While I can’t give many details about that time in my life, it deeply affected me and how I lived.
Though I was still a baby when he was in Afghanistan, I knew I was hurting for my dad. Even if I didn’t know why or where he was, I missed him with my entire soul. I remember this feeling during his third deployment, especially when he would miss ballet recitals, soccer games, school events, and day-to-day life. By the time I was 12, he had missed about 80% of my life, and all I wanted was my father to be present and to come home.
As I grew, I started learning more about what my dad did, and why he had to leave so often. The looks that adults gave me when I told them my dad was in the Army started making sense. I distinctly remember not exactly knowing the weight that the word “deployment” carried, but I knew that’s what my dad was doing.
I’m 17 now. I know so much more about that period in my life. I know more about why he was deployed, and I know how to rationalize and come to terms with how I handled his being gone.
And while I had learned the “why” he left, I hadn’t really focused on “how” he left. Or what that meant.
August 26th, 2021 the day the suicide bombings in Afghanistan happened and Afghanistan fell, was a day where my whole family had fears and questions as we sat watching the screen. The burning question that I had was, even though I knew more about the big picture, “How was this going to affect my dad?”
And once I had time to let that question move out of my mind, I started seeing that it was affecting me too.
I kept asking myself “What was the point of him leaving? Had I lost 80% of my childhood for nothing?” Because of the time I had to step away, I realized that deep down I was still a scared little girl, and seeing everything in the news was bringing that out of me. I was scared that these events were going to pull my dad back into the hole he had fought so hard to climb out of. I felt alone.
I felt like I was the only one who knew this pain, the only one who was witnessing my dad struggle to come to terms and accept all he had been through, all we had been through. I was so used to living in places with other military kids or families close by, and for the first time in my life, I was watching a military-related event through the eyes of a civilian lens. I became a civilian kid after my father was medically retired, and I didn’t realize how different I felt from my peers until this moment. No longer were there military kids, that I knew of, to talk to at lunch about how out of control everything felt, or just to joke around with. I was watching people flick through the news and mutter “sad,” and move on, which wasn’t how I wanted people to respond. It wasn’t what I needed, but how could they know that? I wasn’t saying anything to anyone, and I was working to make my life look like nothing was wrong.
I wanted so badly to be able to feel normal about this, to not feel like I was watching everything my father and so many others had worked for crumble. I spent days thinking about how ‘horrible’ my peers were for saying this, then I realized I was projecting hardcore on them. I was incredibly angry that they weren’t reacting the way I was, and I took that as they didn’t care, which made me the bad guy in this situation.
If therapy has taught me anything, it’s that anger is a secondary emotion. I wanted so badly to feel normal, to not feel like I had a personal tie to another country I had never been to, to not feel a deep sinking dread, to not feel like the one out of place. I wanted everyone to sit and stop and cry with me, which wasn’t fair in any way whatsoever.
The anger I was projecting onto people was covering the fear and sadness that I could have lost my dad, like so many others who had, and it would have been for nothing. And I was jealous that other people my age didn’t have to deal with those feelings.
“How can we just move on from this, from people dying or coming home changed forever, only to have what they were fighting against wind up winning?” I often, and still do, ask myself. I felt my family had ownership over Afghanistan as if my dad were the only one who was protecting it. While I knew that I had a right to my feelings, many of my mom and dad’s friends, as well as my friends’ parents, had been deployed to the same places he had, so I couldn’t have been the only one feeling this.
To help try to sort out what I was feeling, I resorted to the news. I had always been relatively caught up with the news and social events, but checking the news became an obsession. My phone became clogged with headline after headline after headline, all detailing the same event.
The feeling of loneliness seeped into my sleep schedules. This feeling kept me awake at night, which made me lose much-needed sleep on school and work nights. I started isolating myself from friends, only responding to my best friend and my parents. I was angry all the time.
That anger came from feeling like all that my dad had gone through, such as being 100% disabled, his brain and body being forever altered, had been meaningless in the long run.
That he could have never come home.
And while I felt all of this, I got a message from a friend who saw me. She asked me if my family and I were ok, and took the time out of her day to say “Hey, I see that you’re having a rough time. Is there anything I can do for you?”
I remember being shocked and had to ask what made her ask. When she said it was related to Afghanistan, I felt a lot of emotions all at once. I wanted to cry from relief, and laugh from the happiness that I felt seen. And while I felt these emotions, I started thinking about how I hadn’t been a “good” military kid. And then was frustrated that I had decided there was a good or a bad. Why wasn’t there room for feelings to just be okay?
But what really began to bother me was that I had been so focused on myself.
I hadn’t thought about Gold Star teens the way I should have been, and I apologize for that.
I realized, that in being so wrapped up in my feelings, there were people who had never known one or more of their parents, and the Gold Star Teens especially had to be struggling the most. While I did have a father who had come home hurt and forever changed, he had come home. I felt enormously guilty that I was so wrapped up in this when I was still able to see and be around my dad, while others would give nearly anything to even have the feelings I was having. I realized, in a sense, that I had become as naive and absent-minded as I had thought my peers were because I wasn’t seeing the people who had lost lives to this war.
I had become what I was so angry with because I wasn’t seeing beyond myself.
The ironic part is it took a civilian to show me how to be the kind of military kid I want to be. I decided to take the lessons she had given me, and use them to help others. I started creating a lot of art, using all the emotions I had been feeling before she reached out. I had always been drawn to language and the written word, so I decided to do what she did, and I am writing these blogs to reach out.
I never would have been inspired to speak had it not been for my civilian friend, who taught me to be the kind of military kid I want to be, and how to start this dialogue.
So, I’m here. I’m here to talk, no matter your background. I’m here for your feelings, your questions, and your answers. I’m here to speak.
Mia Seligman is the 17-year-old daughter of a medically retired veteran. She moved to Asheville when she was 12, which was the sixth place she had lived. Mia enjoys listening to records, playing electric guitar, and thrifting with friends.