My kids and I just took my husband to the airport for a yet another deployment. We dropped him off the curb. There was no ceremony, no send off, no acknowledgement that we were about to, yet again, embark on The Unhappy Days. But we knew — even our 3-year-old was in a foul mood. She refused to kiss her daddy goodbye.
To the rest of the world we were just a normal family, taking a dad to the airport, for a normal kind of trip. A trip that would end in days or maybe weeks, not months. A trip without bullets.
It was a beautiful day. Clear skies the color of a swimming pool. Sunshine warming our bare arms, which were hanging out the open windows of his truck. Driving down an airport road lined in palm trees — how can any day be bad with that many palm trees?
I wore a yellow sundress with white embroidered flowers, chosen to a fake a sunny mood I didn’t feel. My outsides were tropical and bright, sheathed in light, breezy cotton. My insides were plaid flannel and scratchy, felted, wool.
Goodbyes are always too long and never long enough.
Driving home in the truck, the windows still down, wind blowing over the silence, all of us feeling numb, I turned on the radio. The drive home is always the loneliest part of a deployment.
Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” was playing. I’ve heard that song so many times. Living in military towns, it’s an anthem, played at every Memorial Day, every Veterans Day, every Independence Day and every MWR concert. We all know all the words, we all sing along.
American Girls and American Guys
We’ll always stand up and salute
We’ll always recognize
When we see Old Glory Flying
There’s a lot of men dead
So we can sleep in peace at night
When we lay down our head
I had just sent my husband off to fight — again. Just gone over that packet of “if the worst occurs” stuff — again. It’s rote now. Routine. Meaningless to us both. “Yeah, I’ll carry your fat ass if you get capped,” his buddy joked when asked to be a pall bearer. “As long as you’ll carry mine, too.”
We joke about his funeral plans now. We’ve been over them so many times before.
But when I heard, “there’s a lot of men dead” the faces of those men, friends, flashed through my mind like an old black and white picture show. Arlington is the gated community where so many of our friends reside now, the place where beautiful young women get called “widow.”
Steve, Thom, Vic, Gil, Pedro, Bob, Chris, Tim, Josh, Gary, Charlie, Allan, Ritchie, another Josh, Frank, Leroy, Jerry, another Bob, Randy, Sean, Andrew, Brian …
My daddy served in the Army
Where he lost his right eye
But he flew a flag out in our yard
Until the day that he died
He wanted my mother, my brother, my sister and me
To grow up and live happy
In the land of the free.
I twisted around to glance at my three children from behind my fogged up sunglasses, my vision blurred by hot tears. I wondered if these words meant anything to them. Their daddy serves in the Army, and he’s suffered some permanent injuries because of it. We don’t fly a flag in our yard, but we do insist they stand still with their hands over their hearts during the National Anthem. We insist they show respect.
We most definitely want them to grown up and live happy in the land of the free.
I thought of the first time I heard that song. It was 2002. Ground Zero was still a pile of rubble. U.S. forces were in Afghanistan but not yet in Iraq. My new boyfriend had bought me a plane ticket and flown me to his hometown to meet his family for the first time. He proposed to me that weekend. We’d known each other for just six weeks when I decided to become an Army wife.
That song was a rallying cry then.
Now this nation that I love
Has fallen under attack
A mighty sucker punch came flyin’ in
From somewhere in the back
Soon as we could see clearly
Through our big black eye
Man, we lit up your world
Like the 4th of July
That was back in the days when we had just one black eye. Back when the rest of us was whole enough that we could brush ourselves off and summon up some indignation. Fourteen years later, so many deployments, so many injuries, so many deaths later — the days of one black eye seem like the Halcyon days.
Now we limp forward on missing legs, grasp at hope with missing fingers, press forward with arms freckled with shrapnel. The love struck couples, clinging to each other in YouTube reunion videos, are now divorced. Doe-eyed children with flags painted on their faces at deployment ceremonies grew up to be disaffected, suicidal, teenagers.
Justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
And you’ll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
`Cause we`ll put a boot in your ass
It`s the American way
Double digit deployments now, and counting. It’s like a grim reality show. The viewers ask, “Why do they keep doing this? Why don’t they just quit?” But we have no answer. There is no answer. We keep doing it because we keep being told to do it, because we don’t know how to say no. Because those bad guys never stopped rattling the cage, because the sucker punches still fly.
Because of Steve, Thom, Vic, Gil, Pedro, Bob, Chris, Tim, Josh, Gary, Charlie, Allan, Ritchie, another Josh, Frank, Leroy, Jerry, another Bob, Randy, Sean, Andrew, Brian, and all the others.
Hey Uncle Sam
Put your name at the top of his list
And the Statue of Liberty
Started shakin’ her fist
And the eagle will fly
Man, it’s gonna be hell
When you hear Mother Freedom
Start ringin’ her bell
And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you
Brought to you Courtesy of the Red White and Blue
Relentless rain. Grungy, flannel, wool rain. All over the palm trees.
Photo courtesy U.S. Army.