I’m pulling a gramma, I am after all a gramma too, I typed in all caps. Because.  Sometimes all caps are called for. HE IS HERE!!! My beautiful boy, our third born, my Christian, IS HERE!

He is still, we are just starting day 3, allowing me to randomly and frequently grab him, hug him, maybe cry a little on his shoulder. I have TWO YEARS to catch up on.  He’s being a trooper, though I suspect he needs it as much as I do. Marines are tough, and he did an amazing job while away. In Afghanistan. In Japan. In Korea. But everyone, no matter how big, small or tough needs mom hugs.  It’s a fact.  I’m determined to top him off, with lots of extra’s before he leaves home.

I spent last weekend in bed. I wanted to spend it getting his room perfect. His bed made with the perfect sheets, fluffed just so.  His favorite candy overflowing out of a basket on his night stand, his favorite toothpaste in the bathroom, his favorite beer in the fridge, but I was bed-bound. Felled by the same flu that felled first Cole, then Tess, and now Dane.  Monday morning I dizzily climbed out of bed, grateful my fever had broken overnight.  Fevers are no joke when you are over 40.

It took me an hour to get dressed, and carry poor Dane to the car.  Those 10 yards, still dizzy, a little tired, with a small eight-year-old in my arms, are the longest yards I’ve ever walked, but I did it! I got my sick little boy strapped in, wrapped in quilts and pillows to cushion his poor head and climbed up into the drivers seat.  Ready not for the two hour haul to Ramstein AFB, but a marathon nap. I started the van and began to drive.

Luckily the first 20 minutes are through neighboring villages, rolling hills, familiar views, as I drove on semi-auto-pilot the dayquil kicked in and my head started clearing.  As the familiar, neighborhood landscape faded into my rear view mirror and my van turned onto the autobahn towards Köln (Cologne) the misery of the last three days fell away. Excitement. Anticipation. Love. Worry. Joy. Happiness. Fear… all slowly built up and as I drove through the industrial cities of Karlsruhe and Mannheim, for the first time, I really let the worry loose in my mind.

Over the years I’ve seen friends return from war. Some didn’t return. Some didn’t return whole. Some came home in the same bodies they left with, but with a different person inside.  Their voices sound the same. Their hugs feel just like them.  They even smell like them, but when you talk to them.  When you are face to face, eye to eye, they are no longer there.  Something changed, or maybe something broke, but the person who left all those months or years ago never came home.  In their place is a new person, and while I will always love the memory of the person they used to be, the new person always fights and resists my efforts to love them.

On that drive Monday morning, for the first time, I acknowledged that maybe my son was home, safe and alive in body but maybe not in soul. It is a scary thought.  It is a thought most of us keep quiet, drill deep down to our toes, and pray with all our might “Not my child”.

As I left the cities behind, and climbed the hills to the French border, almost to Ramstein, I saw the first US military aircraft flying overhead. Incongruous above the beautiful, forested German landscape.  I imagined Christian was on that plane, looking down at me, spying my little blue van, realizing his mom was speeding towards him with her heart so big, so happy, just for him. Thankfully Dane was fast asleep in his pile of blankets in the backseat, tears flowed freely down my face.  No matter who got off that plane, I would love him more than ever.

For the first time there was no long line waiting to get checked at the Ramstein gate, we got in, with very little tears on my part (poor gate guard) and drove right to parking spot in front of the terminal.  Christian flew Space-A, or Space Available (Flying Space Available, Fly Away) which is why he arrived on a military plane, on a military base. By the time I got me and Dane out of the van my body was shaking head-to-toe. There is a distinct feeling, an adrenaline rush of a kind, that overcomes you when you are about to see a loved one after way too long.  I could barely walk those steps to the terminal.

The plane had already landed. Everywhere I looked were uniforms. I hate uniforms.  Everyone looks the same! I strained my neck, my eyes. I lifted Dane.  We searched for OUR marine. My heart started beating fast.  What if he missed the plane? What if he couldn’t tell me?  I knew he’d gotten on, I’d gotten a text early Monday morning that he was on the tarmac and had to turn off his cell before take off.  None of that stopped my heart from my racing. I clung to Dane.  And then… a beautiful, deep, not-forgotten voice:

“Mom!” I didn’t see him through the tears, but I could feel him in my arms and he held me while I sobbed. My baby was home! Safe. Alive. And completely, totally, still him.

Christian (R) in Afghanistan in 2014

Tess (with Jack), Cole, Christian and Dane in Germany last night