I was at my daughter's the day her husband came home. His sister and mother had cleaned the entire house with vinegar, lined the walkway to the front door with yellow feathers, while my daughter was at work and the kids were at school. Due to dust storms, his arrival time kept changing, by hours and days. We kept making his favorite foods and waiting. My two sons were there, trying to pre-occupy their nephews. In the convoluted way the military does things, he had to fly first to Fort Bliss, Texas, then back to Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey. Something about paperwork, debriefing and returning some of his equipment.
meat stamped, Rejected by Air Force
I may be mixing up some of the details, as he was allowed back in the USA for one week, halfway through his deployment, in February between Valentine's Day and their wedding anniversary. My younger son's laptop screen shattered and I had gotten nowhere with Sony, so I looked up a computer parts replacement place online. However, it was an actual store and they only took cash, but the price was right. Located in an unfamiliar part of New Jersey, I asked him to drive me there. He was happy to be driving on paved roads, in a car, with no camels crossing, no dust storms. He was unusually chatty, especially about how green everything was. One turn off a major highway, and there were beggars, graffiti, garbage cans burning, decaying buildings boarded up. His demeanor changed.
Super Bowl, beer allowed. No, thanks.
The name above the number of the address was different. He came up with a retreat plan, which sounded fine by me. He carried the laptop which was in a box and walked behind me. As I opened the door to a really sketchy building, he said, "You do the talking." The place was a mess, piles and piles of computer parts, boxes, a few desks, and about ten males who all looked of Middle Eastern descent. It was the kind of store that could easily vanish by morning. No cash register, no smiles. Fortunately, I had called ahead, had a contact name, so after announcing who I was, asked for Fahad. The tension faded slightly, as a handsome young man said enthusiastically, "That is me. These are my friends."
Did you have to kill anyone?
My son-in-law was still quiet, assessing the safety of the situation. We had both stayed close to the door. I figured, what the heck, and shook Fahad's hand. Suddenly, smiles all around in front of me, as several men came forward to see what the problem was with the laptop. "This is your husband?" (One of the men asked about my son-in-law.) "No", he replied with a dark shrug, "I'm just her driver." I stifled a laugh and said, "You'll have to excuse him; he just came back from Iraq. He's my daughter's husband." This was met by much questioning and sad stories of family they hadn't heard from, as well as wishes for peace, not war.
Please don't ever go back, Daddy.
None of them knew much about computers, but my son-in-law does, so he looked through the wares and got the correct screen. I paid in cash, got a mimeographed receipt with a different store name on top. Fahad said if it didn't work, I was welcome back any time. We left, after I thanked them all in the name of Jesus or Buddha or Allah. (Honestly, I was cold, hungry and thinking of food.) They were all laughing as we left, closing the door. "Did you trust them?" I asked my son-in-law. He paused then said, "Nope. This store will be folded up like a tent and gone by tomorrow. Any chance we can find a Dunkin' Donuts?"
Eleven, man of the house cries.
dedicated to all the children affected by war