At home, at last
That's why I confided only in the dog a few Thursdays ago when I found out that Dad would be returning to Fort Irwin that weekend, a year to the day after he'd left for Afghanistan. Which is not to be confused with the date he left Fort Irwin - that had happened two months earlier, for a grand total of 14 months gone minus his R&R leave.
Like so many things in the Army, the return date dragged out until we started to expect him next Feb. 30. There were mountains of paperwork, hours of counseling sessions and several exams. By late February, Dad was concerned because he knew the rest of the company soon would begin a 20-day leave, leaving him and a friend without anyone to see to the paperwork that would bring him home.
Then suddenly, the logjam broke. A senior NCO they'd worked closely with in Afghanistan promised them he wouldn't leave until they could. In a matter of 24 hours, everything was a "go."
"We have plane tickets," he said on a Thursday. "We're getting back late Saturday."
"Yipeeeee!!! You'll be back in time for the race!" I whooped, meaning a NASCAR date the following Sunday in Las Vegas. He'd never missed a race with the guys, not even when we had to rely on luck to find an extra ticket. This time we had enough tickets in hand, though for weeks it looked as if one seat would be empty.
We decided to surprise the guys with his late-night return, which meant I walked around for three days with my fingers crossed behind my back as pseudo-lie after pseudo-lie tumbled out of my mouth. I talked about it only to Rita. "Daddy's coming home!" I'd tell her. She'd wag excitedly, even though she had no clue. Who was this Daddy person, she had to wonder.
"When's Daddy ever going to come home?" the guys would ask time and again.
"It's hard to say," I'd hedge. "I just don't know." Technically, I suppose, I didn't. I mean, I knew the plane was supposed to land at 10:30 p.m., which meant they'd be back at around 12:30 a.m. by the time they collected luggage and gear, but those things can change, can't they?
At exactly 12:30 a.m., Rita growled softly. Seconds later, the phone rang. "Can't you let a man in?" he asked.
I ran down the stairs and flung open the door. We were both quickly back up the stairs, trying to arouse two little dreamers.
Big Guy wiggled and mumbled unintelligibly in his sleep. When whatever was shaking him wouldn't stop, he opened his eyes and saw the camouflage. "Daddy! Dad-deeeeeeeeeeee! Am I dreaming?" he asked before jumping into his father's arms for the first time in five months.
Boots was harder to roust. He thrashed, covering his eyes and curling into a protective ball. "No, Mommy, no! It's not time to go to school. Wanna sleep." Then his eyes finally opened as well. He stared in shock. "Daddy! Is it really you? Are you really home? For good?"
"Yes, it's me. For good," he smiled.
The three of them embraced, Rita looking on with suspicion.
"It's OK, girl," I said, patting her head. "He belongs here."
Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.