A Random Image

Jett Superior laid this on you on || December 11, 2003 || 12:44 am

The Continuation…

…of what I started earlier in the week.

In the days to follow, I was a wrinkled-clothes, jumbled-nerves mess, but those around me remarked on my stillness and perceived sense of purpose. Hell, I just felt like a robot. It seemed as if I were in constant motion, sleep coming in fits and starts. There was always something to be taken care of (“Are your affairs in order? You know, just in case.”), people to receive, meetings to be attended (Biff’s command was very, very good to us. Between the guys in his battalion passing the hat and Army Emergency Relief, they took care of our every financial need in the several months I was forced out of work). My neighbors, Sgt. Mark and his wife Teri, took my then barely-seven-month-old son in and cared for him. They came to the hospital to relieve me so I could go home and sleep, return calls, play with my son, wash a couple loads of clothes. Friends Sgt. Cliff and his wife Jen (both military members) took a week’s leave each so that they too could care for my son while the Marks went to work.

I attended a brief church service one evening called in honor of my husband and was requested to speak as to his condition. I stood before all the concerned faces –many of whom were active duty or retired military themselves– and outlined my spouse’s injuries, the terrific loss of blood he’d suffered while being brought in from the field (we were told time and time again that he should have, by rights, died right there on the ground, not to mention the protracted evac period….they said the gallon of Gatorade I’d bought for him as a flukey afterthought before his departure was probably was sustained his life until he got to the hospital; strange things, these), the daily surgeries to strip dead and dying tissues that surrounded his wounds.

“The bullet’s entrance hole at the front of his thigh was the size of a quarter,” I told them emotionlessly, “and the exit wound at the back was the size of a large salad plate. There is a concave space in the back of his leg that a little over half of my fist could disappear into.” I held my clenched hand aloft in illustration.

“I’ve been told by the doctors that the bullet missed his femur by a fraction of an inch, and had it hit the bone, he most assuredly would have lost the leg entirely and quite probably his life, as bone shards may have entered the artery and ripped their way through his system before lodging in his heart.

“As it stands now, we don’t know if he will live, but he’s improving each day, and the rate at which they’re having to give him blood has slowed. As to whether he will eventually lose the leg, they just cannot tell me at this time, nor can they tell me how much function he will have should he keep it. What nerves that weren’t destroyed suffered an immense shock and everyone seems to be unaware to what degree they will recover.”

I paused to look around, noting all the looks of horror on most of the wives’ faces. We live with the fear of these things every day, those looks said, but we do not know what to do with the reality of it. Given where our husbands served, they were called up on alert quite frequently, and we –the wives, the children– never knew how long they’d be gone, never knew whether or not (save for gut instinct, which becomes quite credible in such instances) it was a drill or an actual exercise.

Many of the men were with the 1/501st Geronimos, had their jump wings, just like my spouse. More than a handful of men wore a Ranger tab, just like Biff. A couple of them served with him as scouts, work which is at best dangerous beyond all comprehension. Had I been a man relaying this information, there may have been some signs of concern, but I think mostly resolved stoicism would have won out. But I wasn’t a man, so the looks they held were those of extreme sorrow and –to a degree– pity. They are picturing their wives, I thought. They are picturing their wives standing up here instead of me, and God, it pains them.

I went on to tell them what I had learned of Bradley, also: How his parents were exhausted, how they did not have as extensive a support network as we did. Their son was unmarried and fairly new to Fort Rich.

I made a plea for the congregation to donate blood, as both men had required and were still requiring great amounts of it. When Biff was shot, he lost an amazing eight of the ten units of blood that his body held (this figure, coupled with the fact that he did indeed live, astounds me even today). I asked that my church family remember the Bradleys in prayer, that they assist them in any way they could.

When I got back that day –only the second day after the Bradleys had fixed themselves in the ICU, I was surprised to see the glass front of thier son’s room. Mrs. Bradley, whom I’d spoken with briefly upon their arrival the fourth day the guys were in ICU, had taped pictures of her son all over the glass wall. Here he was as a boy, sweet-smiling. Here he was as a teenager, carefree. Here he was in bootcamp, the standard stern, put-upon look that all recruits possess draped across his face. There were at least thirty pictures of him there, most smiling, all earthy-handsome and good-earnest. You could somewhat measure his character by them. I stood there silent after the shock had worn off, studying them all.

His father sat quietly in a corner and his mother crossed the few feet toward me, stepping through the doorway.

“I want everyone to know who is lying in that bed. I want them to know who they are treating.” We stood there awhile, gazing at all the photos, and somehow our hands found one another. After a time, and after she had squeezed my hand in some unspoken surge of emotion, I turned to her.

“I’m pregnant, about three months along.” I said it quietly and she received it quietly She was the first person besides me to know that I held a baby cocooned inside of me, this woman whose only offspring lie gravely injured, cocooned himself in dark sleep and machinery, a few feet away.

“Ohhh…” she sighed, “a light. A light in all this fog…” and two tears slipped brazenly out of one eye, parading unfettered past her lashes and dropping fat off of her cheek and onto her breast. There was talk of sending her son to Walter Reed, the premier Army hospital, as soon as he was stable enough to travel. It was bad.

A couple days later Biff was moved to another wing, another ICU. He would live, and there was the matter of seeing to it that he would not lose his leg. Some forty-eight hours later he was transferred back to the military hospital on Elmendorf AFB, despite his exhortations to me: “Keep me here, Beth. Don’t let them send me over there. I’ll never keep my leg.” I tried my best to accomodate his wish, getting the mother of all ass chewings from one colonel (whom I lovingly refer to as Colonel Turdbucket to this very day) in the process. We eyeballed one another fiercely across a desk. He, in essence, told me that I’d made him look schmucky. I, in essence, told him that I gave not a fuck, because I was trying to fulfill my husband’s request. His final statement before calling the meeting to an abrupt close?

“My team and I can handle this.” Butt out, bitch. You’re young and ignorant.

And that, in the military vernacular, means that is that. How he must have longed for me to be a military member at that moment.

Unbeknownst to me, my mother –in an extreme case of Dining On Your Pride– called my father to intervene. I told him ‘no thank you’ politely and cursed her in my head. My father keeps score, and I’ve never wanted to Owe Big.

Five days later, Biff’s condition tanked and all hell broke loose as they scrambled to get him on a plane to Travis AFB, where the David Grant Medical Center is located. Matters were complicated further by the fact that Mount Spurr was about to erupt again. It was a now-or-never sort of situation.

“Go get your things and your son. You have an hour and a half to be on the tarmac. We go with or without you.”


5 worked it out »

  1. Sgt. Mac 12.11.2003

    You know….Having a Marine just back from Afghanistan and Iraq and in one peice I might add, makes the story all the more special to me….

    Being an Ex….Ahhhh Former AF guy, I remember well the military comradreship that I miss to this very day…..”Like Family” is an overused statement….but I see that it still applies….

    I am sitting here on the edge of my seat, waiting for the rest of the story….You my dear, write extremely well….as words….emotions, feelings come through straight from your Southern Heart and Soul….

    Thanks for sharing this tragic but beautiful story….;)

  2. Patrick 12.11.2003

    You are one of (if not the) best writers I have ever read! Your latest trip down the emotional rollercoaster has put me right there with you all along the way. I greatly appreciate your candor, and strength which is present in your every word.

  3. carol 12.11.2003

    more please.

  4. the olive 12.11.2003

    come back! I want to hear the rest!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. laura 12.13.2003

    Yourability is so impressive, have you given any thought to writing professionally?

    I feel like I’m right there with you, experiencing all the heartbreak and knowing you were pregnant through all this is all the more heartbreaking.


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