I remember everything about September 11th. Not the events so much as the day. I remember watching as my mother slept next to the phone. As she waited for the call that could send her away. I remember her uniform ready to go sitting on the kitchen table for days, for weeks after. I remember understanding, but not about what was going on, on the screen. As the days passed I remember watching as everything went back to normal, but nothing ever did. I remember when she finally had to leave. Promises of only for a few months. This will be over quickly. Just like last time. Last time I was a child. Last time I only knew she was gone, but not at war. This time though. This time was different. Maybe it is never different. Maybe she did the same things last time. Maybe I was just too young to understand. No, this time as she left I got to feel every ounce of pain and fear.
This time as I read her letter. This time as the tears hit the pages. This time I had to accept that she may not return. That my mother may never come back from this. No reason was given as to why. Only words of love. Only thoughts that she always loved me no matter what. Hopes that everything will be okay. Prayers that she would return from this and all would be well. A day of sadness and then everything has to go back to normal. Something we have been through. Something we have to go through as Military children. The stupid parades, the ridiculous slogans, and that fucking flag. That flag that gets waved around as though it means so much to them. Draped across the back of their trucks as it floats in the wind. A cloth that signifies more than just where you live. A stitched-together history we take for granted. When they say they died for our freedom they don’t even know what that means. They aren’t just people. They aren’t just soldiers. They aren’t just tools. Pawns to move around to defend our freedoms. They are our parents, our mothers and our fathers, siblings, children, they are so much more than a “We Support Our Troops” sticker.
I got lucky my mother returned. Many of them did not. Many of them came back different. When I moved here to Texas. I saw firsthand those that gave it all. Military City they call it. Passed by every day by legless men, scarred woman, and damaged people. You never notice them right away, but you notice them among the whining, bitching assholes they walk beside. The ones that say we need to get in there and kick some ass. The ones who think that war is easy. The ones that don’t understand that nothing about this is easy. The ones who will sit on the sidelines and clap. How easy it must be to do that. How easy it must be to never understand what it means. How blessed they are to never have to understand war, death, or sacrifice.
I watched a young man struggle like a child once while taking out the trash. Struggling to understand why the wheels got stuck. His mother running over to help him. A vision, a glimpse into something I assumed was a handicap. Later my wife would explain that, that young man was more than handicapped. He had gone to war. Right out of high school. Wanted to fight for this country. Wanted to help any way he could. Until the IED went off and took more than his chance. You couldn’t see the scars from a distance. You couldn’t tell what he went through until you got up close. Close enough that you didn’t want to know. That knowing was more than anyone should ever know. Nineteen now he was trapped in his body. Trapped trying to understand where he stood now in life. Forever destined to live at home, to live like this. He got a job at the local restaurant my wife worked at. Amazed, happy, proud of him until my wife explained more. Unable to do the most basic of things he was there as a favor. A charity to give his parents a break. An attempt to give him something to do. The brain damage he sustained left him childlike for now and forever. I’m often asked why I work so hard. I work so hard for those that can’t. For those of us who sacrifice more than their time.
Years later the battle rages on. Years later there are no answers to the pain we all went through or still go through. We got him. But what did we sacrifice for one person? What justification do we have for our actions of retaliation? They say that war is a necessary evil and they are right. War is evil but necessary? Do we need it? Couldn’t there be another way? Are we really so broken that only war could be the only fix for a tragedy? We police the globe with our mighty fist. A fist controlled by those that will never know what it takes, what it feels like to make up that fist. We have power and influence, and as I watch it being used to bully others into what we want I am reminded of all this shit. All these feelings that there is more to the equation than numbers, than opinions, and thoughts. A conflict that not only rages around me but inside….