By Frances C. Hansen
I drove endless miles down the New York State Thruway that Tuesday. Gray concrete roads and overcast skies created the perfect backdrop for my melancholy mood. The honking geese going south resounded loudly. In steady formation they left their places behind the swampy reeds and took flight, leaving me behind on the chilly fall afternoon.
That day, Election Day 2002, my baby was flying south in the same sky with the geese. He was headed for recruit training for the U.S. Marine Corps. I was going home to my empty house, feeling like I was headed to a massive black hole.
The day actually had begun eight months prior when my son announced his desire to join the Marines. After interrogating the recruiters for four hours at my dining room table, I consented to my 17-year-old son choosing this path for his life. Through the following months I pleaded with him not to go and offered alternatives to try and change his mind. I pleaded with God too. No use. My son’s mind was made up. I told him things his dad never got the chance to tell him. My husband had passed away three years prior. He was an Army medic in Vietnam.
Days arrogantly flew by. My youngest child would soon disappear to a place called Parris Island. I would not see him for his 18th birthday or any special holidays. I couldn’t send him cookies. I was told that sending a birthday card would lead to a “celebration” requiring at least one extra round of push-ups and humiliation from the drill instructor. Prior to his leaving, I became a fanatic camerawoman taping my son coming and going.
On the night of November 4th the moment came. I hugged him quickly. He kissed me on the cheek, picked up his bag, and walked off into a new world. A half hour later I regained my composure, locked the doors and shuffled off to Buffalo where I would see him get sworn in the next day.
The swearing in was on the 10th floor of the federal building. Blue chairs, lined up like soldiers, faced the television as it blasted the news: “War with Iraq.” During the ceremony they called my son’s name and I followed with my camera into a red-carpeted room with flags of all services lined up on the podium.
After the swearing in, I tailed my son’s taxi to the airport and cursed the day the terrorists prevented moms from escorting their sons to the gate. I hugged him tight and watched until he was out of sight. Then I ran into the ladies’ room and cried.
Driving back home from the airport, I anticipated the childless house. Feeling like a lost little girl in a forty-eight year old woman’s body, I made several trips into my children’s rooms then fell into a lump on the couch.
Hours later, leaving the hall light on, I retreated to my room and closed my eyes. My son was not there to tell him to lower the TV volume so I could sleep. There was no pile of dirty dishes to complain about and no one to complain to.
In the years to follow, my son was deployed four times. He called me about a week after he got to Camp Pendleton and told me he was getting deployed to Iraq. Three more deployments followed. The first three were to Iraq and the last to Helmand Province in Afghanistan. While deployed, he was meritoriously promoted to Sergeant and received the Navy-Marine Commendation Medal. How proud I am. And how glad that I transformed into a supportive mother instead of the one who originally fought to change his path in life.
Frances C. Hansen has been a freelance writer for fifteen years. She also has experience in the art of digital storytelling. She holds a BS degree in Nursing and an AOS degree in Graphic Design. Her writings appear in several print and online sites. She also has contributed a chapter of her fiction work, “Coronado,” in the anthology, “New Voices.” Some of her articles can be seen at pagekeeper1.com.
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