My son has wanted to be a soldier since he was 11 years old. Even after moving to his dad's house when he was 15 and exploring a whole different side of teenage-hood, at 17 he called me up and asked me to take him down to the recruiter so he could sign up. He knew his dad wouldn't do it and he knew I would do it. I knew it's what he wanted, it's who he was always meant to become, a soldier's blood ran inside him.
He joined the Oregon National Guard (like his step-dad had done just a couple years prior). He became an Infantryman and was so proud! I flew to Columbus, GA to watch him graduate from basic and AIT. He came back to Oregon and did his monthly drills and yearly advanced trainings. He even had a stint in Thailand where his unit went there to train with the Thai Army.
He talked about the rumors of his eventual deployment to Afghanistan and the rumors changed over and over and I knew he wanted to deploy so badly (because that's why he signed up) that I thought maybe, just maybe, he was being more hopeful about the rumors than they were true. Ultimately all I could do was wait and see what happened.
It happened. He got the date. He went to AT to train for their deployment. The pre-mob ceremony was scheduled and I even signed up to go. It wasn't real yet.
Next month became next week and then it was tomorrow morning that I had to drive him to where they'd board buses that would take them to a plane. It still wasn't hitting me in my heart. It never does. I handle things logically and take care of logistics and planning. I'd helped him switch his phone carrier, add me to his bank account, copied his orders so I could cancel some contracts for him. I'd got the instructions for sending his things to him when he arrived to his first location. But I hadn't felt it yet.
The long drive to the bus was not filled with much talking. We had said everything that needed to be said and now it would just be fluff. Neither of us fluff much. Then we pulled into the parking lot and as he unloaded his gear from the trunk I watched my 6 year old give his big brother hugs and tell him he'd miss him. Then my husband shook his hand and probably pulled him in for a man hug but at that point I was in a fog - it was almost my turn. I could tell Josh was wanting it to go quickly and have as little mush as possible (he gets that from me). So I gave my hug and then he walked away. I didn't cry. I didn't say any last words from my heart. That's just not what we do. We had said all that needed to be said and he knows what's in my heart. Giving it to him at this moment would not be helpful to his hard shell.
I watched him walk away and I was thinking, "Oh my God that's it?? It's over?? That's all??" I got back into the car and slowly pulled out of my space and drove around the lot to the exit. I passed right by him and he didn't look at us, no wave, no nothing. It was typical Josh fashion and he was just like me, so I understood. I still didn't cry.
Then...I got about a block away when I got mad at some stupid trivial thing and started to blow my lid. My TBI husband, living in the moment as he does, asked in a very defensive tone, "What's the matter with YOU"? I replied, "REALLY"??? (ready for a brawl). And he made a smart move to just reflect for a moment at where we were and why, then he said, "Oh ya" with a sad and understanding tone in his voice and that's when I cracked!
During the weeks leading up to this day I had been told the details of where he'd be deploying and what their missions would consist of. It would not be void of danger. I would try to share my worry and sadness with Dean only to be met with his thoughts that this would be no big deal and that I was worrying for nothing. I tried to help him empathize by asking him to picture his cute, little, innocent, 6 year old being in danger and telling him that that's what this was like for me - training or no training - I'm the mom and I don't know what that training is like. He tried to understand but his emotions never could match mine.
So now we sat in the car and Dean did his best to understand how hard this was for me. I still don't know why my head can understand something and my heart just has a mind of its own. So my heart is breaking while my head thinks I'm being silly. My head is wondering why I didn't express any of this before, while Josh was here, would it have helped him? Would it have been important to him to know how I really feel? Hell, I didn't even know how I would really feel until that hug and watching him walk away. So the answer is obvious!
I took him to that bus yesterday morning and since then I've been forced to get out of my pajamas once and outside of that I've been in them. I just feel overwhelmed with bummed-out-ness. I'm just physically sad and depressed and he's not even in danger yet! He went to freaking Texas first for more training. But he's gone and I guess that's all that matters to my heart.
You see because of my unique predicament, I realize the reality that there is a 99.9% chance that the boy I birthed, the boy I read to and taught, who I took to football practice and Sea Cadets, the boy I homeschooled for a few years and who I fought with, the boy I helped graduate from high school by the skin of his teeth walked away from me yesterday and isn't coming back! That boy, who hasn't been innocent in quite some time (he IS 21 years old), will go and see things and experience things that no training can really prepare him for. I know now that there are more than two options - coming home or dying - I know the giant third option that is the most likely - his body will come home but his soul will have changed and his spark will be different. Yes this time is much different because he's not my best friend, my partner, my most intimate which Dean was. This time is a whole different journey that can't really be compared to the first one I walked. There are similarities - the worry - the wonder - the hope - the sadness - but ultimately nothing can prepare you for what you don't know.