Now with a holy host of others standing round me, still I’m on the dark side of the moon.
And it seems like it goes on like this forever, you must forgive me
if I’m up and gone to Carolina in my mind.
In my mind I’m going to Carolina. Can’t you see the sunshine, can’t you just feel the moonshine?
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind? Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind.
Gotta make it back home again soon, gotta make it back on home again soon,
gotta make it back to Carolina soon, can’t hang around, no babe, gotta make it back home again,
gotta make it back to Carolina soon…
~ Carolina in My Mind by James Taylor
Hell on Earth is the only way I can describe where I am. Sand gets everywhere; your eyes, mouth, ears, in your clothes, fuck it gets in places I never knew existed. Wet naps, powder, and anything to prevent rashes are in high demand here. I don’t remember the conditions being so abysmal the last time I was here. Then again, I wasn’t as anxious to get home to my family.
Before Sookie and Hunter, I wouldn’t say I had a death wish; I wanted to survive as much as the next guy. But because I didn’t have a family, I would volunteer for the more dangerous missions so those with families could stay safe and coupled with the fact I was fair to everyone in my unit made me well-liked and respected. When I had come back, the men and women in my unit were happy to see me. Of course, they also appreciated the tastes of home I’d brought with me: chocolate chip cookies and candy. Like I said before, it’s the little things in life that mean so much. As must as I enjoyed seeing my unit, I was disheartened to see how many new members had joined us. The attack where I had been injured had taken the lives of nearly a dozen men and women, many more had been injured and aren’t able to return. I hadn’t told Sookie, but our unit was usually one of the first to get called in when the shit hit the fan. Those of us in my unit were specifically selected for our counter-terrorism skills: a fancy way of saying we are stealthy mother fuckers who are good at killing those viewed to be terrorists.
Since I have returned to Afghanistan, things have been surprisingly quiet. I don’t trust it; when it’s calm is when the shit hits the pavement and rains down on upon us. I know President Obama has said our purpose in Afghanistan is no longer a combat mission, we are supposed to be peacekeepers working with the Afghani people so they can take over when the United States Armed Forces pull completely out of this country. In the last thirty years or more, this country has experienced constant pressure from various political forces: the Russians, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Taliban, and now us. Do these people even know how to live peacefully?
It’s been over two months, nearly three actually, since I left Sookie and Hunter. I miss them so goddamn much. I try to talk to them as much as possible, but the time difference is extremely difficult. Email and letters are our main modes of communication. It’s good to be able to keep in touch, but without the ability to hear their voices, it’s difficult to know if their words are true or not. Part of me thinks Sookie is keeping something from me; I’m worried she isn’t taking care of herself. My last email from Jesus said she seemed to be losing weight and looked really tired.
It’s nearly midnight here and I’m still awake. I have time off tomorrow since the following day my unit will be doing a security sweep in the mountain region. There have been reports of insurgents gathering in the caves. Killing bin Laden had temporarily halted the attacks in the country while his followers scrambled to regroup. But bin Laden was like a cockroach; just because you kill one doesn’t mean others won’t show up.
Deciding to take advantage of the quiet, I take my laptop into one of the empty briefing rooms. Facebook is the easiest way to get in touch with Sookie; if she is online, she’ll see the message window from me, and if she has her phone, she’ll get the notification I want to speak with her.
Me: Hello Lover. Are you busy?
Sookie: Hi!!!! What are you doing up? Shouldn’t you be sleeping?
M: I’m not tired; plus I have time off tomorrow. We have a briefing in the evening. Can you Skype?
S: Sure! Hunter isn’t here; he’ll be sorry he missed you.
M: See you in a few.
As much as I would love to talk to Hunter, I’m glad he isn’t there. I need to have a serious conversation with Sookie; I don’t want her to use Hunter as an excuse to blow off my concerns. The Skype chat comes alive and there sits my Lover. She’s even more beautiful than I remember. Her hair looks lighter and shorter, and her skin has the beginnings of a golden glow. I also notice the dark patches that are under her eyes which tells me she isn’t sleeping much. And the shirt she is wearing is a little baggy on her when before it used to fit her like a second skin. What the fuck?!?!?!?!?! I am seriously pissed!
Sookie is smiling beautifully into the camera. “Oh my God! You look so tan!” She giggles nervously. “I’m an idiot; I finally get to talk to you when your thousands of miles away and all I can say is you’re tan.”
“How are you Lover?” No sense beating around the bush; who knows how long we’ll have privacy for this conversation.
“I’m good, just been a bit tired,” she tells me with a smile. “Work has been a bit busy since we’ve had a recent influx of new patients in the rehabilitation center. And Hunter wanted to do a summer t-ball league so we’ve had those practices at night and games on the weekend. Gran and Jason are doing well; they’re coming up at the end of July so we can go to the beach house.” Sookie is rambling, a sign she is nervous and trying to hide something. I let her ramble for a few minutes; she winds down by asking me how I am.
“I’m OK; the usual.” It’s hotter than the seventh layer of Hell; I’ve got sand everywhere and I mean EVERY WHERE! And I miss my family. “Sookie, are you sure you’re OK? Jesus said you’ve lost weight and aren’t sleeping.”
Her eyes narrow to slits. I don’t care if she’s pissed off; she needs to take better care of herself. “What the fuck Eric? Do you have our friends spying on me?”
“I’m worried about you Sookie. I just need to make sure you and Hunter are OK. You have no idea how much I miss you, how I long to be there to hold you in my arms and make everything alright. I’m stuck in this Hell, waiting for the day I can come home and we can begin our life together. I want to make you my wife; I want to make lots of blond, blue-eyed babies with you. I love you and I don’t want anything to happen to you.” I end my impassioned speech when I hear her crying. I hate when she cries; to me it’s the worst form of torture since I can’t do anything to comfort her.
“Lover, please don’t cry,” I whisper as I touch the screen.
Sookie wipes the tears on her face, giving me a watery smile. She reaches a hand towards the computer screen, trying to touch me as well. “Eric, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you worry. I am taking care of myself, I promise. I’m just a little emotional lately. And I promise that I won’t be losing any more weight. As for getting sleep,” she says with a chuckle, “I’ll try to get as much sleep as I can, but in a little over six months I won’t be getting a lot of sleep anyway.”
What the fuck does six months have to do with anything? Sookie is smiling happily at me, as if I should be happy with her news too. I don’t understand; why should I be happy she isn’t sleeping?
“Sookie, what the fuck are you smiling about?”
“Eric,” she says exhaling loudly, “I’m pregnant.” Her mouth moves into a beautiful smile as she waits for me to respond.
I sit back in the chair gob smacked, my mouth hanging open in shock. Pregnant? How is this possible? We were always so careful, birth control, condoms; what the fuck happened? Don’t get me wrong, I want to have kids with Sookie, I want it so badly that I have dreams about it. But I didn’t want it to happen like this, leaving her alone to deal with Hunter and a new baby while I’m thousands of miles away. Fuck!!!! It’s my first child and I’m going to miss everything; doctor’s visits, Sookie’s body changing, shopping for the baby, fuck everything!
Sookie’s smile fades as my silence continues. “Eric? Are you OK?”
“Lover, I’m speechless! I wish I could be there to hold you in my arms and tell you how much I love you. I want to pick you up in my arms, kissing every inch of your changing body. And I want to wrap you in bubble wrap so nothing happens to you and our baby!” Tears are streaming down my face but I’m smiling so big that my cheeks hurt. I need to be home now with my growing family.
Sookie laughs as she too smiles with tears in her eyes. “I wish you were here too baby.”
Rubbing my eyes to rid them of my tears, I start peppering Sookie with questions. How far along is she? My eyes widen when I realize she got pregnant the morning I left. Does she know the sex of the baby yet? Is it too soon? Has she told anyone else? She was waiting to tell me, but Hunter knows something is up. I ask her to stand up so I can see her belly. Sookie laughs but does as I ask, even lifting her shirt so I can see her stomach. It’s still flat, but I am in awe of the fact she will soon be rounded with my child. Sookie sits back down and I smile at her sadly.
“I’m so sorry you are going through this alone Sook. I’d give anything to be there with you now.”
“I know you would baby. Just keep yourself safe and come home to us. That’s all I can ask,” she says giving me a watery smile.
I promise to do as she asks. It’s nearly 0100 and I need to get some sleep. I tell her I love her and to give Hunter my love. She promises to keep me up to date with all her appointments. She giggles when I ask her to take lots of pictures of her ever-changing body, especially her breasts. We end our conversation telling each other we love each other and she wishes me sweet dreams.
I return to my bunk, feeling both elated and depressed. Storing my gear, I climb into my bed. I’m lying on my back staring up at the ceiling with a million thoughts racing through my head.
The smell of the ocean drifts across the beach as the gentle breeze moves over the sand. The sun shines brightly in the sky as I watch my family play on the beach. Hunter is running in and out of the surf, squealing and laughing with delight as the water rushes across his legs. Sookie is standing at the very edge of the surf, holding our baby girl in her arms. This is the first time we’ve come to the beach since we had the baby. Sookie had been worried that our daughter wouldn’t like the sand or the water; she said Hunter had screamed like a banshee the first time she had taken him to the beach as a baby. But I knew my baby girl wouldn’t let me down; she loved the sun, the sand, and the water. I swear my little girl is part mermaid.
Sookie bends down with our daughter, holding her by the arms so her little feet can touch the sand and feel the water splash against her legs. I can’t help but laugh hearing her squeal; her little legs kicking furiously as she feels the water on them. I pull my shirt over my head, dropping it on the blanket Sookie had spread out with all their stuff. I jog over to join my two favorite girls in the world.
Sookie smiles happily as she sees me by her side. I lean down to kiss her on the lips; she tastes salty from the ocean. “How are my two favorite girls doing?”
“We’re good; I think your daughter wants to go play in the water though.” Looking down I can see my baby struggling against Sookie’s hold. Our daughter has started crawling so she wants to move under her own speed.
Leaning down, I scoop my precious daughter up in my arms. Sookie has her dressed in this adorable pink bathing suit with ruffles along her tummy and a matching hat to protect her head. My baby girl’s eyes seem to light up as she realizes I’m holding her in my arms. She squeals and squirms, letting me know she is happy to see me. Her big blue eyes go back and forth between my face and the ocean. She lifts her arm to point towards the water and grunts.
“What’s the matter baby girl? Do you want to get in the water?” I’m walking us into the surf and she claps her hands excitedly. I keep walking until I’m about waist deep. I lower her so her legs are touching the water. She kicks her legs animatedly, shrieking in excitement as she plays. I laugh in utter delight as I watch my daughter enjoying the ocean.
After watching her play for a few minutes, I pick her up to rub my face against her cheek, placing a kiss on her rounded cheek. She leans forward to kiss me too, but really she’s just slobbering on my skin; it doesn’t matter, I absolutely love it. “I love you Rissa Northman,” I say as I squeeze my daughter close to me. I turn us around so we can head back to my beautiful wife and son building a sandcastle on the beach. I can’t help but think that life is absolutely perfect.
The blaring of a horn pulls me from sleep with a start. Looking around rapidly, I blink furiously as I realize I’m lying on my bunk and not at the beach house with my family. I lay back down trying to fight the tears that threaten to slide down my cheeks. My dream had been so vivid; the heat of the sun on my skin, the coolness of the water, but most importantly, the beautiful features of my daughter’s face. I close my eyes and give in to the feelings of heartache and loneliness. I miss my family so damn much. I want to go home for real, and not just in my mind.