Been back for almost two weeks. Shake my head every morning and look around wondering if my time at home was just a dream. When you arrive at home after all the time here and all the travel it seems like you will be there for a long time. Then the days start sliding by, one...after...another.
POW! R&R is over! Time to go! Hurry up and pack! What to take, what to take? What to leave, what to leave? I rush out the door. I wait until the last minute because that way I am too busy to really stop and say goodby to anyone, that way I don't feel the emotional storm inside myself. I know I have to go but I damn sure don't want to go. I go anyway. That is a long, lonely walk down that first jetway.
Another metal, pressurized tube screaming through the sky. Tight seats; chatty, catty seat mates, and dread at having to go back. I arrive at an unfamiliar airport (JFK) and get twisted around by the confusing signs. No one knows where I am supposed to go but the Air Jamaica flight attendant I stumble across knows where. She has that light singsong accent that takes me back to that place for a few minutes.
Rush, rush, rush past unsmiling, uncaring people. Everyone else is in a hurry, why should they care about me? I don't bother telling them who I am or what I do for sympathy. I am way, way past playing that card. I find the gate, people are boarding, it looks like only 20 or so left.
Damn! Where am I going to put this roll aboard case? All the overhead will be taken up. I walk up, hand them my boarding pass and then the unsmiling, obviously tired woman tells me that there is a problem.
"Sir, it does not show you as having that assigned seat." "Lady, I picked that seat over three mionths ago, you better not have given it up and put me in the middle!"
"No sir, you are in First Class. The agent at the last airport saw your Department of Defense ID when you checked in and she contacted us saying you were going all the way to Kuwait. We upgraded you." I am shocked into saying nothing except a quickly mumbled, "Thank You."
I go into the rarified air of First Class and everyone else wonders who the big shot is that is coming so late. I sit and try not to let anyone know that I am not used to this at all. I am used to good coach seats but coach none the less because I won't spend that much money for upgrades and I save my frequent flyer miles for my family.
I sit down and the woman next to me smiles and says, "You are the soldier they told us about." I start to say, "No, I am a.... I stop and understand that this is important to her. I say, "Yes maam. I am." She has that benevolent grandmotherly look and just nods and says, "Good. I know your family needs you but so do we" I sit down and smile inside. I have to turn away so she does not see tears well up in my eyes. I let the act of not speaking be the lie instead of adding to it. Are we really soldiers too? To Haji we are so I guess that makes it a yes.
The flight attendant is really overly friendly and helpful. I guess that the lady in Austin sent a pretty powerful message along with me. It seems that every person on the flight knows me. I felt really, really good about what I am doing for the first time in a while. To know that these strangers give a damn somehow makes it worth it.
I actually really sleep well all the way to London. I look out the window and see the familiar sights of Heathrow Airport and watch as we bounce to a merger of aluminum and concrete separated by rubber and compressed air. I find myself wondering how they keep the tires from blowing up when the plane gets to Angels 35 (35,000 feet).
I clear customs and am pleasantly surprised that my bags made it. I remember that while I was in upgrade daze the lady told me that they knew I was coming late but that since they wanted to treat me special they sent a special baggage cart just to get my bags.
Who says NY is unfriendly? Who thinks no one cares about us? How do I get this message to John Murtha and Hillary Clinton? How do I say Thank You to American Airlines. I guess I do it here.
To: American Airlines
RE: Your Kindness
Thank you. You made coming back to the war a little bit more tolerable by treating me special when I really needed it. I didn't know anyone looked for us or even thought we were still special. We know the war has gone on a long time. We know people are tired of hearing about it. I know your personnel did not have to do what they did but I am damn glad of it. I won't forget the kindness unless you lose my luggage!