How does one deal with the pain of having a loved one sent halfway across the world to fight a war in a distant country?
Since 2001 over one million American soldiers have left their loved ones behind to travel overseas for tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Pentagon data. Their spouses, significant others, family members and friends have been left to wonder what life is like for them in the theatre of war, praying that they are safe and dreading receiving a call from the military, informing them that their husband, wife, daughter, son, brother or sister is dead.
Some have submerged themselves in a whirlwind of activity to distract themselves from their misgivings, some have turned to their faith to find solace and others have found relief in writing out all of their thoughts and feelings onto blank sheets of paper or computer screens.
Newton County writer and Covington News columnist Kari Apted dealt with the pain of missing her husband Donnie when he was sent to Iraq with the 878th Engineer Battalion of the Georgia Army National Guard in March 2003 for a fifteen month deployment, by running the family assistance center at the National Guard Armory on Carol Street and by writing long letters to Donnie, describing life at home with their two small sons and how much she desperately missed and longed for him.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I just now finished doing the last load of laundry in your clothes hamper," wrote Apted to her husband in a September 2003 e-mail. "I just couldn't bear to wash clean the last things I have that you touched. Or rather, that touched you.
"I want my life back," continued Apted, "not this artificial, contrived happiness and acceptance that I have to conjure up daily, hourly and force myself to believe. It's really not okay that you are gone. I am not complete without you here with me."
After over a year of constructing schools and other needed infrastructure in the Iraqi cities of Tallil and Taji, Donnie returned safely home to his family in May 2004. But Apted estimates it took another three years for her family to really get back to normal and for Donnie to recover from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Apted saved all of her war correspondence with her husband, thinking that her family would want to look back on the letters one day and remember that very trying time. But in the spring of 2005 when she saw a posting on the internet from the National Endowment for the Arts calling for submissions from soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and from their immediate family members for letters they had exchanged during deployment, Apted decided to take a personal risk and bare her soul to a panel of editors by submitting several letters she had written to Donnie including the one referenced above.
Out of nearly 2,000 submissions, one of Apted's letters were selected by the NEA for inclusion in an anthology of wartime letters published by Random House in September 2006 titled "Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families."
Apted was one of 80 contributing authors selected for inclusion in the book, edited by Andrew Carroll. The anthology was part of a larger program sponsored by NEA called Operation Homecoming which included several writing workshops held at military bases to encourage returning soldiers and their families to explore the healing power that can come from writing your thoughts and experiences down on paper.
"The letter they chose was about everything that I missed about him," Apted said. "There are parts of it that are so hard to read in print. Without really intending to I just summarized the feelings of loss that you go through when your spouse is deployed."
Evidently the NEA felt the same way about her letter which encapsulates so many of the feelings that spouses go through when their loved one is far away. In June 2006, Apted was one of only 12 authors in the anthology to be invited to Hollywood to be filmed for the documentary "Muse of Fire," based on the Operation Homecoming program. The film also featured Kevin Costner and author Ray Bradbury.
"It gives a very clear image of what the military does for the country without giving a political slant and I think that's very important," Apted said of the documentary.
"Muse of Fire" had its world premiere in February and has already been shown at several international film festivals including the International Film Festival in Paris. The documentary will have its Southeastern premiere at 6 p.m. this Thursday at an event hosted by Apted at the Covington Campus of the DeKalb Tech Conference Center at 8100 Bob Williams Pkwy.
"Operation Homecoming" editor Andrew Carroll will host a discussion panel prior to the film and will also speak about his newest anthology, "Grace Under Fire." Tattersall's bookstore of Conyers will sponsor a book signing and refreshments will be served. Guests at the event will also have an opportunity to donate books to soldiers currently serving abroad.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public but RSVPs are a must. Call (404) 580-0765 to get on the list.
Since being published in "Operation Homecoming" Apted has continued to write and now contributes a weekly lifestyles column for The News on Sundays.
"It kind of gave me the shove I needed," said Apted of her burgeoning writing career. "It's a chain effect. I don't know what's going to happen but its fun."