On March 20th, we flew from Bangor, Maine to El Toro, California (flying over our destination of Yuma) and were bussed back to Yuma. Carrie was still in Seattle where she was staying with her parents while I was away. We decided it was no use for her to fly to Yuma since I planned on taking leave immediately and flying home as soon as I could get a flight.
The result was that my homecoming was delayed. Getting off the bus, there were other Marines and a lot of families waiting for their Marine. It was a bit heart wrenching to watch the reunions because no one was there for me. I was happy for them but at the same time, I yearned to see Carrie.
I thought it was good leadership that our Colonel had come out to see us. He had a cane as a result of an injury which kept him back from the war. He basically told us how good we did and put us on blanket leave. But the most meaningful part of the return was that Sergeant Maxey showed up to pick me up. He had come home a few days before us riding a cargo plane because his enlistment was up and they wanted to get him back in order to reenlist. It was hard for him to leave us there in Saudi but we urged him to go since we would be in trace in a couple of days. Damn stubborn to the end.
Shane picked me up and I got a ticket to fly to Seattle the next day. My internal clock was so screwed up, flipping around my day and night schedule completely. Added to that, I had not had significant sleep in the three days it took us to get back to the states and the delirium of being home produced a dreamlike existence. But my sole motivation was to get into the waiting arms of my wife.
I wanted to look good when that moment came so I went shopping. None of the clothes I had were any good and everything else was packed away when Carrie left. I had lost 50 pounds and weighed in at a whopping 140 soaking wet. I thought a new set of clothes for the reunion were in order. Much to my wife’s later disdain, I went to Mervyns and did the unthinkable: I paid full price for jeans and a shirt. It didn’t help that I outgrew the pants in a matter of weeks when home cooking took its expected course.
After the shopping bonanza, I went back to Shane’s house and was still giddy with excitement over the prospect of being home. But there was another force at work: I was totally and completely exhausted. Shane had some family in town and I promptly hit the couch as they conversed in the kitchen area. That is about the last thing I remember. As I was told later, loud snoring ensued mere minutes after they left me on that couch. I do not even remember falling over but when Shane came to check if I was alive, he saw me slumped over, feet still on the ground. I had quite literally fainted from exhaustion. They told me they stayed up pretty late playing board games and being loud but you could have marched a circus through that living room and I would have been none the wiser. I was enjoying the first deep, content sleep I had had in 7.5 months. Shane finally roused me conscious enough to fumble up the stairs and into a bed; again, an event I can only take his word on. He guided me as I sleepwalked up the stairs and into a real bed for the first time since August.
0400 and my eyes snapped open. Where the Hell was I? I had not the slightest inkling where I was, how I got there, or what was going on. It took about 10 seconds to remember I was done with one of the most significant events in my life and it was the day I would be reunited with the love of my life. But it was 0400!!!
I thought I would be bored but I was not. After being in such austere surroundings for so long, the rediscovery of everyday objects was entertainment. I walked around and awed at the simple things that I missed. Some things I did not even know I missed until I experienced them again. Walking barefoot on carpet. Getting dressed in a clean environment. Everything I did, I compared to how it had been done in Saudi. It was a game I played for months after my return.
Shane took me to the airport and I anxiously awaited my flight. I was amazed just to watch people. So many colors and variety. I was so used to only seeing a few colors and the same hallow look of Marines waiting to go home. I was fascinated by the sublime.
Getting on the plane, I stuck out like a sore thumb. With my military haircut and the public so keyed into returning servicemen, almost everyone gave me approving smiles and some even thanked me. It was nice but my focus stayed on the one over-riding thought: get home and see Carrie.
But this did not stop me from enjoying another aspect of life I had been denied for so long: alcohol. I kept a keen bead on the stewardess as she rolled the cart down the isle. I had enjoyed a beer bought for my by a gentleman at the airport lounge and quickly had half a dozen waiting for me as other patrons recognized I was a returning Marine. I had to catch my flight and I left all but one full as I rushed for my flight. I thanked all and hoped they did not feel insulted that I did not partake. If I would have, I would have been pickled before I even stepped onto the plane.
When the stewardess finally got to my seat, she smiled and told me she was trying to get to me as fast as she could because word had spread on the plane that I was a “Desert Warrior.” She asked me what I wanted and refused payment. I had a rum and coke which I sipped while talking to the people around me. They wanted to know everything and kept buying me drinks as fast as I could drink them.
Like I have mentioned, I had lost 50 pounds. My system was weak and my tolerance for alcohol after a 7.5 month abstinence was practically zero. So after the first couple of drinks, I was nothing less than totally drunk.
When we landed, I was in such a hurry to get off the plane that I forgot my carry on bag. As I walked down the causeway, my excitement and drunkenness ran about neck and neck. I was entering a moment I had dreamed about for so long and it was finally here.
As I entered the airport, I could see groups of people a couple of hundred yards away where the heightened security had cordoned them off. Cutting through my exuberance, I realized that I had forgotten my bag and turned around to go get it. But because of the security concerns, no one was allowed back on the plane. A short, drunken argument ensued with the security personnel and the result for my family and friends was that they saw me come out, turn around to go back in, and then get in a shouting match with the security guard. As the situation escalated, the stewardess that had been so nice to me came running up with my bag. I thanked her and turned away from the guard to reunite with my family.
That last hundred yards was like wading through syrup. I saw many of my wife’s friends there holding signs and saw my father and brother, too. But my entire concentration was on my beautiful wife waiting for me. I ran to her, dropping my bag, and scooped her up in my arms. At that moment, I never wanted to let her go again.
Next, I turned to my father and gave him a big hug, telling him “I did it. I made it home.” Down the line, I hugged everyone that was there. I was touched that so many turned out: my brother and father, Carrie’s parents, brothers, and sisters, and friends from high school. All were there holding signs and cheering. It was an unforgettable moment in my life. And I was drunk.
Carrie noticed it right off. I had big red blotches on my face that always appear when I have been drinking. I reeked of alcohol. In other words, I was a mess but they loved me just the same. I was home and I had made it through unscathed.