Many times, we went to the city without my father. "Deployed," they called it on the Air Force Base in which we lived. To me, it was just a word. To me, it meant that Daddy had work to do. It meant that he would be leaving, and I wouldn't see him for a long time. I didn't understand when I saw my mother staring sorrowfully out the window when he was gone, a pilot overseas in a time of political strife. My brother kept a picture of him by his bed so he wouldn't forget what his Daddy looked like.
This particular time was the third and last time that my father would be deployed overseas. My mother, brother, and I were ecstatic. After six months without Father, he would finally be joining us once again. We had just moved into our new house - my father had been overseas during the time that we had moved, so my mother, my brother and I did the whole move by ourselves. We had spent days preparing the house - not a speck of dust could be found on any surface, not a pillow out of place. I remember it well, the day before my father would be home... The date was September 10, 2001. I remember going to sleep so excited that I could hardly shut my eyes.
I was woken in the early morning with the sound of a ringing telephone. Thinking nothing of it, I rolled over and went back to sleep. Even as a child, I was never a morning person. A few minutes later, the phone rang again. I clamped a pillow over my head. When the phone rang once again a few minutes after that, I decided that my sleep was done and, remembering all of a sudden what day it was, I leapt out of bed and bounded down the hall into my living room.
The television set, propped up on a cardboard moving box, was turned on to a news channel. I noticed this right away since we never watched any television. My mother, on the phone, hastily grabbed the remote control and flicked the television off when she saw me enter. I didn't see what was on the screen.
"Why does the phone keep ringing, Mommy?" I asked.
She put a finger to her lips, a concerned look on her face, and kept talking to the person on the other end of the phone.
I waited for a minute, but decided that I would talk to my mother after she was finished on the phone. I slumped into a couch, one of the pieces of furniture that we had managed to squeeze through the front door, and looked up at the "Welcome Home Daddy" poster that we had hung on the bare wall in the entryway. I had spent an entire hour, what seemed like an eternity for a child as young as myself, painting it the day before. I had to admit that the letters looked a bit strange and lopsided, but I knew that my father would enjoy it anyway. He was so nice to us.
My mother was off the phone now, and she came to me. "Get dressed, we're going to the base headquarters. I'll wake up Joshua."
I didn't question it, just put on some of my day clothes and strapped a pair of my no-lace children's shoes onto my feet. My mother clicked us into our car seats, my brother still with sleep in his eyes and a binky in his mouth.