One year ago today, I sat at my desk in my office, trying to figure out who'd changed the language setting on my computer from English to Greek. I'd been staring blankly at the screen, reading the same sentence over and over, for at least twenty minutes. And I still had no clue what it said. My attempt at translation was interrupted by a coworker who stepped into my cubicle, placed a concerned hand on my shoulder, and started speaking to me in the same strange, unfamiliar language. I watched her mouth as she spoke, utterly confused. It looked like she was forming actual words. But what I heard sounded a lot like something you would hear from the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. "Whaaa, wha wha, wha wha wha wha..." And her voice seemed so far away, despite her close proximity. And then I realized that it wasn't just the language being spoken and invading my computer that was foreign, it was the world in its entirety that was unfamiliar to me. Because even though physically, I was safe within the confines of the building that I spent what felt like half my life in, emotionally, I'd just been dropped into the middle of a war zone.
As I sat at my desk, trying to go about "business as usual", my husband was on a bus on his way to an airport, where he would board a plane that would take him to Bangor, Maine. Under any other circumstance, I would have been insanely jealous. Maine is number one on the list of states I've never been to that I want to visit. But my husband was flying to Maine only to board another plane that would take him clear to the other side of the world. His final destination? Iraq. For the next 365 days.
Looking back on it now, it feels like it was a million years ago. We've been through so much since that day. But the raw, unbridled pain I still feel whenever I think about my husband's deployment reminds me that it wasn't so long ago at all. I wonder, if I'd known then what I know now, would his deployment have been any easier to endure? If I'd known that it would last only about six months as opposed to the entire year he was supposed to be gone; if I'd known that he wouldn't be hurt, or killed, or suffer any major trauma or tragedy during his deployment; if I'd known that he would make it, that WE would make it....would I have cried less? Would I have worried less? Would I have been stronger? I just don't know.
What I do know is that if my husband's deployment had gone as originally planned, he would just now be getting home. I can't fathom it. The early end to Operation New Dawn came not a moment too soon for me, as I was hanging on to my sanity by a tiny, dental-floss-sized thread by that point. No way would I have made it another six months without being committed to a mental institution. And we've made so many wonderful memories together since he got back, despite the fact that we've only spent a month and a half together (over broken two week intervals). I can't imagine having missed out on any of that.
I spent much of my day today reflecting on the past year. Aside from the one year anniversary of my husband's deployment, it's also the one year anniversary of One Army Wife's Tale, which has been such an unexpected blessing. To have had support and prayers from people all over the world for my husband and our family during his deployment, and after....it's been amazing. To be able to flex my writing muscle again after putting my pen on the shelf years ago to raise a family, get a "real job", etc., etc.....it's been one of my biggest dreams come true.
In addition to reflecting, I did a whole lot of smiling and thanking God for my husband's safe return, and for the fact that he's been back home now for as long as he was gone. But as glad as I am that our deployment nightmare is over, a gnawing thought chews at the edge of my consciousness from deep within the vault that I've locked it away in. Our deployment nightmare is NOT over. Not yet. My husband is still in the Army. And before we were able to reach this important day, the one year anniversary of the start of his first deployment, we received news of his unit's next deployment, which is coming entirely too soon. But that'll be another story.....
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Monday, May 21, 2012
Here is the piece I wrote while my husband was still in Iraq about our final goodbye before his deployment, which we said one year ago today.
"Go" (via forthoodarmywives.com, 7/6/11)
"Go." That was the last thing I said to my husband face to face. We were standing in the Austin airport, shortly before my flight that would take me back home to Michigan, just days before he left for Iraq. I had my carry-on bag strapped over one shoulder, my purse dangling from my wrist, and my husband's arms tightly wrapped around me for what would be the last time in months.
My heart was breaking, my stomach felt like it had dropped to my feet, my throat was on fire from the sobs I was choking back, and my eyes were stinging with the tears that I was trying so desperately to fight off. Despite our weeks of preparation, I was not prepared for this at all. I didn't know how I was ever going to be able to let go of the death grip I had around his neck as I breathed in his scent one last time.
I knew my life was waiting for me back at home, my kids, my job, my friends, my family. And I knew that his job was waiting for him. There was still a lot to do before they left, and deployment was only five days away. But in that moment, there was nothing except him and me and the love that we'd waited years for, that we'd fought so hard for. It was going to be impossible to let go of him, even if it was just temporarily.
My husband's arms are my safe haven. No matter what else is going on, or where we are, or what we're facing, when I'm in his arms, all is right in my world. People passed us by as we stood, unmoving, locked in our last embrace, just outside the airport security checkpoint. There were businessmen hurrying through the terminal, sunburnt couples returning from vacation, parents trying to keep their little ones calm as they waited in line to go through the metal detectors. Since he wasn't in uniform, our goodbye went unnoticed by the crowd. To them, it was nothing special. We were invisible. They had no idea that I was sending him off to war, that this would be the last time I would see my soldier for an entire year. I appreciated the privacy, though. Even in an airport full of people, it felt like we were alone.
There was a clock on the wall, just over my husband's smoothly shaved head, that made sure I was painfully aware of how close we were getting to the end of our time together. I should have gone through security at least five minutes prior. But I physically could not make myself let go of him. I was incredibly grateful that we'd said everything we needed to say to each other in the days leading up to our goodbye, because I wouldn't be able to speak if I'd tried. The knot in my throat would have strangled any sound that attempted to escape.
We'd talked about the important things, like what bills to pay when, what things I needed to send in his first care package, and what we were going to do with the things he'd left in Texas, the things I couldn't take on the plane with me. We'd talked about the scary things, like what I would do "just in case" and where all the important papers and documents were. Most importantly, we spent hours just talking about us. What we mean to each other, how scared we both were, how we were going to make it through his deployment, our plans for the future when he got back. There was nothing we left unsaid. Still, as I slowly began the process of peeling my body away from his, feeling like my heart was being ripped from my chest as I was doing it, I felt like I should say something. Anything. Like there was something I'd forgotten, something he needed to hear that I hadn't told him yet. "This is it," I thought to myself. "This is your last moment together, your last memory before he leaves. Make it good."
I looked into his beautiful blue eyes one last time and could see his pain, his fear, the tears he was fighting back. I opened my mouth to say something amazing, something that would make this easier on both of us, something that would take away his hurt and his worry. But all that came out was "Go." He nodded his head, knowing all the things I meant but couldn't say, and untangled his fingers from mine, taking a deep breath as I turned around and walked away. I wanted to look back, to drop my bags on the cold linoleum and run to him, to hold him and never let him go. But I knew I couldn't. So I kept my eyes on the ground as I showed the security guard my boarding pass. I held my breath as I placed my personal belongings into a plastic bin and watched them disappear into the scanning machine. I was silent as I went through the metal detector, then slipped my flip flops back on once they'd been deemed safe for travel by TSA agents.
It wasn't until I was safely on the other side of security, past the point of no return, that I looked back towards the main entrance. My husband was gone. I text messaged him as I hurried to my gate, not even stopping to buy the water that my dry throat so desperately needed. "I love you" was all it said. The text I got back was identical. We were both too overcome by emotion to say anything else. I played those last few moments over and over in my head on the plane ride home, and have done so a thousand times since. I wish more than anything that I could go back, that I could do it differently. But even if I were given that chance, I don't know what I would say. I've had over a month to think about it, and the right words still haven't come to me. I've relived that moment a hundred times in my dreams, and every time it ends the same way, with me saying the exact opposite of what I mean. As I stand there, with every fiber of my being screaming out "Stay!", I square my shoulders, take a deep breath, and tell him "Go."
One year ago today, my husband drove me to the
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on a blazing hot afternoon to put me on a plane back home. It was bittersweet. Sweet because I was going home to see my babies after nine long days away from them (the longest we’ve ever been apart), but bitter because it was the last time I was going to see my husband before he left for a one year deployment to Iraq. I had no idea when, or even if, I would see him again. And that completely broke my heart. Texas
I don’t think it’s possible to put into words what it feels like to say goodbye to your other half, the love of your life, the father of your children, with the knowledge that there’s a very real chance you’ll never see them alive again. The idea is inconceivable, isn’t it? And yet, thousands of families do it every year. And they do it without fanfare, without news coverage, without big, elaborate ceremonies. They say their goodbyes quietly, often in private, and then go on with the business of living even though it hurts so much that sometimes it’s hard to breathe.
They go grocery shopping while their husbands (or wives) are on the other side of the world, entrenched deep in combat zones in the middle of the desert. They go to little league games with the knowledge that the person who should be sitting next to them on the bleachers cheering on their little slugger is out on a dangerous night mission, driving down long, secluded roads laced with IEDs and mortars. They go to work, go to school, and take care of their children and their homes even though they stay up most nights crying and worrying.
When my husband left for
, I felt like the world around me came crashing down, but it didn’t. It kept spinning. I felt like his deployment was never going to end, but it did. The days passed slowly, but they did pass. I worried that he was never going to come home, but he did. I realize that not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to say that, but in the grand scheme of things, most soldiers do come back home. Iraq
A year ago today I was completely lost. I was scared, sad, worried, angry, confused, and more unsure of what my future held than I’d ever been in my entire life. I didn’t see how I was going to survive my husband’s deployment. But I did. While the wounds are still fresh and the word “deployment” still makes my stomach flip-flop, that time in our lives is now just a memory. (Albeit a very vivid one.) We made it through the dark abyss and although it’s been far from smooth sailing since, our ship is strong…unsinkable, even. If you’ve been through a deployment, you know exactly what I mean. If you’re going through one now, or are facing one in the upcoming days, my advice to you is this:
STAY STRONG. Don’t lose hope. There is an end in sight, even when your vision’s too clouded by tears to see it. Deployments are nasty, nasty business, and it’s okay to trip and stumble your way through them. The important part is that you cross the finish line. And you will. I know, because I did it.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, why do I feel mine break a little more every day that I spend away from my husband? It’s been almost two months since I’ve seen him, almost two years since we’ve been doing this torturous dance….a couple weeks together, a few months apart…a few weeks together, a couple months apart. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. Quite the opposite, in fact. My husband’s absence gets harder and harder to bear with each passing day.
I’m not sure what has changed, exactly, but something has. I’m no longer as optimistic and hopeful as I once was about us being able to maintain a successful marriage even though we live 1,300 miles apart. I struggle to still find romanticism in the whole “Army thing”, sending letters and care packages, late night phone calls, joyful reunions, tearful goodbyes, sleeping next to a teddy bear that wears his dog tags more often than I sleep next to him. I feel…..bitter.
People tell me and my husband all the time that our love story is like a fairytale. I’ve said it myself, more than once. And I suppose it’s true. The thing about fairytales is this: the best part begins after the story ends. In the “and they all lived happily ever after” at the end of every fairytale lies the realness. And that’s what I want. Real. I want my marriage to be real. I want my husband to be real. Sometimes I feel like he’s just a figment of my imagination. “When my husband comes home” plans are becoming as hopeless to me as my “when I win the lotto” plans. It’s a nice dream to have, but it’s not practical to pin all my hopes for the future on it.
And therein lies the problem. Because I have pinned all my hopes and dreams on this marriage. Giving up is not an option. As hard as it is to go through the hell of living across the country from my husband, the only worse thing I can think of would be to not have him in my life at all. There’s a reason I continue to hold on, even when I’m 99% sure it would be easier in the long run to just let go. That reason is that my husband is my soul mate. He not only has my heart, he is my heart. I could never live without him, even if that means I have to live apart from him for the time being. So the torture continues.
Every night I lie in bed, close my eyes, and pretend my husband’s lying next to me, sleeping soundly. Then I laugh, because I know in reality that there’s no way he could ever sleep that quietly. He’s the loudest sleeper I know. I miss having to punch him in the arm at least five times a night to get him to shut up. And then I start thinking about all the other little things I miss about having him home, many of them the same things that drive me completely bonkers when he is here. And then I realize that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. But it breaks it, too.