A very good friend of mine has a son in Afghanistan. Until she began sharing with me what she was going through, I admit that I had a cookie-cutter view of our soldiers: It was scary and it was unfortunate and I wanted them to come home.
Then my friend told me that she doesn’t sleep. When unconsciousness finally claims her, she passes out with the speakers to her computer by each of her ears – in case her son comes on during the night. She doesn’t want to miss him; it might be the last time she ever speaks with him.
She told me that when she smiles, she feels guilt. How can she be happy when her son could be killed at any second? What right does she have to experience even a moment of relief from this terror? And why hasn’t the world stopped turning? Why hasn’t everyone noticed that her son is in mortal danger? She is standing still – shouldn’t the rest of the world be as well?
His friends sustain concussions from exploding IED’s and wind up killing men – taking lives. And she tells me she wants to throw up. Is he next? Why hasn’t he been hit yet? Surely simple statistics would dictate that it’s his turn… Any second now.
This is her little boy. She brought him into the world, nursed him, taught him to read, held the seat for him on his first bicycle. It’s his little laugh that warmed her heart; the most beautiful sound in the world.
Now he’s thousands of miles away. And she thinks, “If I died, he would have to come home. They would have to let him come home. And he would be safe.” It’s only the first of many dark, desperate thoughts that occupy her mind. She can think of nothing else but his safety. Nothing.
She dreams strange dreams of crossing borders and showing up at his camp. “What the hell are you doing here?” her dream son asks. She shakes her head. “I just wanted to make sure you were warm enough when you slept,” she stumbles before handing him a dream blanket.
She wakes in tears, cold and alone, the speakers crackling in wait beside her head.
I used to think of our soldiers as people – over there, somewhere else – and I wanted them to come home. Now?
Now I think of them as sons and daughters. As my little girl. And I want them to have never left in the first place.