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Our Son, The Soldier – Dead for a Moment

A Father's Account of his Son's Deployment in Iraq

January 9th, 2010 · Written by · No Comments

In the autumn, four months after Erik’s deployment, his wife Juliet and their two cats moved into our modest home twenty miles south of Chicago’s loop. She came to us during a time that I would describe as the nadir of our family’s existence, during a confluence of negative events that we struggled to understand and overcome. In the eight months prior to Julie’s arrival, two friends had died and another dear friend had just started what would be a losing battle with cancer. Rachel our daughter was in a constant state of anger, mad at the world for sending her big brother to war. Pam and I were hanging on by a thread, and within a month a co-worker and friend would kill himself.

We were drinking ourselves to sleep.

That’s what Julie moved into – what now seems like one protracted scream of an existence.

That’s what Julie moved into – what now seems like one protracted scream of an existence. It’s not that we didn’t laugh; it’s not that we didn’t have each other; it’s just that we were holding our breaths every moment of every day, unable to make room for reality to live with us – the reality that Erik might never come home. Our shared denial sapped our energy and kept us on edge.

By October, we were all going nuts. I think even the animals suffered. One of our three cats had gone in to be operated on the morning it happened. We were more than halfway through the deployment. I was in the basement, cleaning. Upstairs, the phone rang and I heard Pam answer it. I kept mopping. A few minutes later, she came down the stairs. Something was wrong. I froze. Pam came around the stairwell. I saw her as if from a distance, tears streaming down her face.

There was a white flash behind my eyes and then an explosion of energy that saturated my body, a nuclear shockwave irradiated the flesh and muscle from my bones; my soul was incinerated and scattered in a thousand directions. I was a skeleton holding a mop. I fell to one knee and began to sob,

“Oh no, no, no,” Pam cried, and she rushed to me. “It was the cat. The cat died after surgery.”

I began to laugh, shuddering. I could not help myself. “I’m sorry,” I told Pam, “I thought…”

She put her hand over my mouth before I could finish. Our son the soldier, dead for a moment.

* * *

We pulled through it. Pam and I quit drinking, Rachel is not so angry, and Erik is home. He’s picked up a demon, or maybe two. We worry about him but think he’ll be okay. It changed him, his year in Iraq. And Julie is no longer our daughter-in-law. We worry about her too.

What do you say to a man whose only son came home from Iraq to hang himself in the attic three months later?

Pam and I are members of various groups dedicated to peace and have been for quite awhile. Not so long ago, I spoke with some Gold Star Parents (parents that have lost a soldier) at a peace rally. What do you say to a man whose only son came home from Iraq to hang himself in the attic three months later? I looked in to his eyes and could still see his son hanging there, and I remembered what it was like having my son, the soldier, dead for a moment. Three seconds of agony was more than I could bear. I shook his hand and cried for him. Embarrassed, the man who had found his son in the attic turned and walked away.

Recently, I was talking with my cousin, a man who has always fought for what is right, and upon hearing my frustrations at the futility of protest, he looked me in the eye.

“We don’t just fight to change the world; we fight to keep the world from changing us!”

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