Do you remember when we would sit in school and the teacher would take role? “Johnny?” “Here!” “Sally?” “Here!” Do they still do that?
I used to have a recurring dream when I was raising my kids that I was sitting at a noisy dinner table with my family, and someone’s chair was empty. I would wake up in tears with my heart racing. Who was missing?? Where were they?! It was horrible. The nightmares continued until the kids grew up and started taking on lives of their own. I think I stopped having them when Miles was about 16. He’s my youngest, and had the privilege of being an only child for a short period of time.
Then Miles did the unthinkable: He enlisted in the Army and took off for boot camp right after graduation from high school. What? Who raised that child? What was he thinking? I was raised in the military and enjoy my freedom and liberty as much as the next American, but I didn’t want him to live in that environment. Okay, I just didn’t want people shooting at him, or being mean to him, or even yelling at him. Then he decided he would also go airborne. That means that he jumps out of airplanes while people shoot at him. Did I mention that there are bombs involved?
Miles’ first deployment to Iraq was by far the hardest experience I have ever endured. It was worse than kidney stones, or my three week labor and delivery (yes, three weeks), and worse than a gall bladder attack. I know, it was hard for him too, but he assured me that it was probably harder on me because he was busy ‘doing stuff.’ I was busy not sleeping, and 'worrying about stuff.’ I didn’t watch a single news broadcast, held my breath when I saw any military vehicles - praying they weren’t headed for my driveway, and got used to receiving an occasional 1:00 a.m. phone call that was always Miles.
And then he came home. Then he went to Afghanistan. And came home. And went again, came home, and went again.
Miles and I had dinner at my nephew's house the last time I saw him before his final deployment. It was physically painful to get into my car and drive away, because I kept seeing that empty chair at the table. For some reason, this time just felt different. I hugged him and tried not to cry, but I was not as brave as he was. Miles said, “Mom, don’t worry. I always come home.”