CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO–Brent Dobson, a 19-year-old Army private who was reunited with his loved ones on May 8 after a harrowing two-week ordeal as a prisoner of war in Iraq, is already "sick to death" of his family, Dobson reported Monday.
"As I paced that 6x9 cell, with nothing but crumbs to eat, contaminated water to drink, and a broken piece of crockery to piss in, the thing that kept me going was thoughts of my family back home," said Dobson, pacing his 10x11 bedroom in his parents' home. "Well, after four days in this place, Iraq isn't looking quite so bad."
Added Dobson: "God, is my mom annoying."
On April 23, Dobson, a member of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, was liberated by Marines who discovered him in a makeshift POW camp outside An Najaf in central Iraq. Missing for 15 days and feared dead, the POW was flown back to the U.S. last Wednesday after spending two weeks recovering in an Army hospital in Hamburg, Germany. Upon touching down on U.S. soil, Dobson was moved to tears at the sight of his family–a reaction he has since taken back.
"I guess during my ordeal, I'd forgotten that Dad clips his toenails in front of the TV, and that Mom obsessively runs the vacuum every day at 7 a.m.," Dobson said. "If I take one step into the house with my shoes on, she starts shrieking like I just dumped a 40-pound bag of horseshit on the floor."
Dobson said he should have recognized early signs of trouble at a family-organized homecoming celebration last Wednesday.
"I'd just gotten back and really just wanted to sleep," Dobson said. "But the family wanted to throw a big party for me, and some relatives had come halfway across the country for it. Still, when when you're just weeks removed from being beaten by a member of Saddam's Republican Guard, you're not necessarily in the mood to make small talk with your 300-pound Aunt Irene over a plate of macaroni salad."
Dobson's maternal grandmother, Maureen Robb, was among the party attendees, but her outpouring of emotion and affection toward her grandson soon took a predictable detour into Christianity.
"I was dumb not to have anticipated that at some point, she'd start in with the 'Jesus this, Savior that,'" Dobson said. "She actually said to me, 'Jesus was testing you, Brent, and you passed.' After all the horrible shit I went through, I couldn't believe she was trying to save me. This is the same woman who persuaded my parents to put me in that wretched summer Bible camp when I was 11."
At the homecoming party, Dobson was further dispirited by his uncle Mark, who would only discuss the NBA playoffs and his unusually high white-blood-cell count; a sullen cousin who picked flaking paint off the side of the Dobsons' home; and his sister Karen, who forced her children Kaleb and Kaitlin to perform a grating "welcome home" rendition of "God Bless The U.S.A." for the returning war hero.
The day after the homecoming party, Dobson–who had sustained a broken leg and wrist, as well as a bullet wound to the shoulder, during his imprisonment–was put to work clearing leaves from roof gutters.
"Yeah, I got roped into that pretty quickly," Dobson said. "Mom told me that since Dad's lumbago had been acting up all winter, a lot of yard work went neglected. I thought of pinning the Purple Heart that Donald Rumsfeld awarded me to Dad's shirt as he snoozed in his Barcalounger, but I decided against it."
By the end of his first weekend home, Dobson realized that his main reason for joining the Army was to escape the Dobson clan.
"I used to say that I joined the Army to escape Cape Girardeau," Dobson said. "But what I was really trying to escape was my family. I love them, but they're clingy and whiny and bossy and cranky and snippy and annoying and smothering. Those Iraqi captors were pretty bad, but they're nowhere near as bad as my current ones."