It's interesting how I mark the passage of time these days. Little things and events that occurred two years ago mean so much to me.
It was two years ago today, February 9, 2004, that I saw my only son, my first born child, for the very last time ever. Jeremy had come home for a final leave of absence from the Army before he was to leave for Iraq. At the time he didn't know exactly when his departure date was, but it would be soon.
Maxx and I picked him up in Huntsville, Texas and drove him in the late hours of a Thursday night. On the way home we had the usual chit chat of catching up with one another's lives that families have when they have been apart. Jeremy told me that he needed to do some laundry while he was home. Then he ventured to tell me and Maxx that he had lipstick on his collar from being at an adult club and he needed to try and get that off.
At the time, I laughed that Jeremy would tell us that. What could I say?
The next morning I got up and went to work as usual. Maxx was working on a project away from the house so he left as well. Jeremy got up with me. Later in the morning he got dressed, locked up the house and got in his car to go see one of his sisters and to go to the hospital to see his step great grandmother, Mimi. He loved that woman!
We spent a good weekend with Jeremy going to movies, the Museum of Natural Science and just generally doing things I hoped he would remember and help hold him up in what I knew would be hard days to come in the next year. The night before he had to go back we had a family dinner. Maxx grilled up some steaks (Jeremy's favorite) and we had one last family meal with him. Dani and her partner were there as well.
The next morning we had to take Jeremy back to Ft. Hood. It was a drizzly, dreary, chilly day as we drove through the Texas countryside from Houston to Ft. Hood. Jeremy sat in the truck next to me, watching Band of Brothers on the laptop he bought to take to Iraq a month previous. We stopped for smoke breaks every now and then and for food.
All I wanted was to be near my son, to enjoy his company as much as I possibly could. I knew, somewhere deep inside, that it would be my last opportunity.
That evening, in the hours just after the sun set, we arrived at the north gate of Ft. Hood and were allowed in to drop Jeremy off at his barracks. He directed us where to go. We parked on the side of the road next to a ditch that was between the road and the barracks. Jeremy got his bags out of the back of the truck and took them in while we waited for him. Then he came back out and we talked for a little while.
Then it was time to say goodbye to Jeremy.
Oh God, I remember it so vividly, like it happened this morning, still fresh in my mind. I remember hugging my only son, my first born child, as close and as tight as I could. I did not want to let go of him. I did not want him to go. I tried so hard to be strong for him, to not show my fear and my anxiety at sending him off to war. Dear God, there was nothing I could do to keep Jeremy from going to Iraq.
Finally, I let him go and, with tears streaming down my face, turned to get into the truck. I remember opening the door, looking at the inside of the door for a second, then turning and running back to my son, my sobs escaping. We hugged each other for the last time ever and I told him to please be careful and to stay safe. I told him I loved him.
Then Maxx and Jeremy hugged and said their goodbyes. We got in the truck and watched Jeremy disappear into the barracks.
This was the last time I saw my son -- ever. I never saw his body when it was returned to us seven days later in a wood box, his head damaged and mangled from the trees taking off the roof of the rental car he was driving. I wanted to remember Jeremy just the way he had been in life, not to have the image of his damaged head burned into my mind for the rest of my life.
I cried a cry from somewhere deep in my body after we left Jeremy that last night at Ft. Hood. For a long time on the drive home, I cried, deep sobs that I could not control. I knew I would not see my son again alive. Yet, I was powerless to do anything to stop what was his fate.
It still hurts as I remember and the tears have come so easily as I write this.
There is one truth that I have learned during the past two years and it is this: Love never dies. Just because a person we love has left this life, our love for them does not end. I can feel Jeremy's love, too, from somewhere beyond that veil of mortality, radiating back to me.
I love you, Bud.