This War is Over. . . . .

There are few places in my past that are as inviting as Houston’s Galleria.  For at least one year of my life, the Westin Galleria was, off and on, home base.  Dropping my car with the valet, I would head up to the room we all shared that year.  Hungry. . . call room service or head down to La Madeleine on the bottom floor.  Oddly enough, I never shopped in any of the stores other than Neiman Marcus.  It was the family-go-to store for all our needs.  It’s 1994 and I am in graduate school, but that is just one of part of my life.  If I want to really think about it, those ten guys in Baton Rouge were the needles and thread that held my life together for those years, especially that year when everything else had broken apart.  They gave me my structure, my purpose and I gave them what was left of my soul.

Walking into NM one afternoon, I head up to the women’s clothing area.  I know exactly what I want, that for which I am searching.  It came to me one day and I knew that I would recognize it when I saw it.  There it is. . . .hanging in the designer section.  A DKNY pantsuit.  It wants me as much as I want it.  Putting it on in the dressing room, the soft pleats are just pinched enough to give it form, while the tip of the trousers break nicely across my Cole-Haan shoes.  It is a standout piece. . . .wheat colored, it will become my battle uniform for the future.

This is the one.

I go to pay and, without blinking, charge the $1100 to my visa card.  It’s the only the second time that I will ever pay more than a thousand dollars for a suit and it isn’t the last.  This is just the beginning.

With that last task done, I get back in my car and head east. . . .to the bayou, the swamp, and LSU.  There, Worm Boy, the Princess and her past wait for me to come home.  Nothing has ever felt more like home to me than Cajun Country.  Nothing.  Even now, as I write this, my heart beats just a little bit faster, the landmarks along the way merging into the seasons, the bridge over the Mississippi calling to me.  For five years, I lived within a mile or two from the levees of the Mississippi and, like the river itself, Baton Rouge is where I have dumped all of the sediment of the previous 30+ years.  And, like the delta into which it flows, it stays and builds new islands and wetlands. . . a metaphor that richly captures the last ten years.

It has been more than ten years since I last saw the swamp. . . . tasted a real po-boy or felt the type of humidity that envelopes your body like a well-fitted designer suit.  It’s time to go back.  This war is over.

This past month, the public press tells us, the war in Iraq is over.  I listen to Melissa Etheridge plaintively sing, “this war is over, I’m coming home,” and I wonder about wars.  Of course, if it is in the newspapers, I am convinced, it must be true. . . .well, maybe not so true.

Exactly, for whom is this war over?  We still have troops in Iraq.  They are waiting in Kuwait.  Units still receive orders to go to Iraq.  The ring I placed on my husband’s finger a dozen years ago is still in Iraq.  This war is over?

It makes me think about the wars I’ve fought.  For sure, they have included Iraq and Afghanistan. . . ..even without ever having set foot in either country, I have been a part of that fighting force or, at the very least, my heart has been there.  Four times in seven years. . . . my husband came home, but for me, this war is not over.  And, if it isn’t over for me, what about those whose loved ones came home broken?  What about those for whom the welcome home took place on an airfield in Dover, Delaware?  And, Melissa’s voice continues. . . . .”tell them I’m alright, I am alone.”

Forever intertwined in my war with the War is my war with autism.  Is that too many wars in one sentence?  But, isn’t that what war really is. . . . a series of small wars, cloaked as battles, from which we cannot emerge unscathed?  The beginning of our time with the war began within days of the war with autism.  More than once, I have felt the autism battles have been every bit as physical as what B faced in Fallujah, Baghdad, Kandahar, Zabul. . . .Herat.  My fights have been over diagnoses, insurance coverage, finding the right doctors, and, surprisingly less often, schools.  Like those who have returned from locations far away, I have the invisible scars from the battles where I vehemently fought for my son’s rights, his place in the world.  In my world, Dover was a doctor’s office at Womack in 2004, where the dignified transfer of the remains of our hopes and dreams were delivered.  It was that day that the declaration of war was pronounced, even if there had been ten months of squirmishes and insurgent attacks leading up to that point.

But, like the war in Iraq, it feels as though the autism war is slowing down.  Yesterday, Jack and I went to the grocery store.  Throughout the store, he named all of the products from the assortment.  His battles with speech have produced a brief respite from the ravages of the war.  Using tools like Veggie Tales, Wallace and Gromit’s Curse of the Wererabbit, and Remy’s Ratatouille, he has learned from his battles using movies as his weapons of choice.  For the first time, in a very long time, I feel like maybe we had been at the Paris Peace Talks and we have finally agreed on the shape of the table at which we will plan the end of our war.  Tomorrow, we begin a new round of peace talks that will, hopefully, move us further along this journey.

Like the ghosts that appeared last month, it seems like a lot of the battles I have had to fight are dwindling down. . . . maybe the newspapers have gotten it right for once.

Jack is beginning to talk. . . .”take off my shield.”

For the first time in years, we are not looking at an upcoming deployment. . . .nor are we still recovering from one. . . .”Carry my sword. . . .I won’t need it anymore.”

I’m headed back to New Orleans this spring.  In the same way that she convinced me to be her friend twenty years ago, The Princess has made it impossible to not return this spring. . . . “Find me the sun, give me it whole. . . .melt all the chains in my soul.”

A year ago, I fought the war about being a stay at home mom.  It was one of the shorter ones. . . .”I won’t fight here anymore.”

Oh. . . .and the DKNY suit?  It still hangs in a closet with a plethora of her sisters. . . .Ellen Tracy, Tahari, St. John’s, Donna Karan. . . .remnants of a war-torn past.  They are both the trophies and the wounds of battles from long ago.  Grad school. . . .loss of loved ones. .. .cancelled friendships. . . .vetoed relationships. . . .forks in the road.  Today, my uniform is more likely to be Adidas running pants and a Life is Good t-shirt (not that I am running, but if I did, I would be appropriately attired), not designer suits.

But souvenirs are for tourists and, like the non-sticking magnet that reminds of us a trip we once took, today those old trophies are going in the trash.

“This war is over. . . .I’m coming home. . . .”

But then, isn’t that what they said in the newspaper?

PS:  words in quotes are from Melissa Etheridge’s song, “This War is Over”


2 Comments (+add yours?)

    Jan 13, 2012 @ 03:39:45

    This the very very best ever. I have felt your moves and tales and remember them all. I am glad some of those wars have ended.


  2. Denise
    Jan 14, 2012 @ 16:50:58

    Leslie, I am really enjoying being able to read these and I am especially looking forward to someday reading the book(s) you have in you. Your writing is remarkable and could be more broadly shared. I only wish I could tell stories half as well as you do. Keep up the good work writing, venting, entertaining and provoking thought.


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