If you read this blog, you’re probably well aware that the Iraq Invasion/bombing/war started 10 years ago.
I admit to avoiding stories about it, purposefully. You see, in 8 years, I witnessed 6 friends be deployed. One was deployed multiple times and she doesn’t talk about it.
One—who I’ll call “Bob”—was summoned for service in mid-January of 2003.
So let’s not act surprised that this war ever happened. In my experience, the folks in charge had this planned from the beginning.
I didn’t know Bob well at the time. I shared an office as graduate assistants with him in 2003. I helped him pack some of his belongings, at work and at home.
Packing personal belongings up in case you don’t come back is morbid. There is no nice way to talk about this “practicality.” FUBAR is more fitting a term.
And so, 10 years ago, I had CNN on in my tiny grad school apartment, late at night. Before I was aware of live-blogging, I live-wrote him what I saw being reported, wondered how he was, wished him safety, and talked philosophy to (at–?) him in the hopes of a brief distraction for him.
I felt stupid writing him sometimes—surely the trivialities of my life and university life aren’t comparable–but I wrote him at least one letter each week for the entire time he was in Iraq. I took to reading the newspaper (in paper, not just online) and cutting out articles I found absurd or funny.
I felt helpless. I just wanted Bob to come back, safe and sound. In April of 2003, he emailed me from Hans Blitz’s office. I laughed with relief—and the absurdity of the situation. I printed his email out and, at the request of our department chair, put it on display in the main office.
I would sometimes go around the department, asking my colleagues to sign and send a message to Bob. Everyone loved him, to be sure, and were more than happy to write a quick message to Bob.
My letters to him included such gems as “I’ve heard there’s a sandstorm in Iraq. Is that affecting you? I hope not, but if so, that must be really annoying—is it? Does it get all over everything and into everything?” and “Have you seen the Tigris and Euphrates? What a tragic comedy if you have…It’s cool from my point as a classicist, but horrible under these circumstances.”
(Yes, the sand was annoying, and yes, he did bring me photos of the ancient rivers, which he also thought was pretty cool from a historical significance POV.)
I only found out when he came back I was the only one in the entire department who wrote him. Ever.
When I saw Bob sitting in a classroom back in the summer of 2003, I ran in. All decorum and etiquette went out the window. He was much thinner, much tanner, but still Bob.
The professor stopped, understanding this reunion. Bob stood up, rushed to me, and hugged me so tight I thought a rib may have broken. (It would have been worth it). He then swung me around the room, kissed my cheek, and thanked me for the letters.
Over the next couple years, Bob and I got to know each other a lot better.
We were—and are—good friends. When we went to see Casablanca in 2004 and I threw up water (pre-migraine symptom), he didn’t bat an eye, just made sure I was okay.
Bob, if you’re reading this, I love you. We continue to carry each other in ways only friends can do, and apparently the Iraq War solidified our friendship.
The sad—no—the unacceptable fact is that four [pause and let that sink in] of my friends came back in body bags. The first one was murdered shortly after Bob swung me around the room, shortly after the President arrogantly made this statement:
“…and he challenged those tempted to attack U.S. forces, “Bring them on.””
My mom called me. It was July 4th, 2003. I was in the car, as a passenger, with my partner visiting the beach for the holiday.
“…is dead.” was all I heard. He had been shot, point-blank, in the head while sipping a Coca-Cola at a road stop.
To this day, I abhor the sound of fireworks. I cannot hear them without thinking of him, how bullet-like that sound of fire in the sky is.
I hate the 4th of July festiveness. It is, for me, a day of mourning.
This was a guy I grew up with. We went to middle and high school together. We liked to debate politics, and he even said once—as a compliment—“Don’t argue with Contrawhit, she may look mild but she’ll hand you your ass in an argument.”
And we laughed. We could disagree in high school and still laugh and appreciate each other’s passion for politics, etc. (which was unusual in our school—to not take a disagreement personally.)
I still feel horrible because I had no idea he had been deployed. I would have written him. Would it have done any good? I’ll never know. I feel it would have, though. Somehow.
I can’t be upset at the unknown person who shot him. Chances are it was a citizen pissed his country was wrongfully invaded, and my friend represented all that was wrong with the invading country.
I understand that anger, though I do not understand the retaliation. But that’s me. I don’t understand retaliation.
But what I just cannot get over is that when my first friend died, I was 23 and he was 22.
He remains forever 22, and I’m now 33.
Failure to age due to premature death.
These are the most evil and inhumane math.
I could go on. I could tell you the stories of the other men and woman killed.
But it’s really all the same story as the first friend.
I don’t mean to trivialize their deaths at all, but the stories are all so similar, from the method to my reaction, to sitting stoically at a funeral that should never have happened, watching parents bury children. (At one memorial, I was pregnant myself. That was a whole new dimension of survivor’s guilt).
I dedicate this emotional post to all those who served. We, as a country, failed you. We failed to protect you. We failed—and still fail—to support you. We failed your families.
The list goes on. So many failures. So much pain, death–and it was all unnecessary.
I am pessimistic we will ever learn war is not worth it.