CW: War, blood, death
For Memorial Day, I have to go out of order slightly and explore a troubling memory.
I remember the tremendous feeling of relief when we were finally free to go. Our Afghanistan tour had been miserable and full of trauma for many of us. We had lost our executive officer just days before he was to transfer to another unit. Several of us had lost loved ones back home throughout the year, including me. We lost someone a few days before Christmas, just as we were preparing to leave.
Those of us on this last flight had rung in the New Year searching for our bags by flashlight at Bagram Air Field. Hours later we were awakened by a mortar attack. Even this last leg of the journey was agonizing with endless briefings. It had been almost six hours since our plane landed at our home station, and I was awash with relief.
One of our buddies who had been home for a couple days already was kind enough to meet up with us. He asked if we wanted to say hello to his wife’s best friend. I immediately said yes, but when I saw her, I wished I’d prepared myself for it.
She was wearing a great big button with her husband’s picture on it. I couldn’t help but think of the last time I saw him, lying on the ground on a small pool of blood. I didn’t even recognize him at first, but I was sure he would make it. There wasn’t that much blood, and everyone on the scene was doing everything right. But the internal bleeding was too much.
Standing in front of his wife months later, I searched desperately for something to say. I wanted to tell her how everyone did everything right. So many had turned up to give blood to save him that most of us were turned away. The words wouldn’t come, and neither would tears. Nothing felt good enough because none of it mattered. She was still a widow and an involuntary single mother.
Plenty of things still haunt me from my time at war. Nothing, though, has caused me more trouble than how I froze when it was all over. This is why I always say my worst wartime trauma was hugging a widow. I know I couldn’t have done anything else to save my comrades, but I still wish I could have found something to say.