I WILL CARRY YOU |
January 11, 2010
Name: Lee Kelley
Posting date: 1/11/10
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: St. George, UT
Milblog: Wordsmith At War
I wrote the following at the end of 2009:
At this time of year I always get nostalgic about the past and excited about the future, ask myself the hard questions. Did my actions during the year match my ambitions? What is most important to me? Am I in positive relationships?
My main goal for 2009 was simply to provide a stable, secure, loving environment for my kids. To carry them, if need be, through the hard days. Human bonds are either strengthened or destroyed by time apart, and since getting home from Iraq in the summer of 2006, I have tried to overwrite many of the negative experiences. I definitely did so in 2009, defragmenting the hard drive of memory with meaningful ones and zeros. Now, instead of fellow soldiers, it is my kids flanking me almost everywhere I go, braving a vivid desert life.
These days I don’t only see the world through my own 38-layer lens, but I also experience it vicariously through two other sets of eyes. One set is the big brown eyes of a 9-year-old girl named Chloe. And the other is a big blue set of eyes on a 7-year-old boy named Lee. I was humbled by serving my country in Iraq, and now I am humbled to be raising these children, witnessing the beauty and innocence of their spirits. Every day here in southern Utah is a fresh adventure framed by red sandstone mountains.
Chloe likes to point out that she’s not a girly girl. She wants to be seen as a tomboy, and yet she dances and sings almost from the time she climbs out of bed until she gets back in, and she leaves the house every day, walking the 10 seconds between house and truck, brushing her hair. She brings extra shoes and change of clothes almost everywhere she goes. For Halloween this year she was Cleopatra and every night lately, if I tuck her in and then walk back into her room five minutes later, I will find her with her brush and ponytail holders arranged on the pillow in front of her, and she will be sitting Indian style and silently braiding her hair in the dark. She’s the lady of the house and she keeps us boys in check. She is absolutely hilarious and says things that cause me to laugh out loud all the time. She loves pens, pencils, notebooks, folders and everything associated with writing and books and office supplies. Her world is one of flowing creative thought and music. She recently joined her school newspaper and started voice lessons.
Lee is going through a skateboarding phase. Spiderman is still cool, he says, but not cool enough to dominate the comforter on his bed, his pillowcase and a poster on his wall. Now it’s all about the Tony Hawk (who, admittedly, is really cool) Pro Skater video game (when he’s not out front riding his own skateboard). He’s funny to watch when he plays the video game because his face gets serious and his fingers move so fast I don’t think there’s any way he could actually know what he’s pressing. But he does. He hits every button with a clear purpose, pushing himself heroically through each level of the game. Watching the world through his eyes is a joy, a surrogate adventure through a land in which every object holds the potential for climbing, where every piece of candy that comes within sight is a matter of destiny. He’s only in first grade but he already loves to read and write. In my son’s world, Tony Hawk holds the crown of coolness and presides over these concrete jungles. Lee is such a happy boy these days that he skips every few steps. His enthusiasm for life is contagious.
We were on a hike recently and Chloe fell down and cut her knee on some sharp rocks. It was bleeding pretty badly and she couldn’t walk. We were maybe a mile from the truck, so after I cleaned the wound and wrapped it up, she carried my backpack and rode on my back. She had her head on my shoulder and through her tears she kept trying to apologize, saying, “I’m sorry I got hurt, Dad. I’m so sorry.” She felt really bad that I had to carry her, and that we had to cut the hike short. I told her that she never, ever had to apologize for getting hurt. As I carried my daughter and looked down at my son, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
With 2010 only hours away, and fully aware of the hundreds of thousands still serving in the Middle East, I remember what it felt like to be there during the holidays and I find myself looking inward — safely behind the still-hanging Christmas lights on my home here in suburbia.
The two memories about my deployment that stand out the most are the moment I left and the moment I got back. And in those memories my kids are there, looking right into my eyes. In the first, they are crying and waving their hands out of the back window as I stand and watch the car turn a corner through acid tears after having them sit on the trunk for half an hour while I tried to explain that I had to go bye-bye for a while. They did not understand. And in the second memory, they are smiling nervously, excited to see me but also confused because I had been gone for so long.
Here’s how this year is going to end. I will tuck these adorable human beings in on New Year’s Eve and when I wake them up they will shake off bright untarnished dreams and keep growing up way too fast. No more leaving and coming back for this dad. My place of duty is right here. Don’t worry, I tell them. Just leave the worrying up to me. I will carry that weight. And if life gets hard or you fall down and cut your knee, I will carry you, too.
Originally published by The New York Times.
Here are links to three of Lee Kelley's previous Sandbox posts:
MAIL BECOMES PARAMOUNT 10/12/06
SLOW MOTION LADDER 11/28/06
THE GOVERNMENT CENTER 12/8/06