Monday, February 05, 2007

FEMALE ON THE FLOOR! Leaving on a Jet Plane

There of course, was always something missing in her life. It had nothing to do with PFC Austin, nor did it have anything to do with De’on, but it had everything to do with “Momma.” Momma missed Aaron every moment of her life. She understood he was safe and well provided for. She knew how much he was loved by his dad and their family in California. Her head acknowledged all was for the best. But words between mother and son were never spoken regarding the living arrangements. It was accepted, but there was always a dread somewhat of something unspoken. No matter how long the leaves, ten days or thirty days, their time together would be terminated. The end hung over them from the beginning. Aaron would place the final brick in the “wall” the last night of her leave. He didn’t want to sleep with her, but with his dad. She’d depart early the next morning, alone, while the rest of the house slept and perhaps dreamed.

After a while, the deep pain started its new scar, and work and obligation and faith in goodness and God rocked her to sleep at night, left her rested and ready for a new day’s challenges. Things were different every day. The work shifted from mental to physical at just the right pace. Her job never bored her. And soon enough, new plans for the next visit with Aaron and with her family commence once again. Something to look forward to. Dead the dread. Transformation, anticipation. Somehow seasons pass.

Though the phantoms of torn hope and time and miles lay between them, mother and son, mercifully, as it was now, was not how it’d always been. Aaron was, after all, her answer-to-prayer-perfect-son. For eight weeks she’d nursed him at her breast. For three years he’d slept next to her. He was an attachment to her body, had his mother trained to just his liking, except when she had to work, which in the end cemented the decision of his residence before he was four.

Only one deficient daycare was open at five-thirty in the morning, not to mention the drive from Littlefield to Lubbock. Getting up at 3:30 in the morning to start one’s little day was less than desirable for the three-year-old when compared with normal schedules and pre-schools provided by Aaron’s dad, aunt and grandparents.

Three years together was not lost on mother and son, and could De’on have known the future, she might see that though she’d miss the first time he tied his shoelaces or rode without training wheels, she would remain an enormous part of his life, and then raise him once again, maybe had she known these truths, she might have rested. She might have thought that it was for the very best after all; the way he lived here then there. A child with no real home or too many homes; two sets of families raised him as their own, as an only child by each. The situation had its benefits for her son, there could be no denying that, but too, the questions and pain were, after all, every bit as real.

As life sometimes has it, De’on fretted over things she shouldn’t and let go the things she’d do well to keep an eye on. One such example was the day she ran PT around the hospital and Kovieter, the PFC she worked with, hollered out to her on her way past, “Hey Austin, you came up on levy!”

“WHAT?” Austin ran faster to try and learn more.

“Bunch said Panama!” she said, then sped away, her life uninterrupted.

Austin was stunned. Sick. She stopped dead in her tracks, about-faced and ran as fast as she could, back from the hospital, past WRAIR, and on to S-1. If Bunch, Koveiter’s boyfriend in admin, said it was true, it must be true.

It couldn’t be true, she thought.

It was true.

For her it was true. She was a 76 Victor.

Her NCOIC had warned her not to get too comfortable. “WRAIR’s not a Victor’s home,” she’d said. And intentionally or not, she dropped the ball on Austin’s mission essential paperwork to keep her there. And Austin learned after that, in the military, you better watch out for you.

She had months to dread the prospect. Panama was in political turmoil, and pictures of guns and infantry units weren’t just in her head. Her roommate plied her with cut-outs of the news of each newspaper day; articles of length spoke of Noriega and his henchmen, then confirmed and predicted further violence with black and whites to back it up if one wasn’t inclined to read further.

The levy turned into orders. Command said, “Panama’s hot. She goes.” At the time of the orders, she chose the unaccompanied eighteen month tour as opposed to the accompanied thirty-six month tour. At the time, she had that choice.

She would leave in December, November if she took PCS leave. Less than six months away.

Much happened during those months. Lt. Col. Evans had to leave and Overseas Support Branch fell to Austin, however, she didn’t have enough rank to sign for property, so before she PCS’d she trained two other short timers to supervise her. They gave her free reign of course, and she didn’t slack in her duties. She used the weekdays for bidding, purchasing and receiving, the weekends for building and packing. She didn’t mind. She loved it. It was her home. She would’ve stayed and worked as long as they’d let her, but time ran out. She took Permanent Change of Station leave, the full thirty days, and went home to her family and Aaron in November, celebrated Thanksgiving and an early Christmas. She dreaded everything about the eighteen month departure, and could Austin foresee the future, she’d know she owned every right to.

Well, like everything else, for a season.

PFC Austin was promoted her last week at WRAIR. Specialist Austin ate enchiladas and received an ARCOM in front of the Division of Logistics at a Mexican restaurant during her last day in D. C. They did these things, her division. Had lunches and pitched in on presents, called them functions, and planned them for the middle of the day. Then one or two hours later, “Well, back to work.” But this time, not her. This time it was her who got a free lunch and a travel bag, lots of attention which was considered final and enough. It is the military way. Bearing.

She left.

She left for home and then she left home. Flight destination: Howard Air Force Base, Panama. Before she landed on December 11, 1989, the tour had changed to twelve months. It was now considered a hardship tour.

How fitting, she thought, after she’d heard.

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