Personal Dispatch: On the War, Here & Now

As a perusal of my archives will reveal, I don’t usually write a great deal about my personal life- for one thing, much of it is fairly boring (not that most of what I’ve blogged is exactly riveting) and many of the bits that are perhaps less boring I have no desire for the world at large to know about. Thus I have only occasionally mentioned going-ons with my family. Today, however, the sorts of issues I tend to blog about and my real life intersected in a particularly strong way, and I felt that I had to write about it- since blogging is, after all, more a catharsis than anything else, at least for me.

My father is a major in the Air National Guard, a chaplain, who has been in the National Guard since I was five- he enlisted around the same time as the first Gulf War. Until a few years ago he was not deployed anywhere, and other than annual two-week training and weekend drills it wasn’t a particular evident or obtrusive part of our lives. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 everything, as the politicos like to say, changed. He was deployed for four months in 2005 to an Air Force base on Diego Garcia. This year he has been deployed to Balad Air Force Base in Iraq.

We have known he was going to be deployed for a long time, so when we left this morning to drive to Jackson International Airport it didn’t really feel strange or even particularly emotional. We didn’t talk about the war- my dad and I have only ‘discussed’ the war at length a few times, and since we are pretty solidly at loggerheads on it, we haven’t bothered going at the issue for a while. We certainly didn’t talk about it this morning. Instead, we talked about other things, not that. I did try to instruct him in some basic Arabic words in the off chance he runs across some Iraqis at the air base. We discuss my plans to go to Morocco when he gets back, how much I figure it will cost, that sort of thing. We got to the airport and I parked the car while he checked in- a pretty quick process at Jackson International, which is hardly overflowing with traffic most days.

At the little waiting area before the security check we- my immediate family and my grandparents, who had driven down from Louisville- sat around with dad before he had to go through the line. Joseph- he’s ten- decided he would take out his stress by hitting me in the arm repeatedly.

‘Quit! Look, you want to go buy something at Starbucks?’ I had introduced him to the wonders of hot mixed drinks a few days before, and we thought about getting a chai latte, but were discouraged by the almost four dollar price tag, so we went and sat back down. Which meant more kind of staring down at the carpet. We took some photos- ‘Ha dad, the back of your head blends in with the wall!’ We didn’t really talk much. What are you supposed to talk about before seeing someone off to war? Instead you can look at the floor, watch the guys cleaning the space behind the ceiling tiles. Joseph starts hitting me again. I suggest he go hit the potted plant across the room. Dad runs to the bathroom to change- he had just gotten his official issue t-shirts right before we got the airport, military forgot to ship them to his home base. He comes back. He decides he might as well go on through security, there’s no point in us standing around here, staring at the floor not talking about it knowing it’s all happening anyway knowing this whole thing’s not some damn abstract talking point on the television, that it’s right here, no more putting it off. We stand up and go towards the security line.

We hug, I say something stupid trying to be funny about hiding in the monastery outside Mosul if the whole deal falls apart, and he walks into the line. I can sort of hear the security man checking his ID, then he has to take off his boots. I don’t see my mom and little brother or grandparents, I have to look back and make sure they’re still there. Mom motions to my little brother, whispers, ‘Hug him or something…’ He looks like he’s crying. My eyes are hot and wet now- dad’s taking off his boots and pulling things out of all those pockets. I clutch the rosary beads in my pocket and mutter the Jesus Prayer and stare at the flag in one of the corners. Now he steps through the metal detector, but it goes off- I told him to empty his pockets into his backpack- the guard is checking his pockets, he’s left a digital camera- why can’t he just finish and get through? Finally, he turns and gives a last wave and we don’t see him anymore. Gone. Off to war. That’s it.

We turn to leave. No one really says anything; my grandparents decide to stay and watch the airplane leave, but my mom and little brother and I start walking back the car. I’m hot and teary and angry and mouth under my breath ‘F- the war,’ not wanting my brother and mother to hear me swear and flushing hotter angry at myself, the world, the whole deal, I stare at my feet, not wanting to look at all the normal people walking by untouched by the things whirling all around just beyond sight. I just want to look at my feet and alternate between swearing and praying and feeling blank. We leave the terminal and I fumble in my pockets and discover my dad’s keys. ‘But I don’t guess he’ll need them for a while,’ I say. We don’t really talk anymore for a while, other than, ‘Car’s over here.’ I don’t know what to say, so I don’t say anything. In the car I’m calmer, mom’s still crying a little. But we laugh at the ridiculous roundabout- in Mississippi!- on the way out, and we’re away, dad off to war, and the whole thing is right there, not a movie, not a newsreel, not a blogger’s commentary. Real life.

Lord have mercy on us.

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