“That’s not true,” says my mother as she goes over my work. “You still have a son!” she scolds, pointing her finger like she’s shooting me.
“It’s not the same. I never had to be brave for him,” I say, thinking of my son who eats bullets for breakfast, works nights in the most dangerous places on Earth, and sleeps days amid chaos. I consider this as I remember his first deployment to Iraq when he was nineteen. We’d shared a beer on his last night in town before leaving. By the time he returned he was a seasoned soldier. It became our tradition to have a drink together on homecomings and send-offs. Only now he pours two glasses of his finest whisky over ice.
Had I neglected him? Only a few weeks ago, for his twenty-fifth birthday, I finally replaced the single bed he’d slept in since he outgrew his crib. Last week I could hardly wait to see his reaction when he came home from Afghanistan to a new double bed topped with fresh pillows and bedding in manly tans and browns.
Maybe I had neglected him. I’d stopped sending the care packs and letters that went out every month the first year he was gone. After that first year, his sister, constantly in and out of hospitals, took up all my attention. He’d given me his address and called me regularly. I emailed him. But I can’t remember when I last sent him a package or letter.
Suddenly, towards the end of my four-hour drive back from my mother’s house, I find myself desperately hoping to find him at home. Then, something in me soars as I spot his red Hummer in the driveway. I have my son.
“I’m going back in mid-October,” he says later, over his glass of aged Dalmore Whisky.
“Great,” I lie when I hear where he’ll be stationed. I smile at him.
I guess I am still being brave for one of my children.