I came home the other evening to my husband sitting outside. He helped me bring my things in from work. I walked in the door and my son came up to me with a mask on his face. I jumped a little and we all three laughed. Then my son asked me to listen to a song he and one of his buddies listened to while he was in the service. That's when I saw it.
I saw the look in his eyes that told me inside that stranger somewhere was my son. In 2001, weeks before 9/11, my son signed up on his 18th birthday. The morning of the attacks, I woke him up and told him what happened and that we would get him out of his contract. I was terrified. He hugged me and said “No, Mom, I have to go. For you, Jeremy and the Munchkin (his nickname for his little sister). It's more important than ever. America is mine.”
That was the son I had raised. Protective of me and his siblings. Caring about friends and family. Never even had a traffic ticket in his life. We had one night a week set up for just the four of us, usually dinner and a movie. The rest of the time many of their friends spent just as much time at our house as their own. We had the Super Bowl parties, movies, popcorn, bacon tomato cups and game nights. I always had walking partners cause the girls who crushed on my sons would always be around and several times some of them would walk around the neighborhood with me.
My son went to Iraq in 2003. This young man was close to his commander and several of his comrades. He even brought some home to show them what he thought was the greatest place in the world...his hometown.
In 2004, my son surprised us when he was given a two-week leave. I heard a knock on my door and glanced out the window to see a soldier. I have to admit, at first, I was terrified. Then I felt the Lord telling me to open the door and hug my son. My shock turned to joy. My son was home!
During his leave, we spent practically every moment together. I got my first glimpses of the stranger who was sharing my son's body. He had a nightmare one night that brought me running when I heard him scream, He shared it with me and my best friend at dinner the next evening. He was driving a humvee, the Tigris River on one side, innocent Iraqis on the other, insurgents in front of him and his brother and sister in the back. He had to make a split-second decision. Being a driver over there was overwhelming and affecting his sleep.
While he was home, we went to get his car registered. He was at the window talking to the lady when his sister walked over to the vending machine across the room but in full view of me. He walked away from the window, took his sister by the arm and brought her back to me, telling me not to let her get that far because I did not know what could happen to her.
He returned to Iraq and came home a few months later. At the end of 2005, he got out with an honorable discharge when his enlistment was up. I was relieved. The damage, however, was already done.
My son has a compression on the left side of his skull that was found with an EEG. He has a brain injury, PTSD, epileptic seizures, headaches, memory loss and mood swings. When his VA benefits came through, I was relieved that his brain injury would then be monitored for the rest of his life. That is, of course, when he can remember to keep his appointments. I am in charge of trying to help him remember things like that. But I am in my late 40s and I know that I will not always be here or be healthy enough to take care of him. I'm giving it my all right now, though.
People ask me why I keep doing this when he gets agitated with me at times. It's because of the son that I hugged the day he left for the Middle East. It is because of the big brother my other two children saw off to war. The young man who DID come home is loved and I am grateful that he is still alive. I do miss the part of him we lost over there and if you have a loved one with a brain injury and/or PTSD, you understand exactly what I mean.
He asked me one time why I care. I told him the same thing: “Because I see parts of the old you sometimes.”
No, my son did not “give all” but he gave a LOT. Our whole family did. We will live with Operation Iraqi Freedom for the rest of our lives. My only regret and I am not ashamed to admit it here on this blog in writing is that I did not literally kidnap my son and keep him from going to Iraq.
Still, once in awhile, I get a glimpse of the old son just as I did the other night. He is the reason why I am still here, fighting indifference and gossip, insisting he be treated fairly, He wrote a blank check when he went to war. It got cashed and we are dealing with the “overdraft fees” every day and as long as this Mama is alive and able, he will have someone to count on. That's this Mama's promise.
Submitted by Monica Newton