was okay. We passed it around in amazement to our children and friends, as though it was some kind of holy writing, when it was really just a piece of cardboard that had traveled half-way around the world to a little corner of Ohio.
I wondered where he was when he wrote it...maybe he will tell us when he gets home.
I considered the many people who handled that piece of cardboard through the military and then the civilian mail system. How many looked at it and read those lines? Did they wonder who we were and who he was, or just toss it into the mail bag?
Probably. Still, it continues to amaze us that something I almost threw away as trash, something from such a humble use as containing the meals he ate, could make it so far without fanfare.
I am daydreaming as I dust and rearrange his room. I place front and center the scrapbook I have kept of
his deployment: news stories, photos, e-mails, information and updates from his unit's web site. And of course, in a plastic pocket, the brown MRE postcard.
So much has happened since he left last year. Perhaps he will never truly "catch up" with the local news or with national events.
His sister taped rugby matches to mail. His sister-in-law baked cookies and sent him magazines. His brothers wrote to him or sent e-mail messages. Everyone wanted to let him know he hadn't been forgotten, but it isn't the same as being here.
He has missed many family milestones. One brother was married, One bought a house. One started college at night. One nephew won a swim meet. Another started pre-school already. He acquired a new nephew, too.
On the day President Eisenhower was inaugurated, a reporter asked his mother "aren't you proud of your child today?" She replied, " I am proud of all my children-which one did you mean?"
I always thought that a grand statement from her, and now I know how she could say it. Each child is so special, with special gifts and talents, how can a parent not be proud of each and every one? To have them nearby is a gift. To have them far away tears at your heart.
A Little Pin
I have worn a mother's service pin for months now, and meeting others who recognize the meaning, who themselves have sons, daughters, husbands, wives, grandchildren in the service and serving in at-risk
areas, has given a sense of family to solitary waiting.
Perhaps I can safely put away the pin and retire the service flag which has hung in our dining room window. The red and blue has faded from the sun, perhaps faded as much as public interest in conflict on the other side of an ocean.
But concern never fades for those who have friends and loved ones "over there." Prayers never end for them, for their safe return, or for those who have died in service to their country. And for them-the nation's sons and daughters-we should say, as did another mother, "I am proud of all my children"
The summer clothes have been emptied from his closet. Soon it will be stuffed with all his uniforms and equipment. I wipe the desk one more time, straightening his deployment scrapbook where he will see it.
What have I forgotten? Oh yes, a new battery for the wall clock. Time will start again when he comes through that door.
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