The Space Between Battlefield and Home
Monday, August 1, 2005
The packing boxes scattered throughout Room 454 are filling with books, videos, clothes and gifts -- the amazing amount of things that piled up during eight months at the hotel. They will be shipped home first.
A few days later, Trish Autery will gather her suitcases, take some tissues to dry her tears and walk out the door that has a tiny American flag hung near its number.
And that will leave just Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan Autery, 20, the son she has cared for all these months, to pack what remains, close the door for the final time and catch a plane home, from the District to Nashville.
His luggage will contain an artificial left arm -- a spare to accompany the one with which his body and mind have made peace here.
Nobody ever wants to stay at Mologne House.
Soldiers who escape dying in battle by the narrowest of margins find their way here, to this hotel on the grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington.
The lobby, with illuminated chandeliers and oriental carpet, can be crowded with amputees. Peepholes in most room doors are at wheelchair level. And the snazzy maroon and gray hotel shuttle goes to the hospital around the corner, not the airport.
Mologne House is a place where grievous wounds can heal, where awful recollections can be put in some context and where residents prepare to go back into the world physically and psychologically changed.
Once Autery departs, Room 454, with cream-colored wallpaper, blue and yellow bedspreads and a view of the telecom towers on Georgia Avenue, will be readied for its next guest. More than 90 percent of the 199 rooms are occupied by soldiers and Marines wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan and members of their families.
In the end, because everyone is there for the same reason, checking out of Mologne House can be emotional.
"It's sad," Trish Autery, 47, said. "I've cried many a time watching [other people] leave. But you're so happy for them. . . . You're ecstatic that they're going, but you may not see them again."
Soon, it will be the Auterys walking out the lobby doors, leaving behind the hell of their past 11 months, and others waving goodbye.