postcard

Clay received a postcard from friends today. Of a naked guy. On a beach.

He called me and was very calm about it, but asked me to ask our friends to be “more discreet”. He told me how he had been taking heat for it all day from everyone. I was also very calm about it, and we managed to talk about a lot of other things before our time was up. After I hung up, however, I went ballistic. All of my friends who had to listen to my tirade deserve a Purple Heart, no doubt.

I tracked down the chief instigator and fired off a blistering email – here’s some of it:

“…Clay received an inappropriate postcard from you today, and has taken a lot of heat for it. I would rather him be focused on keeping his head down than trying to explain and defend himself for something so utterly careless and preventable… Our phone time is precious and limited, yet he had to call me from Iraq today and discuss how things like this can’t happen again in the future…”

I told her how much I appreciated all of the stuff she has faithfully sent over to Clay. I tried to explain how grateful I am for being able to communicate with Clay, but also how hard it is for me to censor my love for him in our conversations. I said it might not be fair for me to expect everyone to play by such stupid rules, but that fair isn’t a word I use much anymore. I asked her to use this mistake as an opportunity to warn our friends about doing something similar in the future.

I got back an apology. It turns out they were all extremely drunk in Mexico, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. But I don’t she really gets why this can be so tricky under DADT…

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Legacy

The scars of war, old and new, are present all around us, whether we are aware of it or not.

I’ve written before that my Grandpa Steve was a Marine in some of the most brutal fighting in the South Pacific during WWII. He only talked about it in detail once after he got home. After years of waking up screaming in the middle of the night, he finally poured out his soul to my Grandma, when he couldn’t take it any longer. He talked all night until the sun came up, and then never again. He was able to sleep all night after that, though.

He has a calligraphy set that he brought back with him from battle. He picked it up off the beach, next to a dead soldier. Every now and then he’ll take it out and open it up. He’ll finger the brushes and look at the pictures inside: curling black and white images of smiling Japanese cadets, blissfully unaware of their fate yet to come at the hands of American soldiers. After a few minutes he’ll carefully and silently put it away again. He’ll be 91 tomorrow. He is a sensitive, thoughtful, loving man.

A very close friend of ours has been reaching out to me since Clay deployed. I received many calls and emails inviting me for “tea and sweets”. Although she lives right down the road, I never seemed to make it over there. She is a talented artist, and has labored to send the most beautiful, thoughtful creations to Clay in Iraq. After a particularly tough day, I finally went over and shared my pain and frustrations. As we sipped tea together she told me the story of how her brother was killed in Vietnam when she was a little girl.

For four years I have driven into town past a forest of juvenile trees with a wooden sign that reads “Kevin’s Plantation”, and I never really thought much of anything about it. A few weeks ago I met a young lady from my town who is the most incredibly funny ball of crazy energy. She is one of those people who makes you laugh and feel good no matter what. When I asked a friend if she knew her, she said, “Oh yeah, her brother was Kevin. He was killed in a military training exercise a few years ago. His family planted that forest in his honor.”

The experience of war is not something I wish to pass on to the next generation, but there is an example of perseverance and beauty in each of the stories above – even if I haven’t been been able to express it fully here.

Rollercoaster

I’ve talked to Clay twice in the past 48 hours. The first time he had just had a ‘quiet’ day (meaning boring, average, run-of-the-mill NOT getting shot at). On those days he sounds like his plain old self – as if he was sitting next to me on the couch.

The second time, he used the new phrase “Things are getting very active now.”

I don’t like this new phrase.

He hasn’t been sleeping again so I took the opportunity to finally give my opinion on the dangerous effects of sleep deprivation and how he should take at least half a sleeping pill.

“Brad, I sleep with a loaded weapon by my bed. I can’t be under the influence of anything, and besides, I might be called to duty in the middle of the night.”

“Oh.” I felt so stupid. Of course he can’t take a fucking sleeping pill.

Clay is also starting a new type of duty tomorrow. Yeah, it’s the turret gunner. Not everyday, but it’s now apparently part of his ‘rotation’ of duties. He seemed very cool-headed about the whole idea. I told him I was non-plussed, to say the least. He reassured me all would be fine, when it should have been the other way around. I have to watch myself.

Soon we were laughing at the antics of his buddies and he was telling me what kind of stuff he got in the mail.

(Before I tell you this, I checked to see if I would be giving anything away I’m not supposed to and found an article about this here.)

Some of Clay’s buds operate a millimeter-wave scanner: it’s the controversial one that sees through clothes to detect any hidden weapons. These straight soldiers gleefully call themselves “cock-lookers” and keep track of how many they’ve seen, even boasting on who has the highest number.

Clay has pointed out many times that, ironically, sometimes the US military seems like the gayest place in the world…

Opposite Schedules

Monday, April 13, 2009

My friend Lori and I are on opposite schedules, so to speak. Her son is home while my partner is deployed.

The day I found out Clay was going to Iraq, he was being quite an asshole. He was argumentative and was particularly hard on our daughter. It seemed to come out of the blue and we were both perplexed and annoyed by his behavior. I finally called him on it and he disappeared upstairs for a minute.

Eventually he peeked over the stair railing and asked, “Do you think I’m being an asshole? Do you wanna know why?” And out it came. He had just found out about his deployment and didn’t know how to tell us.

At that moment, Lori was still celebrating her son’s return from Iraq. I tried to imagine what that would feel like, after so many months of wondering and waiting.

She has been a great support to me because she understands so much about how I feel, even when I can’t properly articulate what’s inside of me.

I didn’t tell her about Clay for a while. I thought I was being noble, I guess – I didn’t want to dilute one ounce of her relief or happiness, but I realize now that telling her would have only made her hold her son that much closer.

I’m very aware that soon the tables will be turned – her son will redeploy soon after Clay comes home. I hope she’ll lean on me, as soon as she needs to. It will only make me hold onto Clay that much harder, our embraces that much sweeter.

That Voice Again

Clay called. His voice was barely audible at first, and I heard again that familiar soft-yet-uneven tone, roiling with confusion and hurt. The heaviness and weariness behind it scares me. It was hard to get him to talk:

“Are you OK?”

“Yes.”

“How was you’re day?”

“It was very busy… a lot happened. I can’t talk about it.” (Busy is his code word for receiving a lot of fire)

“I understand. Will you be able to talk about it in a couple of days?” (This is code for someone being killed, as there is a blackout until families have been notified)

“No, (barely audible) I’m not alone, I can’t talk about it.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yes, it’s just been a tough day. I’m not sleeping.” (He refuses to take his prescribed sleep medicine because he’s afraid he won’t be able to respond in a crisis. I offer to send some natural stuff that won’t make him so groggy but he’s adamant about being fully alert. I save my thoughts on the effects of sleep deprivation for another time.)

“I understand if you’re not allowed to talk about it. Is everyone ok?”

“There were a lot of medevac helicopters, that’s all I can say.”

His voice is hesitant and raw. I change the subject. I’m at our friends’ house and they’ve just called me “The Boy who Farted Wolf” because I accused my niece of ‘something’ (ahem) I did. I told them it was all their fault because they knowingly fed me copious amounts of dairy in spite of certain known ‘proclivities’.

I relay all this to Clay, and soon we’re laughing so hard that we’re both crying, but good tears. By the time the mechanical voice comes on to tell us our 15 minutes is up, we’ve laughed harder than any other previous conversation since he left.

I hang up the phone and rest my forehead in the palm of my hand. I’m lost for a moment in thought and our friend, who had been sitting next to me, says, “I don’t know how you can do that.” I’m confused, and it must have shown because he added, “How can you pretend like that? I couldn’t do that.”

I tried to explain, but he didn’t understand – I’m not special. It’s just love. You never think you can do it, but you just do. I didn’t pretend, not one bit, I just reached down deep and found what needed to be found. I never think it’s going to be there, but somehow it just is.

SSgt Phillip Myers

I am moved by, and very thankful to, the family of SSgt Phillip Myers of Hopewell, VA.

From NPR:

“The media were permitted on Sunday to cover the arrival of a U.S. soldier’s coffin at the Pentagon’s main mortuary in Delaware. In February, the White House relaxed a media ban that had been in place for 18 years. The family of Air Force Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers of Hopewell, Va., agreed to have the media coverage but declined to be interviewed or photographed.”

Without media coverage, it’s all too easy for us to forget the human cost of war. It’s too easy for it all to become this abstract concept about something that’s happening to other people, somewhere out of our reach on the opposite side of the world.

If you can handle it, I recommend watching HBO’s Taking Chance with Kevin Bacon. It is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen, but it took me a while to recover from watching it.

Spring

Yesterday was a hard day. I hadn’t heard from Clay in a while and I start getting fidgety when that happens. I don’t consciously sit and wait for the phone to ring, but it’s like this subtle pressure builds the longer we go without talking to each other.

Spring came while I was gone on a trip. It was still full-blown winter with snow and everything when I left a few days ago, and when I returned yesterday it was 70 and sunny. I was freaked out because I had to drive illegally for three hours with my studded snow tires still on. (My car got stranded at the airport for a week past the studded tire removal deadline due to a cancelled flight and I was sure I was going to get a $135 ticket.)

So it caught me by surprise when I pulled into my driveway and I couldn’t get out of my car. I turned off the ignition and just sat there. It was winter when Clay left, which somehow seemed very appropriate – all of the darkness, cold and snow perfectly symbolized my fear and loneliness. And now, all of a sudden, the snow just magically vanished and the hot sun was beating down on me through the glass of my windshield, and I couldn’t go into the house all alone, by myself.

Clay would have been up early planting, digging, hauling, tilling… This is his season, his time to find joy in getting his hands dirty and making things grow. And it means nothing to me without him here.

After about fifteen minutes the “reasonable” voice in my head said, “This is ridiculous. Get out of the fucking car and go into the house.” So I did, and all was ok.