I could probably make this story all about war.
I could tell about the violence and inhumanity our soldiers face each and every day when they drive across Baghdad, Nasiriyah or Samarra. There is a certain fatalism that occurs when the nightly rocket and mortar attacks never seem to kill very many. I could write about those things, but I won't. You hear it enough. So do I.
I am a father of three, a former army aviator, a sometimes retail and distribution manager, and a husband. We live in North Carolina.
My wife, an army medic, lives in Iraq.
She works at one of the Theater Internment Facilities we have heard so much about, since the pictures came out. She works at night, when the heat won't get to her, providing medical care and comfort to the prisoners. Some of them are bombers and killers -- others have just been caught up in the maelstrom of war.
But this story isn't about her, either. I know her suffering. I hear it on the phone and see it in her letters, but this isn't her time.
This is my time.
This is my children's time, and this is our story.
We were a typical American family until my wife, in search of entrance in the Army's physician assistant program, went on active duty. Please don't misunderstand me: I supported her quest then and I do today. She is a very beautiful woman, an excellent student, a fabulous mother and the love of my life. I will support her in anything she wants to do. I had my turn and now it is hers.
She was in North Carolina and I was in New York, sick in bed, when she called me with the news she was going to Iraq. I have made those calls to her before and yet, despite that and a daily dose of CNN, I was stunned. We agreed not to tell the kids until we were all together. We hoped the closeness would somehow minimize the reality of the message.
I sat in bed that night telling myself over and over that I could do this. Then the panic set in and I cried. I was a former Army officer, a Black Hawk pilot and a man, and all I could do was cry because my wife was going to war. I had no idea how to get the kids to school on time, let alone how to feed them on a daily basis. I was not prepared for this.
My wife is one of those rare people who were born to provide care and comfort for others, and because of that people are drawn to her. They inundate her with letters and e-mail and phone calls, and as soon as the word about her deployment got out, people were on her doorstep, in her mailbox, and in her e-mail. They wanted to comfort her, to encourage her and to cry with her.
I felt totally alone.
We decided to move to Fort Bragg, N.C., so the kids and I would be with other military families. We had spent the first seven years of our marriage surrounded by military families, and it had helped when I was deployed. We assumed it would be the same when she was deployed. Lesson No. 1: Just because they have changed the name to spouses club from wives club does not make men welcome. If I were deployed, I'm not sure that I would feel comfortable with my wife hanging out with another soldier's husband.
I'm not sure when it happened, but one day I looked at the dirty dishes, the dirty clothes and the dirty kids, and the light came on. I cleaned up and did the laundry. I sent three grumbling maniacs to the bathtub and I made dinner. Joshua, my 10-year-old, said it sucked, but he ate it. The next morning, Erin, my 7-year-old daughter, said I didn't kiss as good as Mommy. She kissed me twice so I could practice. Tyler, my 11-year-old daughter, cleaned the house for me while I was out the next day. It was spotless.
It was an amazing transformation. Life was perfect! Our lives were perfect for six days. On the seventh day, I rested. Wrong move! No one liked my spaghetti and no one wanted to be tucked in that night. My wife had recently figured out how to instant-message online with her friends and really didn't have time for me that night. It takes hours to get a chance at 15 minutes on the computer or phone, so it's not always fun to hear a broken husband whining on the other end, and I was whining long and hard.
I can't say that it was an easy day. I can't say that it was an easy week, and I can't say that this has been an easy month. I can say that we are making it one day at a time. I have killed two goldfish and a hamster, and I have ruined at least three loads of laundry (once you turn everything pink, it stays pink). The fish went to the porcelain graveyard with snickers from the older kids and a somber eulogy from the youngest. The hamster has a place of honor and a cross in the back yard.
I have learned what our soldiers' wives have known for generations: hope and grief and perseverance. I find humor with my children every day. My son is convinced that soaking his rival's boxer shorts in ground beef would a great way to attract every dog in the neighborhood. I'm not sure that's a very good idea. When you are 7, two wrongs really do make a right. Seventh-grade girls can be cruel and even though fathers don't understand, they can make it better. Why would you wash the minivan with a steel wool brush? I don't know, but her heart was in the right place.
I am learning how to be a father and a mother. It does not always go well. Sociologists and psychologists would probably have an absolute blast in my home. I could write a book about things not to say to an 11-year-old girl. I've said them all in just a few weeks. The good news is that I don't think I have scarred them permanently. I start each day with "I love you" and end it the same way. At night they sneak into my bed, kiss me quietly and whisper, "I love you, Daddy."
This is a new world where our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives go to war. Gentlemen, we had better get prepared!
Each morning when I wake up, I kiss my children and hold them close. They have suffered the same loss I have, yet they smile at me every day and tell me they love me. We talk about Mom and the war and we leave CNN off. When we go to bed each night, we all say one prayer: God, please bring our mommy home safe. She is always in our hearts and in our thoughts and we can hardly wait to have her home with us.
This is just the first part of a long separation. I am not sure I am up to the task, but I will find a way because I have our three beautiful children to keep and care for until their mommy comes home. I am now meeting my children, whom I never really knew, and we are having some good laughs and sharing a lot of love along the way.