War bride: Sedated
I was saving this one for the book, but it's Memorial Day. So this is for "Leslee" (not her real name):
I had pegged her as a probable Ashley. She was a blond beauty with a killer bod and a Vuitton totebag. She had enrolled late for the advanced writing class. I don’t like late adds but she pleaded her case with such desperation I signed her in as last-minute enrollee. What’s one more Ashley on a roster that includes no fewer than eight in one section and six in the other?
By the second week of class I was starting to worry about this one. She gazed blankly at a spot on the wall just above my head when I was talking. If I called on her, it was like she had been awakened suddenly from a deep sleep. “I’m sorry,” she said in a groggy whisper. “What was the question?”
She stayed after class one day. Her name was Leslee. She was near tears as she helped me stack up turned-in assignments and ferry them across the hall to my office.
“I-I-I just want to apologize,” she said. “I’m usually not like this….” Her voice trailed into a sad little sob. I glanced outside the open door to see that the hall was empty of eavesdroppers.
“What is it? Can you talk about it?” I said, handing her one of the brown paper Starbucks napkins that accumulated in the top drawer of my desk. She plopped into one of the rickety chairs and blew her nose.
Then she started talking. Crying and talking and blowing her nose. Leslee was no Ashley. She’s 20 and married to a Marine. They were boyfriend-girlfriend since eighth grade back in the small town in southern Oklahoma where they both grew up. When Leslee headed to college, the boyfriend went into the service. They had planned to be married when she graduated.
Then American forces invaded Iraq.
“I found out in February that he would be sent over there in March,” Leslee told me. “We had, like, just a couple of days together on his last leave home. So one day he says, `Come on, Les, let’s get married tomorrow. Otherwise, who knows when?’ And I was like, OK, but how? So my mom – you should meet my mom, she’s so amazing – plans the entire thing in one day. Less that one day really! She called our minister, booked the church, made reservations at a restaurant for the reception, got the cake ordered. Everything! I got a wedding dress and my sisters got bridesmaids’ dresses. I couldn’t believe it, but we pulled the whole thing together. The next afternoon I got married in my church in front of 150 people. And five days later he got shipped out to Iraq.”
“So you haven’t seen him in…”
“Since last spring,” said Leslee. Eight months.
She gets email from him nearly every day. But he is closer to the bad stuff all the time. Marines in his unit have been killed or wounded. If there were such a thing as front lines in this war, he’d be close to them.
“I can’t even stand to watch any of it on TV,” Leslee said. “It gets me too upset. I’m on tranquilizers for the stress. That’s why I’m so….”
“Yeah. I’m usually not like that. I just kinda zone out.”
“When’s he supposed to come home?”
“Don’t know. They keep changing the orders. First they said October, now he says maybe next May.”
Married five days, Leslee is a war bride among a student population that is only barely aware that there’s a war going on. Most of them couldn’t find Iraq on a map. Except for Leslee, I am not aware of a single other student in my classes directly affected by the war at all. It’s a TV show to them, something on CNN for a few seconds at the top of the hour, a body count rattled off just before the college football standings.
“How do you stand it?” I asked.
“Medicine. My mom. One day at a time. I play the wedding video a lot. And I got a puppy. Her name is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Leslee let out a little strangled giggle at this.
“You should write about all of it. Write about that crazy wedding day. Write about how you are now, about the waiting. How it feels.”
“Yeah,” said Leslee, gathering her up books and totebag and tossing the damp brown napkin in the trashcan, “maybe I will.”