A Fond Farewell

Joanne Wilson

© Copyright 2010 by  Joanne Wilson


Photo of a small boy clinging to his soldier father.

This story is my favorite and my least favorite. It’s a very difficult memory for me to think back on, but it’s powerful in a sense that it’s about how strong a family can be in times of great despair. For me, this story is a constant reminder that we can all get through anything as long as we have something strong to fall back on.

The alarm buzzed at 5:30 am, but I was already awake. My gaze had been fixed on the numbers since 4:30am, slowly counting down the minutes, unable to believe this day was actually here. I could feel my eyes immediately well up with tears as I slipped out of bed. I applied no makeup to my face that morning, knowing that in a few short hours it would have been washed away. I threw my hair back in a pony tail, not caring about the many lumps that could have easily been smoothed down with some spray. A large sweater and jeans that had already been worn the day before completed my outfit. I opened my bedroom door and stepped out into the dimly lit hallway of our cozy little house in North Carolina. That’s when I saw him. He was almost finished putting on his gear, all that was left were the desert colored combat boots. I stood in the doorway as he laced them up, unable to say a word. That’s when it finally hit me. My father was leaving for war today.

 The car ride was silent. Every so often you would hear someone take a deep breath, followed by a heavy sigh. There was nothing left to say to each other, we had only our goodbye’s to look forward to, and those would come in approximately fifty minutes at Green Ramp. Of course the words “I love you” seemed appropriate, but those words had been said so many times in the past few days they weren’t necessary anymore. He knew we loved him, his wife and three children were filled with unconditional love and nothing would change that.

Occasionally my little sister’s head, full of tangled sandy brown hair would fall from the leather seat to my shoulder as she nodded off, unknowing of what was to come. None of us were certain of what would happen on that cold December day. As I sat there and stared out the window looking at the sun come up over the tobacco filled fields I thought, maybe it’s for the best.

 We pulled up in front of the large brown building now standing clearly in the sun. My dad shut off the engine. You could see the helicopters in the distance. Blackhawk’s, Hues, even an Apache. I was familiar with these machines. I was raised on anything with wings or propellers, yet as much as I knew them, today they were a mystery, almost a blur. I couldn’t focus on anything besides the large white bus next to an open wall that linked the brown brick building to the outside. That big white monstrosity was going to wheel my father away, so naturally I resented it.

 My father still buckled into the car, turned around and just looked at us. It was as if his eyes were a camera and he was taking snapshots and storing them safely in him memory. For the first time in my life I sat motionless unable to smile for the camera, but instead I just met his stare. I couldn’t look away from his big blue eyes for fear that this may be the last time I truly saw them. Eventually we all had to blink.

The five of us reluctantly opened the car doors and stepped out into the brisk morning air. It was now almost 7:00am and departure was at 9:00am. They had coffee and various foods waiting for all the families inside. As if warm delicious pastries could make this easier. Sure our stomachs would be satisfied, but our hearts would be left with a big doughnut sized hole. My sister grabbed a glazed one with rainbow sprinkles and quickly shoveled it into her mouth. No one else could eat.

Despite the vibrant red, white, and blue flags hung all around the building, the only color I could see was beige. It was as if this little town in North Carolina had somehow transformed into the deserts of Iraq. But instead of camels we had helicopters, and instead of veils masking the various women’s faces, these women wore tears. Unlike veils that concealed all emotions, tears hid nothing. These women were left exposed for everyone to see them at their most fragile state. The only comfort factor was that every one was in the same boat. Everyone was losing someone today. A father, a mother, a husband, a wife, a brother, a sister, a friend, the list could go on for days. We were all filled with great remorse.

 I still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that my father was about to leave for an entire year. I was fifteen and the thought of him going over seas to solve other people’s problems was ridiculous. I had my own problems that needed to be solved, geometry was kicking my ass. Dad had been there to help me with homework before, but now what was I going to do? I may not have had the best upbringing, but since before I could remember he had always been there to help me figure things out. He was calm and rational. He was the only person I had ever been able to talk to. All of this was about to change. I would have to figure things out for myself. I would have to actually speak to my mother without arguing, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to do that. Dad had always been the median between the two of us. The truth is I was going to have to grow up, and I just didn’t like the thought of that.

 We all sat and waited patiently on a wooden bench in a large open room. My father had gone off to get issued his guns. What a weird thought that was. My father who had one gun he kept in a locked safe was now getting issued multiple guns to carry around with him for the next year. It wasn’t until I saw him walking back towards us when I realized how scary that was. Here you have a not so small man, dressed in head to toe combat uniform, carrying a semi-automatic rifle over his right shoulder and a Glock-9 handgun in the left hand. I had never seen my father in this light before. He was a totally different person, someone I didn’t necessarily want to be acquainted with. But when he reached us, he put the Glock in its holster located around his thigh, took the rifle from his shoulder and placed it on the empty part of the bench and shook his head. “This is going to be a long year,” and with those words I knew he hadn’t changed, sure his appearance had, but he was still the old softy that I knew and loved.

It was funny how time could stand still up until the last few minutes before it flew by. Departure was quickly approaching and no matter how many times I told myself he was going to be okay, I just couldn’t get that unsettling feeling out of my stomach. I felt as though I might throw up. But I didn’t dare do that, I would have been wasting these last precious moments that I had with my father in the bathroom. So instead I was like a leach, completely attached to his left arm. My little sister held on to his right leg with all her might. My brother and my mother stood close by holding his hands as tight as they could. We were like a football team in a huddle, though we were all unable to let go when they started calling everyone into ranks. That’s when the tears just started to pour. It was something uncontrollable, and as much as I wanted them to stop coming they wouldn’t. When I looked around it seemed as though the entire room was having the same problem. It may sound odd, but I felt some sort of spiritual connection to the hundreds of people there. No one else would know what we were feeling that morning, and I prayed to god no one else ever had to, because it was unbearable. Saying goodbye to someone you love so much and knowing this may be the last time you see them just isn’t fair. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

I had only ever seen my older brother cry once before, he was six and got hurt during a hockey game. However this was very different from that. It was almost painful to look at them all. My mother was doing her best to hold back my little sister from running to our father, who was now in ranks saluting his general. She kept yelling “daddy please don’t go.” My brother had his hands over his face. I was watching my family fall apart and I couldn’t do anything. It was surreal. I wanted to help but I couldn’t move. I had no strength left in me. My knees seemed to give out and I fell to the floor unable to get back up, tears streaming down my face and all I could think was “Why…why is this happening to us?”

 The Star Spangled Banner started to play and my thoughts went blank. My eyes were fixated on my father standing in this sea of beige men and women. He turned his face slightly; I could see something glistening on his cheek. I could only assume he was crying to. Army men are depicted as these heartless machine’s unable to feel emotion, but if you honestly looked, you saw that they were just people not wanting to leave their families. “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave….” The music trailed off and as they all saluted we knew it was time.

My heart started to beat faster; I could feel it in my throat as I picked myself up off the floor. They all started to turn, preparing to march out the door in unison and I couldn’t watch him go. Something came over me and I didn’t care about consequences or any of that, my feet just started to move. I made my way through the soldiers and found my father. My arms flew around his neck, his left shoulder was immediately soaked from my tears. “Please don’t be a hero,” were the words that came out of my mouth. I looked up at him, my jaw quivering nonstop. He halfway smiled and shook his head, “I would never, I have too much to come back to.” “Promise?” “Yes, I promise,” he said. I smiled through my tears and was only able to get out three last words. “I love you.” He nodded and returned the same. I released him from my death grip and turned back around, making my way over to what was left of my family. We all watched as they marched out the doors, holding each others hands, “We’ll be okay; it’s all going to be okay…he promised.”

 Joanne Wilson was born in Buffalo, NY, however being the daughter of an active duty military father she slowly made her way down the east coast growing up until she reached North Carolina. Locations and friends changed many times throughout the years, but the only thing that stayed the same was her passion for the arts. It was the only constant in her life, an outlet for her to express herself in the only way she could possibly imagine. After graduating high school in a very small town in North Carolina, Joanne Promptly moved back up to New York to persue her dreams, only this time she took to the city.

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