Rowley, you see that? Grant, one of my good comrades asked, pointing out the window of the plane. Its home, he said. And damn, I dont think Im gonna be goin to another desert anytime soon, yknow?
Yeah; I do, I said softly, putting a hand to the window pane. Home. That word seemed so far away, so distant. Its like an old, reliable friend you havent heard from in years, that heightened sense of excitement and joy. Hell, it was all I could do not to cry. Home. The word slipped from my mouth like music from a piano; smooth, quiet, but warm.
Oi, Grant, Rowley! Adam, our commanding officer, called to us. Were landing now! And gear yourselves up mates the first time returning home from over a year in Baghdads gonna do things to yah.
We all stepped off the plane with our heads held high, eyes darting around the corner eagerly, looking for family. I came out to see my wife, Riana. Never have I ever been so glad to see her. I looked down to see her clutching a small baby in her arms, eyes closed in sleep. She saw me and ran as fast as she could without dropping the baby. I smiled and came forward, throwing my arms around her and holding her close, leaning my head on her shoulder. I could feel her hot tears of joy wash from her face and seep into my army clothes.
Hey you, I said in a gentle voice, stroking her honey blonde hair. Whatchu crying about? Im home, see? You dont need tcry anymore. Im safe, Im home. You dont need to cry. I dont know why I was saying this, because I knew she was just overcome with happiness to see me again. So was I! but I guess I was just reassuring myself this wasnt a dream that I would wake up from in less than an hour due to having little or no sleeping time, proving to myself this isnt some bizarre mirage amidst the sands of Iraq. No, this was real, this was home. I knew it.
Riana stopped crying after awhile, still not saying anything, simply clinging to my body for dear life. But then again, nothing was needed to be said that wasnt already said. She smiled and said to the baby, who had recently woken up, Norah, say hi to daddy. Say hi to your daddy! she carefully handed the baby to me our baby to me. Norah gurgled, and reached a hand out. I held her in a light but secure grip, scared my strong, army-scarred grip would be too tight, too rough for such a delicate, pure human being. Her teeny hand brushed along my recently shaved face. I could have sworn right then, that my own eyes were looking in a mirror, for hers were so like mine.
Im sorry, I said quietly as I cradled Norah. I wish I could have been there. Riana shook her head. The important thing is that you are here now. I smiled and kissed her. Yes, I suppose it is.
She smiled that beautiful smile I fell in love with 3 years ago when I began dating her. Lets go home, she said. Airports are too noisy for infants. I glanced down at Norah, who looked ready to go back to sleep again. I laughed; she has the sleep habits of her mother. Home sounds good.
When we went to the baggage claim, my joy was choked by old memories. There were hundreds of people in here, all clumped into one room. A man sitting by one pillar with the name of some business man written on a card looked from here to there with a backpack sitting on the ground. It was like when we had to go to Faluja, and a man set off a backpack bomb, killing four children in the death toll. Another man was walking by, wearing overly baggy clothing, like the suicide bomber that struck Baghdad markets. Another dozen were rushing from one place to another in a hurry, like the insurgents that ambushed us, another nine were on a cell phone and over there, cell phones are used as triggers for bombs. I tightened the grip on Rianas hand, while keeping a good hold on Norah in the other.
Cain? Whats wrong? She asked, looking at me with her caring blue eyes. She took her other hand and caressed my back with it.
Um, nothing, I said quickly, still darting my eyes around at all the people that whirred around me. Why was all of this coming back? The war was behind me, in Iraq, thousands of miles away, over a damn ocean! Lets just find my bag and get out of here.
It was more than obvious I was tense, but Riana just nodded and took Norah as I went up to grab my bag. By the time we were out of there and on the road, I was much more relieved. Something told me that big crowds would take some getting used to again.
I looked around the streets of the suburbs as we drove in, the sun setting on a weary day. The houses
they were the same, yet not. The same peacefulness, the same look, but nothing felt the same anymore. Seemed too far off, in some distant memory that wouldnt live to be the same ever again. I sighed.
When I got out of the car, I looked over my house. I cradled Norah, and walked inside. I brushed my hand against the banister I slid down when I proposed to Riana just before she left the house that was 2 years ago. I walked up to see the small kitchen table where me, Riana, Bran and Seth used to gather around with a shot of whiskey and play cards on summer nights. My fingers barely grazed the smooth wooden surface, like I would see my memories again by reading the hand-print worn oak. I kept walking in my daze, to the living room, where Riana told me she was pregnant, not a month before I was shipped off to Iraq. That unrealistic sense of happiness, that chronic euphoria that lasted until I was gonna be deployed
I will never forget it.
Riana hugged me from behind, her head leaning on my back. Welcome home. I snapped out of my reminiscing and turned to hug her back with my available arm, kissing her gently on the top of her head. Glad to be home, I agreed with her.
She smiled and sighed in content. I looked down at her, with a small smile of my own. At least one thing wasnt distant or far off. One little thing that wouldnt make me wonder if I was really home. Well, I oughta get with making dinner; why dont you get to know Norah for a little bit?
Sure thing, I said. It hangs over my head bad enough that I only today met my daughter. I have some catching up to do. Riana saw the guilt in my eyes, I could tell. She always had a way of seeing someone like looking through a piece of glass. She chose not to say anything, but to get to work instead. But really, what could she say that would get rid of it? Nothing that I could think of.
I carried Norah up the stairs like she was a little silk pillow that had a fine glass bead on it that would shatter if it left its pillow. I found our room and flipped on the light switch. I found that the small white cradle was to the left of our bed, a couple toys here and there. I sat on the bed and held Norah out to really look at her. Wisps of honey colored fuzz could be seen on the top of her head, like her mother. Fair toned porcelain baby skin brought out bright hazel eyes that looked me over with interest and curiosity.
One of her miniature hands gripped my finger and turned it over, examining it. How can I blame her? Her mothers soft, sweet scented hands were so different from my sun tanned, leathery, scarred hands. It was like my own daughter thought me an alien. I sighed, and simply let her turn over my hand, touch the skin-like leather that encased my body, and it had sunken in just how different things were. Iraq did things to me. Instead of seeing my child, I see an Iraqi child crying because her mother was just killed. I see so much past, and it scared me, right then, so much. Norah put a hand to my cheek, and it comforted me, brought me out of my spell to the past. It was burned in my head still, but Norah was its bane, it seemed.
Cain, dinners done! Riana called from down the stairs. I sighed and wordlessly got a securer hold on Norah and went back downstairs. Though, when actually came to eating, something in my system just told me not to. I looked at the simple chicken and pasta with a roll in front of me and wondered why I was resisting this; I havent had a home cooked meal in a long time.
Whats wrong? Riana asked. I would think after over a year of rations you would be scarfing this stuff down.
Im just still adjusting to home is all, I said bluntly, my eyes on the wood of the table.
Riana reached her hands across the table to grab his, her thumb making gentle stroking motions. You were acting like this at the airport too. Anything you want to talk about?
I closed my eyes and put my head in my hands. I didnt need to see her gaze to see it held worry. Its not that I dont want to talk to you about this, I said slowly, carefully. I just
I need to talk to someone whos been there and back
I need to talk to Bran and Seth. I think thatll help. I looked up to see now her head was down, though she nodded. Ill keep your plate warm, in case you wanna eat when you get back.
I sighed and went over to her, wrapping my arms around her. Ill be alright, I said, though I couldnt tell if I was talking to myself or to Riana.
Just come back home soon, She said quietly. Thats all I ask. I nodded and solemnly left the house to take a walk a few blocks to the graveyard.
I walked through the giant black wired gates and went up to the area where the war soldiers were buried. I knelt by two stones and closed my eyes, brushing over their names with my hand. Brandon T. Karson. Seth J. Aries, I said aloud, opening my eyes. Bran, Seth, its me
Im home. Or
am I home? I cant tell anymore. Every time I see something that was once normal, once fine, it feels so different! I see someone on a cell phone and I flip out, I see a large crowd, I can barely keep in control!
I sighed and put a hand to my head. You guys
we grew up together. We enlisted together. We fought together. We bled together. Yet for some reason, we didnt die together.
I could already hear Brans blunt response of, Well you have a kid and we dont dumbass! I could still feel his harsh gestures when he got mad at me; all of it was flooding in.
Riana, she knows something is wrong. But, can she really help me with this?
Seth would prolly tell me in his calm and reasonable voice, Of course she can. All you need is to be talked to. You keep bad things bottled up; they do worse things to your health!
And what about the past? I cant just go back to life like I never saw or did anything! I could barely get home without melting down-
Then talk to Riana, Seths voice continued in his head. She loves you. She wants to help you, and she can. She may not have been there or know what you are going through by experience, but shes a good minded girl that can offer good advice, a shoulder for when things get tough, anything you need, you know she is ready to give.
Thats it though. I cant tell her the horrors that I saw there. she would-
Would what, explode on impact? Bran came again. Listen, we grew up with Riana, she isnt made of glass! She would have gone through that same hell and back ten times if it meant you would be safe, you know that! So stop acting like a childish, dumbass brat and do something other than talking to dead people! I didnt take that bullet for you so you could come home moping and crying about how hard life is now that youre here. Guess what, I knew it was going to suck for you. But you gotta get over that!
I could almost feel Seths gentle, brotherly hand on I shoulder. Norah needs you, Cain. She cant grow up with her father always distant and too scared to go in public. She looks up to you, to protect her. Fulfill at least that to her.
I sighed. I think I understood now. Well, then what do I do? I asked aloud, in a calmer voice.
Go home, Seth and Bran mentally sounded. Talk to Riana. Take care of Norah. But most of all, move on. And they were gone. Well, okay, not gone, but this sense of purpose finally came, a sense of what I had to do.
I walked back home on legs that were stronger, yet they were never weakened, eyes that had courage, yet never really lost it. it was complicated, what I could say at that time, but all I knew was that something came back, yet it was never really gone.
I walked in to see a sheet of foil over a plate, which I assumed to be my dinner, but I heard a soft voice upstairs. I quietly went up them and entered the room to see Riana singing Norah to sleep. The lullaby came out of her lips like water from a fountain; cool, gentle, but the song itself...it plainly told what happened when he left.
Hush little baby, dont you cry
Mommas singing your sweet lullaby.
May your dreams never be stirred
On the wings of your mockingbird.
Travel under mountain, over sky,
Yet still in this bed youll lie.
When weary dreamings have occurred
Come back home on your mockingbird.
In your dreams you may weep
And wish no longer that youre asleep.
You need not say a word
Just call your loving mockingbird.
Hush my sweet baby, dont you cry
Momma had a nightmare, I wont lie
Daddyll be home soon, Ive heard
On the wings of our mockingbird.
Daddys still off fighting in the war
So your dreams shall have no gore.
Soon, your dreams will become cured
When he comes home on our mockingbird.
Hush pretty baby, please dont cry
Daddys gonna be alright.
If he gets hurt and you overheard
Fly away on your mockingbird
You miss your daddy, yes I know
At your age it really shows.
If you wanna see him, dont say a word
Dream of him on your mockingbird.
She finished, and Norah was asleep. I walked in quietly and hugged her gently from where she sat on the bed. Can you tell me whats wrong now? I could hear her voice wavering. She was scared she was losing me, I finally realized. I hugged her a little tighter.
I can. See, the war
it did things to me. I see a man on a cell phone and I think a bomb is gonna go off, I look at the side of the road and wonder if a bomb is sitting there, I just
I sighed, leaning my head on her shoulder in hopelessness. I just dont know how Im supposed to come back home from all of this and act like I never left in the first place, like I dont see things I saw there.
I felt Riana hug back. You dont need to. Cain, its okay to come back from the war zone and not be able to let go of what happened like that. Im here to talk to, to help you adjust, to help you with anything you need so you can move on. I love you, why wouldnt I?
I know. Bran slapped me back into reality, and Seth did all the reasoning. I know what I did earlier to worry you was wrong, Im sorry I didnt talk to you straight away.
Think not of it, Riana said quietly, leaning on him and gently kissing his cheek. Now, what happened over there? Talk to me.
I opened my mouth to talk when Norah began crying, woken up from whatever she was dreaming. Ill take care of it, I volunteered, going to the cradle to hold my dear sweet child. shhh, girl, I whispered. I realized this was my time to fix things, to make my alien hands familiar, to make her father no longer a stranger. Softly, I sang:
Hush my lil baby, daddys here
You dont got anything to fear
Know that youre never unheard
On my wings, your mockingbird.