When I first began writing with my husband, I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened. As we wrote about our goodbye in part one, I began to realize there are so many things we have left unsaid. And that we are often on the opposite ends of the spectrum, searching for a way to get back to common ground again. This series has opened the dialogue for us in a way I never imagined. I truly hope it may have the same effect for you.
Surrounded by guys. My new replacement family. Not a family I kiss or hug, but I can trust them with my life. In my mind is a constant highlight reel of my favorite moments with my wife and kids. I see the first steps being taken, hear the first spoken words, feel my wife’s hands on my face as she kisses me when I get home from a day of work. I’m snapped back to reality when the plane starts to lift off the runway.
The emptiness is overwhelming. Two sets of watery eyes stare up at me. Tears roll from my eyes as I hold our babies. “It is okay to cry and miss him. We will do this. We have each other.” Their bodies, racked with sobs, writhe in my arms. This is our new normal.
I try to distract all of us. We go out to eat. Buy ourselves “deployment rewards.” Cotton candy ice cream with sprinkles. Nothing dulls the hole in my chest.
Everywhere I look, families mock me. Husbands pick out birthday wrapping paper. Lean over to whisper in their wives’ ears. Bend to zip a coat. Every memory I have with him plagues me. My skin feels raw. My eyes burn.
I push through the day. The one I have hated, waited, and fought against.
I don’t release it until they are sound asleep. I step into the shower, the one that still smells like him, and sob as the warm water rushes over me.
We are settled into our new home. I use the term “home” loosely because I would never decide to live in a “home” that has 50 other people living side-by-side on the most uncomfortable cots money can buy. But the more I think about the “big picture”, I actually like it here. I live near all of my family, meals are provided, and I carry a gun everywhere I go. Aside from being in a country full of people who want to kill us all, this might not be so bad.
This is what I have trained for.
He is finally on his FOB, and this deployment has officially begun. He sounds focused. Excited.
I suppose he should be. I want him safe. I don’t want him worried about me. Us.
But I can’t help but want to cry on the phone when I hear his voice. It shouldn’t be on the other side of a crackly, delayed phone call, reminding me of all the phones lines, satellites, and miles between us.
“How are you?” he asks. But I can tell he doesn’t want the real answer. He wants what he can handle. “We are okay. Just adjusting and digging in.”
Silence. He can hear it in my voice: I feel overwhelmed. And exhausted with what we have before us.
I am preparing for our first patrol and don’t know what to expect. I have detached myself from my wife and kids. They are only pictures and nearly forgotten memories. They don’t belong with me during this part of my job and can’t save my life, or help anyone here. I wonder if she noticed how distant I felt during our last conversation, or if she is offended.
My mind is overflowing with everything I am supposed to remember. Watch the roadsides, the rooftops, the hill sides, mountain tops, and the ways the locals are looking at you. Don’t stand too close to the walls, don’t stand out, be aggressive, but not overly aggressive. Don’t offend the locals, but be prepared to kill them. And most importantly don’t get shot or blown to pieces. I know I’m forgetting something…
His missions are beginning. I’m amazed at how quickly it all returns to me: the concrete blanket I wrap around myself. Third deployment in, I suppose I should be intimately acquainted with showering with both phones outside the curtain. Running in to check messages, then feeling frustrated to hear I missed one. Lying awake for hours at night, begging sleep to take me, but terrified of the nightmares it will bring.
I should be used to how enormous our bed feels without him. My nose still full of his smell. My leg aching to find his in the middle of the night.
I know the boosting statements. Could tick them off one by one. “He is in a safer place than he was last time.” “This too shall pass.” “This will bring you closer.”
I know. I get it. However, nothing changes the fact that men and women still die while at war. Women collapse in chaplain’s arms. Children hold folded flags.
I can’t pretend like I don’t know this.
My job is easy. Talk to locals – drink tea – return fire. This is the first job I’ve ever been good at, and I am excited to go to work.
I know I will do this. I know I will push on. I know I will find a way to trudge through this deployment. But sometimes, I wish I weren’t so good at this job.
About the Author
Each woman has a story, and she has the right to tell it. This is the heart of HWHV, a group of women who choose to support those who love someone in uniform. No matter the branch or affiliation. HWHV believes that a voice can change a moment, but unified voices can change the world.