Hug your mom:The memoir of a caregiver.
“but I might go to Iraq, but don’t tell your mother.”
October 16, 2008 was my father’s 56th birthday. The date is forever etched in my memory but not for that reason. In fact, celebrating is the last thing I could even think about. My life as I knew it was going to change forever and life was good. I had just finished my master’s thesis and had been teaching English in Japan for about five years. While the economy back home was in free fall I had settled into a comfortable if not predictable job and had developed a close group of friends. I figured I could spend another year or two in Japan living the good life, making decent money and taking exciting vacations around Asia before eventually heading home. However, I would soon find out that would not be an option.
I was asleep in my modest suburban Hiroshima apartment when my cell phone rang suddenly around 4:30 AM. I was all too familiar with middle of the night emergency phone calls. My mind immediately raced back to five years earlier. My father was working in the Middle East for a large construction firm doing reconstruction work in Iraq. He was going to be working out of an office in Kuwait, “but I might go to Iraq, but don’t tell your mother.” I really didn’t think anything of it to honest.
My father had been to every war-torn hellhole on earth Afghanistan, Pakistan, Angola, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia just to name a few and came out unscathed. He might as well have sat there and said, ‘I’m going to the grocery store, don’t tell your mother.’ Ten days later I turned on the CBS evening news to witness my father in the middle of an ambush outside of Fallujah. Earlier that day my mother had called an told me dad was coming home and that ‘something had happened to a co-worker.’ There he was leaning up against a blue Chevy conversion van for cover with blood all over his pants and a soldier standing over him. The camera zoomed in on his face as he looked like he was going into shock, like he was going to vomit. There is no more helpless feeling in the world than watching your father a world away dodging bullets next to dead bodies and not knowing what the fuck is going on or whether or not he’s o.k. It’s hard to wrap your head around that and make sense of the world. I told my roommates at the time, Steve and Patrick what had happened and to answer the phone no matter what time it rang. About 36 hours later it rang and my father was on the other end from Amsterdam. In a choked up voice, holding back tears he told me he was coming home and that the only thing he had on him were the fatigues he was wearing because his clothes were too soaked with the blood of the two security guards who died next to him in the van and had to be cut off of him with scissors. Amazingly, he was unhurt.