I left home when I was 19 years old. My mom was pregnant with her third child, and my sister was a senior in high school. My father has been out of picture since I was a child. I had graduated from high school but didn’t try to go to college. Instead, I began working. After a summer of selling office supplies, I needed more purpose. In high school I had been an Army cadet, so without telling my mom, I went to the recruiter’s office and I enlisted. I felt I was helping my mother by leaving the house as she prepared to start a new life with her new husband and their baby. Within a week, I was gone, and I didn’t see my mother and her new family again until my graduation, three months later, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It was a day full of tears but few in words. My mother couldn’t understand why I had left, but I knew that house was a little bit bigger without me in it.
Seven years later, after I had fulfilled two contracts, including one that took me to Iraq, it was time to get my degree. I called my mom and told her that I was coming home. While I was serving, my mom and I had only shared a few words, through photos posted on Facebook, or the occasional, “Yeah, everything is good with me”over the phone. Now, she was excited to have her son come home, but I didn’t know what to expect. In those seven intervening years, my mom and her husband had had two children, whom I’d never met, and my sister had gotten married and moved out. Though the exterior of the house had not changed, its contents had. My mom’s new children occupied my and my sister’s old rooms, and my stuff had been stored in the attic. Walking into that house, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that there was no room for me anymore, that I no longer belonged in my own family. Speaking with my mom was almost like conducting a business transaction — formal and distant. We didn’t say much for the first few days.
To keep a routine, I woke up early and went for a run. My mom was an avid runner, so she joined me, wearing her jogging suit and running shoes like she used to do before I left for the Army. Running, what we still had in common. Running we could be in each other’s company without having to say anything. We had gone seven long years without sharing what was happening in our lives, but now, jogging again side by side, she was able to express how frightened she had been when I enlisted so suddenly. My mom let me know how, at first, I had seemed like a cold and disciplined stranger, no longer the young, directionless boy who had left seven years earlier. She also shared with me that she used to tell my brother and sister how proud of me she was and that she kept my photo in the living room. I let her know that I left not to hurt her, but to give her a chance to have a relationship with her new husband.
Over the next few months, we kept running and sharing, until eventually, I felt truly at home again. I’ve been back for four years, and finally, my mother can recognize me: her son, the slow runner, who used to leave his bed unmade for days at a time.
Abraham Urias served in the U.S. Army from November 2007 to June 2014 as a Healthcare Specialist. He deployed as a combat medic to Kirkuk, Iraq in 2009. He is currently enrolled in UCLA’s School of Nursing, where he will complete his BS in Nursing, Class of 2021.