Every time I hear about yet more deaths of deployed service members, I’m pulled back (as much as I can be) into 2003-2004 when Ian was in Iraq. I’m able to be pulled back because, some time ago, after he’d been home for a while, I got out of that particular hell and was able to live what we call a “normal” life.
It’s easy when you’re not immediately involved to live that “normal” life. What Denise tells Mia in Homefront is all too true:
All we worry about is ourselves and how this war will affect us and the people we love. When Jake is home, you’ll see. You’ll care less about the war.” She shrugs. “It’s callous, but it’s true. You’ll care less because the soldier being blown up by an IED won’t represent Jake, and the woman crying on TV won’t represent you” (163).
Callous, but true.
However, I have the benefit of the memory. I call it a benefit because it’s so important to be able to empathize with such a huge number of people going through something so difficult. The more understanding they have, the better. Ian’s been back since 2004, but it’s still easy to hurt for these people getting the worst news they’re ever likely to receive, to remember that the only thing worse than worrying every second the person you love will die in the next minute is finding out they did. And that’s what much of the deployment experience is, really…it’s not just waiting to see someone again. That’s comparatively easy. Instead, it’s a perpetual wait to find out your love has died.
Lucky me, though – even if I can remember what it was like, right now I’m writing this while Ian is driving around somewhere in Nashville for work rather than doing whatever he’d be doing if he were deployed. He’ll be home tonight, just like he was home last night. The ever-present behind-the-ribs rolling and pulsing sense of dread isn’t there, anymore. Not for me.
But it is for hundreds of thousands of others who hope the next deaths they hear about won’t be their family, their spouse, their love.
When I discuss Homefront during interviews, when I discuss it today (noon central, if you want to listen in or participate) with a book club on Navy Homefront Talk, I admittedly get excited simply because I get to talk about the book. I worked hard to give an accurate and honest portrayal of the deployment experience. I’m a writer. I like to talk about my writing.
But within minutes of any conversation pertaining to Homefront, I forget about the book as a work of literature because I’m talking not about characters in a novel, anymore, but real people in one of the worst states of limbo imaginable. The people I talk to today will be going through a deployment, will undoubtedly be in that strange universe running parallel to “normal” that’s just slightly slanted, blurred, numb. They’ll be the white, bullet-hole face in the sea of smiling yellow.