Despite what politicians say, the "war" in Afghanistan is not over. The claims that we are withdrawing troops is inaccurate. We continue to deploy soldiers to the country, despite press coverage of the President and others talking about a withdrawal. In plain words, this is simply false.
I can say this with certainty, because of the way in which deploying soldiers have found their way into my own life, especially one particular soldier, a soldier I love, respect, and admire. You see, that soldier is, once again, in Afghanistan, just like thousands and thousands of other American soldiers. So, this talk about withdrawal and everything is, as the German would say, ganz falsch (entirely false).
So, with that said, here is a second public love letter to that soldier currently deployed to Afghanistan:
Your green combat fatigues, your gray combat goggles, your brown combat boots -- the boxes with holsters and caps and gloves and medicines and even more field supplies -- all of these things sit quietly on the floor of my tiny apartment. Even though you are away, the tan war bags that you will cart with you to dusty Afghanistan rest in front of my little black refrigerator. At the moment, you carry just one camouflaged colored backpack. You are gone because it's a weekday during pre-deployment training, but not by a very far distance, just a few hours away. Despite the short distance between the two of us, I cry and hug your green socks and combat clothing, even your holster, I hug that as well.
But then, just like that and just as you promised, you return to my apartment and to me every weekend. There is an explosion of warmth that rocks my little studio. I have you the most at night, in my arms, quietly sleeping. You don't know this, but I stay up long after you fall into a deep slumber. I hold onto every part of your body, trying to make an imprint on my hands' memory. Will I remember your sharp clavicle bones? Will I remember those soft cheeks? Will I remember the way your strong, protruding shoulders -- soon to be bearing the weight of a heavy gun -- slope down and meet your perfect spine? Will I remember every single part of you? I promise myself that I will not forget all of these parts that make up you, my beloved soldier, and then I hold onto you tighter, so tight my hands hurt and my arms grow weary and tremble. But I want them -- my hands and my arms -- to remember all of you. And finally I too fall into my own slumber, a slumber that transpires into nightmares where I am in Afghanistan, in a helicopter, overlooking pristine, green fields overflowing with pink blossoms -- opium fields -- that always turn into a scene of scrambling men and explosions, blood and death. When night is over, I tell you about these dreams. You listen and nod. Then you tell me jokes and proverbs in Spanish. We laugh harder than ever, and sip coffee together. And in another day -- Sunday -- the pre-deployment cycle, the routine, will begin again. We'll say our good-byes at a Metro, you'll grab your backpack, kiss me, and disappear down an escalator and beneath concrete. That's when I know I'll have to wait another five days until we reunite.
Nine hours of waiting at the airport with you.
"Thank you for coming with me," you say.
"Where else would I be today?" I ask.
We continue to laugh. We have a drink together as well as dinner. Our usual bar food, one cheeseburger with bacon and your favorite -- hot chicken wings. It's like clockwork, too. As soon as you consume approximately three chicken wings, you promptly get up.
"Yes, I know. You're going to wash your hands because of the sauce from the chicken wings."
We laugh some more. You leave and quickly return.
Other men in their fatigues crowd around us. Some laugh, too, while others look down in silence at their phones. A red-headed man in camouflage nearby us complains about the poor service. We ignore him. As the time for your departure nears, we stop talking. We simply hold hands, both my hands clasped by yours.
Finally you say the words, "I need to go stand in line now."
"Don't cry. Please don't cry," you whisper into my ear as I look down at your speckled uniform. I rest my head against your face. I lean into your shoulder and your chest for one last time.
I think you tell me not to cry again, so I don't. I look up at your eyes -- the kindest, most loving I've ever seen -- and say nothing. It is time to go. It is time for both of us to go. I turn in my blue suede high heels and march away from you. I begin to choke up, as I scan the airport terminal filled with men and women in fatigues, pulling their bags and heavy weapons, all of them headed to that place.
You are still there, close to me, but I do not look back. I keep marching towards the sliding glass doors, towards the empty car. It isn't until I stand for a brief moment, at the glass doors, far away from where you and all the other deploying soldiers wait to enter the gate, when I finally turn to look for you one last time. I'd been watching you from afar that entire day, while you sent me sweet texts as you waited in line to check your bags and your weapons. I can no longer see you. You are gone.
The road is black. Pop singer Katy Perry belts out a fast tune. I grip the wheel, but refuse to cry. I dutifully follow the white lines for 66 miles until I return home.
You call me right before your plane departs.
"Thank you for spending the day with me. It made it a lot better," you say.
Now you call me from Afghanistan, and every time I hear your voice on the phone -- right before we hang up -- I want to say, "Please tell me that you carry your gun at all times."
But I don't dare utter this plea.
It is not my place.
The first letter to this soldier titled, "Homesickness and the Endless War on Terrorism," can be read at Spare Change News
Follow C. Cryn Johannsen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cjohanns