Jul 14, 2017

We Won the War

“And one by one the nights between our separated cities are joined to the night that unites us.” 

He's been sending boxes home.

Inside, there is a familiar smell. I cut off a zip tie and instantly felt a rush of memories hit me with the scent of dusty lands, sweat, and fuel, all baked in 120 degree heat. Just like the boxes that were shipped to me all those years ago, these are full of uniform pieces he no longer needs, stacks of letters he saved, and a few non-perishables he kept from care packages, like a pretty leather Bible he plans to give to Millie when he gets here, and stuffed animals for both kids. (Millie asked him, sweetly and hopefully, if he could please bring back more unicorn Beanie Babies like the one someone tucked in a box he received, as if they grow there.) Washing all his clothing, folding it, and tucking it away in his closet felt like a scared privilege. Knowing that he will be home soon to use it is indescribable.

I keep thinking about what has happened during this deployment. In many ways, life will look exactly the same. But in smaller ways, perhaps, a lot has changed.

Millie has never been one to cuddle, even as a newborn. She is quite the daddy's girl, though. In the last year, however- maybe because I was simply the only parent available- she began reaching for hugs first, most times out of the blue. The girl who is too busy to stop for any sort of affection often snuggles up to my arm when we read together, or slips her hand into mine as we walk. I am so thankful.

It was a silent year. As an introvert, hushed moments are precious. I usually do quite well on my own, and love the space for my own thoughts. But I had the irony of feeling like I didn't have much quiet time, while feeling like the time I did have was very lonely. Busy, yes. But it didn't take away the loneliness.

Some things can be measured in numbers. 10 pizzas ordered. Copious amounts of Chinese food, too. A few gallons of Starbucks, hallelujah. (If deployments had sponsors, mine would be Starbucks, so it wasn't all bad. And to all of you who so kindly sent me Starbucks cards, letters, and care packages- thank you. You humbled me. It truly made a world of difference on the bad days.)

I have 323 pictures in the 'deployment' folder on my phone. Sometimes, he sent photos of unrecognizable dinners. A couple times, camels and palm trees. The truck he drove in that barely had room for a driver. The goofy smiles, the tired eyes. I saved each one, and every so often, the kids would cuddle beside me and ask to look at them. They needed the reminder that he was still out there somewhere. Maybe I did, too.

We stayed busy. We did much more than I would normally do. Several factors in life often limit where I go, but I pushed, we did, and I hope they'll have good memories. We showed up for even more library events than usual, we met friends at the park, we swam, and we saw fireworks. (Though the "staying busy" answer to deployment is kind of silly in my opinion. Staying busy may make an hour go faster, but not a week, and not a 2 am cry at night. We felt his absence constantly.)

{photo credit: my dad}
He missed so much. He missed several tooth fairy visits. Dentist and doctor appointments, growth spurts and shots. Swim lessons (missed those last year, too). Birthdays- Walter's and, in a couple days, his own. Thanksgiving, Christmas, our anniversary, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, 4th of July, and more. Millie's homeschool group program. Church on Sundays. Afternoons at the park, impromptu ice cream stops, watching the kids ride their bikes. Lost toy crises, scraped knees, backseat giggles. Bedtime kisses and prayers. Mornings of waking to a little blue-eyed love sneaking into the room and pulling blankets to his chin, asking to hold hands.

They are taller, smarter, and still as sweet. Walter dresses himself every morning now. He is so much more of a little boy than the baby he was a year ago. He zooms around confidently on his new scooter. Millie stumbles over far fewer words when she reads, and reaches for chapter books. She gleefully spread cream cheese on a bagel when she asked if she could make her own breakfast one day. She took her first jump off a diving board. There were a million and one moments that my heart would swell, and then sink a little because I knew he wouldn't see it.

But for Father's Day, Millie sorted through a handful of cards with funny pictures of animals and cute notes in the "from daughter" section, until we spotted a lone card in the Target aisle that said "military dad". Inside was something about a hero and a uniform. After hugging it to her chest, we took it home and she wrote Sky a lengthy note. There were some stick figures, a misspelled "you protect us", and an "I love you." And at the bottom, four short words. "We won the war."

It's been a long deployment. Some days, we barely made it until bedtime. Those babies of mine are brave and strong, though, and though we have had some long nights and longer days, they have handled it with more grace than I did, and even helped me smile during a lot of sadness. And of course, I admire Sky, for leaving all the things I never could, for working through difficult circumstances and frustrating people in a country that isn't his home, and for making us feel loved and cared for through four inches of a cell phone screen. I don't know if I have said it out loud, because it'd probably make both of us uncomfortable, so I'll just write it instead: he is truly heroic to me.

One of our biggest battles is over now, and what a hard, beautiful, heartbreaking, soul-searching year it has been.The tears that were sewn when we said our goodbyes will come back in a homecoming to rival them all. Soon, the map hanging in their hallway can come down, because oceans will no longer separate us. Instead, we'll fight the daily fights of the lovely mundane- teeth brushing, sibling quarrels, budget worries, burnt dinners, and car troubles. We'll do all of it side by side, in the sweet chaos and easy quiet of a life we've built together, remembering how we've all four been through our own kind of war, and how blessed we are to see the end.

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