Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Second Wave

I want to share a story about my 9-year old son Alex.  Alex was just four when I left home shortly after 9/11.  He barely understood why I was gone, other than I was at "far work", and he certainly had no concept of war.  What he understood all too clearly was the pain of separation.  By the time I returned, he had turned 7 and grown enormously in many ways.  I had missed out on some big changes, like his first bike ride, first day of school and first baseball game.

The day I returned home from Iraq he clung to my hand for all it was worth.  He constantly checked to see where I was and if he lost sight of me, immediately asked "where's daddy?"  He seemed unconvinced that I would not disappear yet again.  Eventually the insecurity disappeared, but to this day the pain lingers.

When I am home, it is my responsibility to take the grade school kids to school.  At the drop-off point the children pile out.  Alex is usually dropping something or still tying his shoes, but we have a routine.  I always stick out my hand for Alex to give me "five" and tell him to "have a happy day".  He then waves at me as he leaves.

I'm not sure when I first noticed what I have termed the "second wave", but once I did I realized he did I began to cherish it and to watch for it.
What is the "second wave"? After Alex starts walking to class and before I drive off he always turns to find me, and very lovingly waves one more time.  Each time I gently wave back, an unspoken bond of love born out of pain.

Separation and loss affects everyone differently, but to a child the wounds are sometimes the deepest that hugs and kisses salve but cannot completely wash away.  When I left yesterday for another tour in Iraq I could not help but notice the fresh hurt in Alex's eyes.  By the time I return next March I will have been gone 1/3 of his young life. Time will help heal the hurt but I suspect that we will always share that second wave.