I didn’t mean to burst into tears that day. I had been reminding myself, “If she calls I’ll tell her I’m here for support and then I’ll just listen.” But when she called, I couldn’t stop myself. I burst into tears when I heard her words, “Jess will be leaving for Iraq soon. And on the other end of the phone line my dear friend, Janie, burst into tears.
We cried together over the phone for some time, I don’t know how long. I’m sure we were remembering the boys we knew in high school and what happened to them during the Vietnam War. When we realized what we were doing we sadly laughed at ourselves, hung up and Janie came over to my house. She only lives two doors down the street from us, after all.
Jess is my son, well, we all think of him as my son as well as Janie’s son. When Janie went back to work I kept Jess because I was a stay-at-home Mom taking care of my two daughters. Jess would argue with the girls about calling me Mama, “She can be my Mama too!” The nickname, Mama Too, and the affection stuck for over twenty years now.
When my older daughter, Layla, found her first love, she didn’t look far because Jess was her first love. They became engaged in their first year at the University of Illinois, Chicago. One day Jess said he couldn’t afford taking out more college loansand signed up for the United States Army.
We’ve always lived in Illinois. I read about the Chicago gangs. W hat would have happened if Jess had joined a street gang rather than the army? His chances of staying alive would have been reduced, but with him closer maybe we could have succeeded in pulling him out of the gang. College and high school age boys are ready to join their peers and it is hard for parents to compete when they want to join a street gang or the army.
Layla was shocked when he told her he had joined the army. He knew she wanted the US government to stop the war in Iraq . But they are still in love. They corresponded regularly through his training and while he has been in Iraq but for several months, Layla stopped speaking to him. I’m not sure if they are still engaged or not.
In my mind he would have been a perfect candidate for the ROTC. He’s a natural leader, responsible, fair-minded and smart. But his grades are up and down; his grades don’t reflect his abilities at all. In the army he has become more self-confident and he has already been promoted twice.
This summer Jess was close to finishing his second tour of duty in Iraq . On August 31, 2010 the news reported “The war is over.” We celebrated. Unfortunately we celebrated too soon. Although end of combat missions was declared, when we talked to Jess in Iraq over Skype he sort of laughed and didn’t want to talk about it.
He is still in Iraq serving his third rotation on duty. He is staying in a huge military base that he says is like a castle fortress. He goes to the cinema, eats his favorite fast food and goes shopping there. Jess says that if this was his first time in Iraq and he had to leave the base to fight he would be totally overwhelmed and confused because the life in the base is nothing like outside in Iraq.
My life priorities have changed. Now I work for peace and pray for the soldiers in Iraq. Talking to Jess in Iraq has made me and my friend, Janie, serious peace activists.