Pieces of Iraq

RebeccaUncategorized1 Comment

See that 1/2 dime-size piece of mystery?  That came out of my husband this week.  
It’s a piece of Iraq that’s been living in him for nine years, literally festering, if that infection he sprung up is any indication.  The minute he poked at it to assess whether or not he needed a doctor, it took me right back there, to being twenty-two years old, trying to drain the infection out of the six inch gaping wound along his jugular, the heart-clenching knowledge that I had almost lost him.
Six months into my husband’s first deployment to Iraq, he was
seriously wounded.  Cold, nauseating fear
gripped me as I answered that phone call.  Millimeters and the amazing doctors at the CSH in Baghdad are what saved not only his life, but mine.  It was a week until I could see him, verify with my own eyes that he was
alive, that he really made it home.  Months
passed healing, watching scar tissue form, pulling pieces of Iraq rock as they pushed out of his skin, praying for his PTSD to become manageable.  We avoided crowds, took back streets, and sat him facing the door in restaurants.  I pretended not to notice when he’d tense at noises, or reach for a weapon that wasn’t there.  Fort Carson surgeons took hundreds of pieces
of shrapnel from his body, his beautiful face, but there was more they simply couldn’t get; only time could force them out.  
 
I watched the restlessness grow within him, the itch to be
back where he felt he was needed most. 
In shame, I was thankful his eyesight hadn’t returned fully from the shrapnel he took.  It meant he was home, he was safe.  Four months and nine days after he was
wounded, he was cleared to return to duty.
He volunteered to go back to his unit, to return to the
line.
I was awed by his selflessness.  I was angry at his selfishness.  Our son wasn’t yet a year old, our marriage
not quite two.  I couldn’t understand how
he was willing to put us through that again, why he wanted to.  In my mind, there was a difference between
duty and volunteering, and the line he crossed was right over our backs. 
As angry as I was, I also knew that it wasn’t about us.  We were fine. 
Lonely, but fine.  His friends,
his brothers, they were not, and that was where he needed to be.  He wouldn’t have been the man I loved if he hadn’t needed to return.  Part of me knew he had to
go back because not all of him had come home; pieces of him had been left there with his blood in Al Qa’im.  If I wanted my husband back in his entirety, I had to let him go.  I had to truly understand and support his
choice even though I felt like screaming. 
Saying goodbye was harder that time.  When he initially left for war, I didn’t know
what I was sending him to.  None of us
really did in those days.  But when he
went back, wearing the same blood-stained, shrapnel-torn patrol cap he had
declared “lucky,” I knew where he was headed. 
My naiveté has been replaced with stoic terror that still haunts me at
every deployment. 
So often, we hear the stories of the tragically wounded,
those who must be medically retired, and their wives who struggle yet relish the care of these heroes.  Our family is
not unique, and neither is our story. 
Over forty-seven thousand servicemen and women have been wounded in these
wars, and the majority of them are still fit for service, still deploying time after time.
So how do we send them back?  That first time, he had been the one wounded, but I still had to heal, to make peace with the gripping fear that still sleeps next to me when he can’t.  Now, it is watching my husband play Russian roulette
over and over again, praying that since lightning struck once, we will be
immune.  Though that is far from the
truth, it is my solace.  Nine years and three
year-long deployments later, with another looming on our horizon, I still hear the
notification playing in my head every time the phone rings and he’s not
here.  I push past the fear because he
needs me to, and if he can put himself back in danger, then surely I can get over myself to be what he needs.  I lean on my fellow
spouses.  I kiss the scar that nearly
took him from me, and complain less because I almost didn’t have him
here. 
He has a new inch-long scar in his thigh this week.  Another piece has been cut out, and yet he said it was odd not to have it there now.  That piece of shrapnel and its brothers have been his companions nearly 1/3 of his life.  Who knows how long the others will remain.  The last time a piece worked itself out was the day of flight school graduation, and I choose to think of it as irony and not foreshadowing.  But the thing is: war stays with them, these men we send.  Just like these pieces he carries in his body, I know it’s still there in his mind, digging in deeper every time he goes.  I wish I could make some metaphor about healing, and how each piece of shrapnel that comes out is a step closer to him being whole, but I can’t.  Losing that shrapnel will never make that happen because it’s part of him now. The truth is the boy I sent to OIF I never came home, but this man who took his place has become every good quality that boy had the potential for, and more.  
When he deploys this time, I’ll hold his lucky cap in my
hand, and I will say my thousandth prayer of thanksgiving, because I know how
lucky we are.  And hey, scars are
hot.     

One Comment on “Pieces of Iraq”

  1. Jen @Marine Wife, Mommy and Life

    Wow…. This post has left me in awe hun. God sure does work in amazing ways, and this post shows both the devils evil work of the pain and God's wonderful ways of repairing it all to the best of his capabilities…. You are a strong woman, he is a man of honor, family and work. You all will make it through this next deployment…I love your blog name and came across it from another blog. I too am the only girl here, except for the female german shepherd I made sure to get because of being the only female… 🙂 Following via GFC from http://wifemomworklife.blogspot.com/ hope you'll stop by and follow back if you'd like. ~Jen

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