I wrote about our driving to Georgia last September, to welcome Brian home from his second tour in Iraq. I'll put it out there now: Brian's marriage did not survive "their" first deployment. I will share with you that his wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer shortly after he deployed. It's a lot for anyone to endure on their own, and a lot for a soldier to clear from his head when he's trying not to get blown up. It's been painful for both families, and when all is said and done, I feel most saddened that a lifelong friendship has been dissolved.
We were waiting, then, to welcome Brian home, along with SPC Anthony McFarlane, another friend whose marriage didn't survive the tour. Do you know that if you're married you don't get to live in the barracks? And if your wife has gone home with all of your stuff, you don't have an apartment waiting for you? And you don't get a meal ticket for the chow hall unless you're single? I felt like my son(s) returned to the United States essentially homeless. Welcome Home, Soldier.
Me & Soldier Babies: Anthony and Brian
I told you that we had one day to find a small apartment in a lousy neighborhood. They didn't even have the keys to their apartment by the time we had head home; we left them in our hotel room to kill a couple of hours before check out, waiting to move their gear into their new place. Gear is all they each had, the apartment was split by 3 soldiers that came home the same day. Each would be moving to a new base at the end of the year, so furniture was kept to a minimum: blow-up mattresses, a card table and their trunks for a dining area, and each contributed something in the way of electronics: tv, play station, stereo. Home sweet home!
Brian got to take leave, and come home for the entire month of December. Our place is still under construction, and it was difficult for me not have a room to offer him. Wah! He was fine, of course; he stayed with his friends, and his Dad, I made up for it with plenty of home-cooking. He and his friends were over several times a week, and I was in my glory, listening to voices I love telling old stories and new, all of them making me laugh until I cried. I am still most at home when they are home.
He got to give up shaving for a month, and accomplished this:
He and his friends rebuilt an engine and worked on a car he bought on eBay. He had multiple Christmases with family and friends, got to participate in Santa Rampage, and helped with the Toys for Troops' Christmas Gifts to Soldiers event for the first time.
Mommy Bragging Alert: I asked Brian to wear his uniform to the Christmas event, and he resisted. We whined at each other a little bit, and I finally said the ONE thing that made him shut up and get dressed: "Will Page is going to be there."
For those of you don't, this little guy has been fighting leukemia for 2 years, all the while whipping up "soldier brownies" to send to new-found soldier buddies in Iraq & Afghanistan. Brian met Will at his home once before, and awarded him a Military Achievement Badge for working so hard to keep the soldiers in brownies.
Not sure if Will would recognize him out of uniform, all it took was the mention of his name for Brian to shimmy back into his ACUs for the event. Will was our youngest volunteer ever, and seemed pretty excited to see Brian again. The feeling was mutual.
And that my kid, though not a kid, "gets" this stuff makes me proud as hell of the young man he's become.
He called me almost immediately, and I felt sick as I talked to him while he waited for the police to arrive, facing an empty apartment and no belongings for the second time in the 3 months he'd been home from Iraq. Welcome Home, Soldier, Part Deux.
No time to dwell on it, after police reports were filed, he had to start out-processing to Fort Hood, Texas, where he is now stationed. Brian and Anthony McFarlane, his roomie in Georgia, are sharing the rent on a new place. Since McFarlane also lost all of his stuff in the burglary, they are setting up the new apartment with: Nothing.
I know they're big boys. They're men. They're soldiers. They'll pool the next couple of paychecks and get on their feet. Jones and his wife had a surprise housewarming party for them last week, storming the place in the middle of the night with armloads of groceries, hampers, shower curtains, pillows, pillowcases. I want to kiss their whole faces for that, oh, I wish I could have been there to contribute!
Jones, on the right: The Housewarming Fairy Godfather
Sigh. My kid.
I wish you to know him, if you don't. He's going to make you laugh.
He has a peaceful, laid-back demeanor that just rubs off on you.
Outside of loving the stuffing out of him, I admire him for the person he's grown up to be. I am proud as hell.
My son has been to hell and back in Iraq. He's had hurdle after hurdle to clear since he's been home, and he still manages to laugh and maintain a good outlook. He is stronger than many, many adults I know that have been through far less, managing to roll with the punches with courage, honesty, and incredible humor.
Even when they're grown, it's difficult to watch your kid muck over bumpy roads. I know Brian's a responsible young man, and he's going to be fine. It is still harder than hell to give him "adult space." To let him take care of his own friendships and relationships and finances and apartment and life. There's this weird fine line where I feel I should stand back. Stop mothering him! Zip my lip!
Because when all is said I am done, I am STILL the Mom, and I say so.