I had his home address in Killeen, Just outside of Fort Hood, and now a plane ticket for Friday morning, Unknown to family and friends, I skipped school (I was teaching fine arts at Our Lady of Victory at the time), skipped out of the house at 6 am and arrived in Austin, Texas with a rented car, map and GPS. At 1pm with spaghetti sauce and sponge candy in hand, I made the familiar clatter of high heels clicking down the walk. (Joe could always tell the sound of my shoes) and was greeted with “Mom, I’m in my underwear (as if I’d never seen him in diapers), why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” After greeting his beloved cat Speed, I headed for the elegant spa and proceeded to dump one cup of the precious liquid causing a bubble bath catastrophe á là Lucy in his pristine bathroom. Despite this faux pas, Joe treated me to a whirlwind of a weekend I shall never forget
From Japanese dinners cooked to order to Officer Club breakfasts, visits to Salinas antique shops and breathtaking rides on the new Harley across freeways, Joe was a perfect,, exciting host. Hearing him order special planes for various companies of men along and setting the timing of when the equipment would arrive was an amazing discovery of his sense of logistics – a trait learned from helping mom with the theater productions no doubt, and carried through in future jobs at Genentech and now at Google.
Visiting many of his friends (many also were leaving for Iraq), was a joy. Birthday cakes and pregnant wives were all present, helping to lessen the pain of unwanted departure. Joe later said eulogies for some of these very men with whom he celebrated that evening; a worried fate that placed a burden in my heart for the next twelve months.
Every newscast form then on announcing the fate of our men in Baghdad was a red flag which at times prompted me to call my Lieutenant Colonel son Mark who was initiating the first elections in Bosnia at the time, to check on his brother’s whereabouts. Joe’s phone calls brought a sigh of relief but the fact that he went on maneuvers each evening hunting terrorists did not help my anxious heart. Joe worked in Saddam’s rundown city where many newscasters bravely risked their lives to keep loved ones back home informed of all daily events.
We had no idea of the day or the hour when we could be sure that our cherished number seven would be safe from these horrendous battles. Only God knows a mother’s heart when her children are faced with unpredictable danger. He was my baby and beloved by all. There was no one like Joe – funny bright, humble, lovable, talented, (he played the lead in every musical), and most of all, unpredictable.
The last month was the worst for we knew that anything could happen at anytime in this bloody war and did not hear from him during the last two weeks.
The day came when the phone rang unexpectedly and I heard “Hi mom, I’m Home and walking up to my front door right now.” I heard his heels clicking as he walked. It was the happiest sound I ever heard.