Mr. Cassone, whose son Richard is serving as a sergeant in Afghanistan, sent this essay to the Complaint Box on the City Room blog this weekend. The City Room editors thought it was more of a poignant story than a complaint and thought At War readers might appreciate it. We did, too.
Hey, I’m the guy you just about blasted out of his driver’s seat with your horn when we missed the green light at the mall entrance. Anyway, I’m not mad about it. We’re all under a lot of pressure this time of year. Before you know it, Christmas morning arrives, and so there’s not much time to get the right stuff for everyone. And not only did we miss that light because I was daydreaming, but we also would have surely sat through another one if you hadn’t honked, because I really wasn’t there. You couldn’t have known, but I was so very far away at the time, in a place that I’ve actually never been. I was in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.
I wasn’t paying attention because I was wondering what my son, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, was doing right then, though it’s nine and a half hours later there. Like so very many other parents and loved ones of deployed personnel, I know very little about what my son does. I do know the name of his job; he’s a forward observer with a small company out of Camp Pendleton called First Anglico. I know that he is deployed with British and Afghan soldiers and that he calls in air and artillery support for their combat operations, but I don’t know what he does from moment to moment, and so sometimes I can’t help but sit and wonder. I did ask him last Sunday when he grabbed the satellite phone to call me for a minute or two, but he would only say that he was doing what he had joined to do. And that he’s doing it while sleeping in a frozen tent that he shares with a bunch of mice and a stray, flea-bitten cat, a supply of Ziploc baggies for toilets and not much in the way of entertainment, not that he’d have time for that. And even so, nighttime is the easy part of his day. And that’s when you honked.
The thing is, there are tens of thousands of daydreamers like me. And a vast majority of them will put the experience behind them like I did after my son’s last two deployments. They will all forget about the background noise of a very personal war that they lived with while their loved ones were overseas. They will forget the fears they suppressed, confronted and then suppressed again. They will forget about having crept their car up to their driveway after work, peeking in at the dread of an imaginary black Crown Victoria with United States government plates that might meet them there. They will forget all about that, and then they’ll start worrying about Christmas and other holidays again. They’ll worry about getting the right gifts and decorations at the right price and having it all in the proper places in time for the kids to get up. And then they, too, might get impatient and honk at the guy in front of them when he’s too slow at the light pulling into the mall.
But there are also many for whom Christmas will never be the same. The worst parts of their daydreams will have become reality. They were met by that Crown Vic, and so for them, there will always be a stocking that goes unfilled and an empty place at the table where the most enthusiastic and promising member of their family once sat. And like the daydreamers, you’ll never know who they are when they pass you on the street or miss a traffic light when you’re in a hurry. But for them, when they get lost in their thoughts, their daydreams are no longer taking them overseas. They are bringing them back to other Christmases and birthdays and summer vacations when their Marine was still around. So just this once, could you let them stay there for a moment longer and miss that light?