"Joy has been a habit.
The four of us were stretched out on plastic lawn chairs at the swimming pool. The sun was warming our bodies and drying our swimsuits. Sky had one hand resting on my arm. The rest of them were facing the opposite direction, while I stared into the baby pool, sobbing silently behind my oversized sunglasses. And when my aunt texted me later in the evening and told me I'm strong, it felt difficult to believe it. Honestly, who cries at the pool?
We were planning the night before he told me. Sitting in bed, with my planner opened to August, we were discussing a date for Millie's birthday party, and hoping for a mini vacation to St. Louis before we began the school year. What I thought would be a quiet, perhaps even dull summer has instead been quite busy, and there was still so much we wanted to do.
The next evening, the night before Walter's birthday, he walked in the door with a strange look on his face. "I need to talk to you about something. Don't say no yet." I looked at him. "No," I joked, nervously. He told me there was an opportunity to deploy, and the air immediately left the room. We discussed the few little details he had, and he said they wanted to know the very next day. I cried about four times that night, and we talked for hours, discussing the pros and cons. In the morning, over breakfast, we talked a bit more, and he announced that he would tell the unit no.
But the information began to change hour by hour, as things often do when it comes to the military. The dates that sounded far away began inching closer and closer. What sounded like a possibility quickly became a certainty. What first sounded voluntary was clearly mandatory. And so we sat at the kitchen table, singing happy birthday to our little boy, with a stunned hush afterward because we'll have to tell them soon.
I look at the two of them and instantly feel tears welling up. They don't even know what is being asked of them, and once they do, they won't understand why. How could they when I can't? It will be the longest separation from Sky that they've had in their lives, by far. And when he was gone just for the month of June, it was hard. They missed him, they cried, and there was only so much I can do to soothe it. People always remark how great it is now compared to years ago, when there was no internet or Skype or even phone calls, when letters could take weeks to arrive. But all of those things (if they even are available) are such small comforts, especially to a little girl and little boy who can't hug their daddy for months at a time.
We don't even technically know the day he leaves or where he'll be yet (and I won't be able to discuss it here on the blog even when we do), but we do know that it most likely won't be in a dangerous place, and I can find some peace in that. I still vividly remember the feelings I had when my brother and Sky were deployed. I woke every morning terrified of what I might hear on the news that day, worried sick that someone would call me and give me bad news. That fear, and that crushing worry of missing people who could be hurt or killed by some awful enemy, turned me into someone who was always on the edge of furious. For that year they were gone, I had a much shorter fuse. I would be irritated at anyone who dare breathe a word about the war, or soldiers, or politics at all. When I would go out with friends and a man might approach me, I would seethe that he could think to do so while people's lives were in danger. I learned that when I get that sad- truly, deeply, maddeningly sad- it turns to rage.
This time, without the threat of a war zone, I am still angry at how quickly this all happened, and without any warning. But mostly, I am grieving already. I'm grieving the summer that was stolen from us, grieving the holidays and birthdays and special times that will be missed. I'm grieving the loss of date nights, of inside jokes missed, of holding hands, of parenting talks and decisions, of late trips out for ice cream or slushies, of laughing over something ridiculous before we sigh and kiss goodnight. I'm aching at knowing, quite soon, we will have to curl up with Millie and Walter on the couch, and explain to them that he'll be away for a very long time. (Yes, I'm technically telling you before I've told them, because it's easier to find the words here.) I am finding myself panicked and desperate to do all the fun, quality family time things that we can find to do before he goes, as if giving them a tiny bank of silly memories will help somehow. And maybe it will. But it doesn't feel like anything will help right now. It's just hard knowing that I can't 'protect' them from Sky's absence. I can't shorten the days he'll be gone, not by a single hour.
I planned to type out words about this deployment with facts, with timelines and maps and assurances that the four of us will be fine. And deep down in my heart, I know we will. But I just can't pretend that this is normal. Even though he enlisted all those years ago. Even though we've been apart so many times. Even though it's part of his job as a solider in the Army. Even though many military families have done this half a dozen times over. I know all that. I just can't resign myself to feeling that it's okay my husband won't be here. My mind can search for reasons and almost find them, but my heart cannot.
When Sky and my brother were overseas, I still lived my life. I went to work every day, shopped for groceries, went to garage sales with my dad, and called my mom. I woke up thinking about the boys, though, and went to bed every night the same way. And throughout it all, there was a somber haze over that year. There was plenty of good, plenty of growth, and some distractions, but always, that filmy shade of blue that tinted all I did and everywhere I went. I know that Millie, Walter, and I will be fine. I know we'll have good times, and even great ones. I know I'm capable, and that I have a great family to support me.
But I also know the blue will be there, quiet and insistent, weaving in and out of our days until he's home.