Captain Harper pulled the olive drab duffle from the floor of the closet.
“Mommy, can I help you pack?”
"Here sweetie, you hold the bag open for me.”
Pulling a worn, pine stool from the corner, Sarah jumped atop, and stretched out her arms to grasp the side of the cylinder shaped canvas bag that was as tall as she.
Captain Harper carefully piled the tools of her profession into the deep of the duffle.
“What’s that?” Sarah asked as a hard, five sided object with a dark green cover lowered below her face.
“Enthr…” Sarah paused over the word. “What’s that for?”
“Kinda like a shovel, but really small all folded up. It’s what we dig foxholes with.”
Slowly the duffle filled with gear, and with each unknown item, Sarah asked what it was and what was it for. When she asked what the ammunition pouch was used for, her mom couldn’t answer it would hold bullets so just swept the girl up in her arms for a tickle helicopter ride instead.
The three duffels and a loaded backpack waited by the car. Captain Harper filled the trunk with two duffle bags, placing the third halfway in the door onto the back seat. The driver pulled it across the seat and slammed the door.
“Why didn’t you put that one with the rest?” said Sarah, pointing at the empty space in the trunk.
“Never mind, slide into the middle up front.” The two adults held hands across Sarah’s lap.
The car pulled up to the curb across the street from the National Guard Armory while slowly other cars turned into the parking lot. The parents and little girl slipped from the front seat of the car. Captain Harper pulled the two duffels from the trunk while her partner slid the third from the back seat onto the ground.
“Mommy, here’s your backpack,” Sarah struggled with the loaded pack, pulling it by one shoulder strap. The pack thumped from the seat to the floor and then was pulled out of the car landing with a thud onto the ground.
The adults looked at each other and laughed.
“You didn’t really need that computer, did you?”
“Nah, letters are more private than email anyway.” A whistle sounded, echoing off the concrete walls. Captain Harper looked towards the sound. “I’ve got to go,” she softly said, returning her gaze to the two people she loved more than anyone in the world.
“No mommy!” Sarah hugged Captain Harper tightly around the legs. Her mom put a hand on top of her head, the other upon her back, pressing her close. Standing with Sarah wrapped around her legs, she looked over Sarah’s head to the woman across from her.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Don’t apologize for what you can’t change,” the woman replied with a tight smile. “Canada?”
“Not an option. Canada sends ‘em back now, anyway.”
Captain Harper gripped Sarah tightly, aching.
A tear trailed down the face of the woman watching from behind the little girl. “I’ll miss you so much.”
“Me too,” answered Captain Harper.
“ We can get through this. We have before.”
“I know, it’s so…different now,” Captain Harper said glancing down at Sarah.
“Just…come home. Don’t be stupid or brave. Promise?”
A long moment as the two stood silent with Sarah in the crevasse between them. “I promise.”
Captain Harper knelt quickly and hugged Sarah tight. “I love you.” She swept up the crying girl. “Go to Mama, Sweet Pea.” The two women’s hands grazed each other as Sarah went from one woman to the other. A hesitation then Captain Harper let go as the second woman pulled Sarah close to her chest. The soldier turned and deftly swept one duffle over her head onto her back, grasping the others by their center hand strap. She grunted with the weight, crossed the street and walked towards the open gate in the fence of the compound. A sign next to the gate decreed in block letters: RESTRICTED - Soldiers and family only.
Sarah watched her mommy walk away. “Mama, why can’t we go with her inside to say goodbye like they are?” She pointed at the other civilians inside the fence.
“We just can’t sweetie.”
Captain Harper joined a river of people, most in small groups funneling through the gate. Once she cleared the gate, she humped her bags over to where a couple soldiers were stacking duffle bags onto a pallet and dropped them. Her bags would join the rest for the journey to Afghanistan. Standing around were clusters of people, hugging, and crying, laughing, saying goodbye. Looking across the grey asphalt she waved a moment then turned and climbed onto the bus. Taking her seat, she pressed her forehead against the window, watching the car drive away. A tear mingled with the dust on the glass.
Another soldier dropped into the seat next to her. Captain Harper didn’t see his nod towards the parking lot as he said, “Aren’t you glad you don’t have a family to put through that?”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Vicki Hudson lives in Northern California with her spouse and their two daughters. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from Saint Mary’s College of California in creative writing with focus on non-fiction writing. In 2007, she was a Fellow at the inaugural Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Retreat. Follow her life and literary musings on Twitter @vickigeist or publication news @vicki_hudson. She blogs about home, parenting, urban farming, food, and more at http://www.
Bay Laurel / Volume 1, Issue 2 / Winter 2012