Note: this piece is written from the perspective of the author’s wife.
The clock ticked to 22:00, the colon antagonistically flashing to remind me of each passing second. I sat on the edge of my twin bed, pushed together with his to resemble a king-sized bed, while the musty, sunburned Iraqi dust again settled. Sitting still was an impossibility, so I took different positions throughout our small room to try to pass the time. My husband was supposed to be through that door hours ago, home from his daily convoy that by now had become routine. As I sat on the bedside, I reflected on my continued distress over his combat role.
Three months prior, our brigade had been finalizing details of our deployment, the second round for both my newlywed husband and me, and he’d been assigned the role of Truck Commander. This position took him outside the wire daily, into potential harm that I wasn’t prepared to wager. We married just one month before leaving for Iraq, and while we argued often as we struggled with the intricacies of a dual-military relationship, I made plain my protest with his excessively dangerous role. He feigned appreciation and support, but I felt he was eager for this position, and I redirected my anxiety toward my role as Communications Non-Commissioned Officer and my shop’s readiness for the tour.
Just outside, keys jingled as the right one found its way to the lock, and the door swung quietly open, as Jason stepped into view. Seeing that I was awake, he crossed the three feet between us and embraced me, more quickly and deliberately than I expected. “I was so worried,” I said, “I’d expected you home at eight o’clock!”
“I know, Christine, I wish I could’ve gotten a message to you, but we were on the road far longer than expected,” he replied. I could sense the tension in his voice. “My truck was hit with an IED on the trip home.”
My face flushed, and I felt almost as though I was having an out-of-body experience. Slightly dizzied by this revelation, I hugged him once more, grateful I’d not been awoken by the Chaplain. Jason and I already faced an uphill battle, both being deployed and imperiled, but my nervousness had finally been validated. What emotion should lead, which feelings should I release–anger, shock, sadness, and regret–because my prophecy had come true? We spoke often of the dangers he faced, heightened as we were withdrawing troops and supplies from this hellhole, and I worried, too often perhaps, that one day he’d be hurt in the execution of his duties.
“My crew inspected the truck, it was one of those explosively formed penetrator rounds, the new ones, but thank God it was a small one,” Jason continued. “There was a hole in the axle where the projectile had gone through, on the passenger side.” I knew a lot about the various forms of improvised explosive devices, many involving communications networks, but the EFP rounds were particularly deadly. I just looked at Jason as he described his trip to me, flooded with a mix of emotions. Why me, why tell me all of this? I was uncertain how much of the depiction I really wanted to know, why my husband felt the need to discuss the intricacies of his near-death experience.
“Please, Jason, please just stop” I blurted, no longer capable of entertaining his story. Not out of disinterest, I reassured myself, but out of self-preservation. It rolled ever nearer to midnight; I knew without saying that by dawn Jason would be gone again, another withdrawal convoy in action, and I would prepare to endure another day in Balad, feigning a smile and worrying over the fate of my husband.
Jason Meadows, an environmental science and management student at UC Davis, spent six years in the United States Army, where he served as an electronics technician. Originally from Sacramento, he spends most of his free time volunteering with veteran service organizations, working to enhance the lives of veterans and helping civilians in times of need.