I first want to thank everyone for their comments on my last blog. It was getting long, so I stopped when I saw my son for the first time. I was home on emergency leave for three weeks, and had to go back to Iraq. I will continue the story from when I saw my son for the first time.
I saw my little dude laying there in the bassenet. I was amazed at seeing my son for the first time. My wife was at my side. She looked tired but beautiful. She asked me if I wanted to hold him. Of course I did, but I was afraid. Rockets landing around me, no issues. Holding my son for the first time, and I'm scared shitless. She picked him up and handed him to me. I craddeled him in my arms and looked into his brown eyes. He just stared up at me. The beanie cap the nurse placed on his head slipped off. It revealed a full head of black hair.
My sister-in-law grabbed a new beanie from under the bassenet and placed it on his head. She picked up the one he was wearing and was about to put it in the hospital laundry hamper. I told her to stopn and took it from her. I put it in my pocket. My wife, sister-in-law, and the other two frineds in the room asked me why I did it. I told them that I'm going to take it back to Iraq with me. That I would carry it with me each day, to remind me of that moment.
After holding my Little Dude for a while, my wife asked me if I wanted to change out of my uniform. She told me that she packed some clothes for me. I handed Little Dude back to her and headed into the bathroom to change. I pulled on the sweat pants and a tee shirt a friend had sent to me. The shirt read, "Fatherhood. Freshman Class 2008." I came back out and took a seat in the chair that converted into a bed. Everyone left to give me time with my family. A nurse came in and said that she had to take my son to do an evaluation since they had to induce labor. I told the nurse that I was coming with her. She kind of looked at me with a strange expression. I told her that no one was going to take my son out of my sight while I'm home.
I followed her with Little Dude in my arms. I watched as she took his tempature, weighed him, checked his diaper, and poked his foot to take a blood sampel. It was heartbreaking to hear him cry. I carried him back to the room while he sobbed in my arms. We sat down and got ready to go to sleep. My wife got into her hospital bed while I turned the chair into a bed. I told her that I wanted to hold my son while I slept. We swaddeled him and I layed down on my side with him in my arms. The follwoing moring we had to watch two videos that said shaking babies is a bad thing to do before we could leave. I shit you not. We had to watch two videos that said not to shake a baby.
I had prepared his nursery before I left for Iraq. He was tired so I placed Little Dude in his crib. I went down stairs and saw a bottle of Jack and a bottle of Ginger Ale on the table. My wife knows me well. We spent the day with family and friends. Little Dude woke up a little later. My wife's friend, who came up for the birth, took some pictures of him. I didn't notice until she showed me, but she took pictures of me meeting Little Dude for the first time. She also showed me a great picture she took of him laying on his side, eyes open, smiling, with his hand up to his mouth.
I told my wife that I wanted to hand out cigars to people when I got back to Iraq. We bundeled up Little Dude so he wouldn't get cold and headed to a tobacco store. I bought a box of cigars that had no rings (labels). Wife's friend said that she would make some labels for me, and we headed to a craft store. She bought paper and glue dots. We went home and she used the last picture she took and placed it in the center of a label, wrote his name across the top, and his birth date across the bottom. She told me that it was a program she found on line. I had never met her before, and I was impressed that she'd go through that effort for me.
Thanksgiving was coming up. No one planned on me being there, me included. Had her pregnancy gone according to plan, I would be home in early December. No one was planning on having a traditional dinner, so we made our own. I made one of my specialties, fried ravioli. Other people made some dishes too. We invited over a few spouses of service members that were still over in the desert. It was a nice and carefree evening planned. But something upset me.
We already had everthing we needed. I woke up Thanksgiving morning. My wife asked me to go and get a news paper and some breakfast. I headed over to the Golden Arches drive through. I got the food and grabbed a paper form the box in front of the place. I headed home and went upstairs. She was sitting in bead with Little Dude sleeping in her lap. I handed her the food and setteled in myself. I looked at the front page and saw a picture of my firend.
At first, I woundered why Keith's picture was in the paper. He was still in Iraq. Then I realized it was the death picture. (Allow me to break off here for a moment. Before deploying, every solider has an official picture taken infront of an American Flag. This is the picture that is used for "public relations." It's the picture that's sent to news agencies to report on the death of a soldier. That's why I call it the death picture.) The words that came out of my mouth were, "Oh NO!"
My wife looked at me and asked what's wrong. I told her that my friend is dead. The short article said that he died from a non-combat related event. That meant one of three things: heart attack; accident; or suicide. I felt like I was being squeezed. I had to get out of there. My wife told me to go and do what I needed to do. I went down stairs, grabbed my sister-in-law's ciggerates and lighter, and headed out the door. I drove over to the other end of town where people dump trash and burn cars. I sat on the hood of my Jeep and smoked a few ciggerates. I was still mad. I found a pipe and used it to beat on old TV that someone had dumped. After destroying the TV, I used the pipe on a microwave. I threw the pipe across the field and smoked another cigeratte.
Feeling spent, I drove back home. My friend came and talked to me while I was waiting for the helicopter to take me from my FOB just a few days ago. Figuring on how long it takes for a person's name and face to be released to the media, I knew that I had seen him on the last day that he was alive. I saw him just hours before he put his M-16 in his mouth and took his life. He showed no signs. He was happy and smiling. He was the normal Keith that I knew.
I spent the rest of Thanksgiving in a slightly depressed mood. The only thing that cheered me up was Little Dude. An infant that depended on me for everything was what brought me around. We had dinner and I went to sleep after a few drinks. The next moring we went to the post chappel where the memorial service was being held. I cried through the whole thing. I felt better after the memorial. I was feeling up to going out for lunch. I didn't want to miss anymore time with my Little Dude.
I spent the remainder of my emergency leave taking care of him and my wife. He would wake up at 4 am for a feeding. I let my wife sleep and took that one over. I would go down stairs and prepare a bottle. I came back up and scooped him up. I sat in a recliner in his room, leaned back, fed him, burped him, and covered us up in a blanket. I held him until he went back to sleep. I dozed back off myself. It was a great feeling holding him that close. My wife would wake me up a few hours later and we'd talk about what we were going to do that day.
My three weeks went by fast. It was too fast. I packed up my bag, with the additon of a box of cigars that had my son's face on the ring. Since I was traveling on civiaian air again, I was in civilian clothes. No point in changing later. Little Dude's beanie cap was in my pocket. My wife, son, and sister-in-law took me to the airport. It was a very emotional event. I hugged my sister-in-law goodbye. I hugged and kissed my wife goodbye. I held my son, and looked into his eyes. I gave him a kiss and held him tight. I didn't want to let go. My wife was crying hard. I had tears in my eyes. I handed him off. My wife said that she had to leave. She couldn't take the emotional pain anymore.
I watched them leave through the window. I had the same flight route, only reverse going back to Iraq. I flew from Alaska to Seattle, to Germany, then to Kuwait City. I met the liason officer and he told me where the bus was to go back to the FOB. Once there I changed into my uniform and made my way to the airfield. Within 12 hours of landing in Kuwait, I was back in Iraq. I cought the last seat on a helicopter and flew back to my FOB. I was amazed at how fast I got back into Iraq compared to the time it took for me to leave. The biggest comfort I had that night was the beanie cap that I kept.