Seasons came and went while I waited: a five-minute satellite call at Thanksgiving but silence at Christmas. A missed call and voicemail in January but the passing of spring without a word. A six-word message in summer: “Hi, hope you’re okay. I’m alive.”
In the early years of Operation Enduring Freedom (2001–2014) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003–2011), my fears ebbed and flowed with the frequency of my son’s communications. The protective secrecy surrounding his deployments left much to my imagination. In the gaps between conversations, my worry intensified.
During these silent times, my imagination entertained my fear. I disguised my anxiety with cavalier bravery, pretending my trust in God was enough to carry me. I spoke courageously about my faith in his training. I retold stories about his commitment and dedication. I shared tales about the units in which he served. I even laughed at my lack of information, using my ignorance as fodder for the occasional lunchroom joke. But truthfully, the thoughts of my son turned over in my mind ad nauseam.
While my friends, family, and coworkers always asked after my son, this only fed my anxiety. I had three other children (my second son, still in high school, had not yet joined the military), but all I could do was talk about the son who was away. I felt ashamed of my thoughtlessness toward my husband and other children—they deserved my attention and prayers—but I couldn’t stop the conversation that camouflaged my obsession. I was trapped in a cycle of fear-filled waiting that I could not break.1