The night before the trip, I thought about the last six months. How it had all started and why my family had ended up like this.
I'd been “acting out” for a while now, even before Dad's deployment. Sure, he'd worked overseas before. He'd even gone to fly fighter jets in Afghanistan, but it was only for two or three months at a time. He was always back in time for baseball season. When we lived in Alaska, he even had time to coach my T-ball team. That was the best. The other kids liked my dad. They even gave him a trophy at the end of the season, just for being a great coach. Now, I had a chance to be first string running back in football, and he'd never get to see a game.
Last summer, I'd heard them talking—loud voices, which my parents hardly ever used.
“If you have a choice,” my mother challenged, “why do you want to do this? Why leave us for fifteen months?”
“Cindy,” my dad started off nicely, “I've got to do this. I've got to fly more combat missions, so I can move us to a better place for our next assignment. Maybe move closer to my parents or yours,” he pleaded, giving her logical reasons why he was leaving.
“You've already made up your mind, haven't you, Joseph? Talking to you is pointless,” Mom's angry voice filled every corner of the kitchen.
“It's what we train for,” Dad shot at back at her, like he was giving an order to one of his men.
“I know,” she yelled. Then her voice got small, “I know, but I'm so afraid for you, and Joseph, the kids are so little.” I could tell she had started to cry. My dad felt pretty bad about leaving us, but it didn't change his mind.
During the two weeks before he shipped out, Dad tried to spend as much time as he could with me, Mom and Bea.
“I'll call you as soon as I get to Kuwait,” he said. But Mom told me that we might have to wait two or three weeks for that phone call and maybe, if he could find a computer, he'd be able to write a short e-mail once a week.
He asked me to help him pack for the trip, a father-son thing. I didn't want to help. Why should I? He chose to leave us; that's what he and Mom were fighting about. When the day came for his unit to go, he knew how I felt.
My dad led his unit in formation as they marched on the parade field. When he was done, he talked to us for one last time. “Be good to your mother and sister,” he said to me. “I’m counting on you to help them.” He just hugged my little sister and then kissed Mom. “Those fifteen months will be over soon, honey,” he promised. All she could do was shake her head and say quietly, “I love you, Joseph.”
We drove home from the base, Mom, me and Bea, in silence. I was mad, Mom was teary and trying not to show it, and Bea's usual three-year old chatter and singing was replaced by her just looking out the window into the rain.