I drove my son out to Los Angeles last night. I waited with him while he checked into his hotel room. After he was all checked in, we went to have dinner.
“Where do you want to eat?” I asked. “Rubios?”
“That sounds really good, actually.”
So we ate fish tacos, while I tried super hard to fight back tears (and Gabby tried super hard to fight with Ethan.)
I could see the nervousness that he felt for what was going to take place in a few short hours, but I could also see the determination and excitement. We ate our fish tacos in silence, while he would occasionally check his cell phone for text messages from friends and comments on his Facebook wall.
After we finished eating, I dropped him off at the hotel and me and The Other Kids headed to our hotel just a few blocks away.
I sent him a text message just before I laid down to go to sleep.
“I am so proud of you. I love you.”
I tried to sleep. I tossed, I turned, I sat up, I got up and turned on the laptop. I finally drifted off to sleep sometime after midnight. I was awoken a few hours later with sharp stomach pains. I got up to go to the bathroom, but the pain was so intense, I had to crawl. I pulled myself up onto the toilet and just sat there, moaning from the pain. Nothing was happening, just pain. I thought I may have to go to the hospital. An hour later, I crawled back into the bed, hoping the pain would go away. It never did.
We woke up at 7am and headed down to the lobby for our free continental breakfast. The skies were gray, covered with thick gray clouds, a light rain fell from the sky. My stomach was still aching, but I tried to eat a little something. I knew it was going to be a long day. I texted Andrew to let him know we’d be heading over to see him at 11:00.
When we arrived at MEPS, we had to go through security that was very much like that at the airport. Once we entered, I looked for my son. I saw him sitting along with other young men and women who would be shipping out with him. I wanted to run up to him and tell him not to do it. “Come home with us, Andrew! You don’t have to do this!” Instead, I hugged him and asked him how he was feeling. “I’m hungry.” He replied.
We waited while he finished all of the processing details. My parents showed up along with my husband.
While I was sitting and waiting for Andrew to be finished, I saw a mother hugging her son. Her back was to me, so I couldn’t see her face. But I could see her son’s face. He held her tightly while she cried. He rubbed her back and told her not to cry. He said he would be okay. She wouldn’t let go of him. I had done such a good job of fighting back the tears, but when I saw that, I couldn’t hold back anymore. I put my head down and started to cry. After they finished their embrace, the mother headed towards the door. I ran up to her and hugged her. I don’t normally hug strangers, but I couldn’t help it. I told her that my son was shipping out and I knew exactly how she felt. “This is so difficult.” She said, as she cried. “I know. I know.” I responded. I later realized that I had been communicating with this woman on a website for parents of Marines. We promised we’d keep in touch while our boys were away.
When Andrew was finished with all of the interviews and paperwork, I asked him what time the bus was going to be leaving. He said sometime between 4 and 6 pm. I wanted to wait there with him the entire time and watch him get on the bus. I didn’t want to leave him until I absolutely had to leave him. My husband pulled me aside and said staying there to watch the bus leave may not be a good idea. “I think it will be too difficult for you and it may be for him as well.” I had never thought of it that way. I thought he would need me to be there until the very last minute. I asked Andrew how he would feel if I left before he did. “I’m okay with whatever you decide, mom.” I struggled with what to do. I wanted to be there for him, but I didn’t want to do anything that would make things more difficult for him. In the end, I decided to leave him and let him begin his journey without me.
His dad took him aside and gave him some words of wisdom. We took a few pictures with my camera phone (because I forgot the memory card for my real camera. Ugh!) and then it was time to say our goodbyes. He hugged his grandma and grandpa. He picked up his sister and told him he was going to miss her and that he loved her. He hugged his brother and best friend, he hugged his dad. Then, he walked over to hug me.
“I love you, son. I am so proud of you. In your darkest moments, think of how much I love you. And please, don’t forget to massage your feet.”
He started to laugh.
“I love you too, Mom. I won’t forget to massage my feet.”
I cried while I held him tightly. This was it–the moment I had to let go and let him become a man, let him become a Marine.
I kissed him one last time, told him I loved him a few more times.
And then I walked away and just left my son there.
Walking away from that precious boy was the hardest thing I’ve had to do since becoming a mother. As the door shut behind me, I felt as though I couldn’t catch my breath. The reality hit me hard– that was the last time I’d see or speak with my son for three months. No phone calls, no text messages, no emails. Nothing. As the cool air hit my face I inhaled as deeply as I could. Then, I fell into the arms of my husband and let it all out. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. He held me as he fought back his own emotions. “He’s going to be okay. It’s time to let him go and live his dream.”
I knew that at some point that night, I’d receive a call from Andrew. He would read from a script and then hang up. I had read about it, Andrew had told me about it. I held my phone in my hand all night long. I wasn’t going to fall asleep until I got that call.
Around 9:30, my phone rang. I took a deep breath and answered.
It was so loud– so much shouting in the background. He couldn’t hear me, so I shouted “Hello!”
My son began shouting into the phone. I could hear anxiety in his voice as he read from the script.
“This is recruit Valtierra. I have arrived safely. I will contact you in 3 to 5 days via postcard with my new mailing address. Please do not send any food or bulky items. Thank you for your support. Goodbye for now. I love you.”
From what I’ve read, the “I love you” is not in the script. But my son said it.
That phone call broke me all over again.
I didn’t sleep all night, his voice played over and over in my head and I was sick with worry for what he’s going through.
Tonight as I was getting ready to walk out the door to go shopping for a trip tomorrow, my phone rang. Same area code as the phone call I got last night from my son. Could it really be him calling again? No way. Wishful thinking. I picked up.
It was my son. This time, there was no yelling in the background. This time, his voice was calm (from exhaustion, I imagine.)
I knew what he was going to say, so as he spoke, I just said “we love you, we’re proud of you.”
He hung up.
I just stood there, in shock. He called a second time. I don’t understand why that happened, but I am grateful it did. I needed to hear his voice today.