Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Coastal Drive (7/8)

Kelsey had given birth to their first child, Ashley, only a few months before Mark’s deployment to Afghanistan, his third tour in five years.   It took him a while to figure out that his wife was suffering from severe postpartum depression, a condition bad enough without her husband’s frequent absences.  Mark harbored plenty of guilt for all his time away, and hearing Kelsey grieve about how tough things were for her and the baby only compounded his anxiety.  Though Kelsey had been in the military, she was tired of living at Fort Lewis and wanted a “normal” life.

All the signs of trouble were there.  Before he went overseas Mark could see Kelsey’s mounting depression, but he didn’t put it in any kind of medical context.  In retrospect he would spend nights regretting his inattention to the clues.  He took some solace in the fact that his mother-in-law Rita was going to stay with Kelsey and her new granddaughter throughout most of Mark’s tour.
Initially, they Skyped whenever Mark was at Bagram, Kabul, or on one of the more wired firebases, but the mission ate up more of Mark’s time as March was approaching and the Taliban-infested mountains started to turn from white to brown.  Inevitably the conversation would center on Kelsey’s feeling of inadequacy as a mother.  Mark did his best to reassure her, but, unmindful of the depths to which his wife was sinking, he grew tired of her woeful tone.  After all, he thought, wasn’t he was not only away from his young child in a bullet-ridden land but he was responsible for the lives of soldiers?  His exasperation with Kelsey only increased his wife’s sense of alienation and worthlessness.
Once incident kept playing in her mind, and Mark had to ask Rita via email what actually happened.  Kelsey had left Ashley on the kitchen table after changing her diaper to check the laundry.  The baby rolled off edge and fell to the floor.  Rita, who was outside watering the plants, heard the thump and Ashley’s wailing.  With horror she picked the child up from the floor.  Ashley seemed fine, but Rita took the baby to the hospital to be sure there was no serious injury to the head.  All the while, Kelsey sat on the couch in catatonic state, unable to offer aid or even express concern.  Ashley ended up being okay, but Kelsey never forgave herself for leaving her on the table.

These past few weeks had been running through his mind, as he and his men, strapped inside the CH-47, ascended the mountainside.  The voice of his first sergeant shook his mind back into the game.

“Listen up!  We’ve been here before, but this is the real deal, confirmed by SIGINT and boots on the ground.  Be sharp, Rangers.  Hooah!”

No sooner than Top finished his pep talk, the door gunner cried out, “Incoming!”  Rounds were making piercing thuds into the bottom of the gunship.  The gunner unloaded a barrage into the snowy landscape below.

"No worries!" yelled out the crew chief.  "It's just a welcoming party."