Mothers' Children....in War
I read today headlines “Iraq baby pulled from trash” then the story of how U.S. soldiers found a baby girl thrown away in a garbage heap in Iraq. My stomach clenches, my temples ache, my heart explodes.
My first thought is how can these soldiers have any more or less compassion for this baby in the garbage pile than the babies they shoot or drop bombs on or run over in their humvees or trample during their midnite raids?
Desperately hidden, tossed, camouflaged, thrown, pitched, flung, hurled, or maybe gently but swiftly laid under the pile. Who was so despairing as to lob their baby into the trash? Who was so frantic as to use this pile to embrace a child? Who discerned this garbage pile would be safer for her then in her mother’s arms? Who knew her life would be more secure in the garbage pile then in her home?
Mothers who are dead or who are attempting to survive in war zones.
I was on the east coast a few months ago, in a too-cold coffee shop that offered free wireless internet and several organic teas. An emotional white womon around my age approached my table, demanding to know if I owned that truck outside. At first, I couldn’t tell if she was enraged at the war or me.
“Why do you want them to come home?” she demands fiercely. I decide to take her seriously and answer her question. I only get to begin with “war is horrific”...
“They are there for a purpose, we don’t WANT them to come home. We don’t appreciate you trying to bring them home.”
As she spews hardness and venom my way, I wonder if she will have a stroke. Her face is blotched red, her hair strewn, her yellow blouse has huge sweat stains leaking through, unstoppable as her words.
I ask her to sit down and talk with me. I beg her to join me. I urge her to discuss this. Because we are womyn; because we are mothers; because we are capable of talking with each other.
Because she is obviously extremely upset and needs to talk.
She finally agrees and takes the chair farthest away from me so I have to lean over the table, over the glasses of now rapidly melting ice water, the empty tea pot, to talk.
I ask her why she is so upset that I want war to be over. Does she not want war to be over?
Tears make huge puddles in her eyes but do not spill. She looks quickly behind her at the menu printed in large letters above the counter. I ask her if I can get her a coffee or something to drink, mentally feeling the cash I have left in my pocket. I get her a cup of coffee quickly, before she bolts.
“Do you not want this horrific war and killing to be over?” I ask again. She is still angry, but at least she’s not screaming anymore. “Is that all you care about, those Arabs who started this whole mess?” she demands.
I tell her I care about every human life on this planet, in Iraq and in the United States. I tell her I believe war is the most horrific failing of man-kind (& I do mean man). I tell her I’m not so sure Arabs started this war. I tell her war is wrong no matter who started it. I feel her softening, touching her female energy.
She drags her chair into the table, sips her coffee and asks me hesitantly “is YOUR son over there?”
I feel we have established a connection and I’m afraid it will be broken if I don’t say yes. I say I feel I have many, many children in Iraq: I feel the US soldiers and the Iraq people are all part of my family. I admit I have no biological son or daughter in Iraq.
She hisses at me “well I do!” I tell her I’m so sorry and I’m working my hardest to bring him home.
“NO” she is shouting again. “NO NO NO NO – I don’t WANT him home.” She bangs her cup down, coffee and ice water mingle into rivulets racing towards the center that we both ignore.
I try not to look as stricken as I feel. I just want to gather this womon in my arms, fold her into my very being, and absorb her misery, fury and pain.
I reach for her hands & tell her how sorry I am. I tell her I can’t imagine what she has gone through. She agrees bitterly, “no you can’t” she mumbles as she allows me to hold her hands.
Then she tells me, her son, her baby boy, her blood and guts child she gave birth to and loved and fought with and treasured and raised until he left home, became a truck driver, and joined the National Guard – that child is dead, destroyed, departed – but not gone. His body is still here, his body has come back twice from Iraq, inhabited by a monster she doesn’t know.
She demands to know if I know that he has already returned twice from Iraq. TWICE she reiterates. And he’s on his third tour of “duty” she spews at me. The first time he came home, she says, his body is inhabited by some stranger, some screaming, silent, blank, furious young man that doesn’t even resemble her son. That time, she says, he mostly stays locked up in a room – except when he travels to the VA, to his buddies, to the bar – politely ignoring his wife, his baby girl, his mother.
The second time he came back – she again demands to know if I know he came home twice – the second time he came back, she recognizes this stranger, this bolder and badder stranger in her son’s body.
His body bloodies his wife, bruises his only 3 year old baby girl, bullies his mother – spreading some of the terror at home as he did abroad. Weeping over his trail of violence, begging his wife, his mother, his buddies to kill him; then begging their forgiveness; then shouting he doesn’t need or want their forgiveness why are they making him feel this way, he needs their compliance; they need to stop making him do these things to them.
His wife attempts to run to the safety of his mother’s house but she cannot protect this daughter-in-law nor her granddaughter: her son no longer respects his mother. They are all terrified.
We are weeping, together, hand in hand, as this mother hoarsely whispers, “ God forgive me, I want him to come back in a body bag. I want to bury my son’s body. I have already buried his being.”
I do not know what to say, to offer hope, to offer healing, to hold out understanding. I know there is little that can give a man back his soul, once he has become in-human, un-human, anti-human: once he has done the deeds that destroy his humanity.
Even if we have figured out a way to heal a soldier's humanity, I know the realities of health care priorities we don't have in this country, let alone the health care vets get. I can only imagine the journey one has to take to heal and reclaim one's soul, once he has committed murder.
I know she is saying it is their life or her son’s life. Period. Terror at home, she mutters with despair.
I have nothing to offer this mother, nothing that she wants. I think I can offer her my understanding. But she looks deep into my being and begs me, as one mother to another, as one womon to another, as one who has compassion and understanding, to IMMEDIATELY cease my attempts to bring the soldiers home.
I’m relieved we are no longer talking about her son but other women’s sons. I ask her if she thinks that is a viable solution, to continue making more and more monsters of our young people? To make other families suffer like hers.
She looks so fiercely into me I have to struggle to not pull back my hands which are tightly clenched now as she drags me closer, standing us together so I smell the faint avon products tinged with sweat, so I see the specks in her faded blue eyes.
“If he doesn’t die in Iraq this time, I will kill him myself,” she shovels the words into my mouth as she once did food on the end of a baby spoon.