"Who does this shirt make you think of?" she asked - not expecting an answer.
Without taking even a second, he says, "Daddy!"
Tears were in my mother's eyes when he said it with his smile and tears waited there again when she told me. She had been dressing him and she showed him the t-shirt from a fundraiser at Fort Campbell. The front reads, "Proud of my soldier" and on the back is a spade with "Currahee Kid" printed over it. He has worn this shirt many times before. He sleeps in it, he plays in it, he watched soldiers come home in it. He knows this shirt is directly linked to his daddy...and he so loves his daddy.
These moments are becoming easier now. At first, even before C left, the fear of Logan losing the memory of him - of who his daddy is - broke every part of my heart. I recognize that for Eli this will be normal - I have already accepted that in my mind. He will have to get to know his daddy when he returns and that is okay to me. But Logan and C are incredible together. Their bond is overwhelming, the love my husband has for our children and the complete admiration Logan has for him both heals me and breaks me. He is such a good father. I am so proud and so very blessed to walk this journey with him - as bumpy as it can be.
"Daddy!" Logan yelled as the familiar tone rang. The same three numbers would show up as the satellite phone so I had saved them all under the same loud and obnoxious ring. Logan was ecstatic when he heard it and ran to the phone.
The only voice that came through the line was the recording stating, "The call could not be completed." This happened four times before C gave up. Each time Logan's face lit up. Each time the wrong voice spoke, his color drained and his lip dropped. The disappointment in his eyes traveled to my own. My lip dropped too and I hugged him.
"Daddy," he repeated over and over again as he tried desperately to make my phone work. Holding it up to his ear, swishing his fingers across the touch-screen, pressing the one button on the front. He finally handed me the phone and allowed me to just hold him. He's been cuddling so much more these days.
And these moments are so very heartbreaking. No mother wants to see her child hurt. No mother wants to deprive their child of joy - and that is what C is to him - complete joy. I thought these moments would destroy me - the pain that accompanies each dropped lip and every teary eye.
I had to think, find a way to not feel broken throughout this, to make these moments moments that can strengthen me, lighten the load, give me hope. I looked at my reality. I accepted my reality. And I saw things from a new perspective.
The entire predeployment I was terrified that when C returned, Logan would not know him. That he would be scared of him. That he would not remember anything from before. The image I had made up in my head of C walking towards us and Logan not running into his arms gave me the greatest stress. My hair may be graying just thinking about it. And it is difficult to explain if you have never seen C and Logan together. They are a pair, a team, buddies and they have been since the day Logan was born. I could not bear the idea of that not happening and every time Logan would miss his daddy I would hold onto that made up image.
I realized that the way I was perceiving his sadness was wrong. This was good - not Logan's heartache or disappointment, of course - but the fact that he missed his daddy. He knew him, he knew what they would do together, he knew that different things "belonged" to him and daddy. He knew these moments, these memories, that belonged to the two of them and he missed them. He knows him and he will continue to know him and to love him and to want him. He knew that that shirt was linked to his dad and he was so happy to wear it. He knows that it is daddy's voice that reads to him at night. He points to him in pictures, he talks about him when he brushes his teeth the way daddy does as he pretends to gurgle when he's done. He knows which car is mine and which one is his. All of these things make him happy as much as they make me sad.
He loves his daddy. He knows his daddy. He loves to hear his voice and give kisses through the phone. C is his buddy, his best friend.
And that is the image I hold onto now. Of C walking out of that formation. Of his camo somehow emerging from the sea of camo surrounding him. Of Logan's face when he recognizes him. Of him in C's arms so very happy to hold him and touch him and see him. Of the beaming smile on Logan's face and the tears in C's eyes. I hold onto this image as it continues to both break me and heal me.
I miss our family. I miss my husband. I miss seeing his face. I miss seeing him smile. And it is so good to understand that my son does too. The moment he wouldn't want him, the second he wouldn't ask for him, the instant he wouldn't point to C in a picture would be the moment that would truly break my heart.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.