Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
At home, Jordan is frustrated. Things he mastered as a child -- dressing himself, holding a spoon, using the toilet -- are now complicated.
The first few weeks are the toughest, adapting to his broken body and to living at home again with his mother, Ginger Fitzgerald, a situation that exasperates him equally -- a grown man, a Marine no less, dependent on his mommy.
He can hobble a little on crutches, but he's mostly stuck in bed, so she brings him food, gives him sponge baths, kisses him good-night. He values her concern but feels smothered by it: "I'm a man, Mom. Let me figure things out."
Jordan is irritable, snaps at her sometimes. Ginger mostly tolerates it, sometimes gives it right back. He wants to be left alone, but one sunny day she insists on pushing him around their neighborhood in his wheelchair to get some fresh air.
"Come on, honey, it'll do you good," she says, but they struggle to get back because of the hilly streets, exhausting them both.
SOURCES: Department of Defense, Associated Press, Congressional Research Service, GlobalSecurity.org
He has trouble sleeping -- the damaged nerves in his feet tingle at night like stray electrical wires -- and he wakes up irritable. Ginger, who thinks of him as a "sleeping dragon," doesn't get him up until nearly noon many days.
One day, when she talks about her premonition he would be hurt in Iraq -- a motherly sense of foreboding that makes her feel closer to him -- he dismisses it. He says random chance, not fate, luck or providence, determines who lives and dies in Iraq.
"Nothing happens for a reason," he snaps.
Eventually, his mood improves. He catches up on sleep, gets the hang of his crutches, apologizes to Ginger for his moodiness. He regains some weight, eating his mother's sausage gravy, pizza and other homemade fare in her warm, cluttered kitchen.
Jordan takes his first shower in more than a month, wrapping his wounds in plastic bags. He learns to shave and dress himself again. He locks the bathroom door so his mother can't come in. She stands outside worrying.
"Are you OK in there, honey?"
As the spring passes, he returns repeatedly to Bethesda and the VA Center in Salem for surgeries, checkups and removal of sutures and pins from his wounds. Plastic surgery repairs his nose. He starts rehabilitation on his hand but not his leg because the bones need further healing.
Otherwise, his days are tedious. He's not a book reader, so he relieves the boredom by watching TV and movies, playing video games, surfing the Internet, visiting relatives. Ginger, who has taken time off from her job to be with him, returns to work.
One weekend, a friend from Arizona visits. Jordan and Christie Harris, 21, dated in high school -- they met in juvenile court before a judge -- and have stayed in touch. Both have turned their lives around, him in the Marines, her in college.
It is Ginger's 46th birthday, and she and some friends celebrate with drinks at the Brambleton Deli bar, their hangout. When Jordan hobbles in on crutches with Christie, they greet him warmly -- the decorated Marine and the pretty blonde at his side. They order his first drink since he went to Iraq, a Jack Daniels and Coke. They raise their glasses in a toast.
"To Jordan," one says.
"To Jordan," they say all around.