The Forgotten Hero II by Marsha Ortega

by Marsha Ortega This is the story of an American family at war and the son whose life, and then death, are haunted by the specter of PTSD.

by Marsha Ortega
This is the story of an American family at war and the son whose life, and then death, are haunted by the specter of PTSD.

Part II

Brent and Bobby

“In peace sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers bury their sons.”  Croesus

 

Brent & Bobby at his 1st Holy Communion

Brent & Bobby at his 1st Holy Communion

The relationship between Bobby and Brent was a love-hate one.  It started on January 4th, 1990.  What was about to happen to Bobby was a huge change in his life.  He didn’t know this of course, because he didn’t have the experience of having his dad around much as a child.  What relationship they did have wasn’t a good one.

Bobby had just gotten back from Mexico on January 2, 1990.  I was actually surprised because, as stated earlier, our relationship became rocky once I packed and left to come home.  My family wanted nothing to do with him (that’s another book).  I was already in the hospital and called him to let him know that his child was on the way.  My mom was already with me, and the doctor said he only wanted one person with me, during the birth.  So Bobby waited outside the room and according to him, he heard Brent cry. The nurse came out and asked who he was.  He said he was the father, so she let him in.  They handed Bobby his first biological son.  I wish that I could have a picture or video, but I think some of you parents know what took place.  I could actually see the connection that was made.  Bobby was hooked and in love is the best way I can describe it. I know it’s how I felt after meeting each one of my sons.  It’s probably one of the most beautiful things that we experience as humans; the birth of our children.  There’s nothing that can top it.  From that moment on, Bobby’s life changed.  It was no longer about him, it was about THE FAMILY.  He bonded with Brent as did Brent with him.  There’s a look in a person’s eyes that shows the love they have for their child.

Well, the beginning of the love-hate relationship began; because Bobby’s own childhood issues came in to the situation.  During the first couple of years, even after Tico was born, I could see the issues arise.  He finally told me that he was angry, because he couldn’t understand how his father had left his mom and the five of them alone.  All he could remember was that his father came around once in a while to give his mom some money, but that’s really all.  He had no fond memories or father-son moments that he could remember.  So I tried to explain to him that I obviously couldn’t understand because my parents have been awesome my entire life. I told him that what he could try to do was to experience having fun with the boys so that he could still have the experience; the only difference would be that it would be as a father.

Bobby was strict with Brent, probably no different than I was with Brandon, him being my first.  The other problem was the amount of hours he had to work, so he didn’t get to spend as much time with the boys as I did.  I can remember one holiday, Brent was five years old but he was crying his eyes out and very upset because his dad had to work and that wasn’t fair because other fathers got to be home with the family.

Brent used to get upset because his dad was always more serious and felt that brothers shouldn’t fight. The oldest was always the responsible one.   The funny thing is that Brent had many ways like Bobby.  The main one was that they were both so damn moody.  You never knew what they’d be like and I think that’s why they had a hard time getting along.

Brent didn’t argue or disrespect his father until the teen years.  That’s when things started to change.  Teen years are usually rough between parents and teens, especially when they’re the same sex.  There was no denying how much Bobby loved his 3 sons.  Unfortunately between his own lack of a father-son relationship from childhood and his background, which was what we here the U.S.A. call “macho.” (I say this with no disrespect to the Mexican culture, because I love it.) He missed out on a lot of great experiences with the boys that could’ve established a better relationship.  It could have also prevented a lot of misunderstandings, but it is what it is and I can’t change that.  He loved the boys dearly and would do whatever he could for them.

A good example of Bobby’s love for them would be the time he did what I call, “the Walk.” It’s called, “the Peregrino’ in Spanish, and in English it would be “the Pilgrimage.” It’s an event done each year where the participants ask the Virgin of Guadalupe for something; for example, one could ask that their child’s health gets better, or to cure a loved one of some disease. They then make a promise to walk from whatever area they live and walk to the Basilica, a church in Mexico City where the Virgin was seen over 500 years ago. This is a 3 year commitment.  It’s done in Mexico every year and the main date celebrated is December 12th.  This is not a 25 mile marathon.  It’s done from all parts of Mexico.  Bobby is from the state of Hidalgo. Lucky for him it was “relatively close” compared to what others have to do.

When Brent was deployed in Afghanistan, Bobby saw how more concerned I got the first time that we had no contact for some time.  Even though I didn’t express my feelings he saw it in my face.  He always felt that Brent would be fine there but I think this time even he was worried.  So, Bobby made a request to the Virgin of Guadalupe to please bring our son Brent home safe.

You have to know that Bobby is not really into physical activity and here he made this decision to do a three-day walk.  He did it!  It was a three-day walk from his town.  The whole group slept outside, not in a tent, but in sleeping bags wherever you are staying for the night and it’s December.  Mexico isn’t extreme cold like it can be in Illinois, but it does get cold.  They walked about 16 hours a day.  The first night we spoke before he went to sleep in his sleeping bag; he told me it was one of the hardest things he had ever done and that he didn’t think he was going to make it.  I tell you this so you can understand the kind of love that Bobby had for his sons.  He may not have been their best buddy and maybe it was very difficult for them to understand him (and I don’t mean his accent either), but they knew that he loved them and would do whatever it took for them to be okay.

That was in December of 2009, his first time.  He thought he was done, but then found out it was a three-year commitment.  He was stunned, but at the same time he was fine with this because he had had such a spiritual experience that he was truly motivated to do it and keep his faith strong.  The following year came and he did it again.  The pilgrimage in Mexico is a huge event and is well organized.  Each group is told when to leave from their area to begin their journey. His group always leaves on the sixth of December.

Year three, of course, became the most difficult and painful for both of us but more for him.  Remember, Brent passed on Thanksgiving, November 24, 2011. His service was on Wednesday, November 30.  The pilgrimage started on Dec. 6 and Bobby had to be there at least a couple of days before.  He left two or three days after the service and yes, he did the walk.  Some of you might say well why bother, your son had passed.  My response is that you need to understand faith.  I totally supported him in this and felt it was the right thing to do, as much as I didn’t want him to leave during this horrible time.  Bobby had gotten his prayer answered to bring his son home safely from Afghanistan.  He still needed to finish his 3rd year commitment.  Until this day I truly cannot imagine how he did it.  The pain of losing a child is so unbearable and he walked with that pain for three days.

He continues to do the pilgrimage. As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this he will be doing his fifth one.  He told me on the 4th one that he felt if he didn’t continue this that he would lose his faith.  He isn’t obligated to go anymore because he finished, but he continues so that he can keep his faith.  That’s a good enough reason.

I opened this chapter with one of my favorite pictures of Brent and Bobby.  It represented Brent still in his innocence and thinking his father could do no wrong.  It was before their challenges when he was a teenager.   I will close with my second favorite picture of them: basic training graduation, a time when they finally embraced again as father and son.   That began their journey of accepting each other.  How horribly sad that they couldn’t finish that journey.

Brent and Bobby 2 hugging

 

HIGH SCHOOL

“Want a trouble-free future?

Why did you show up in spacetime if you didn’t want trouble?”

Messiah’s Handbook by Richard Bach

 

This section will be interesting and challenging to write.  Brent’s teen years were not very easy.  Yes, I know this is true for many, and hopefully I can assume many of you will be able to relate. Some of you will have your judgments, but that is your choice and your problem.  If there’s one thing I learned in life, it’s that it’s easy to judge and have an opinions when you’ve never been in that predicament.  Each of us has our own way of dealing with things and each individual is unique.  What works on one individual may not work on the other.  There, okay, I’ve said it.  Now moving forward.

I guess I had high hopes or expectations for Brent in high school; after all, he was so bright. He tested into advanced math and English even though he had skipped 8th grade.   As I’ve stated before, I never expected A’s from my children, only their best.  Well, even though Brent’s intelligence and advanced ways were there, his experience wasn’t, after all he was only 13.  So after about 4 weeks I saw a change.  He was exposed to the high school experience: girls and drugs.  And of course was a healthy young boy looking at the girls.  However, soon after starting high school I started suspecting that he had tried marijuana.  I was 90 per cent sure.  Also, in the beginning it seemed normal for me that he didn’t have much homework, which I came to find out he wasn’t keeping up with.  I got that under control for a while, but the marijuana created problems in our household.

My husband and Brandon had told me not to confront him because I had no proof. My response was that I had all the proof I needed, except the actual marijuana.  I won’t lie, I tried it myself a handful of times at 14 years old, but it wasn’t for me.  At first, I guess I had hoped that’s what would happen for Brent. Sadly, it didn’t.  I honestly would have ignored it had it been occasional, but it wasn’t anymore.  It was becoming too important to him.  So against, Bobby and Brandon and I confronted him. Of course he denied using, but for some reason we worked it out. Basically he lied, and I attempted to believe with caution

Before I continue, I’d like to add something here which might be difficult for some of you to accept, but to this day I believe it.  One morning, about a month and a half after he started high school at around 5:00 a.m. in October the front door opened and an evil energy walked in.  I know this sounds crazy but I was sleeping on the couch, I don’t remember why, but the door opening awaked me and a powerful evil energy came in. No the door didn’t really open, it just felt that way.   I’ll never forget that.  What I hadn’t known at the time was that a family member had accumulated so much hate against my husband; to the point he wanted to kill him.  These are his words to me at a later date, not mine.  He had also told me that he wanted to come with a bat and bust his knees, but after numerous conversations with his wife, he calmed down. The problem stemmed from a miscommunication and misunderstandings.  Without going into any more details, he was plotting in his mind how he could hurt his Bobby in the worst possible way.  To this day I believe that he built up such a hate that that energy entered my home and landed on the weakest link, the teenage boy, Brent.

Unfortunately, a couple months went by, I thought he had been using occasionally; I was wrong.  It turned out he was out of control.  We chased away one of his friends because we thought that he was the bad influence, come to find out years later that that wasn’t the case. Also, Brent had already been exposed to pot, in the 7th grade, prior to high school.  I can remember one of the times that I knelt before him when he had been angry with me for grounding him and I said to him, “Son I know how stubborn you are and where you get it from, but what you don’t know yet is how truly stubborn I am.  I love you with all my heart and I will not give up this battle until you are an adult and I won’t be able to, but until then I will do whatever it takes.”

The following is Brent’s runaway letter:

“I’ve ”run away”I guess u could say. I just want to sort some crap on my mind out. I know that you guys r freakin out right now and think im stupid for everything in this letter. Im going to be fine so don’t call the cops or anything, I know u think im naive for saying ill be fine because of all the horrors in the world but ill be fine I promise u. I don’t know what to say I mean I know when I get back im gonna be in deeeeeep shit and theres nothing I can really do to make u understand why Ido the things I do because I think that u don’t want to understand. That is a close minded statement, I know, but I think it to be true. Well I love you all and I’ll see u when I get back.

Oh and mom me smoking isn’t your fault, u haven’t made many flaws in raising me, so don’t worry, im not gonna end up a psycho murderer or a druggy on the side of the street. U dont know why I do it, ill tell u all about it when I get back. And me leaving isn’t your fault either, its my own decision, don’t blame yourself for any fault I make.
I love you guys”

He started sneaking out of the house, running away, and acting out. To make a long story short, the day finally came that he got so gutsy he smoked some in the bathroom knowing full well that his dad was going in there to get ready for work.  It was as if to say, “I’m not afraid, I’ll challenge you” And so, because we were working with him, I already had him in counseling/rehab, I called the police and had him arrested.  I know some of you are thinking what kind of mother has her own son arrested; well my response is that of a mother who loves her son so much that she will do whatever it takes to clean him up.

He got to sit at the police station on a bench for four hours handcuffed to a bench, and then I picked him up four hours later and I paid the $100.00 bond.  He was given a court date and at that court date he was given supervision and community service.  And that’s when we decided that we weren’t going to wait for Tico to graduate Jr. High to move; Tico was in 7th grade, and Brent was a freshman.

The hunt began to move and we did.  We moved 35 minutes south of Romeoville to a town called Braidwood.  Brandon had already moved out when he was 18, 4 years prior, he was living with my mom.  She was alone because my dad had died on January 18, 1998 and my brother was moving to California.  I remember Brent’s counselor told me that moving wasn’t the solution.  It wasn’t that I thought that moving was the solution; it was that I had wanted to give him a chance to start over.

You can just imagine how happy Brent was moving.  He was miserable.  The funny thing is that we were also concerned about Tico.  Brandon was especially worried about Tico.  Brandon had felt that it would be too difficult on him and he told me that the drug situation was worse where I was moving.  I responded that I felt Tico would be fine because the school that they had been attending all these years was changing too much and that he had a rough year in 7th grade and didn’t seem very happy.  Also, I told him that I knew we couldn’t escape the drug problem because it was everywhere in this country.  I just wanted Brent to start fresh again.

Well, for Tico the move was a big success and for Brent, not so successful.  It was fine for a while.  We even had him serving at the restaurant when he turned 15.  He liked that because he made good money.  He did an excellent job, too.   I remember customers telling him that he looked like the young version of Elvis Presley.  It had been said quite a bit and I could see it, too, especially in his prom picture.  I remember on the day of his service I was driving to the funeral home when a car goes by and it had the license plate that said ELVIS.  Tell me that’s not pennies from heaven.   He seemed to like that. He also, started dating one of our servers, which was against the rules.  We really liked her.  Her name was Samantha but everyone called her Sam.  She was 3 years older than Brent.  Again Brent looked and acted mature for his age.  So I remember telling Brent that I wasn’t happy about this because we didn’t want any problems with employees.  I also, had a talk with Sam about not wanting this relationship to affect the business and our relationship.  She and I had a very nice relationship.  So we all had the agreement that work and love were 2 different things and that no matter what happened in their relationship, it wouldn’t affect ours.

I believe they were together for over a year.  There seemed to be many good months there of Brent being okay while he dated Sam.  I knew he smoked sometimes, but he wasn’t out of control.  That lasted awhile, until the end of summer of 2005.  He was 15, going to be a Jr.  We were in the process of changing the restaurant into a sports bar and grill.  So we were closed down during the changeover.  Bobby was there every day from 7:00 a.m. until around 11:00 p.m. and sometimes later.  I went in quite a bit just to run errands and feed the guys.  I wasn’t involved in this new venture.  Bobby had hired a kitchen manager and front end manager.

One day coming back from the restaurant Brent was in the house with 2 friends and he was hysterical laughing along with his friends.  Come to find out he had a bb in his hand, yes, literally in his hand.  He had decided that he wanted to see what an air bb gun felt like and checked it and it was empty but didn’t know that one was in the chamber. Well, there goes that intelligence I said he had.  My first reaction was “Are you high?”  He said “No.  Mom, I swear” I did find out a few years later that he was telling the truth.

So now I’ve got to take him to the emergency room to see if they can remove it and we had no health insurance.  They couldn’t and so I had to take him to a specialist.  That cost a fortune.

We had only closed the restaurant for 7 weeks and transformed it from a family restaurant to a sports bar and grill.  I believe that we were only open for 6 weeks when the front end manager and Bobby had an argument, and they both agreed that it wasn’t working out for either of them.  So I took over.

We opened September 22, 2005.  Brent was a junior and Tico was a freshman.  Brandon still lived at my mom’s house and was working as a DJ at night and with computers during the day.  I don’t remember exactly when, Brent ran away.  He and Sam were on and off together during this time and he was starting up again with marijuana.  He was gone for 8 days.  We couldn’t sleep.  No one knew where he was.  I had spoken with his school counselor and the dean to let them know what was going on.  I had a good relationship with the school.  They were always kind and helpful.  The dean also worked with the police department.  So finally after 5 days he told me I had better report it.  I did.  Meanwhile all these days we were trying to find him.  Because Sam worked with us I told her to please give me any info if she heard from him.  My eldest son Brandon was always good about tracking him down, as a matter of fact when he ran away one time in Romeoville, it was Brandon and his friend Kenny that found him.  Brandon went around Romeoville and spread the word that if anyone saw Brent to contact him.  On day 8 Brandon called me to say he’s on his way to get Brent and that I should get the police involved because he didn’t think that Brent would cooperate.  When Brandon got there he called me to let me know that Brent was at this take out place and he was with Sam.  Sam had been lying to me all those days.  I guess from her perspective at that time she was in love with him and he told her to promise not to tell us.  He had stayed with one friend the first couple of days and then stayed with her the rest of the time.

I ran out of our restaurant and went to Romeoville to meet him.  I contacted the dean and he advised me to stop at the Braidwood police department when done and that he’d have the chief of police talk to him to see if he could be motivated to a better path.  I called Bobby and told him to meet me at Braidwood police station.  I picked Brent up, from the Romeoville police station.  He had an “I don’t give a shit attitude” and had gotten his ear pierced.  I knew that wasn’t going to go over well with his father.

Off we went to the Braidwood police station; met Bobby and he took one look at Brent and said, “Take off that earing now.”  Brent refused and then Bobby told him to take it off or he would take it off for him.  Brent hesitated and then took it off. Now mind you when Bobby said this he had to look up at Brent because Brent was now 6’1”.  Bobby was 5’8”.  We went in the police station and the chief spoke to all of us; Bobby, Brandon, Brent and I.  Tico was in school and didn’t have to experience all this.

Now one of the many things that the chief had said to him was that if he tried to get physical with one of us that he would be put in jail for assault.  I guess he knew the psychology of a 15 year old boy.  The four of us got home and the first thing Brent did was run into his room, which I had “remodeled” when he ran away.  He yelled out “where’s my posters?” got angry and punched a hole in the wall.  I was in the bathroom when this started. I heard yelling and came running out to see him holding his father down and Brandon trying to get him off.  I called the police; they kept me on the phone with them.  Bobby finally got free.  Brent had something in his hand and Bobby had a belt.  The police came and took Brent away.  The reason Brent grabbed a hold of Bobby was because Bobby had a belt in his hand.  My husband had done this one time before.  Bobby just didn’t know what to do anymore.  I swear the hatred of Mario was still in my boy.  Yes I know some teens have a harder time than others, but this was insane.  This wasn’t the boy I raised.  Brent was never a bad person; moody, yes but he had a good heart.  All we wanted to do was save him from himself.   The confusion that this does to a household is rough for the family.  We tried many things; motivational and also punishment as in grounding him.  One time Bobby bought him a 2005 collector’s edition Mustang; to motivate him.  Yes, a Mustang.  That’s called desperation on his part because I never would’ve done that. My philosophy was, “if you want a car, go to work and get one.”  Needless to say I wasn’t very happy when my husband did this.  I looked at him and said’ “Are you crazy, a mustang for a 16 year old boy?”  Fortunately, Brent took after me.  He couldn’t be bought.  The Mustang is still here.  He didn’t want it then or ever for that matter.

What had happened while I was in the bathroom was when Brent yelled out from his room and punched the wall Bobby was going to discipline him, right or wrong it’s what happened.  Bobby had done once before the year before.  I remember I had backed him up on the decision because nothing was working.  The most my husband or I ever did was give a smack on the butt.  Bobby wasn’t a violent man and really didn’t believe in hitting but this was getting absolutely insane, we had no control over this child.  I mean all 3 of my boys were raised in the same household and here’s my middle child behaving like this.

Brent had committed assault so therefore he was going off to juvy.  They told me I’d have to go to court in the morning, and to be there at 9.  Just writing about this brings back such awful feelings, because I loved my son and couldn’t understand what was happening.  I motivated my kids, their needs were taken care of, and they learned work ethic and responsibility.  They knew to respect their elders and family.  They knew the importance of school.  Their life wasn’t so bad.

The morning finally came and of course Bobby was going to go to work and not come with to the courthouse, even though he should’ve.  So Brandon met me there and we went in.  What I was about to witness was for me horrible and what I was about to do, many parents wouldn’t understand, but I had to save my son and discipline, counseling and love just wasn’t working.  We went into the courtroom; Brent was called and in came my son from the side door in a blue one-piece suit, handcuffed at the wrists and ankles.  There are no words to describe this feeling.   I was in shock and sick to my stomach.  This was no way to see my son.

Prior to going in the room, his assigned defense attorney and I spoke and she said to me, “So you taking him home today?”  I replied “No”.  She asked me if I was sure with what I was doing and she didn’t seem to agree with me.  I had to save him. He was my boy.  Of course I didn’t want him in prison but we had tried so much and nothing was working, so I felt he had to learn that his life wasn’t so bad.

On that unforgettable day I preceded to testify against my son and let them lock him up for 2 weeks until the next court date.  I believe the judge and the prosecuting attorney knew what I was up to, but Brent’s defense attorney didn’t. I did all that without shedding one tear, until Brandon and I left the courtroom and then we both lost it.

I’ll never forget doing this.  I don’t know where the strength came to do this.  I wanted my son home with me; I didn’t want someone else taking care of my boy, especially the government.  I wasn’t trying to shove my responsibilities on to someone else, but nothing worked.  When I told my family they thought I was crazy.  They weren’t very happy with the decision, but at the time they didn’t know how bad things had gotten.

This happened in November.  What the hell is it with November?  I remember it was the first time we had a Thanksgiving missing a family member, other than my father, but he had passed.  Little did I know what would happen again, six years later.  We visited him on Thanksgiving.  He wouldn’t even look at us.  You could see hatred in his eyes.  It was heartbreaking, but I wasn’t going to give up.

The two weeks went by rather slowly.  The court date came.  I spoke with Brent’s attorney and told her I wanted supervision for him so that he could keep his name clean.  We got that.  He had to plead guilty and got one year of supervision.  He had to go to rehab twice a week and be clean for a year.  He would also be tested regularly.  We came home. The first days were uncomfortable, but I proved to my son how much I loved him and believe it or not, from that point on Brent and I became even closer.  Not only did we get along well we could get in to so many conversations.  He would tell me things for the next 6 years that most young men don’t communicate with their parents.  I don’t mean real personal things but we cold pretty much talk about anything under the sun.  Oh how I miss those days! We’d sit on the front step, smoking cigarettes and talking about everything under the sun: life, people, religion, aliens, God, reincarnation, life after death, you name it.  With Brent all conversations were intellectual, spiritual, in other words a learning experience for both of us.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss those days.  Brent was the only one I could converse with like this.  It was a two-way conversation; we were both participants in the conversation, making each other think.  I love all 3 of my sons, not one more than the other, but I have to admit that Brent and I were the closest.

Brent went back in school and went to rehab twice a week.   Tico was in Basketball and Brandon was growing his DJ business.  He also did the Karaoke at our place.  It was Brandon who built up the Wednesday nights.  All went well for a few months, until one night I was out with a friend having dinner and Brent called me to say that he had gotten a “dirty drop”; a urine test that showed drugs in his system, marijuana to be precise.  He tried to cover it up as well.  Now he had to make a choice, go to treatment or go to jail.

I found an inpatient rehab about an hour away from home.   The initial two weeks we were not allowed to see him.  Visitations were on Saturdays.  I also attended counseling sessions with him on Thursdays.  Brent and I were already close, but this brought us even closer.  When Brent got out of juvy he wasn’t very happy with his dad or me.  But as the time went on he realized that I wasn’t his enemy.  After four months he was released. The counselor told me this was considered early because the average was six months.    He had a good family support system.  It was great having him home.

Well now we had to deal with the school situation.  The school had worked with him all this time, because he was doing his schoolwork at the rehab place.  He also had to do course work with a state affiliated place online.  Even through all this Brent graduated high school early.  So not only did he skip 8th grade, go through rough teen experiences, but he graduated a semester early.  He had just turned 17 a couple of weeks before.  Now he had to figure out what to do with his future.  Of course it’s got to be college, because that’s what I had taught my sons.  However Brandon was twenty-four and had already tried college and decided it wasn’t for him.  It was disappointing for me but you can’t force it on people.

Summer began and Brent had no interest in participating in his graduation ceremony.  He wasn’t with Sam anymore.  That relationship had ended shortly after his eight day runaway experience.  I believe after he finished high school he got a job at a local pizza place.  That didn’t work out for long.  He eventually came home and informed me that he’s going to join the Army National Guard.  He said that he felt he needed the discipline and structure.  I agreed and was proud of him; but really scared.  He still used marijuana, but not like he did in the past.

Why did Brent use marijuana?  Brent explained to me when he was 14 or 15 years old that it calmed his mind down.  He said that his mind was constantly thinking and wouldn’t stop.  I wonder if that’s why he read so much.  He was always reading a book.

 

NEW BEGINNIGS

In August of 2007, Tico and I took Brent to sign up and take his exam.   He did great on the exam so was able to get his 1st job choice which was to be a medic.  While he was taking the exam the gentleman there was trying to get Tico interested and I cut in and told him that he was getting one of my sons, not two of them.  Brent signed up and had to have my signature because he was only 17.  He then had to take a physical at a later date.  Finally the day came when he went to swear in.  In November he began his required one weekend per month.

The big day finally came on February 5, 2008 for him to leave for basic training.  We brought him to a hotel near O’Hare airport to send him on his way to Fort Benning, Georgia. There were definitely mixed feelings.  It was a rough day because Brent decided that he should party before going, but we got him there.  The ride home though was a quiet one.

April 24, 2008 wasn’t going to come fast enough.  This was the day set for his basic training graduation. The changes taking place in my boy were great, but most importantly, he was happy.   I could feel it in his letters.  I wrote him almost every day or sent cards.   He had to do 25 push-ups per letter and still he wanted more letters.   He wrote me back some letters, but not a lot.  His letters started with, “Dear OG”.  OG stands for “original gangsta”, the boss, the strong one.  He had started calling me that sometime during rehabHis girl Jessica stills calls me that.  He was very busy in basic training.  He loved it.  Although he missed us, he had finally found his calling.  He wasn’t bored anymore.

My God why does this have to be so painful?  I love him so much.  I miss him so much.  I miss hearing his voice yell from his bedroom upstairs, “Mamaaa, are you going to cook something?  I’m hungry.  I want him back, please God.

One of the funniest stories that I remember from his basic training was one in which he was writing me.  There was little time for writing letters so he might have a paragraph or a few sentences written then write a little more later.  On this particular night when he was writing me another soldier had been pestering him.  He told him to shut up.  Unfortunately for him it wasn’t a fellow soldier.  It was the drill sergeant.  He told me right after he said it he knew he just screwed up.  Everyone had to get up and do push-ups for 5 minutes, but not Brent.  No he had to stand in front of them all and repeatedly say,” Shut up drill Sargent”, for the entire five minutes.  I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time but we laughed about that one.  Another time he and another soldier weren’t cleaning up as they were supposed to and got caught so they had to go up and down stairs carrying buckets of water or ice.  That’s how they get built up!

Graduation was nearing.  This was going to be Brent’s first graduation ceremony.  Remember he skipped 8th grade graduation, and he finished high school early, so all he had in his pocket was a kindergarten graduation.  Most of the family and a couple friends flew down there.   We had four hotel rooms. We had an awesome time.  I saw a Brent that had changed so much.  He was disciplined, and very happy to see his family.

The boys. Tico, Brandon, Brent, Bobby, Anthony & Michael.

The boys. Tico, Brandon, Brent, Bobby, Anthony & Michael.

I’ll never forget him calling me ma’am the whole weekend.  That was truly bizarre. We all had a good time.  It was great to see him doing well.  He was happy and I truly felt he found his way.

We left on Sunday or Monday and so did he because after they finish basic they then go on to AIT, Advanced Individual Training.  His was going to Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, for four months to train to be a medic.  Tico, Mary, and I went to see him in July. It wasn’t a good time to go to Texas.  It was very hot and humid.  Again, I found him happy.  This is when he told us that he would be with HHC 178TH Infantry, in Chicago.  The four of us were eating at a restaurant when he told us and then he hit us with the rest of the news.  Yes, he would be going to Afghanistan shortly after finishing AIT.  I remember that Mary and I just dropped our forks.  It wouldn’t surprise me if food fell from our mouths because it was a shocker.  Don’t get me wrong, I knew that it was more likely that he would go than not, but I guess I just didn’t expect it so soon.

I’ll never forget that weekend.  We had such a nice time.  I got to meet 2 close friends of his, Charlie Patterson and Chris Nigh.  We stayed at a nice hotel with an outdoor pool and hung out there most of the time.  Brent and his friends couldn’t stay overnight but we got to be with each other all weekend.

He came home in August for 3 weeks.  We had a welcome home/going away party for him.  It was great!   All of Brent & Tico’s friends came and joined our family and friends.  We had a big cook-out and everyone had an awesome time.  This is also the time that I find out Brent was dating Jessica, one of the hostesses at our bar.  Yes he did it again and broke the rules.  I remember telling Jess to please keep business separate from pleasure.  Little did I know at that time that Brent had met the woman of his dreams, his best friend and his soul mate?  Turned out the feeling was mutual.

Jessica, Brent and our good friend Edith at Brent’s going away party.

Jessica, Brent and our good friend Edith at Brent’s going away party.

Deployment, Hurry Up and Wait

“Mortalhood is a fine state to visit,

But you better not call it home.”

Messiah’s Handbook

 

The day came we had to drive Brent to HHC so he could deploy to Afghanistan.  What a difficult thing to do.  None of us were jumping up and down with happiness.  Even Brent became quiet and very serious.  We were all at the restaurant, including Jessica.  We then brought him to HHC.  I remember feeling empty, afraid, proud, worried, concerned, well, you get the idea.  We drove home, all of us quiet.

That evening about 8:30 p.m. the phone rang, it was Brent.  Gosh it was awesome to hear his voice.  It had only been 4 hours since I last saw him, but it felt as if he had been gone already. He was so happy because they weren’t leaving yet and he was given permission to leave for the night. He asked if I could pick him up.  Well I was ecstatic, of course I would.  So I drove an hour to get him.  It was great to see him; of course he wanted to be with Jess and his friends, but that was fine with me.

He had to return in the morning.  A day or so later he called me and asked if I could bring him something, I forget what it was but I believe it was an excuse to see me.  So I went again.  We only had a few minutes together but it was great just to see him.  The parents and spouses of military will understand truly all this.  He finally left for Fort Bragg, for more training before he would ship off to Afghanistan.

Our lives continued. We worked, Brandon on his DJ business and Tico on school.  One morning in October I arrived at the restaurant.  I would normally enter through the front door but this day I went to the back.  I saw an army guy standing at the back door smoking with his back to me.  My heart was pounding.  He turned around and there was my boy.  I was screaming and crying.  It had only been 2 or 3 weeks since he left.  As I’ve learned being an army mom.  The military’s policy is to hurry up and wait.  Am I right?   There was Brent standing before me.  He had arrived home the night before and surprised Jess too.  They were given the weekend off before deployingI remember that day as if it were happening now.

My Surprise Visit

My Surprise Visit

You’re probably thinking; my God at what point do they actually leave?  At the end of October 2009, he finally left for Afghanistan.  We spoke a couple times while they were en route to Afghanistan.  Finally after traveling so much he did reach his destination and I got his address.  He was at FOB MEHTER LAM, in between Kabul and Jalalabad, Afghanistan.  My son was physically so far away, but he was so close in my heart.

We wrote to each other a lot: emails, letters, etc. Sometimes we even spoke by phone.  I sent him snacks, movies, and anything I thought would help him to know that we were all here waiting for him.

He saved every letter he ever got; even all the cards and letters that I sent him when he was a teen in rehab. After he died I gave family members the letters and cards that they had sent him.   Jess took a picture of all of hers and had it on FB.  It’s touching to know that he saved everything.

Once he called me and asked me to get a gift for Jessica for Valentine’s Day.   He told me to get an opal necklace, (Opal was her birthstone) but I saw a pretty opal ring, I thought it was a nicer gift.  Unfortunately, I was wrong; I got the riot act read to me.  I guess that he and Jess had an agreement that a ring would be something for the future like their engagement.  So I exchanged it and got a necklace.  Her birthday fell on a Saturday.  She and I were at work when I presented the necklace to her.  She was so happy.  I will never forget the experience of giving that gift to Jess.  It was wonderful to see her reaction and how in love she was with my son. I’ll always feel fortunate for this experience. 

Jessica, the day she got her gift from Brent.

Jessica, the day she got her gift from Brent.

Well, the year went on and although I was busy working, life just wasn’t the same.  Bobby would always tell me not to worry, that Brent would be fine, but as a mom I think it’s normal to worry about our children, no matter how old they are.

In July of 2009 the deployment was getting ready to end for COLD STEELE OEF 2009, Brent’s Unit’s deployment.  We didn’t know exactly when his deployment would end as that’s kept secret but we knew it had to be ending soon since deployments are no more than a year.  The last couple of weeks they are supposed to relax and go through reintegration training.  No offense to the Army National Guard, but according to Brent, it was a joke.  Jess and I went to a seminar for reintegration that was given for spouses and family members. I learned a little, but it wasn’t enough.

What really happens is that they are sent home and given 3 months off and then go back to one weekend per month.  Now that might sound great, but these guys were at war, under pressure and living a life that is absolutely nothing like home.  They’ve gone through things and seen things that we cannot imagine or understand.  Coming home is great, but also, shocking.

August arrived and we received word that they were on their way.  We heard from Brent when they arrived to the U.S.A.  The date was set for their official arrival when they would be formally dismissed from deployment, on August 3, 2009 at Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears play.  Well, that day couldn’t arrive fast enough.  Jess and I got to Soldier Field at 7:00 a.m.   We didn’t want to be late or deal with traffic.  The event was set for 11:00. The only people there when we arrived were the people that had been assigned to set up.  Fortunately we were allowed to come in and help them.  Little by little people started to arrive, and before you knew it, it was packed.  We had signs, so did others, there were children dressed in military uniforms, waiting for their dads.  The experience was unbelievable, most of my family came and so did my some of my friends.  We got news that the bus had arrived.

Welcome Home Sign

They were all lined up and at attention when the order was given, “Dismissed.” Oh my God,  it was awesome! Everyone ran around trying to find their loved ones, hugging and kissing and crying.  There were yells of sheer happiness and joy.   Jess and I and just about everyone else in the family went charging looking for Brent, except my husband Bobby.  He remained his calm, cool self and of course, Brent came walking calmly right to his dad as we were all over the place trying to find him.  I’m sure this was a hysterical sight to see.  All the local news had crews there covering the event.  They even said how much they liked it because it was happy news.

Soldier Field Reunion

Finally, my son was home safe.  I remember him asking if it would be okay if he drove back with Jessica.   I know he thought I was going to be disappointed, but to his surprise I said of course it would be fine.  I understood.  I was just so ecstatic that he was back.  We’d have plenty of time together.  We all met for lunch first and then headed back home.

We arrived home from lunch before he did.  He had put his stuff in my car.  Bobby already left to go to work when I realized his stuff was in the car.  Just then our neighbor Mary was outside and I asked her if she could help me bring his bag in.  I still don’t know how we did it.  It had to weigh over 150 lbs.  I can’t imagine how these guys carry this around in the heat and wear everything else that they do. They’re amazing.  Brent stopped back at the house to let me know that he was going to hang with some friends.  I just asked him to come see the surprise in his bedroom first.  He loved it.  Thank God.  I had redone his room and painted the logo from his favorite band ICP, Insane Clown Posse, the hatchet man in his room.

Insance Clown Posse

 

 

 

 

 

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