I believe I have found some recompense concerning the Iraq War, just as I believe soothing thoughts can spring from suffering. The story goes back to April 30, 2005, when I, having had enough of the destruction and carnage, made a vow: my next beer would celebrate the return of our troops.
Going on the wagon seemed at once noble and safe. The war would not last much longer, and my wife and I had both dried out in 1988 when our son was in the oven. By Christmas I would hoist a foaming pint to our military, home safely for the holidays.
I measured my abstinence in beers not drunk. At 2 beers a day, each week equaled two six packs and each month was two plus cases. A year – impossible thought! — would be 730 beers (and $730). Daily I dreamed of ale and thought of Iraq. I also began to think about my relationship with alcohol, the inadvertent foundation of my belief.
Back in mid-April, primed by microbrew, I had lobbed verbal mortar shells around the house and our son had retreated, shirtless, to a picnic table out back, where he sat, head in hands, his skin accentuated by darkness. A few days later I announced my withdrawal from hops.
By June, as torture and execution became common in Iraq, I felt more lucid and calm. I sailed through a beerless July 4th and into the autumn of 2005, while in my mind’s eye I stacked all the undrunk cases in the kitchen like a bunker.
Thus fortified, I began to wonder how others saw me. An AA friend observed, “You’re the same person at 7 am as 7 pm.” My demure mother-in-law, though, made me wince: “You’re much nicer to me now.”
I learned more about Iraq as well as myself. I read about myriad amputees, prosthetics, and brain trauma from bomb blasts and about the shrinking benefits for veterans and overflowing military hospitals. It was far worse for Iraqis. I sipped diet drinks as the leaves turned blood red and brown.
I toasted the New Year with orange juice. Over eight months, my abstinence had phased no one and pleased several, especially the neighbor whose young son-in-law was serving in Falluejah.
By April 30, 2006, I was 730 beers to the good. Our son, now a senior in high school, underscored my growing belief: “It was a great decision. It’s made the household a more cheerful place.” During the spike in summer violence in Baghdad I pitched batting practice to my son, and as death stalked Iraq in October, I was his soccer coach.
On January 1st , day number 602, my beerless total stood at 1, 204, about 1,800 behind the death toll of Americans, with the gap widening fast. But I now believe the war in Iraq has brought some small gifts to my family. According to my wife, I am less sarcastic, more patient, and I snore less. I am fifteen pounds lighter. The day will come when our troops are home, and my son, a college sophomore, will ask, “Dad, time for a beer?” I just might agree. We will clink mugs in a toast to peace, harmony, and understanding.
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