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A Moment in Time
personals [ Journal ]
How I learned that my cousin was going to Iraq.

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by [lavacaloca ]

2005-09-03  |     | 

It is hard to describe what it was like for me to walk around Times Square at night. The plane ride from Puerto Rico was four long hours of tedious boredom. Finally arriving at John F Kennedy airport was another experience all its own. The terminal was a mass of human bodies hell bent on beating each other to the baggage claim area. I, along with ten of my classmates, had been invited to a five-day journalism seminar at Columbia University. The seminars started at 9:00am and ended at 5:00pm. The days were long and tedious. It was our last night in New York, and we decided it was time to embark on our journey to Times Square. As we exited the subway station, my senses were immediately assaulted by the array of flashing electronic advertisements. It was brand mania!
The tall buildings were covered from top to bottom with billboards. They advertised a mass array of famous brands, movie stars, and Broadway plays. I saw tall Coca Cola bottles with neon fizz shooting into the sky, a bigger than life P.Diddy in his signature clothes, and the famous Ralph Lauren underwear models gyrating on gigantic television monitors. It was an enormous stage of excitement and excess. The skyscrapers, theatre district, and themed restaurants are legendary. You can feel the energy and pulse of the city. It is alive among the people hustling and bustling to their destinations. The world’s most famous New Years celebration is held here. Millions of people around the world watch the ball drop from “One Times Square.” We were having a great time. We were caught up in the Times Square experience. This is the place I was on March 20th, 2003, the day President George W. Bush announced that he had launched war against Iraq.

I had known time was running out for Saddam Hussein. Our President had given him an ultimatum he must step down, as president of Iraq, or the United States would declare war on Iraq. As I watched President Bush’s being broadcasted on many of the giant jumbo-trons (TV screens) that dominate the square. My palms became cold and clammy. I could hear my heart thumping madly in my chest. I saw many people stop and stare at the screens, and many were talking on their cell phones, relaying the news to friends or family members. Some took pictures of Bush’s giant image, as the words of his speech scrolled across the bottom of the screens. I also noticed some people were crowded around parked cars that had their windows rolled down and their radios turned up so the people could hear the presidential address. I was struck numb by the news scrolling before my eyes. I could not look away. I could not move. I felt the blood rush from my face.
My friends instantly sensed my distress and attempted to block my view of the jumbo-tron. They tried to pull me away from it. After what seemed like hours of staring in disbelief at Bush, I was able to break away. I could see him talking. The words that were coming out of his mouth seemed labored and surreal. Bush was speaking the words I most feared: he was declaring war. The act of war is what I had feared for months. My tears came and felt as if they were burning into my face.
All I could think about was my cousin. He is a captain in the United States Air force, and we share a brother sister relationship rather than that of cousins. As an only child, I had always longed for an older brother, and my cousin had become that for me. He is the older brother I never had and always wanted. I didn’t want to lose my cousin to a war I felt was unnecessary. He has always been my protector, and now he would be in harm’s way. Who would protect him now that he needed to be kept safe? There was no doubt in my mind he would be going to this war. I desperately searched for my cell phone in my backpack and called my mother. She had also just heard the news and was very upset. She tried to calm me but met with little success.
I began to think about the implications of President Bush’s speech. I have read about wars, but I have never been aware of one having been fought during my short lifetime. Suddenly, I could not move fast enough; I wanted to get as far away from Times Square as possible. This place I had yearned to experience, this place so full of “Disney” like wonder, would forever be tarnished in my mind and heart. I flew home the next day. I was not able to speak to my cousin. He had already been deployed. His whereabouts were a secret.
The days that followed were full of speculation, fear, doubt, and many questions regarding President Bush’s decision. I read in the newspaper that downtown Manhattan was full of anti-war demonstrators. Life continued for me in much the same way it had always been. I was back home in Puerto Rico, and I returned to my usual routine. I prayed every night for my cousin’s safety as well as for all the soldiers. I wore a rosary every day for months. I made promises to God and all the saints in heaven in the hope that my small sacrifices would keep their protection over him. My family and I despaired, and we celebrated when he finally got in touch with us. He told us he could not reveal his whereabouts, but that he was fine. In order to protect the soldiers, it was mandatory to reveal as little as possible, because his missions were risky and top secret. They wouldn’t want important information to leak into the wrong hands and just in case the phones were tapped or e-mail’s intercepted. He couldn’t give us any details about what he was doing, but at least we knew he was safe. I was bathed in a river of relief, but still anguished for all those men and women who were fighting this war.
I felt I had to show my support for our troops. They were out there doing their jobs, risking their lives. I did not want this war, no more than they did. I got my friends to write to my cousin’s troop. We all sent them words of encouragement and told them how proud we were of them. Yet, part of me was still left standing in front of that screen in Times Square, hearing those words over and over in my head. A year later, we have enlarged the terrorist movement against us, 31,000 lives have been lost (10,000 civilians, 20,000 Iraqi soldiers, 1,000 coalition), and Saddam has been captured. Today, the world is a different place, and the War on Terror presents many complicated challenges.
I recently returned to Times Square, because I was visiting my family and on my way to college. I found it no longer held the wonder I had first experienced for a few moments a year ago. That moment in time changed the world and me along with it. The war became personal. The war hits closer to home when someone you love is in the line of fire. It sheds a totally new perspective on life and liberty. Time Square has taken on a new meaning for me; it reminds me of that horrible night and all the feelings that come with it.
These days I watch the news religiously. I see the anguished faces of the families who have lost a loved one to this war. I wonder if our family will be next. I notice and see things I never saw before. I have become aware of the issues facing our nation and of our vulnerability. This war has been a political wake-up call for me. I have changed my nonpartisan political affiliation. I am no longer a bystander; this year I became a registered voter. I have been following the presidential campaigns and listening closely to the debates. I want my vote to count.
I recently received a call from my cousin. He is stationed now at an Air Force base in North Dakota. He called to tell me that he is considering working with the Army, which means he will be in the line of fire. I asked him, “Are you going to be like the soldiers on TV?” and he said yes. I freaked out and became silent for about a minute. The first time my cousin went to Iraq, he was ordered to go, and this time he is going willingly. A B52 airplane is the type of plane that throws the massive bombs, and my cousin is the pilot of one. When he first left for Iraq, we did not know exactly what day he left; it was a secret. He works with classified information. I don’t really know how I feel about my cousin being responsible for throwing bombs and killing thousands of people. When he pushes the button that releases the bomb, he is killing. He tried to explain to me that this is his job and that he chose to do this as a profession. I cannot understand him or his decision.
I find it difficult to accept why my cousin would want to risk his life; his answer is, “I’ll be like Rambo.” I think he says that to make me laugh. I am the third person to find out about my cousin going to Iraq; my mother found out the day before me and so did my uncle. My uncle cried, I have never heard of my uncle crying. He is an old fashioned man. My aunt does not know yet; I am sure she will break down. I am so scared. I have no family here, being from Puerto Rico; they are all back home. I miss my family. This news does not make it easier on me. My cousin was not supposed to tell me; my mother told him he shouldn’t. My whole family thinks I am too sensitive and emotional to deal with things like this. My mother keeps these things from me, but I would rather cry all day and know than be in the dark and learn about it when something horrible happens.
Time Square is a reminder of that fateful day. I don’t think I can ever see it as the place I loved when I was younger. It is so different now, a completely new place, with so much more significance. I am a people watcher. I see how people react when Bush comes up on the screen, and their resentment toward him. I also see those few who love him and think of him as the savior. Back home in Puerto Rico, my family resents Bush and his administration. God forbid my cousin dies; I will forever hold President Bush responsible. Both my father and my uncle have served in the army, and my other uncle is in the National Guard. At the age of fifty, he was activated and sent to Kuwait because they needed more soldiers.
The war has certainly made the world a more dangerous place. Iraq seems a breeding ground for terrorists. Also, it's hard to see how a so-called War on Terror can work when no one knows exactly where the terrorists are. We are fighting a war without end; we are fighting invisible enemies with cells dispersed around the world. How do you win such a war? There are no quick solutions to this kind of warfare. No matter what the reasons were for entering this war. I hope the Iraqi people really do benefit. For me the war will not be over till my cousin comes home.

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