BY LOGAN MARIE TORRES
At this time last year I was more than likely doing exactly this- sitting in my room typing on my computer. It would have been for a midterm paper though, and it wouldn’t have been so quiet. There is no jingle of a dog collar now. Looking around at a room that was designed for a teenager, it appears as if nothing has changed. If it weren’t for the contrast of pageant crowns sitting on a shelf adjacent to a freshly starched military uniform I could almost trick myself into thinking I’d never left this house. At this time last year I was spoiled with chocolates, like always, from my 90+ year old life mentor whom my family had known since I was a child. This year I bare a tearful smile because I’ve never missed the arrival of a Valentine so dearly in my life. There is so much familiarity in a space that is so different, and so much sorrow in a place of so much love. It doesn’t bother me like it used to because of what I learned last year.
Last spring I threw just about everybody I know for a whirl when I announced that I was joining the United States military. I couldn’t blame them for their spectrum of dramatic reactions. Up until then I had mostly been a model and pageant queen. It took time for everyone to assess my swap of high heels for combat boots. I, however, had never been so ready for change in my life and it felt like it couldn’t come fast enough. When my ship out date finally arrived I hugged my parents with a huge, genuinely confident smile and stuck to my promise that I wouldn’t look back until I had accomplished what I was setting out to do. As far as I was concerned everything at home would be the same when I returned. I had spent months making sure that all my loose ends were tied up, and that there were emergency plans for everything.
Fast forward to several months later when I am able to return home from base on a short leave for Christmas. I couldn’t have been more excited to return to the same old house and familiar things. Everything else in my life had been completely changed and I loved it, but I also loved the comforting idea of a home that hadn’t been touched by all the chaos. After all, I’d left with the mindset that I was the one who was changing; that home would always be the same. My incredible neighbours helped me carry out a long-awaited surprise dinner for my parents who had no idea I was coming home. It was a perfect homecoming. There had been myriads of joyful tears throughout the night, but I was confused when they suddenly took on a different tone as we headed home. I found my breath being drawn out of me as confessions of bad news came quietly from my parents. In two short sentences I learned that my dog had passed away in their laps just that morning on our living room floor. They explained that about two hours before I landed in Denver he stopped breathing so suddenly that they barely had time to react, so they sobbed and held him. They had been considering how to tell me. Of course they had no idea I was coming home. In the next few sentences I learned that I’d be attending the funeral for my dear mentor and friend (my Valentine) who had also passed unexpectedly before my return.
I walked back into my home for the first time in months with sickening disillusionment. These were not by any means my first experiences of loss. I was still recovering from news of a recent family suicide as well. However, my daydreams of the familiarity and peace of home that I had counted on for months came crashing down around me. I hugged my parents goodnight, and went straight to my room. It was a different colour than when I had left which added to my discomfort. I crawled into bed and listened for paws on hardwood floor. I rustled underneath a new bedspread that smelled and felt foreign. I looked back helplessly at the tragedy that my family had only just experienced, and then dreadfully forward at the next funeral. I thought about the last conversation I’d had with my dear friend Ernie; his ranting about being excited to see me in uniform when I came home for Christmas. A veteran himself, he was one of my inspirations for joining the military. I was angry with grief that timing would keep him from ever seeing me in uniform. For hours, I mauled over the feeling that, since I didn’t get to say goodbye, these losses seemed unreal. I would wake up tomorrow and not have to go to a funeral and everything would be like it was. It wasn’t until late into the night that sobs woke me out of sleep and all I could mutter was “I just want my dog back, I just want my dog back”.
The reality was that I was startled by my lack of control and how nothing was the same. Even our way of celebrating Christmas day would be different that year. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I wasn’t there, I couldn’t change the things that happened. I couldn’t go back and say goodbye or grasp any of those moments from the past. Life continued to move on at home with or without me, good or bad, whether I liked it or not. In the weeks that followed we learned of two more deaths in the family as they happened. It felt like we were getting fired at from all directions. In those weeks I learned more than I ever have in my entire life thus far. However, the things I learned were not because of the seemingly endless losses we were experiencing. Rather, it was because of what I saw in response to those experiences.
There was sorrow, but there was also joy. Our wardrobes were black, but the house was brightly decorated. There was tragedy, but my mother fought back with community service and Christmas cooking baking like never before. There was grief, but there was also comfort. There was celebration of being united as a family for Christmas. Hugs were tighter, laughs were more appreciated, moments were marked for how precious they really are. We cried harder when we watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” than we ever had in years past. I watched my family out-love the pain, and demonstrate what it means to find faith in the battle. They rose to this challenge every day until darkness seemed to subside. I remember very specifically thinking to myself that for all our suffering our lives are so full, and that that is exactly how it is supposed to be. It was selfish and childish for me to be so stuck on the feeling of being uprooted. Gradually, my discomfort gave way to the understanding that gratitude was more important.
I was awakened to an awareness of how grateful I am for what we have before us; of how we were only experiencing a season of sorrow out of lifetimes of joy. I recognized the magnitude of how blessed we are in a much larger picture. It was the first time in my life that I was forced to allow celebration and mourning to occur honestly and simultaneously. If it hadn’t been for the afternoons of weeping followed by days of faith filled joy I wouldn’t have learned so well that all of these things can coexist to make for a life better lived. I was forced to acknowledge that I had to grow out of my previous ways of thinking, especially because there are going to be many more departures and arrivals home in my military career. From that season forward it has become unacceptable to take anything for granted or expect things to ever be the same. I get on my knees every night to lift up my lack of control over this crazy life. The military taught me to adapt and that season forced me to practice. I couldn’t be more grateful that it did because I have a perspective that has carried me contentedly into the new year. I know that life isn’t going to stop moving this time or ever, but it is with a greater capacity to suffer and to love that I welcome new challenges. There is so much familiarity in a space that is so different, and so much sorrow in a place of so much love. That is just the way it is, and it doesn’t bother me like it used to.
Logan Marie Torres is a college student focusing on pre-med who grew up in the modelling and pageantry worlds. She represented Colorado twice at national competitions as Miss Colorado High School America 2012, and Miss Colorado United States Teen 2014 placing top ten in the nation. Logan Marie is also a proud United States Army soldier.