People often ask why my husband and I choose writing letters over using a webcam, or even emailing. The truth is, it works for us. Because we have made the choice of telling each other our innermost thoughts. By the time I got his letters, I had talked to him on the phone and knew he was okay. By the time he got mine, he knew I was still pushing through. Our letters allowed us to live, moment-by-moment with each other. Even if it was delayed. Writing this series of blogs, (first–Part I “Goodbye,” then Part II “Adjusting,”) is still teaching me so much about writing. The power of it. And it is still letting me into his head. And him, mine. That, to me, is priceless.
We just returned from a 3 day mission. Someone around camp died today and the internet and phones are down. I’m tired and filthy, and don’t feel like talking to anyone. I’m thankful there is a blackout. Maybe by the time I can call her, I will know what to say.
There is a blackout. My nerves are frazzled, my heart pounding. I walk past the window, over and over again, looking out and hoping to see no sign of a government car. Each minute that ticks helps me breathe a bit better. I start the mental countdown.
“They start notifying at 6:00 in the morning. It is now eight. They should have been here by now. Unless there was a major event. Then it may take days to notify everyone.”
There is no reprieve. Until I hear his voice, I can’t help but walk with the fear, the weight and pain of “what if?”
I move through my day in a haze. I keep praying, “Dear, God. Please. Please!” Then feel immediately guilty. I know every other wife is praying the same prayer. And know we will all feel the same mix of relief and pain when we realize it isn’t “him.” It is them.
Three days pass before I breathe again. And cry for those who will bury their love.
Time moves quicker during the days. I like going out on the missions. I don’t stare at my watch, or wonder all day what they are doing.
But, nighttime in my bed feels like solitary confinement. I am left with only my thoughts to keep me company. I keep thinking I should be there. I should be with them instead of here, alone, on a cot. There, I have a purpose. Here, I am plagued by the life I left behind. I have only been there for half of their birthdays and will probably miss more. They will never have another first day of school, or lose another first tooth. It is all my fault.
Everything feels so much farther away, and every memory of them is painful. It’s difficult to see a “bright side” of things when a glance at a picture either brings me to tears or makes me angry. I can’t smell her anymore. I can’t hear their voices.
All that is left of our goodbye is the boot print in the carpet. The one I can’t bring myself to vacuum.
Each time I look at it, I get angry.
“Why?” “Why does he always leave?” “He is never here when the truck breaks down!” “He chose this!” “We are the ones left here, waiting in limbo, feeling forgotten!”
I hate the anger. It makes me feel dirty. Unsupportive. Untouchable. And unlikable. Everything I strive not to be.
I can’t remember the last time I smelled something as sweet as a woman. I have, however, gotten used to the rancid smell of a country without a sewage system. I miss my home. I miss the comforts of grilling outside while my children run and play. My wife beside me, smiling. Here, I am surrounded by vile smells of burning trash and rancid meat.
I watch the local people, and I can’t help but wonder what my neighbors would do if I invited them over for a cookout and prepared their food over a hot bed of burning trash and animal feces. At first I was appalled, but later decided that filth must be the secret to the unique flavor. Or maybe it’s the giant swarm of flies that the vendor allows to live on the meat to protect it from the harsh desert air. Since I don’t want it to be my fault I am here rather than home, I choose to make it the locals’ fault. Because of them, I am here.
I hear it in his voice. He sounds worn. Frustrated. Angry that he isn’t here, where his heart is.
I understand. My body is disjointed, too. Our hearts passing over the ocean. Our bodies, “here,” our minds “there.”
I almost died today, and I couldn’t feel more alive. How will I explain that to her? She can’t understand why I am so excited. She wanted to know everything that I am doing, but how do I explain that to her? The amazing adrenaline rush? A phone call would be a waste of time and money; an email seems too impersonal. How would I start that letter?
Today was quite different from yesterday. First there was gunfire. Then something exploded. The next few minutes are kind of hazy, but it ended with my gun barrel in someone’s face. How are the kids?
I don’t know where to put my anger and frustration. It isn’t her fault. She didn’t ask for this. But she is my only haven. So I fold the paper, and seal the envelope. I hope she understands. I need her to understand.
“Please let her understand.”
We promised. No secrets. United. Togetherness.
I need to tell him. He is my best friend. My love. My only other.
I put my heart in the mail and send it to him. I hope he understands.
I whisper to the paper, “Please, keep talking to me.”
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.