I survived the war, the bombs, the gunfire, and the dead donkeys. On the flight home, I knew that I would have to hide the anger and rage from my family. “They will not understand it,” I thought to myself. I told myself for years that ‘the rage kept me strong.’ In hindsight, it made me weak, and it made me fearful to lean on other people.
I drifted off to sleep on the plane and didn’t wake up until the first touchdown for fuel. I sat in the dark and wondered what the reunion with my family would be like. “Would they still love me? Would my kids recognize me?”
I had a newborn daughter that I had seen when she was two weeks old. Seventeen days was not nearly long enough for her to recognize me a year later.
The plane took off and we stayed in the air for several hours. We landed in the United States. Our pilot’s voice came over the intercom and welcomed us back home. The plane erupted with cheers. “Home. Ain’t no place like it.” I felt hot tears well up in my eyes. It was not excitement that pulsated through my body, it was relief. Blessed relief that I had survived the war, relief that I had not died without an opportunity to get right with Almighty God.
It was nigh midnight when we landed in Texas. We were bused from the airfield to our headquarters. A throng of people stood expectantly in the dark. Children sat on shoulders, wives and husbands stood by to receive their spouse. All I remember was that we formed up and practically raced across the field. A podium had been sat up and an officer, a colonel I believe, stood ready to make his remarks.
“Gentlemen,” the colonel began, “you have done your nation proud. The missions that you conducted brought stability to an unstable region. Commanders, release your men to their families.”
After a quick safety briefing, we were released. I started for the nearest gaggle of people, and heard my name being called. I walked toward the voice.
My wife stood with my year-old daughter in her arms, holding the hand of my oldest daughter. She began to cry, my oldest daughter ran to me and cried, ‘Daddy.’ I struggled to maintain my composure. She leapt into my arms, and I hugged her tightly. I kissed my wife and we started for the bags.
“How was your flight,” my wife asked. I shook my head and smiled. “Entirely too long. I am glad to be home.”
I found my bags and carried them to the car. Things had changed, I could feel it in my heart. However, I put it out of my mind. “You’re home. Enjoy being away from the war.”
If only it were that simple. We did not live far from the airfield, and it took mere moments to get home. I carried my bags in and placed them in the closet. My wife put my daughters to bed, and we sat on the couch and talked. Relief washed over me in waves. I showered and got ready for bed. I crawled into bed next to my wife, and I listened to her breathe.
“Are you okay? It has to be weird for you to be home, yeah?”
“What are you thinking about?”
“I’m not. Just listening to you breathe.”
“I’m glad you’re home.”
I didn’t say anything. The darkness in our room seemed to be alive. She slipped into a deep sleep, I waited for sleep to come but it never did.
About 0400, I crawled out of bed and stretched out on the floor. I fell asleep instantly. I dreamed of war.
In my dream I had been taken prisoner, punches were thrown into my body and I could not fight back. I woke up when my wife brushed my foot in passing.
I leapt to my feet prepared to face my enemy. “Weapon, grab your weapon, stupid.” I reached for my weapon, but it was not there. “Oh crap.”
“Hey, hey, hey, it’s me. You’re home, baby.” I breathed deep. My wife stared at me like I was deranged.
“My weapon! Holy God, where is my weapon?” The fact that I was in my own home and out of the warzone had not registered in my mind yet.
“You’re home. It is okay. Let us get some breakfast.” I walked through my home. It was strange to wake up and not be under the threat of impending death. I did not like it. However, I did get accustomed to being home.
Now, if I could figure out some way to connect with my youngest daughter. Things moved rapidly on my return to Texas. I was offered 90 days of stabilization to get used to being out of the war, but I passed on it. Instead, I packed my gear and my family, and we moved to a small community in Germany.
I thought I had made the right decision, but in hindsight, it was one of the worst I had made. This decision would have long-lasting repercussions on my family and my health.