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The Homecoming MAG
We've just arrived at the airport. There's all the usual flurry of activity. A man in a suit walks past, arguing with someone on his cell phone. A young woman with brown hair in a pony rushes to get to her plane on time. Voices over the intercom tell people which planes have arrived and are departing.
We sit on a bench to wait the long hours until Dad's plane arrives. My sister, Carolyn, sits beside me. Her presence, which normally causes annoyance, is oddly comforting. My stepmom, Claudia, and my little brother, Justin, take a seat across
Mixed emotions and confusing half-thoughts fill my mind. Doubt. Excitement. Trepidation. Happiness. Fear. Thankfulness. Panic.
“What if he doesn't recognize me?” my heart asks. “It has been a whole seven months!”
“You don't look that much different, stupid,” my brain answers, and on and on and on.
Guilt suddenly takes over my body. I haven't talked to Dad since he left. I've had plenty of opportunities. Claudia talks to Dad on the phone every Sunday morning and video chats with him sometimes. I know this, yet I haven't made an effort to get up early and join the family. I felt terrible, but I just couldn't bear the pain of not having him there. I'm thirteen, older now than the other times he was deployed. I actually understand he may not come back. Better to just deny he's even gone. Or at least easier. Still, in my heart I know that I have hurt my dad and made my stepmom angry.
Claudia checks her watch, then stands up and begins to gather our things. It's time. Excitement and fear are pumping through me now. I am frozen, dazed. The world is suddenly in slow motion, slithering past like a snake on a hot Arizona day. The family is already moving out, I notice belatedly. Yet, still I sit, trying to come to grips with my mixed emotions. Claudia glances back. One glance and I know, I just know, she's irritated. Carolyn bends down to listen to Justin, brushing his hair from his forehead. I run to catch up, feeling like I am running through sand.
Suddenly, everything is in hyperspeed. Blurs of color. Smells of food from restaurants. Too much perfume. Not enough perfume. The yap of a dog. The chaos of hundreds of voices. The droning of announcements. All this crashes into me in waves. One thought repeats. He's coming. He's coming.
He's coming. Finally, the voice over the intercom says my dad's flight number. A few breathless moments later …
“There he is!” my sister screams, echoing my thoughts. My eyes drink in the sight of my lost father. It's been so long. His hair is almost all gray now. His blue eyes are still piercing but more faded. He has more wrinkles, and he has a sunburn. Iraq has not been kind to him. He is still wearing his fatigues.
He catches sight of us and waves. For a second, I don't think he sees me. My heart stops. Then, he looks at me and smiles. I know – I suddenly, thankfully know – all is forgiven. My heart swells. A smile like a thousand suns lights up my face. He goes through the metal detector and scanner. In breathless anticipation, we wait.
I am antsy. I want to run through the gate and leap into his arms, but I know my stepmom would disapprove, so I stay put. Finally he's through and surrounded by my family. I am suddenly trying hard not to cry, but tears slide down my face anyway. I can't stop staring at him. I am afraid if I look away he will disappear. Then he hugs me, and at last the world is at rights.