I was awakened Monday morning by the phone. I recognized my son’s voice on the other end. He has been serving in Iraq for the past year, and a phone call at an ungodly hour was nothing very unusual. But even in my groggy state, I sensed something different. There was no static on the line, and none of that annoying 3 second lag that usually marked our conversations. Before I had a chance to ponder this further, he set me straight: “Pops! (yes, that’s really what he calls me) I’m in Atlanta! I’m home!”
Well, this woke me up in a hurry. After over a year of worrying about him every waking minute, I can now sleep a little easier. And while I realize that my suffering is nothing compared to what he’s gone through, I must say that a year of non-stop worrying has taken its toll. My hair, already prematurely gray, is quite a few shades whiter than it was a year ago. I have gained at least 30 pounds because I have the unhealthy habit of dealing with depression by eating. Frito’s Corn Chips have been my friend. If you own stock in the Frito-Lay company, I have been your friend.
Sleep has not come easy the past year. Some nights I would become obsessed with the idea that I would get a phone call in the middle of the night from someone in the Army who was not my son. Thankfully, that call never came. But I have developed a dependency on sleeping pills that I wonder if I will ever overcome.
The irony of it all is that he left home for Iraq last March 20th, my birthday, and it looks as though he will return home on my birthday.
But now he is back stateside, and I wonder what he will be like. I know he has seen things that I have only seen in movies. I know he will be different. The little boy I played Nintendo with is gone forever.
I spoke with him by phone for about an hour last night. I was struck by the difference in his voice. The reckless teenager I used to quarrel with is also gone forever. I know he has now become a man in every sense of the word. There was a confidence and even a calmness in his voice that I had never heard before, strange perhaps in someone who had just spent a year in a war zone. He told me to pick out a new pipe for my birthday. “Make it a good one”, he said, “It’s also your Father’s Day present.”
Many people have asked me why I didn’t write more about this during his time in Iraq. The truth is I often started to write something, only to have the thoughts go dead inside me. For some reason I simply could not confront this issue head on, let alone write something worthwhile. The idea that he might come home in a flag draped casket would overwhelm me, and the another potential post went into the recycle bin.
But now he is coming home. When I see him I will tell him how proud of him I am. I feel like an enormous weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I no longer have that constant knot in my stomach.
Maybe it’s because I’m eating less Fritos.