Coming Home

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It didn't start right away . . . no, for the first couple weeks I was home I was just happy. I couldn't stop smiling. My sister and I were attached at the hip, everwhere we went, we went together and all I could think about was how amazing it was to be home. Finally home. It was, after all, the first time I'd been able to relax in over two years, so why shouldn't I be happy?

I enlisted in the Army National Guard in July of '03, on my 17th birthday, so excited and so proud to be serving my country and doing great things to help the American people. I went to Basic Training a year later, and soon as I stepped off the plane and into the hot, humid air of South Carolina I feared I'd made the biggest mistake of my life . . . but I figured that was how everyone felt their first day of BCT. That's what I'd been told anyway. That's what everyone else seemed to think. So I tried to brush it off, tried to focus on my training instead of the giant hole the was in my chest from missing my family so much.

It didn't get easier after graduation, because then I went to AIT in Maryland, and the rumors started. My unit was getting deployed, or they weren't . . . Iraq, Afghanistan . . . staying home. Nobody really knew the answer until finally I called my NCO, two weeks before my graduation and asked him. "Yes, they're going," he told me, "and they're leaving in January."

I graduated January 15th.

On March 2nd, 2005, I left home and began my deployment. To say it was all bad would be a bold-faced lie, to even imply that I had it anywhere near as hard as some veterans would be an insult to them and the sacrifices that they made. So many times I've wondered how I could feel the way I did . . . what right did I have, when I came home without losing a limb, or a family member, or something so serious it was obviously life-changing.

I'd been home for two or three weeks the first time I realized I wasn't the same. When I heard my ex-boyfriend call my mom a bitch and I turned around and punched him . . . would I do it again? Probably. But I never would have before. I was so angry, all the time, and it didn't matter if it was a big problem, or a little one. Something as simple as going to plug in my laptop, and finding a neatly folded pile of clothes in the way . . .

What kind of person would take those clothes and hurl them across the room?

I was that kind of person. I would walk through the room and my mom, my sister, would brace themselves, waiting to see if something else would set me off. Something so tiny, they wouldn't even realize it was there until I was yelling and storming out of the room. They didn't know what was wrong (neither did I), so they didn't know it wasn't their fault.

I would cry alone at night, wanting so bad to be happy, not understand why I wasn't. I loved my family, I loved them more than ever because I finally understood what it was like not to have them by my side, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't be normal anymore. I couldn't drive down the street and not worry when I saw the cardboard box on the side of the road. I couldn't watch a movie on the 4th of July and not want to curl up in a ball as fireworks went off outside. Eventually, I just wished I could go back. I would've given anything to be given a new set of orders, sending me back to Iraq. Life was simple there. Someone shoots at you, you shoot back. A mortar comes in, you brace yourself. You view everyone as the enemy, just in case.

I'd been home for six months when I finally came to terms with it all . . . it was right after Christmas, I don't remember exactly what happened but I'd been upstairs with my sister and I said something awful to her. I knew she was angry and confused, but I was never very good at apologies so I just went to bed when she did. I didn't go to sleep though. Soon I was downstairs, pacing back and forth, trying to stifle the sobs so no one would hear me.

Of course my mom did.

She came down, and I fell to the floor . . . and we just sat there, I was crying so hard I couldn't breathe and to this day I don't know why. I don't know why Iraq changed me so much, and I don't know why I was so angry. That certainly isn't the typical reaction you think of when you hear the term PTSD. You also probably don't think of a 19-year-old girl sitting in the turret with a .50 cal in front of her . . . and then a year later crying in her mother's arms. But that was who I was. And that was who I never wanted to be.

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A/N: I was on the Iraq Veterans Against War site last night, reading amazing stories, both sad and inspirational, and I just started writing... only later did I realize it was March 2nd, exactly 6 years to the day since I left for my first deployment. Funny how things work out. So I wrote this real quick, in about thirty minutes, just to get it all off my mind... anyway, I hope you enjoyed it (if that's the right word) and if you have any critiques, please feel free to let me know!