Melissa Sutton Seligman ’99, an English major (History minor) and favorite of professors Rosemary Allen and Barbara Burch (scroll down and see what she said about them), will be among the dozen authors with Georgetown College connections to sign books on Homecoming Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008 from 9:15-11:15 a.m. outside the Hall of Fame Room, Cralle Student Center.
A military wife, Melissa has written a first book of her family’s story – dealing with multiple deployments during a time of war – a work that Dr. Burch has recommended highly. The Seligmans live in Clarksville, TN and will soon move to Kansas where husband David – now a 2nd Lieutenant – and family will await his next deployment.
Here’s what she has to say about her first book:
THE DAY AFTER HE LEFT FOR IRAQ: A Story of Love, Family & Reunion …is a non-fiction memoir about what it is like to be a spouse left behind during a deployment. The book accounts two deployments (although one (to Afghanistan) is framed through flashbacks) and spans the time (nearly a year) while my husband was in Iraq. The “Family Memoir” refers to the fact that I do include my husband’s “war stories” as well as some of his phone conversations home. The book also tells the story of my two children. My daughter, especially, since she was two during his deployment, and she grieved him deeply. The book is set up in sections that revolve around the grieving process, since a deployment feels very much like suffering a loss. It also details the reunion process, which often untold, can be brutal and toxic for a marriage.
The following is excerpted from The Day He Left for Iraq by Melissa Seligman. Reprinted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.”
A Painful Goodbye
3:25 a.m. November 5, 2005
When the first bomb explodes, it takes nearly three seconds for the thundering sound to reach my ears. Fire tears through the streets of Baghdad while men and women run, screaming. The sky is clouded with purple haze as the smoke begins to snake its way through the cold night air. The smell of burnt flesh fills my nose, and I search the street for some sign of my husband. Soldiers rush past me, their brown desert boots pounding the pavement. “Run! Take cover!” they shout as they push stunned people to the ground and make their way through the parked cars, all the while scanning the streets and rooftops with their guns. I try to run with them, but my bare feet are buried in the crumbled pavement.
Bullets rip through the air, tearing and piercing bodies as white fills the sky, followed by red flames in the distance. Still no sign of his face, but his mumbled voice echoes in the distance. Over and over again, he calls my name. Cold hands wrap around my pajama-clad body, and a piercing scream finally pushes its way through my lips and into the smoke-filled haze of war.
“Are you okay? Hey! Wake up!”
I snap awake to find his knowing eyes staring into my own. Tears slide down my cheeks and disappear into my wet pillow. His hands hold my face while my racing mind tries to relax and listen to his calming words. “Calm down. It was just a dream,” he says. When my breathing finally slows, he pulls my face to his and kisses my damp forehead. He doesn’t ask what the dream was about. He doesn’t have to.
6:25: My husband is leaving for Iraq today.
How can I say goodbye to him? Is there a way? I try to say goodbye quietly, loudly, nonchalantly, and angrily. Nothing seems to feel like goodbye. Everything seems to feel like goodbye.
We have been preparing for this for nine months. I found out I was pregnant just before he received his orders to leave us. Again. He is only doing a soldier’s job, and his job involves war. Still, how many times can he leave us? How many goodbyes are in us? No amount of preparation for goodbye can ever lessen the blow of him leaving. There is no way to prepare for him to never come home from war. And with a raw, protruding, unprepared heart, I search for a way to force myself to stay behind as he turns to walk away. My mind plays constant images of our impending separation in hopes of lessening the pain of goodbye. Or forcing the breaking day back into the darkness of night. All in vain.
When the sun comes into our window, it feels cold and lonely. Our eight-week-old cries out. How do you tell a baby goodbye? My husband is quiet next to me as he cuddles our son in the curve of his body and whispers in his ear. The newborn cries soften, and turn to cooing. My husband begins humming softly, and the mattress moves with his swaying body. Blankly, I stare at the wall and beg my stomach to calm.
Our twenty-two-month-old daughter is waking. She calls from her room, “Daddy! Daddy! I get up now.” I pull the covers over my head and bury my face in the pillow. My chest is tight. With no way to contain them, a few tears leave my eyes. When she calls for him tomorrow, he will be gone.
I roll over and meet his eyes. “Do you want me to go get her?” I ask. He doesn’t. He is only waiting to hear her say “Daddy” again. When she calls for him again, he hands me the baby, gets up slowly, and walks into her room. Our son snuggles against my chest as my husband forces himself to fake happiness in her room. She doesn’t seem to notice his façade.
6:30: I cry.
6:35: I am angry.
6:40: I hold him.
6:45: I nurse his son.
6:50: I play with his daughter.
6:55: I cry.
7:00: I smile.
I have to send him off with a smile. I hide in the bathroom and cry. I hide in the laundry room and cry. The sound of the clothes moving through the dryer muffles my sobs.
8:00: In the living room, my mother is already awake. She has been here for weeks helping with the baby and offering unending support. Her eyes are wet and swollen. She has been crying, but she quickly wipes the evidence from her face. My eyes meet hers for only a moment before I look away. I can’t break. No words pass between us. The usual morning greetings seem useless.
9:00: I fix his favorite breakfast. We all gather around the table for his last meal, and I wonder how he feels. Can he taste it? Is he able to swallow past the lump in his throat? The food on my plate looks repulsive, but I force myself to eat. If I give in to this hovering depression, he will feel guilty for leaving. He has to know I am strong. He needs to see it. His strength shines as he plays with Amelia while she eats. Amelia laughs as he pretends to fall from his chair. “Again,” she says. He obliges. My mother and I attempt to join in the fun. We fall short. Elijah is sleeping again.
10:30: My husband checks and rechecks his bags. He is nervous, scared, anxious, hesitant. I want to calm him. I want to help him. I want nothing to do with him…..
Melissa Sutton ’99 on her Favorite Professors
While at Georgetown College, two specific professors stood behind me, beside me, and under me when I needed a lift. Dr. Rosemary Allen and Dr. Barbara Burch not only paved the way for my love of literature, but also taught me how to lift my head, see a future created by my own hands, and how to open my heart and mind to life.
Dr. Burch’s office was a haven for me. She never turned me away, was never too busy, and all too often, her face reflected my tears when I needed someone to listen. And she did listen. And she still listens. What is so unique about Dr. Burch is that her heart drives her, whether it be in front of the classroom, or in her ability to reach out and understand a student in need. She shines. Without her encouragement, I would have never traveled to Ireland, and without her constant hand on my shoulder, urging me forward, I would have never learned to believe in what I had within my own mind and heart. And that is what I will always remember about her.
Dr. Rosemary Allen has the amazing ability to make any student believe a lecture given is intended only for that student’s ears. Every other person in the room disappears as the lecture becomes a conversation between student and professor. Her passion in the classroom is unmatched, and her intelligence was widely discussed when groups of students compared schedules for next semester’s classes. She pushed her students for excellence, but in a way that was kind, supportive, and made you truly believe that you could actually obtain any goal that she set for you. And she did set them high. One day in her office, she told me that I should write a book. She made me feel important, special, and that a book may just exist within me. She shocked me. No one had ever told me I could do anything like that. And with her words in my mind, pushing me and encouraging me, that is exactly what I did.
Footnote: At Georgetown, Melissa was a member of The Georgetonian staff. She was also the first recipient of the Fogle Cultural Travel Scholarship as well as a Yeats International Summer School matching scholarship. She traveled to Ireland after graduating. This was mentored and awarded by Dr. Gwen Curry.
Melissa’s Favorite Memories of GC
The reasons I love Georgetown College are plentiful, and my memories burst most when thinking of fall on campus; the leaves in full bloom, falling to the ground while walking to class. But the thing that stands out the most is the feeling of family. Closeness. Not only from students, but also from faculty. As a student, you are a part of something bigger. Something special.
While at Georgetown, I worked four jobs and often struggled to make ends meet. I had scholarships, and my parents worked hard to get that education for me, but there were times when money just wasn’t flowing. While working as a secretary in the English Department, Dr. Allen often sent me on “errands.” When I returned, there would be a snack hidden in my books. It still brings tears to my eyes to think of her kindness. She knew I would never ask for help. She allowed my pride, and she always let me know that I could pay her back. I hope that someday I will have that opportunity. And I hope she knows that those moments will always exist in my heart. At Georgetown, you aren’t a forgotten student. And you aren’t a social security number. You are family.