It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…
Imagine somewhere in the city this morning a man got up early and checked his slumbering children, he walked into his kitchen and brewed a cup of tea. His wife walks up behind him and embraces him, he turns and kisses her as he heads for the door one of the children comes into the kitchen trying to wipe the sleep from weary eyes. A father picks the child up and blows softly into the childs eyes, blinking rapidly the child smiles at “daddy”, the Father kisses the child and the Mother takes the child from his arms as the he walks out of the house for the days work. Inside the children are slowly making their way to the kitchen for breakfast, and on the counter the mornings cartoons are on, and the children watch intently as the screen dances with coulour and comes alive with sound. Once again, the daily routine has begun, and the children are ushered out the door for a day of school.
At work a Father clocks in, and is harassed by his boss, teased by his coworkers for not going out the night before, and for being a slave to his family, he laughs and takes their ribbing in good humor. He smiles to himself, and thinks with warmth in his heart that he has the love of his family to return to. It is love that helps him endure a job that he hates, in a city he no longer understands. He is working and saving for his family, and for something more than he has now.
At home a mother tends to an infant, that today is more restless than before, she prays that the baby isn’t sick. She has no insurance , and to take from their savings now with the holidays and school could be devastating. She pushes the thought from her head, and kisses her baby as she puts the child down for a nap. Returning to the living room she finds refuge in the afghan on the couch, and buries her head in a pillow as the tears flow, she yields again to her fears. Fear for her husband, fear for her family, fear for an uncertain future. Feeling silly, and embarrassed she dries her eyes again and turns on the television. The news is always the same, politics, higher prices, war, suffering and reality television. She finds some small measure of solace in a daytime drama, the characters so far removed from her struggles, so alive. After a short time the baby begins to cry and she is certain that their savings will soon be spent on caring for the child. Looking back to the television she realizes that it isn’t reality at all, reality surrounds her and the walls of her reality grow smaller and smaller each day.
At school the oldest boy at recess has to contend with the playground bully all the while looking out for his little sister, more than once he has taken a beating protecting his little sister. She is always so quiet, so timid, but her eyes burn with an intelligence that he cannot fathom. On more than one occasion she has helped him with his homework, and on than more than one occasion she has helped tie his soccer cleats, and stood tall and proud along side her parents as her older brother tried his best to help his team win. They were not only siblings, they were best friends, well beyond their years they had been aged by the city, its harshness, and the cold reality of it. Early in school they’d learned of the struggle of their parents to put them through private school, early in life they’d had to learn to give back to the family. They were 11 and 9 respectively; in all reality they were closer to 20 and 18. It was their eyes, always their eyes that gave away their years.
At work a Father asks for overtime, but the boss has his favorites, and promises maybe next week there will be overtime. It is always next week, always an empty promise. A Father realizes that something has to change, sadly he realizes that the only change that will come is that he will get older another year has seen more promises broken.
Finally the evening comes, and the family prepares for dinner, children wash and mother prepares a great meal in their cramped kitchen, Brother and Sister set the table and fill glasses with water, and milk. As they hear the key in the lock, they all rush to see their Father. He hugs them tightly and reminds himself that every struggle he endures is for them, his wife walks to him and he embraces her, they steal a kiss, and all at once he senses her sorrow, and sadly he smiles at her as understanding takes hold of him. Brother and Sister too understand; baby is sick again and things are going to get tight again. A Father looks at his family and Brother smiles at him, Sister picks up Baby smothers a teary face with kisses. Mother beams with pride, she doesn’t know how but somehow they will get by.
As Father reads to Brother and Sister, they drift off to sleep, and dreams begin to fill their heads. Mother and Father kiss them and close the door, not all the way. Leaving it open just a crack so the light from down the hall can get in. As Mother finishes nursing Baby, Father watches as Baby is laid to sleep in the crib. As the day is finally over they embrace and she tells him that Baby is ill, and they will have to spend their savings on going to the doctor. As her tears fall, he holds her, and tries to reassure her. Yet his words ring hollow in his own ears, some how they have to make. They will make it…
Now imagine that this was an American family in an American city, I see families in Baghdad trying to survive this war. Everyday in Baghdad children well beyond their years walk a line between being children and combat veterans caught in the middle of a war, that threatens to rip their city down the middle and destroy the very dream of hope that they now dare to hold dear.
My time here grows shorter by the day, and I thank God for it, I cannot wait to never be here again, but I think a part of me will always remain here just as a part of this place will always remain with me.
I have remained silent for some time, partly because I have nothing positive to offer, partly because our freedom to write what we desire to write has been curtailed (necessity), and mostly because my own bitterness at much of what I have been witness to has left me questioning more than I care to admit.
There comes a point in every war when Soldiers say; “Why are we here?”. A few days ago, a Soldier asked me that question, and for the first time since I have been an officer word, and reason to our cause eluded me. All I could muster was “Because our nation asked…” I hope that helped him because the taste that answer left in my mouth has left me parched for reason in a desert that offers noting to quench my thirst. I am a Soldier, and I am discharging my duty. In 93 days said duty will have been discharged, and 17 years of nearly continuous service will be at a crossroads. There is an empty hanger in my closet that begs the question, is now the time to hang this faded uniform for the last time?
I miss Dan, and MAJ K, but more than that I miss the fallen, those I knew and those that I was too “busy” to get to know. Yet most of all I miss the naïve idealism I once possessed, as I recall it left me feeling much better inside than what has since taken it place. 93 days…
It was the best of times…