On the first page of my address book are these names: Maurice, John, Jeff, Lee, Lyle, and Shama. The thing is that I never wanted to write any of the names in my book.
Writing the name and address meant the person was deployed, most likely to Iraq.
Twenty-one others are on the next four pages or are scattered throughout my book.
Writing the names on the first five pages kept me from searching through the address book to find the names when I would send packages, which I tried to do regularly.
Most of the names are of people I met while serving as a public affairs supervisor at Fort Bragg, N.C., with the 2125th Garrison Support Unit, a unit that came into existence to help the Army process, train and equip Reserve Component soldiers.
Some names are of people I barely knew or didn’t know at all, names of people whom others gave me.
Some names I never put in my address book, as I had jotted down the information on sticky notes or other slips of paper and tucked them into the book’s front pocket. In a few cases, I printed the address from an email message and just never transferred it.
Some I know well. One is my son. One is now a dear friend. One is the husband of a good friend. One is someone I’ve known since she was a teenager. One I’ve known since he was in elementary school. One is a cousin.
When I decided to join an Army Reserve unit in Atlanta, I wanted one that wouldn’t deploy overseas. While I do enjoy travel, I’ve never wanted to live in another country for very long, and I decided I didn’t want Uncle Sam to send me somewhere I didn’t want to go. In choosing a unit, I chose one that went to North Carolina when called to duty.
In hindsight, that seems cowardly, particularly in light of those 26 names in my address book and the ones on slips of paper tucked in the pocket.
As each person returned home, I drew a diagonal line through their overseas address. In several cases, I ended up writing the name again with a new address at a new base in Iraq.
Oh, how I hated that even more than writing the name the first time.
The packages I sent were well-received, but I always felt the contents were insignificant. Some home-baked cookies, maybe some home-canned fruit, store-bought wintergreen mints, and a card. Always a card.
I last sent packages to a cousin and two former members of the 2125th GSU a few months ago.
With the exception of the guys who were in my unit, everyone else I’ve sent packages to has returned safely to their families. One just celebrated a birthday in Iraq; the other one I haven’t heard from in a while. More than 4,000 who served never made it home alive.
I hope never to write another name in my address book of anyone going to APO AE 093XX.
I’m glad the war in Iraq is over. To the almost 2 million who served there, including the ones in my address book, thank you, and welcome home.
A few days after my mother was injured in a hit-and-run accident, I had a mishap of my own, one that helped me understand the value of all 10 fingers.
The day after I visited my mother in my hometown, I was heading out for a horseback-riding lesson and decided to fix a quick sausage biscuit for breakfast. I’ve recently discovered turkey sausage and had found some frozen ones at one of those monster warehouse stores.
The patties come in packs of four, and separating two from the four is simple: Pull the plastic apart. Further separating the two is a bit more of a challenge.
Enter Wolfgang Puck. Well, my fairly new and incredibly sharp Wolfgang Puck knife set.
I’m not exactly sure the sequence of events, but it went something like this: Grab the two frozen patties between my fingers and thumb, jab the knife into the center, voila.
Gushing blood indicated something had gone wrong. Terribly wrong.
I dropped the knife and reached for paper towels, which I wrapped around the index finger on my left hand. A glance indicated that the I almost was left with no fingerprint and might have ended up with a deformed fingertip, but for some miracle.
My Army first-aid training kicked in, and I squeezed the makeshift bandage to stop the bleeding.
Because the blood quickly saturated the paper towels, I grabbed more, took off and tossed the old. Several times.
Then, I figured I was doing something wrong. My finger was swelling and still bleeding.
Ice. … Ice stops swelling, but since I don’t like ice in my beverages, I didn’t have ice. An ice pack in water would have to do.
With my hand in water, I called my health insurance company; the representative told me I would have to call a different number. When I explained that I had been bleeding for more than an hour, she looked up the number for me.
The second representative suggested I take my hand out of the ice water for fear of causing permanent nerve damage, and then walked me through the things I had already done.
Finally, she suggested I call 911. Three minutes after I hung up, the medics in their fire truck were outside my house. Oddly, they remembered me from my call months before when I thought I was having a heart attack. Frankly, I had hoped then never to have seen these guys again.
They removed my soaked paper towel, poured saline over the wound and wrapped it in so much gauze that my finger looked like an ice cream bar waiting to be dipped in chocolate. They also wrapped my ring finger, which had a gash at the tip, leaving my middle finger precariously visible. When the ambulance arrived minutes later, the fire/medics indicated they had the situation under control, advising me, as did the health insurance rep, that I could go to an urgent-care center. One was two minutes from my house. Unfortunately, it was closed, so I went to the Grady Hospital emergency room, known for being a good trauma center and usually full of folks needing care.
Two shots to the base of the finger, a scream each time, a passing nurse muttering something about Wolfgang Puck, momentary laughter, five stitches and three hours later, I headed home.
Over the next 12 days, I learned that with only eight functioning fingers, it’s virtually impossible to cup my hands after washing my face or brushing my teeth to hold water; wash the right side of my body, particularly my right armpit (I did learn that my right arm is a bit more flexible than I had known); open jars; type (I’m so accustomed to using the home row keys that I had a hard time with all letters involving the F and D fingers); wash my hair (opening and holding the shampoo bottle while squeezing the shampoo into my hand was too challenging so I learned to simply squeeze the shampoo onto my hair); and many other daily chores.
The impossible task was flossing my teeth. Ugh. I know this is gross, but I didn’t floss my teeth for 10 days.
I felt so … unclean.
I got my stitches out on the 11th day, and my index finger has become a barometer of sorts. When it feels like a razor is slicing it, I need to go indoors … and put on my coat. (Oddly enough, the Wolfgang Puck knife set is so sharp that I never felt the initial cut.)
Since the accident, I haven’t attempted to separate frozen turkey sausage patties, and I’ll put them in the refrigerator before I do cook them.
Three days after the accident, I got up the courage to touch a knife so that could add veggies to my lamb stew. Believe me, I’m much more careful now.
The best thing to come out of this situation is that I have a new best friend: the person who invented the plastic, single-use, greenish-blue or white thingy that has a handle with a U-shaped head and an inch-long piece of floss. While at the same superstore warehouse where I bought the turkey sausage patties, I saw them.
I bought a pack of 360.