"He's right there," Rob says.
She shakes her head. "I can't see him." She's whispering now.
I'm searching through the faces. I can't see him either. It's horrible. Where is he? I hold the camera ready. And then in the blur of faces there is one face I know. Serious. Sweet. Ours. Mine.
But Diana cannot see.
Rob is so patient with her. It is his son and instead of running to his boy, he waits with her. I love him for this more than I can say. "See, right there. He's coming this way."
Tears stream down her face.
I wave, call his name and grin. He sees me and nods. "Right there, honey," I say and raise the camera to take his photo. Until she makes the link I cannot have my son.
Like a little girl who can't see the constellation in the sky, she still doesn't see him. He can't be more than fifteen feet from us now, making his way through the crowd.
Her hands shake heavily against her lips and in that instant I think my heart will break.
At last she says it, "I see him," and she moves toward him slowly. He walks to her. I fight my own hands as they begin to tremble. I take the photos of their reunion. His whole world lives in that embrace and we are not the center of it. I look around and see the few boys who are greeted solely by a superior officer and a handshake; I could not be happier for Robert.
I'm still snapping photos when Robert is left with his arms extended waiting for me. Rob has to push me toward him saying, "He's waiting for you."
"Oh," I say, embarrassed that I've gotten lost behind the camera. I grab him too hard around the neck and whisper in his ear. "Thank God you are home. We've all missed you so much."
I stand back to look at him. He's so handsome. Tan, blue eyes, tall. He's lost weight. I touch his face. "You look great."
He grins just a little.
Bob Shahan returned home with a weight loss of over 35 lbs. The army weighed him holding his boots so his weight loss wouldn't seem so drastic.
I'm completely irrational because the next thing I'm worried about is that my photos won't turn out because I'm shaking so much.
Diana lays her head on his shoulder and looks like she could curl up and sleep. The weight of the past six months is off her shoulders. It's been a hard and unexpectedly traumatic deployment. One night shortly after Robert left, she was pulled over by a man impersonating a police officer; miraculously, she was unharmed. Another time someone broke into the house on base (thankfully, she wasn't home) and just before his return, a dog attacked her, biting her upper arm. I think he was going for her throat.
Diana handled everything with courage and a sense of humor, and we found ways to joke about how she could best defend herself. The joking worked its way into a Christmas gift: a small iron frying pan she still keeps in her car. She once held it and said, "You wanna a piece of me?" Some women are Marines, carry a weapon, are trained to kill; other women survive the best they can and wait for their men to come home. Diana and I are the latter.
It's time to leave the hangar, and I look around. I don't know their names. But I know their faces and I know their joy. The little girl wearing a Lakers cheerleading outfit who suddenly got shy when she saw her daddy, the pregnant woman holding the sign, the Marine who kept wiping away his tears at the sight of his newborn, an old man who grabbed his son, clenched the back of his camies and held on...these images are seared into my memory.
I pick up my son's incredibly heavy backpack. I know I look ridiculous, but I don't care. As we leave together I couldn't be more proud. My husband lugs two barracks bags and a couple of times Robert turns back and says, "Dad, are you all right?" My husband and I look at each other and laugh. We've never been more all right.
Every little thing is a joy. Showing him our new car. Can he find it in the parking lot? What does he want to eat? Does it seem cold here? Hot?
Every little thing is a worry. I watch his face for the signs. Signs of pain, discomfort, sadness. I watch his face for the kind of hurt that doesn't go away with a good meal and a hot shower. I look for the sign that maybe I can't read the signs anymore. That is the one I fear the most.
We eat together, talk, and share photos. Robert has pictures of Iraq, including the desert sky, a mosque, and a fat rat named Chub-chub the Marines fed constantly. Our American boysthey are unique in the world. Robert appears healthy and I thank God for that.
In Italy, near the Po River Valley, his division had been under a barrage of fire. They took cover and waited in silence. In the blackness of night one voice announced loudly in perfect Winston Churchill, "We shall nevah surrendah." It had taken their last bit of will to not crack up and draw more fire.
Before we leave our son's home, I make the guest bed. I lay three small grapevine wreaths that Diana has strung together across the pillows and write a note to my son and my daughter. "Love lives in this house." When I return to the living room, Diana has fallen asleep on Robert's shoulder. It's time for us to go. I say goodbye too soon to my boy. Yet, I'm content. He's safe. He's with his beloved and he will sleep in his own bed tonight. He will come to visit soon, he promises. Marines keep their promises.
In the spring of 1946, Janet Shahan sat alone at the window. It had been a year and a half since she had seen him last. The sun had just come up and through the Los Angeles morning haze she saw what appeared to be a yellow cab. She's not sure what carried her, because she couldn't feel her legs. She grabbed the crystal doorknob, flung the door back and ran down the stairs into her husband's arms.
* * *
Christine N. Gordon is a writer and freelance editor. She is currently editing the life story of a Korean War veteran and finishing her second novel. She lives in Southern California with her husband and their two daughters. Their son Robert was honorably discharged from the Marine Corp in 2006 and is working as a firefighter in Yuma, Arizona. Christine can be reached at 732 Pike Drive, Hemet, CA 92544 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.