I watched him walk away--that uniform, identifiable gait—and my heart bent and splintered as the reality of a third deployment began to shower over me.
I picked up the phone, dialing the numbers my numb fingers always meander toward, and sat in silence while she tried to ease my pain. “I can’t imagine…He will be home….I’m here.”
And then she said six words that shot through my ears, penetrated my brain, and stiffened my spine: “You know how to do this.”
She was right. I do know how to do this. I intimately know the all-too familiar lump in my throat. The year of being both father and mother, making the best of a situation. I know exactly how one year feels as I X each day off my calendar. And I know how to ensure that while our lives are on hold, we still live.
The truth is I know a lot:
* The thought of being alone for a year doesn’t bother me. The fear of being alone for a lifetime—does.
*Flat rate boxes can hold twenty whoopee cushions, four kindergarten projects, and five perfume-scented letters.
*Technology can be a double-edged sword—one side delivering his face; the other a brutal live-action feed of explosions and camouflaged body parts.
*Murphy’s Law is a constant companion. The moment he walks out the door, anything that can break, collapse, bleed, or explode--will .
*Five hours of uninterrupted sleep is a gift from the deployment gods
*Holidays are hard, but manageable.
*Deployments come and go, but sand from his boots never leaves.
*Nothing can replace a handwritten letter. Through those beautifully folded pages, he is holding my hand again.
*When the National Anthem is played, I know goosebumps will rise on my arms, and a lump will fill my throat.
*The silence in communication following a warzone attack is agonizing.
*Laughter is a powerful ally.
*Each deployment offers two options: grow or regress. This is a choice.
*Cereal is always a dinner option.
*Videos of lost teeth, ballerina recitals, and preschool graduations can be emailed to Iraq nearly instantly.
*Five powers of attorney and the intimate details of his will are needed to navigate a deployment.
*White out blizzards can actually bury a truck in five minutes.
*Rosie the Riveter was right: We can do it.
*Children cling to hope and the promise of tomorrow.
* Living in each moment together is possible when facing the fear that it could be your last.
*Welcome home kisses are sweeter than the finest chocolate.
*Anger will grip me and depression can hold me, but another military spouse will steady me.
*A six-year-old child can feel the absence of her father so deeply that she can suffer from clinical depression.
*A military spouse will often hold her/his tongue, silencing a story, for fear of sounding “unpatriotic.”
*The sound of a bugle can make my heart swell with pride or collapse in sorrow.
*Duct tape and a monkey wrench can fix nearly anything.
*Despite the protestors and those who tell me I “knew” what I was getting into, I know there are countless American citizens who will go above and beyond to show they support us.
There are many things I know.
*I know how to change the brakes on my truck, rappel from the side of a cliff, shoot a double-barreled shotgun, balance a checkbook, earn my keep, and kiss a child enough to feel like two.
But there are still so many things I don’t know.
*I don’t know how to start my heart again when I see a death notification car on my street.
*When that knock echoes on the door of my neighbor, I don’t know how to forgive myself when I am relieved.
*I don’t know how to hug him enough to last a lifetime, or kiss him just so in order to feel satisfied—should our reunion be at the foot of a pine box.
*I’m not willing to learn how to pretend he doesn’t exist, to keep him out of our life while it goes on without him, or to build a wall so high he has no way to scale it.
*I don’t know how to stop his panic attacks, and I have no idea how to make my nightmares of rampant bombs and lifeless limbs disappear.
*I don’t know how to adjust to his presence in my house when our floor rarely feels the weight of his boots.
*I don’t know how to tell his small children that, yes, he leaves them all the time. But because he loves them so deeply, he is willing to die to keep them free.
*I can’t understand those who would question my desire to stay with him, or how I can peacefully sleep beside a “killer.”
*I am amazed and confounded that despite all he has seen, he still has the courage to laugh.
*I don’t’ know how to give up on my family.
But, most important:
*I have no clue how to still my pounding heart when he finally walks through our door again, I don’t know how to pull my hands from his sand-stained neck and say goodbye, and I don’t know how to ever walk away from a man who stands while many choose to sit.