There Is No There Here

I saw American Sniper last week. I cried through the entire thing. I had my veteran husband Jon and my service dog Timothy with me. I remember hearing about the battles in Fallujah and Sadr City. I was in the Green Zone at the time. We heard about them as one hears about an earthquake on the other side of the world. We had our own booms to deal with and our own deaths to handle.

But, it’s war, right? And war is terrible. It’s the worst thing in the world. It’s the last resort. It’s the place we go to when nothing else has worked or will work. We go to war to protect what is dearest to us—our families, our country, our God. So why is it that the one thing in American Sniper that I could truly relate to was when Chris Kyle, back from Iraq, lamented that he had come from a place where a war was raging and people were dying, but that war didn’t exist here, in the country that he was protecting.

I understand.

I have pictures of my time in Iraq. I met my husband in Iraq. I know that I was there. I know that he was there. But, sometimes it feels like a dream. Sometimes, it feels like one of those nightmares that you can’t wake up from and when you do, you can’t remember. I talk to other people who were there. We trade stories, but there is no there here.

I went to Iraq because I wanted to do my part to help make the world a safer place for my son. I went to Iraq because I heard about the planes going into the World Trade Center while I was playing with him on the bed. He was eighteen months old and so small. I had to protect him. I went to Iraq because we lived under the LAX flight path and for three days after 9/11 the air was so silent. I went to Iraq because my son’s best buddy was from a Muslim family and I wanted him to continue to have Muslim friends. I went to Iraq because I didn’t want my son to be afraid.

But it wasn’t that easy. Going into the world in order to help protect my son, meant that I first had to leave him. I had to leave him and leave everything familiar, and safe, and convenient. And I had to go to a place that might as well have been on the moon. During my first tour, I did television stories for the American Forces Network (AFN). I highlighted the work of our soldiers. I did stories involving Iraqis and Americans working together to make the world a better place. Everyone deployed to Iraq worked long hours and sacrificed a lot to be there. Everyone had high hopes that the people we were protecting understood what we were doing and supported us.

And then we went home.

Sylvia Bowersox first went to Iraq in 2003 as a US Army broadcast journalist. She was stationed in Mosul and Baghdad, but reported from Coalition outposts around the country. A year in Iraq wasn’t enough, so she returned to Baghdad as a civilian, spending almost two years working in the US Embassy as a State Department press officer. Bowersox received her BA in English literature from San Francisco State University, and is currently completing her MA in creative writing at California State University, Chico. She was recently honored by a Pushcart nomination for her nonfiction essay, “This War Can’t be All Bad.” Her nonfiction essay, “The Importance of a Dollar Bill,” has been submitted to the National Associate Writing Program Awards competition. She lives in Chico with her husband Jon, her son Holden, and her service dog Timothy.