Sep 25, 2016

Day In and Day Out

"And when they ask us what we're doing, you can say, We're remembering. 
That's where we'll win out in the long run."  

When I heard the alarm that morning, and saw him roll to turn it off, my heart sank. We looked into each other's eyes for a minute, saying nothing because there was nothing that could be said. I watched him gather his bags and put on that familiar uniform, and he watched me put my makeup on as if it wouldn't be ruined by tears soon. It's an indescribable moment when we closed the front door, knowing he wouldn't cross the threshold again for months, knowing that I would open that door an hour later feeling more lonely than I ever have in my entire life.

The airport is within view of our home, so the drive there took mere seconds. The violent pinks and reds of the sunrise competed with the hazy glow of the terminal lights. He carried his heavy luggage to security, and we stood near the escalators, holding each other. All I could think to say was, "I don't want to do this." We hugged as long as we could, and I tried to memorize the way it felt to wrap my arms around his shoulders, to soak up the scent of his cologne, to brush my hand over his hair that was cut shorter than usual. I reached for his hand one last time, and felt the warm metal of his wedding ring. And then he had to turn away and go. That split second held more heartbreak than I could have ever imagined. I stood there, feeling paralyzed and ill. A lady who had been behind us at the ticket counter approached me and asked if I needed a hug. "I'll be praying for him," she said gently. In a matter of minutes, he stood on the other side of security, metal detectors and TSA agents and walls of glass separating us. I saw him sink into a chair, looking defeated.

Finally, I had to leave. The plane, visible from the car, began to sound its loud engines. A weight settled on my shoulders, and a kind of panic was washing over me in waves. I turned my head to stare into the blinding sunlight peeking over the cornfields, the rest of the sky still believing it was night, and gathered a breath. It was hard to accept it all as reality, and hard to think that this happens all over the country every day. Tears were rolling down my cheeks before I had a chance to stop them.

Suddenly, I remembered every detail of that early morning eight years ago, when I watched my brother tie his boots in the hotel room. We drove in the dark to where the buses were waiting, where a few families were still saying their goodbyes, where dozens of soldiers (including Sky, although I was unaware then) loaded their duffels below and climbed aboard the bus. I remember staring at their silhouettes, so similar and yet so different, feeling such tenseness, such ache, such hope. As the buses left the smoke behind and turned onto the next street, then the next, then the highway, I wondered how my feet were standing still when I wanted nothing more than to chase them the whole way, to stop them somehow. There was a sickness in my heart that didn't leave for a whole year, until I saw those buses drive through the summer heat and park next to a high school football field, worn soldiers and dirty bags spilling out, my brother and Sky home safe and sound.

Those days were so long. These few have been so long, too. I get stuck in the smallest of decisions. I hesitated, if for only a moment, to throw away his half empty pop can left in the car. I opened the glove box and his sunglasses tumbled out, and it felt like I'd been punched in the gut over something so small. Every song, every couple walking by, every time that Millie and Walter bring him up- all of it is a sort of sensory overload that cripples me. These are the times I think of civilian families. I wonder if they think about the last load of laundry we do with their clothes, or how we hesitate to wash that sweatshirt that still smells like them. Do they think about how quiet it is at night, or what it feels like to know it's unlikely we're able to talk to our spouse when we want to or need to? Do they think about how the kids feel? Do they think about what it's like to get ready for church on Sundays alone, to have to think about cooking meals for the kids when the instinct is to ball up on the couch and cry, to spend the days and nights in a house that looks essentially the same, but no longer feels like home?

When he texted me on his last day of work and told me he was on his way, I cried knowing that I wouldn't hear that again in a very long time. It's strange to be so connected to someone and suddenly know nothing about where they are, what they're doing, who they meet, or what they see. Our days are so separate, so different now. The common things that we would normally discuss or laugh over fade away, and they're replaced by questions. It's a split screen life; while he texts me about his flight, while I see pictures of my husband with ACUs and a weapon, I'm sitting in the congregation at church, and they're singing. How do I pull my mind to my here and now when all I can think of is his?

These days will be survived. Some of them will be easier than this day, and some of them will be harder, but we'll live through each one of them until the next one begins, and do that over and over until deployment finally ends. Until then, I'll be living my life in halves. Half of me in the present, doing what needs to be done, making breakfast, helping with schoolwork, singing Christmas carols with a lump in my throat.

And the other half remembering. The the sound of the door opening at five thirty. The protection from rain when he held an umbrella over my head. What it felt like to be at this certain place with him, to eat here, to shop there. The late night laughter. The easy weekends. The day in and day out of he and I, together.

Sep 6, 2016

The Questions

"There are years that ask questions and years that answer." 

Nearly every night, as I tuck Walter into his bed and say a quiet prayer with him, I see his lip trembling in the murky glow from his nightlight on the wall. His voice begins to shake and then he asks me. "Is Daddy coming home tomorrow?" I reassure him that he is, and that he'll be home for dinner as usual. "But I miss him," he says, his tiny murmur breaking a little. Every time, the same. He's not leaving just yet, love. He'll be home tomorrow. But I'm running out of days I can promise that.

People have asked the questions even before I was his wife. He's coming home soon, though? He doesn't have to deploy at all, because he's not active duty? Or, he doesn't have to deploy again because he's already been to Afghanistan, right? As if there is an Army punch card like the kind they hand out at a smoothie shop, and once you've checked that box of deployment, it's just counting the days until retirement and easiness. 

He has been away most of this summer, partly due to pre-deployment, and partly for "regular" military training. During the last time, as we talked in the car, Millie said she missed him, but she was getting used to him being gone. My heart sank. She told me the Army makes her sad because he has to go places a lot, and all I could do is nod from the front seat, and try to let her know I agree without crying in front of her. The night after he came home, Walter asked, "You don't have to go back to Georgia for a while, do you?" He needed that reassurance, even at three years old. And we had to break the news about the deployment the next day.

But it's their questions, the most innocent questions, that break me. Where is Daddy's toothbrush? Why is his car here? Is he on an airplane? Where is Georgia? Where is Virginia? Where is Afghanistan? Did Daddy fight people? Can Daddy fix this toy when he gets back? What chair is the one Daddy sits in- I forget? Where is he going this time? Where is that country? Why does he have to go?

For someone who usually finds respite and refuge in words, I'm suddenly without them. 

He probably won't get leave to visit us halfway through and make it a little easier. I can't dress that up to make it prettier. I can't shrink the distance, or improve the wifi signal for Skype, or change the time zone there to match ours. Instead, we'll sleep as he wakes, and he'll go to bed as we're getting up. He'll be doing his job in the heat of the day while we are quiet in our beds, and when he rests, we will be busy with school, and errands, and life that has to continue to be lived in Illinois.

We took a small trip to St. Louis last weekend. I desperately wanted the kids to have a large, shining memory of our family and our time with him before he leaves, and it was just that. We laughed, and ate too much, and visited family. Most of the time, I could push the deployment towards the back of my mind, and while never completely gone, I felt the weight drop from my shoulders a little. Now, as we return back to every day life for a brief amount of time, all I can do is look at the calendar with dread. The tears are back, and it's turned from a bitter rage to a choking panic. We talk about it late at night, and he lets me cry and say all the things I need to say until I'm able to catch my breath.

I am running out of questions to ask, because no matter the details, I know he simply won't be home with us. So instead, I try to answer theirs. I tell them we'll send boxes because he'll miss the holidays. I encourage them to go on a walk with him or read an extra story at bedtime. I assure them he will be safe. I set my jaw so that I can answer all the questions without worrying them.

But then, when it's just the two of us, I ask him over and over- do you have to go? Then I close my eyes and hope that the answer will be different than all the nights before, and hug him tight while I still can.   
Design by Freeborboleta