After we climbed to the top of the mountain and looked out at stunning views of the Bay and ocean, my son said, "If everyone could go into space and see the planet Earth from a distance, they'd probably become very spiritual."
Then he skipped down the path with a hop and jump, like a leprechaun on vacation.
The next morning we delivered him to the National Guard Armory in Walnut Creek (at dawn, of course,) so he could hurry up and wait until he and his fellow soldiers were bussed away to Paso Robles for three months of predeployment training.
The streets were deserted, except for a TV crew filming families like ours saying goodbye. This was the biggest deployment of the local Guard in a long time, and it was making prime time news. I didn't feel much like talking, and afterwards, my daughter and I caught BART to San Francisco. The first stop was Lafayette. When we looked out the window, we saw a hillside covered with white crosses, one for each US soldier who has died in Iraq, so far.
It was May 9, 2007. The sign said 3,367.
"Unspeakable pain, grief, and discombobulation," was all I wrote in my diary that night.
THE PAIN GOES ON
By June 5, 2007, I noted that the number of US casualties had risen to 3,495.
Today, it's creeping toward 4,000 soldiers, and no one even knows for sure how many thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed, or displaced by this war.
During the months my son has been gone, I have reached out to the other military moms and wives I know in the Bay Area. To them, I offer my profound thanks. They alone understand what it's like to go weeks without hearing anything, then learn nothing of what is going on when you do get to speak with your soldier by phone.
When I told Kim Mack, whose 23-year-old son Bobby just returned from a yearlong tour in Iraq, that my son hopes to be home by the end of April, she said, "People don't understand what it does to the family. I know what you are going through."
Mack is executive director for Sacramento for Obama and supports his candidacy in large part because she believes he's the only Democratic front runner who is serious about withdrawing combat troops from Iraq as soon as possible.
Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey died in Iraq on April 4, 2004, observes that none of the presidential front-runners are talking about a complete troop withdrawal.
"I cannot bring my son back to life, but your story is what keeps me motivated to get the troops out of Iraq and start the reconciliation process with the people of Iraq," Sheehan said.
So, here I sit, tortured by unspeakable worries as the fifth anniversary of the invasion approaches. Does the trail mix in my son's care packages soothe his nerves or fuel random acts of violence? Will he and his buddies get the care they need when they come home? Will we be out of Iraq by 2009? When will the Iraqis get their country back?
I don't know, but I'll keep pushing until I have answers, and all the troops are home, and the black marker pen is completely worn off from my yellow ribbon magnet.