One year later

Cara is still in Afghanistan, and as her mother, I really don’t want her to be there. I realized early on that it is not my life, and it is not my choice, so I try desperately to keep my mouth closed. She doesn’t ask my opinion, and she doesn’t welcome unasked for opinions. She’s a tough cookie, that one.

Last August, terrorists attacked the university Cara lost colleagues and students in the attack.

I was riding home with my sister from the heartbreaking funeral for baby Keegan and although the radio played nonstop, we somehow managed to talk right over top of it and never noticed the news reports. This seems miraculous even a year later.

My concern for Cara has always led my ears to prick up as soon as I hear anything about Kabul, or Afghanistan. But as we talked about Dylan and Brittani and their horrible loss, how best to help them, etc. etc. etc. somehow, both my sister and I missed the news reports of the attack.

The phone was ringing when I walked in the door of my home after a week away. Tim answered it, and with a strange look, handed it directly to me, but remained standing close by.

Mary said, “Oh my God, oh my God, is Cara okay? Have you heard from Cara?” and in my obliviousness, I said, “What?”

Long pause.

“You haven’t heard? It’s been on the news all afternoon!” I said, cautiously, “We had the radio on all the way home. We were listening to FLN.” Mary said, “Debby, so was I! They’ve been talking about it all afternoon. The campus has been attacked.”

I don’t know if I said anything after the fact. I hung up and ran to the computer to pull up the news. Cara had been very clear. If anything happened, I was not to call. If they were in hiding, the terrorists could ping a phone call and find out where they were hidden. So I did not call, but I read the news, and I checked Facebook. There were people posting on Cara’s behalf. The campus did not have internet at the moment but the attack was over. Her friends posted Cara was fine.

A year later, I cannot explain how Anna and I made the trip home and did not hear the news reports. I am grateful for that. Being trapped in a car with no access to the internet, no way to know for sure what was happening, that would have been an excruciating trip home. Instead, by the time that I heard about it, it was over and Cara was safe.

When Cara came home at Christmas, she was different. It was a tense holiday, and when she went back, for the first time, I think that she was glad to be leaving us. I cried plenty when she was gone. As much as I had tried to understand, as much as I tried to overlook, it hadn’t worked. I felt terrible, like a failure as a mom.

Since Christmas there has been a distance between us and I am not just speaking geographically.

I’ve had time to think about things. Maybe it was just too much pressure to put on the holiday, for me to take a big block of vacation. Maybe what she needed was time to decompress, to be alone, to not be surrounded by family.

Maybe Cara felt smothered.

My Christmas presents to her were always reminders of home. Paintings by local artists, one of Jude Dippold’s pictures from his gallery show. A Bulova collectable miniature clock, its time set so that she would always know what time it was at home.

Maybe she felt like I was reeling her in? Maybe she felt claustrophobic?

I don’t know. But I was tired of her irritation every time I expressed concern about some event. I found myself snapping right back. “Listen to me. You live in a WAR ZONE, for God’s sake. And any parent of any child in a war zone is going to have concerns.”

Like I said, there’s a distance between us now, one that has nothing to do with geography.

We’re getting ready to head to Blandon. To mark Keegan’s first birthday, Dylan and Brittani are having a quiet family cookout and at 4:46 p.m., his moment of birth, there will be a butterfly release.

That’s will be a powerful and emotional moment right there. Last year at this time, Keegan had been born. Initially, there was so much hope. For a premie, he was a good weight. He cried. He pooped. He waved his arms, he clutched his mama’s finger. According to Dylan, “I’m no expert, but he looks good to me.”

This report buoyed us all. Ecstatic phone calls went out to everyone praying. We were all so hopeful that this little boy was going to be the odds.

17 hours later, he was gone.

At 4:46 this year we will do what we didn’t know we would have to do at 4:46 last year: release him. The butterflies will flutter about for a time, and they will be gone, just like the little boy they represent.

My heart is breaking on so many levels right now, but one thing is clear to me. There has to be release.

I’ve begun Christmas shopping for the year and I have most of the big presents bought. This year Cara will not be getting reminders of home. An acquaintance is painting a picture of a starry sky, rich and swirling with stars, and beneath it, the words of Jack Kerouac: ‘There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so keep on rolling under the stars.’

Stars. Butterflies. They are different, you know. The delicate butterflies will go. However, the stars are always there. They might be hidden in the light of day. They might be covered by clouds. But they are there. Always.

That comforts me.

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