Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Homecomings

My neighbor in the housing development is welcoming her husband home. I can tell not just by how many times she's talked to me and everyone else about it, but by the signs and homemade decorations that adorn our dingy apartment complex. "I love YOU, (Soldiername!)" "I love you, honey!" Construction paper hearts and letters and AAFES-mass-produced signs let me know how much she wants her husband to know he was missed.

In my cynical way, I scorn it. I don't rain on her parade, but every time I pass them I look at the commercial quality of the sign, the child-reminiscent nature of anything made with construction paper. I think to myself how glad I am that I never received a display like that, that the saccharine nature would make me hurl.

But I wonder how much my elitist thoughts serve to hide any thought of what I would have liked to have received. The truth is that I came home to a much-needed divorce and a child that had been taught to call someone else Mommy. I've never really had anyone to come home to, then or now. Sure, there's family-a father that talked all my life about his boyhood inspiration, the heroes at the VFW post, and now that I'm a member and offered to bring him inside to have a drink, he gives me an embarrassed smile, and says no. I'm not the son who could have killed him a dozen with my bare hands; not the son who could have erased his 4F status when it came time for Vietnam. Nor, even if I were a man, could I have been. I'm not the sort to revel in bloodshed, or the men I have indirectly helped to kill. Who is the killer? The one who stands and points and says "Him" or the one who pulls the trigger? Both, and neither. We are all the killers. We are all the guns. My father does not want my remorse, or to hear my thoughts on the war. He is still jealous that I shook McCain's hand and does not comprehend why, having done so, I would not vote for him. I am still forbidden from his house, the casualty of a chance google search that pulled up thousands of provocative hits.

There is a mother, who even when posted stateside, called, frantic, because a military plane went down somewhere in America and she wanted to know if I was on it. I cannot comprehend her fear. I cannot live touched by her fear. I disentangle myself as much as possible, as she tells me, once more, how she was tricked into signing the papers only because the recruiter promised there would never be a war. Does she have reason? Perhaps. She saw the fallout of Vietnam-lost friends and lovers, some to combat, some to hidden wounds and their own hand. My godfather put a bullet in his head at the age of 30, and it shattered her. She is fearful now that I will join him, and listens for it every time I talk, in the catch of my voice, in a breathy silence. Everything is a cue. She offers me organic foods and healthy alternatives, as though a return to a lifestyle of a more peaceful and hopeful time might somehow save me as well.

And there are lovers. Lovers that are loved as the Army has taught me to love-never to make any one person too important. You will always have to leave, the Army teaches, albeit unconsciously, and you must be prepared for everyone you love to leave you. Whether a PCS or a funeral service, if you make someone else the focus of your world, what will you do when they are gone? You get used to saying goodbye, to smiling at someone with sadness inside you as you show them the orders taking you away. Civilians find it too hard-they rail at you, angry at you, the Army, the universe for taking you away. They do not understand, ask the significance of things that have you in tears. It is better to stick to your own kind-but your own kind is adept at self-protection, at building defense barriers that can mask a career full of pain. Once you are out of sight you are out of mind. Temporarily Divorced for a Year, What Happens On Deployment Stays On Deployment. When you are there they will welcome you, cherish you, make extravagant gestures for you. Once you step on the plane, it is a different world, one in which you are a faded memory that they will reference only obliquely. It's the same for you, though you won't admit it. Already you're thinking of someone else, someone who will make you smile and laugh. It's the way of survival-but it's hell on homecomings, welcomes, those picket fences you think that you might have wanted.

I cannot laugh at her for loving in a different way than I.
But I cannot allow myself to think of having someone to myself, someone who would not go away. I cannot allow myself to think of the possibility of caring too much.
So I hurry by, run up the stairs as though I were trying to answer a phone, or save a life, or catch a dream.
She, in the apartment below, thinks only of happiness.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

EVEN ANOTHER reason why war sucks. Get out when you can.

Thus Spake Ortner said...

How is that Anonymous? The other family is happy and in love and their soldier is returning from war, and AS is sitting in her Apt unhappy, and not at war. So how exactly does this prove that war sucks?

I mean, clearly war does suck. And clearly it hurts all involved. But there are worse things, namely oppression. I just don't see how your comment logically follows from AS's diatribe here.

JD said...

War does suck. Being in the military while we occupy Iraq and fight Bush's phony "war on terror" sucks. Get out while the getting is good and don't let your kids join.

Thus Spake Ortner said...

Phony war eh?

Tell that to India.

Anonymous said...

TS Ortner--the last paragraph speaks volumes, THAT'S why I say "EVEN ANOTHER reason why war sucks".

Jen said...

Maybe more correctly why the view of a "glory filled military is a view that decieves" is a better interpretation.

The other family being happy and in love is because coming home is a high point, not the base reading. The military family suffers so much, so silently.

We service members think we have these strong ties and connections forged only to find out they were temporary lifelines that disinigrate quickly.

Danielle said...

Well, you can always come home to us.

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