I purposely didn’t travel wearing my uniform. I didn’t have enough time to process what had happened. Most soldiers were traveling back to the States wearing either their Class A uniform or their Battle Dress Uniforms. The Army was letting us choose which one to wear; we could wear either. I wore a sweater with jeans. I had grown my hair into a weird mixture of crew cut with a ‘deep six’ swoop of bangs. My first sergeant told me I could grow it however I liked during the war as long as it didn’t attract bugs or stick out of my hat. In reflection, it was the only mark of individuality I could express and for some reason, at the age of 20, individuality was important to me.
I flew into Chicago Midway Airport in late May of 1991. The airplane had quite a few soldiers wearing uniforms. They were getting free drinks from the pilots and were recognized by the staff of the plane while we were in flight. I found it to be irritating at best. As I exited the plane and entered the airport itself I looked for my mama. Instead, standing alone leaning against the wall was my father. I wanted to give him a hug however his out stretched hand extended to me told me affection wasn’t welcomed in public at this time. I shook his hand.
I inhaled deep and swallowed a nervous lump in my throat before I asked him to drink a beer with me at the bar 20 meters away from where we stood. He seemed to be in a rush to get my belongings from baggage claim.
His reply was a loud irritated response of having to meet my mama at the car and how she was circling the airport outside waiting for us. He spoke as if I was purposely trying to mess up plans that he had made in his mind. My father always did get frustrated easily and this response was what I expected. Regardless of the expectation and the mental preparation I had focused on during the flight, my hurt feelings apparently showed on my face. His aggravation at my facial response caused him to stop and berate me, amongst strangers, about being a pain in the ass.
I felt the rage swelling deep down in my chest uncontrollably. It was rising, through each pump of my quickened heartbeat, as we walked to baggage claim. I had decided that once I retrieved my baggage I would shake his hand then dismiss myself to a taxi. I decided I would spend my leave in downtown Chicago in a hotel. This decision quenched my thirst to explode. I took a deep breath as we turned the corner facing the conveyer belts that brought luggage from the planes. Around the turn, I saw roughly 30 people standing there holding “welcome home” signs and waiving small hand held American flags. My mama had organized a welcoming home party of my friends at the airport.
I was so uncomfortable I wanted to run full speed out of the doors of the airport. However, I was acutely aware running would devastate my mama’s feelings. I continued to march towards the welcoming group with all the courage I could muster.
I shook hands with everyone from the B town crew who was there. I gave hugs and some cheek kisses to the female friends who had come to see me. Amongst them was Stacy. She had apparently invited herself to stay at my mamas house during my leave. The woman was so impressive as a human being that it made me uncomfortable. She was light years ahead of me in grace and maturity. I couldn’t imagine having the courage she displayed, ever, regardless of the circumstances. She didn’t know anyone but me and her actions screamed so loud of her support of me that I felt inadequate of her attention.
Also, in the back of the group, standing alone was Elle. I saw her immediately as I turned the corner. Her beauty radiated from her and lit up the whole airport. I found it very difficult to focus on anything but her. My attention was so focused that I completely missed my little sister who was sobbing in the middle of the group of friends welcoming me home. I had to be guided to her in order to recognize her. My attention was solely on Elle. I couldn’t help it and it was obvious to everyone standing there. Especially Stacy.
I drove to my parents house in the back of my parents car between my little sister and Stacy. Stacy’s hurt feelings were so obvious that it made for an uncomfortable ride. I tried as hard as I could to focus on her and but it was to no avail. When we got to my parents house she decided to leave. I didn’t know what to say or do, however I didn’t want to cause her any more pain. She asked me if she should stay. She told me if I wanted her to stay she would. I looked her in her eyes and told her I wasn’t capable of giving her what she was looking for at this time in my life. Her eyes welled and she grabbed her belongings. She left the following morning and I haven’t seen nor spoke to her since. Its been 24 years.
Through mutual friends and online research I know today she an author and C.E.O. of a multi million dollar international charity for women.
She is just that kind of a human being.
During my 30 days of leave I was nothing short of a tornado running through the lives of everyone who had come close to me. Elle, after I slept with another woman, through a beer on me in a crowded bar. She called me a pig and screamed how she had wished she had never met me.
My last day of leave I left my friend Jim alone in a seedy hotel on the west side of Chicago. Jim, the friend who helped me graduated high school, and I ended up chasing demons after a long night of drinking. I had talked him into traveling with me to the hotel. Out of fear for missing my flight back to Germany in the morning I just left him there. He ended up having to walk over 30 miles home in the morning. He hasn’t spoke to me since.
I had 3 years left of my enlistment contract and in one short month of leave I destroyed most of the friendships I had cherished so deeply during my childhood.