It’s difficult for me to write on personal topics. Politics is my comfort zone. But once in a while, I want to say something just to share it, like a diary entry. Once in a blue moon, something moves me and I just want to speak on it. And my editor on this site, Brooklyn Dame, is, fortunately, indulgent.
I watched the DNC, and multiple speakers spoke about the sacrifices our U.S. soldiers have made in defending this country. And a year ago, for me, Afghanistan and Iraq, deployment, multiple tours, IEDs, roadside bombs, inside the wire, outside the wire, were just abstract terms. The death toll of our soldiers, soldiers coming home minus limbs and worse, soldiers’ lives turning from order to chaos, saddened me, like it did all true Americans, but it was theoretical, not based in my reality. I made donations to organizations that helped military families, had my “Support the Troops” sticker on my car. ”Going to war” was a notion that I grasped, but didn’t really understand. I heard about 115-degree heat, terrible terrain, camel spiders, disease, rough living, fear, stress, and always, always, the threat of a bomb, or a terrorist, ready to take our soldiers’ lives. And more and more, I began hearing about the suicide rate among soldiers. How in hell, I wondered, could this be happening?
And then my boy went to Afghanistan, my oldest son. And the idea of war, well, it wasn’t just a concept any more. Halfway through his tour, he got blown up; the vehicle he was driving took a direct hit from an IED. He and his battle buddy walked away, somehow. They didn’t die. My boy served out the rest of his tour, trying to heal.
But my boy went to war, and he came back broken.
When his feet hit U.S. soil, he said, “Mama, I’m not the same any more.” I tried to be practical, matter-of-fact, telling him that people can’t go through life-changing events without changing. But fear for him gripped me, and still does. He knows he’s changed, that his life may be irrevocably changed. But through it all, he’s a soldier – trained to be a soldier, focused like a soldier. I’m so proud of him, and so scared, too.
His brain is injured, one eye doesn’t work. His back is a mess. He gets chronic headaches, takes piles of pills, for pain, to sleep. He startles at loud sounds. PTSD, TBI – the acronyms that mean his mind and soul and body have been broken, damaged. Maybe forever.
I should hate a system that sent my boy to be broken, but I don’t blame the system, or the military. I promised him a long time ago that, no matter what, I’d always honor what he chose to do at age 17, that I’d never turn on the institution that he honored and revered. I swore, no matter what, that I’d never become a Cindy Sheehan, screaming out my rage and bitterness and grief at the system that my son embraced, volunteered to join. My boy, at 24, has worn that uniform with pride for seven years, and he earned a Purple Heart. Despite the injuries he suffered, he doesn’t regret anything. Like so many other soldiers, he just did his job.
He’s back in the U.S., but he isn’t home, and he won’t be coming home for a long time. He’s trying to mend, letting the military try to fix him – fix his mind, fix his body. They’re doing a good job. He’s comfortable in their hands.
My boy served honorably “in country”, far away from family, friends, his wife and kids – he left a part of his brain, bits and pieces of his body, part of his vision, in Afghanistan. He lost his peace of mind there. But he chose his life’s course and he doesn’t regret it, and I can’t regret it either.
My son, Chicago rapper Mpulse, wrote a song for his brother – before he was hit – and he and I recorded it together. Part of the song goes like this: “It’s time to be a soldier, they say they need me at war now. I’ve got two kids, so I worry a little more now – so, I won’t risk getting killed to be brave, I promise I’m coming back, I’ve got children to raise . . . Remember when I was 12 just wishing for this privilege, well, look at me now, Mom, I did it . . . I’ll be all right, don’t even stress it, I’ll be back in a second – so give this kiss to Meghan and Mom, never forget that I’m gonna always be your boy, but it’s time to be a man, I trust that you can understand . . . this is my dream.”
My boy came back broken. My heart clenches every day. But I know my brave, honorable son, and I do understand.
Feel free to listen to our song for our soldier, “Gone to War,” so maybe you can understand too.