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July 23, 2012 / Jess

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Dear Army,

I flew to Denver, Colorado last week. While on the plane, I met a 10-year-old girl named Charlotte. She was a sweet, inquisitive thing who decided immediately that we should be best friends for the next four and half hours. Until you, Army, upset her.

When she found out that I was going to Colorado to visit “a friend from college, and my boyfriend’s sister and mother” she quickly asked where my boyfriend was. I hesitated, then told her he was serving overseas with the Army. I was not sure how she’d react.

It turns out she reacted much like I did – with a ton of questions. (Good to know I’m still acting like a 10-year-old, even at 27.)

She wanted to know where he was, when he was coming back (her eyes got wide when I said I didn’t know), what happens if the uniform gets dirty … well, duh, of course they wash them, but where do they wash uniforms in a lake or something, what do they eat, do they sleep in a bed, do we write letters, do I have any letters with me (I did), why don’t they need to use stamps, are we going to get married, what is the weather like there, can it really get that hot, and why do they wear long-sleeved shirts if it’s so hot?

I was surprised she didn’t ask if my boyfriend has killed anyone. That’s a common (and rude) question I often get from strangers. (Which I never understand – I don’t go around asking people who I’ve just met if they’ve killed anyone! Come on, people. Manners.)

No, she asked something far more poignant.

“What happens if he doesn’t like it and wants to come home?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Soldiers have to stay until they are told they are allowed to come home.”

This scared her. I suppose that’s because, as a child, her mom will come get her and let her come home if she needs to. She rephrased the question a dozen more times, anxious for me to provide a different answer. Finally, her mother stepped in and said “honey, people who join the Army know they aren’t going to want to come home – they want to leave.” Then she told her to go back to her book.

I didn’t argue, but only because I really wasn’t interested in making a 10-year-old girl burst into tears.

But it hurt, to allow the lie.

And to know that the child had it right, to cry over that. Children see the truth more readily than adults, I think. Her reaction was appropriate.

Army, you make children cry because they see the heartache that most people learn to rationalize away by the time they become adults.

I suppose this is just another area in which I’m not ready to grow up.

(Not) love,

Jess

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