"And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon."
— Edward Lear
— Edward Lear
It was the last flight. I was on my way home from spending seventy two hours with Sky before he would board a plane for a different hemisphere. The trip was somewhat of a surprise, something that we were aware of at our last goodbye, but doubtful to actually happen. We filled those seventy two hours with lots of good food, a couple trips to the movies, zooming around that Texas town in our rental Corolla, shopping and laughing and trying to forget. He looked so handsome in his new uniform, and it felt like a rare and holy privilege to see my husband, to hold his hand. We didn't do anything monumental- there is no dramatic Romeo and Juliet story to tell. But we went to bed and woke up next to each other a few more times. We talked more about the deployment, though we had no more information than we did before. And we were mostly able to push the inevitable away until the drive to the airport. Then we said goodbye again, knowing it was the last time we'd lay eyes on each other until this deployment ends.
The plane took off late, and it was dusk by the time we reached altitude. Dallas looked like a breathtaking, deep navy gown, with a hundred thousand sequins of silver, of gold, of unnatural oranges and shiny blues. I never cared much for Texas, but every city is a different kind of lady at night, and all of them beautiful, even as the lights blurred with the tears I held back. I watched as they scattered, growing farther and farther apart, until the ground was enveloped in darkness. I sighed and looked around me, the dim cabin bulbs giving glimpses of the passengers nearby.
A middle aged man on the other side of the aisle was grading math tests and reading through papers, while the man sitting beside me watched a movie, using headphones to dull the sound of the roaring engine of our plane. Two white-haired men in front of me, one with some sort of heavy accent, were talking loudly, having intellectual conversations full of complexities, when one of them turned his head to the window and let out a soft "ahh". "It's quite a sight," he said of the full moon, glowing brightly as we seemed to follow it through the sky. The other man, still itching for something scientific to say, replied that it is a psychological affect, an optical illusion- that when the moon is near the horizon, we have something to compare it to, like the skyline, and it is so large, it feels like it could collide with the earth. But high above, it is alone, and therefore looks smaller. I smiled to myself a little at the poetry of what he had said. It seemed like a beautiful metaphor for something, but I was too tried to think of what it was, and my thoughts were occupied with other things.
Only a few hours before, I was in Sky's arms, and now, I was alone again. It was a different sort of goodbye in a different town. Soldiers were everywhere we went- the military had infiltrated every part of it decades ago. The post itself was a little like another world. A world with rules, with flag poles and helicopters, with customs and traditions, with pride, and with so many farewells.
And ours was one of them. Wives and girlfriends hugged the ones they came to see, and went through security with red eyes, all of us saying similar things to the men who were leaving, most crying openly like I did. One small child cried "daddy!" as they were separated in the TSA line. A woman nearby remarked how awful it was. I had nothing to say. Sky was already gone, and I couldn't pretend for another second that he would be coming home soon.
It's hard to reconcile being by his side just a short time ago, when I'm back into my regular life here, and he's back into his there. He's in his uniform again, with the new boots he bought to replace to ones he wore as he walked through Afghanistan's sandy valleys. I am home with Millie and Walter, falling into the same routine as always, and staying up until the early hours of the morning because it hurts too much to go to sleep. I still think about the deployment every minute of every day. I think about Christmas a lot. And I think about how many days we have, how many cycles of this waking up and going to bed I will have to do, how insurmountable it feels to spend so long without our normal life.
I don't know how we can do this year. I don't want to do it, and he doesn't either. And I wish there was a way to be together tonight. But the only way I've ever found to get through the most difficult times is simply to do so because there is no other choice; it frightens me and comforts me at the same time. The necessity of the things that have to be done, the kids that need me, the house that needs cleaned- there is no running away, no alternative. Emerson said, "Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could." That, I think, is how we will get by in these days to come.
The emotions, worries, and tears were overwhelming last night. I closed my eyes, and I thought about Sky, and I thought about new sandy places his new boots will tread upon. And then I thought about the moon, and poetry, and metaphors. I thought about how maybe it was a picture for how small I feel, and how large and looming this pain can be. But maybe, I thought (or more accurately, hoped), this deployment looks so enormous next to the landscape of my life, and the quiet daily bits that make it up. If I can hold it up to the night, though, and tell myself that the sun will come back again, maybe it will shrink to a size I can carry. Maybe someday, there will be a gentle glow around what was once harsh and sharp.
And maybe, when he and I next stand with our fingers entwined, watching Millie and Walter and talking of these days in the past tense, the moon will be just the right size again, and beautiful, and the world will be right again, too.