Pfc Shane M. Reifert

Pfc Shane M. Reifert
Shane during a sweep of the Shuryak Valley, approximately 3 weeks before he was killed. Photo Credit: PFC Sean Stromback

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mama I'm Coming Home

"Thank you for your service," I say to a soldier with a 101st Airborne patch on his arm as I walked out of security at the Nashville airport. 

The soldier seems somewhat surprised that I spoke to him. He pauses for a minute, nodding his head, saying "Thank you for your support."

I never thanked Shane enough for his service and am grateful when I get the opportunity to thank a soldier, especially one from the 101st. 

*     *     *     *     *     *

"How are you doing today," the woman behind the counter asks as she scans the book I purchased to replace the one that I had left at a house to which I shall never return.

I sigh, debating on whether or not I should be honest or just smile and say that I am fine. I opt for the latter option. 

"Did you have a good new years," I ask, for some reason feeling the need to continue conversation. 

"Oh yeah, it was fine," she responds, "and you?"

"Well, actually, no. I really didn't have a good new years. And I'm also not fine today."

"Me neither." She lets out a slight laugh as she answers. "In fact," she continues, "2010 was the worst year of my life."

"Me, too."

"At least we have a new year then, right? We just both have to hope and know that things can only get better. Just be hopeful for the possibility of something better." 

I sign my credit card receipt, collect my new belongings, and tell her that I hope she has a good day, genuinely meaning it. I walk to find my gate.

*     *     *     *     *     *

I find a seat and look over to notice over 20 soldiers in ACUs, standing with the loved ones, hugging, crying, waiting to board a plane to Fort Benning. I sigh out loud. I remember what it was like to say goodbye to Shane. I am jealous of the families who have this opportunity to say "I love yous" and give hugs and kisses. I contemplate staying in my seat. I think about crying. I think about calling someone or reading my book. Instead, I pick myself up and walk down the terminal, everything still being too fresh. 

*     *     *     *     *     *

I sit on the plane next to a brace-faced high school girl. I make up a story in my head about her: her parents are divorced, she was visiting her father in Nashville and is now returning to Michigan, where she lives, where he mother will pick her up and take her back home, just in time for her to start class on Monday. During the flight, she takes out a copy of Things Fall Apart. I had to read that in high school and can now determine with a fair degree of certainty that she is in A.P. English. She manages to get through a chapter before putting it down. 

During the flight, I think about Shane. I think about how he might be disappointed in me but also proud of me that I had finally realized what I should have known from the very beginning but couldn't see because of my grief. I think about my broken heart. I think about who caused it. I think about how we all are really the ones who break our own hearts, as we choose to allow people in or not. I think about coincidences and if they mean anything. I think about how my life has turned into one giant coincidence, from which I am constantly attempting to extract meaning. I think about how rare it is that I find any actual meaning. I read Player One: What is to Become of Us, by Douglas Coupland. And I read it slowly, savoring the words. I find it a coincidence that Coupland's narrator discusses coincidences throughout the novel. I wonder what my life would be like if I would have just become a writer and an English professor. I have no desire to go back to law school when I get back to Michigan. I have no desire for almost anything anymore. I attempt to listen to music but it all makes me sad so I just sit for a while, drinking Sprite and eating airplane cookies. 

The plane lands. For some reason, the girl who had sat next to me in silence during the entire plane ride, like I prefer, begins to speak. 

"Ohmygosh. I can't believe it. My flight has like, gotten delayed, like 3 different times. And now it's gotten changed again. And I'm just so tired of being on airplanes and in airports and having to talk to people on the phone about, like, connections. And all I want to do right now? Is to just be home, ya know?"

I don't respond at first, surprised that she had given so much information. "That all sounds very frustrating. And I, too, just want to be home."

"I just don't understand how I'm not home right now and how airports work. And I had to stay in a hotel last night and I just want my mom."

I look into the girl's eyes. I have a strong desire to hold her but instead begin to retrieve my bag from the overhead compartment. 

"It's really tough being away from your mom. And I'm sorry that you had to stay in a hotel alone last night. If it makes you feel any better, I had to stay in a hotel alone last night, too. And even though I'm 26, I still missed my mom."

The girl gives me a weak smile, but it's still a smile. 

I see a bright blue coat and a white bag with a stuffed animal in it and hand them to the girl without even asking if they are hers. She gives me a stronger smile at this. I stand in the aisle way so that she can get out of her seat and get off of the plane, even though I normally would have only been concerned with getting myself off of the plane. It's a small gesture but it's the best I can do for this girl who just wants to get home to her mother.

We exit the plane. I consider asking the girl if she'd like me to stay with her while she waits for her next connection, decide that would be creepy, and instead tell her that I hope she finds her way home soon. She says thank you and we part ways. 

I make my way toward baggage claim, through the light tunnel, down the escalator, where I see my own mother and father waiting for me. It's not until I'm in their arms until I feel the sense of safety that I had attempted to find while traveling. And I know that I am home.

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