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May 25, 2012 / Jess

Where Am I?

Dear Army,

My soldier has been on active duty for 121 days. But he’s been gone far longer than that.

A consistent question I’ve asked him over the last nine months – always when we were in person, always when he was right next to me – is “where did you go?”

I’d ask when his body would get tense and his gaze would see nothing. I’d ask when he didn’t even realize he was holding his breath. I’d ask when the air with the room became palpable – with anger, with sadness, with despair … but mostly, with the things men should never see and can never fully articulate once they do.

He’d respond, “I’m right here.”

I’d reply, quietly, “No. You’re not.”

And then we’d sit there for a few – or a lot of – minutes, until I felt like he had passed through whatever he needed to pass through, and it was safe to kiss him sweetly on the cheek or hold his hand again. I learned not to touch him during those times, just tried to sit through them with him, because I could never reach him anyway.

Sometimes he spoke of death. More often we were silent. I never pushed him to answer my question. I just tried to wait patiently for when he could return to me; I suspect he’ll be making these detours for the rest of his life. I had always assumed those detours took him back into the mountains or the desert, with weapons and dust and men and an enemy he could never fully find but was always present.

Now, I’m not so sure.

I am often gone.

I have absolutely no idea where I go, but when I realize I’ve been gone I also realize I’m not fully back yet. Then I grieve, quietly, because I don’t think I’ll ever truly find my way back again. But maybe that will change, when I, too, have someone to kiss me on my cheek and hold my hand. When someone is willing and able to sit through the silence with me. When I feel less alone, because I am less alone.

I am not who I was. I miss her.

I thought I would only have to miss him.

(Not) love,

Jess

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