Friday, February 15, 2013

Walter Reed

I wrote this for my class, and thought I would share it with you.  I’m learning so much about the craft of writing in this particular session, and I’m really enjoying it, but it’s hard work!  The assignment was to begin with details using only the “voice of innocence” (no reflection) and move slowly to using the “voice of experience.”

It’s about a day in June of 2009 where I got to volunteer with American Crew at Walter Reed Medical Center; I did 17 haircuts that day on soldiers who had returned from the war and their families.  It was an incredible day, and I had no idea the influence it would have on me even years later.

I'm in the middle of the back row, with the red bandana.

Walter Reed

I unstuck my legs from the backseat like a fruit roll-up from its wrapper and joined my friends in our matching American Crew T-shirts with matching sweat stains on the sidewalk.  The double doors opened to Walter Reed Medical Center, and I watched a man in a wheelchair with both legs missing go inside, badly needing a haircut.

We walked into the un-air-conditioned lobby, the humidity in the air so thick I felt I could leave my mouth open and drink the air like a cup of hot tea.  My naturally curly hair was growing bigger by the minute; soon it would need its own zip code.  We found a stack of itchy, cloth covered hotel-meeting-style chairs, plastic covered carpet, and dim lighting like a seedy movie theater.  It was pretty much the worst-case scenario for doing short, military precision haircutting.

As I did one clipper cut after another all day long, I tried not to think about my brother, serving in Iraq even as I stood in that lobby.  I tried not to think like a wife…were the wives happy their husbands came home, or did they see the defeat in their eyes and wish for a different end?  I tried to resist the urge to call my husband, Sawan, just to hear his voice, to tell me that this wasn’t us, that he was whole.  I forced myself to focus on what amazing things they were doing at the hospital, on the stories of triumph we were hearing, on the hope I saw in some of their eyes.

It made me grateful for my life in a whole new way.  I had seen what I thought was the worst-case scenario, but then went home to my whole husband.  I posted on Facebook: “Thankful that I have a husband with two arms and two legs.”  For two months, I lived in a state of deep gratitude.  I stopped “sweating the small stuff,” unwilling to be crippled by the mundane of everyday life.

Two months later, Sawan died suddenly.  I lost my “better half.”  I realized that I should have been grateful for my own arms and legs, as my limbs felt as though they had been ripped from me, or maybe I had lost half of my cells out of the middle.  I found myself envying those soldiers, with their wounds outside for everyone to see.  My pain was not so obvious, even though I felt as helpless as they were. 

It took a long time to remember that some of them had hope.  That even though they were missing limbs, they had lived.  Eventually, I found their hope, their triumph, and I decided to live, too.

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