“Every deployment is different,” my brother said, as he laced his hands behind his head. He looks too thin, just by a shade, and still tired. “I’m glad I’m stuck here in limbo for a few days. I’m doing jack and squat.”
I laughed. “Maybe some quiet time and sleep are best right now.” He nodded at me. “Yes. The hardest reentrys have been when I fly 13 straight hours and landed on my doorstep 14 hours after leaving a war zone. It’s…too much. It’s just too much. To feel, to process, to handle, it’s too much that way.”
I looked at him quietly while he spoke. “You know, you hadn’t deployed for awhile before this. I was pretty young the last time you deployed. I don’t think I ever understood, really, before, as much as a family-civvy can understand. But now…I’ve seen friends come back, changed. They had to change to survive. And I’ve seen friends come back in boxes, dead. I think I understand more this time. I was so much more afraid this time.”
“Maybe because of the large target painted on my back that said ‘---[my brother’s rank, title, and position]---‘,” he suggested wryly.
I laughed again. “Yeah, before it was SO easy-peasy, nice and breezy, when you were just a fight pilot jock,” I teased. “Now you have to actually DO something!”
Just as I said that, the lights dimmed, there was brief static on the screen, then the image of my brother flashed up again. He looked mildly concerned, but not alarmed. He looked around, said a few things that weren’t audible to someone off screen, then turned back. “No biggie,” he said. Yeah, sure, I thought. I know what that was, because the last time that happened, your base was being bombed.
My brother spent the last year going to meeting where he would bring a gun, with the safety off, just in case someone wanted to kill him. He once told me that he wouldn’t get out alive, but he would make sure that at least someone that he was commanding got out alive to tell the tale. He had no heat on Christmas eve or Christmas day, and he was woken up on Christmas day to discover his building being bombed. “Merry fucking Christmas,” is what he told me about that incident. He was scheduled to be on a helicopter that was shot down, but had to change his plans last minute. I lost a year of my life in those few hours where we waited for news, to see if it had been him.
I sent him so much jerky that he told me to knock it off, because “I could build a bridge from the Middle East to home with the jerky you’ve sent me.” I sent him other sweets too, like Sour Patch gummies and Swedish Fish, because I knew he kept those in a jar on his desk to make everyone come to him. They did, and they flocked, and they would clean him out of the sweets.
Now, he’s waiting for his next flight out, the flight that brings him home. His wife and his kids and waiting excitedly, and making preparations for all the things they want to do, and things that have to be done. I also know that his wife is making other preparations—not the kind you excitedly announce to everyone, but instead, the kind where you figure out how to help a solider with reentry. I know he’s changed from this deployment, but how? Does he know? No, I don’t think so. I can see it, but I can’t define it. It’s not necessarily bad, but that doesn’t means its rainbows and unicorns either.
(Updated: I wrote this, then waited three days to post it, because...I don't know. I felt like I was asking for trouble if I said we were almost safe. As I type this, he is landing on US soil, and his family is waiting for him at the airport.)