My thoughts kept me occupied as seconds become hours and minutes become days. Hours of driving through sharp mountains and dense woods haunted me. The clammy walls were collapsing over me. I was suffocating. Dreams of clawing my way out into the unknown world swirled through my mind. The light at the end of the tunnel stood before me but I was encased in quicksand, I couldn’t make time move faster, I was trapped on a never ending road. Our swollen car of seven glossed over the winding exit of the expressway, that after ten hours I had grown to know too well. We continued down the country road every bump shocking me back to the glaring reality out my window. Diners flipped their open signs and the grimy fast food parking lots were open plains of old coffee cups and cracked pavement. My stomach growled for I hadn’t eaten in hours but that was the last thing on my mind. As we continued down the road. We approached a long secluded highway and almost instantaneously the scenery shifted.
The rehearsed voice of the GPS became the background music of large stone buildings and tall wire fences. The skyline painted a dark military fortress along the water. Tanks, ships, and planes danced past my window the protocol charcoal grey paint highlighted every scratch and dent, each one, someone's nightmare. A scowling man approached our vehicle, carefully articulated mumbles were exchanged in the front seat. We were directed into an empty lot and that is when he began to appear. The distant image came into focus. Every movement was rehearsed, the pressed starch pants crumpled with every step. For the first time in my life I praised the frightening, beige combat boots, with every step they brought him closer to me. Until finally there he stood before me, his valor radiated in full camo, his boxy cap covered his dark eyes squinting into the Virginia sun.
My legs couldn’t propel me over the seats fast enough. I was crowded by back packs, blankets, starbucks cups, and phone chargers. I tripped over my own feet stumbling through the door. The ninety degree dry heat came as a surprise, the world around me was surreal. For a second the world froze, my senses heightened and I became aware of everything around me. The sparse leaves frosted along the grass, every rock came to life, and every sound was washed out until the breeze was all that remained. My mind was blank, my heart was racing, tears filled my eyes. I fought with every muscle until my head perfectly rested in the niche of his shoulder. My tears streamed down his chest. His tear soaked emblem read lieutenant. A sense of familiarity began to override my senses, as if the last year had never happened. Afghanistan changes people, however, 13 months of separation could not break the bond between my father and me.
Loneliness, you don’t control me anymore. For the past year I’ve walked a forgotten path picking up the pieces of those I love, meanwhile everything that I was washed away. Every direction I turned there was more nothingness, no one was there, nothing was there. I longed for you, I pulled you closer. But now I can set you free. You were the dark cloud that protected me, glaring down on me with sophisticated grace; it’s time for light. I waltz along the broad concrete boardwalk, soaking up the history of captains that had stood there before me, inhaling their stories, capturing the relief of being home. I stare into the distance, miles of ocean glisten with the sun’s rays. When placed in front of a war freighter, all you see is it’s darkness and all it represents. But, sometimes you fail to see, beyond the thousands of tons of bullet proof steel, there is freedom, an ocean filled with life, and an ecosystem of diversity. On that day, my freighter had departed. I had a life. Without you.