He sat up in the darkness, his heart pounding, fighting to free himself from the twisted blankets. Slowly his heart settled down as his eyes traced the dim contours of his room, his life long familiarity with it now competing with an odd sense that he was looking at someone else’s room. There was the globe on his desk. Iraq was on the side opposite from America, he knew without looking. Next to it he discerned the outlines of the card from Rachel, and he remembered.
During basic training they often marched to the cadence of a series of Jody songs. Jody was the character who stayed behind in civilian life and enjoyed everything the soldier left behind. “Ain’t no use in goin’ home, Jody’s got your girl and gone!” was one that had amused him then. He stopped laughing when the letters stopped coming every day, trailing off now to about one a month. He hadn’t called her yet. He used the excuse of the lateness of the hour. The airport was an hour away, and when his flight arrived it was almost midnight.
Fully awake now, he tiptoed down the stairs, not turning on any lights until he reached the kitchen. He scanned the refrigerator, thought about grabbing a beer, then rejected it and poured some eggnog into a glass. After months of vigilance that somehow coexisted with boredom, the omnipresence of machinery and sandflies,, the never ending patrols, and the occasional, random adrenaline rush of gunfire and explosions, he found the glass tumbler, decorated with a skiing cartoon Santa Claus, astonishing. It was an icon of his childhood, a relic found by some archaeologists digging up his past, prewar life.
As he sat at the table, his Dad walked in, pulling out a chair to join him. “Now you drink from the glass instead of guzzling from the pitcher. No longer a kid, you’ve become a man.”
“Hey, Dad, did I wake you?”
“I was awake anyways, just thinking. I was remembering when I came home from Nam wondering what your Mom would do. She could never understand who I had become and what I’d learned. You leave a kid. You’re trusted with millions of dollars worth of equipment, weapons and live ammo, and the lives of your buddies, and then you come home.”
“Were you a Christian then?”
More so when I came back than when I’d left. Everything was so much more important. I lived the truth of Psalm 144:1, “Blessed be the LORD my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle,’ and she hadn’t. Not everyone understands the warrior, and I learned that I didn’t need to make her understand it. I just had to remember why we sometimes have to fight.”
“Mostly to stay alive and to keep your buddies alive.”
“True, in the middle of it all when everything is happening so fast. But after I’d been home for awhile, I had to let go of my resentment for everyone who didn’t go and could never understand, including your Mom. Once I did that, and started appreciating her, things changed, and soon we were married. That’s when I learned that my willingness to fight for my country made it possible for all these people I loved to live so blissfully unaware of the genuine evil in this world. It’s for them we faced the worst the world has.”
“Yeah, and the world thinks we’re the crazy ones, warped by combat. Every war it seems, the media reports the increasing mental health problems, alcoholism, suicides, chronic unemployment and homelessness…”
“While buried in the all those stats we find that…”
“If the present alarming trends continue…”
“Soon we combat vets will be as crazy, suicidal, drunken, and maladjusted as Jody!”
They laughed together, not just Father and Son, but two men who shared a truth.
The lights in the windows and on the tree twinkled, sending starbursts of color to play on the ceiling and reflect in the window. “Rachel still loves you, I think, Son. She doesn’t need to know all you learned about fighting wars. Only that you did it for her.”
“For her and for this,” he answered, looking at the lights and thinking about his mom and brothers and sisters sleeping soundly in their beds.
Welcome home, Son. And Merry Christmas. It’s good having you home.”
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