And, too often, moments are all she has.
She listens to the gentle snoring from the other side of the bed. It feels like a canyon between them. He, on the other side, looking forward into the next day. Never noticing her behind him, working a way across. Trying to build the bridge. Searching for an answer to make the corners move back together. Squarely under their feet. Where they had always assumed it would stay.
The soft lift and fall of his chest moves the sheet covering him. The dog, curled at his feet, lifts his eyes, just a moment to make eye contact with Alicia before deciding she is not worth the effort to move. Not worth the time to leave his soft, warm space at the curve of his leg.
“It isn’t like he is going to move any time soon, Ranger. If he can sleep through the sounds of freedom, he can sleep through anything,” she says. She feels a soft laugh begin to move through her throat, but then stops short. Pushing it back down. The lightness feeling morbid. The need to laugh so foreign and gone that it scares her to consider it.
Yet, she longs for it.
Really, she longs for anything. Something. A push or pull between them, sending her in a direction that would make sense. That would not feel so regimented. So routine. So lack of the life they swore to cherish twenty years ago.
She allows her eyes to move over to the wedding photo on the wall. Two young kids, so uncertain of their future. Yet, so ready to take it on.
Their naïve faces meet her lost and vacant eyes. His dress uniform perfectly pressed. Her white gown full of promise and excitement.
“Oh, shut up,” she mumbles to them, moving the covers off her legs and into the beginning of her day. Her slippers beside her bed, just where she always keeps them. Her glasses within reach, equipped with progressives.
“We don’t really call them bifocals anymore,” the lady had said at the glasses counter. Alicia had run her hands over the cute glasses with the thin frames. The frames that would not fit her round face anymore. The ones that would never hold a lens that her strained eye needed. “We call them progressives. You know, to soften the sting,” she said, winking.
Alicia had smiled. As she always smiles. The young lady behind the counter pulled her thin, pink frames down her nose and waved goodbye as Alicia paid a hefty sum and walked out to her car.
Now, the glasses feel like a crutch. A necessity rather than a cute accessory.
She couldn’t help but wonder if most things in her life hadn’t fallen into that category.
She ambles into the kitchen, looking out into the dark, cold night. The sun will be peaking over the clouds soon. Alicia is not a morning person, but her insomnia doesn’t give her much choice anymore.
She pours the water into the coffee pot, waiting for the liquid courage to drip into her veins. She moves her hands down over her hips. Her sagging belly. When did forty begin to feel so old? It seemed like only yesterday that she was out and running, leaving the world behind as her pony tail flailed in the wind, snapping her in the neck and sticking to her sweaty skin.
She exhales, wishing that memories didn’t clog her mind so. Like cobwebs in the corner of her life story.
This isn’t the story she had wanted, all those years ago in that gown of white. Honestly, she didn’t know what that girl really wanted. Adventure. Travel. Kids. A job that fulfilled.
None of those things really seemed to ever be in Alicia’s reach. What other military family doesn’t get stationed overseas at least once? How do you just bounce back and forth from one small-town post to another?
Alicia often wished she had paid attention to the recruiter. Or that he had. Who knew an MOS would be such a big deal? What young kids would?
Alicia laughs to herself as she pours the creamer into her favorite Paris coffee mug. The one she got at the dollar store because she swore someday she would go there. The wet streets. The red umbrellas. The small café chairs nestled in the street.
“Who knew anything when signing those papers?” she asked herself, softly.
Alicia sits at the computer, wrapping her hands around her small mug to keep them warm. She pulls up the bookmarked travel agency on the screen. The one that boasts of affordable prices and crystal blue waters. She scrolls through until she finds her favorite package. Thailand.
There is something magical about the water. The land. The elephants. People laughing as they play in water no higher than their knees. Their smiles seem unattainable. Deep. Thick. And foreign to her.
And she craves them more than air.
The sound of clicking toenails on the linoleum floor breaks her reverie. Ranger comes around the corner, staring up at her expectantly.
“Oh. Sure. It’s all about daddy until you need to go out, huh?” Alicia says. She rubs his head gently, feeling the fur under her hand. She loves their dog, yet, can’t help but feel the responsibility of keeping “one more thing alive” sitting squarely on her shoulders. The weight so heavy and thick.
He follows Ranger around the corner. His bed head at complete odds with his freshly ironed uniform. Alicia found it funny that he still ironed it. Old habits die hard. At least he still had his dress shoes to polish.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asks. His pt shorts and shirt hang over his arm. He is always ready. Forever prepared.
“No,” Alicia says. “And if you don’t be quiet, the kids won’t be getting any more sleep either.” She stares at him. Letting him know she is serious. These early morning hours, even though she loathes them, they are all she has.
“I gotta get going,” he says, picking his keys up off the table and working his short hair into submission. He puts the beret on his head. The one that has come to wear and tear on her heart. The one that has been to Iraq and Afghanistan more times than she cares to recall.
“I am hoping to be home as close to six or seven as possible,” he says. But she knows better. It is a hope to see him anymore. Not an assumption.
“Ok,” she says, leaning into his kiss. He stops for a moment to stare at the screen. He looks back and Alicia. His eyes gleaming.
“You planning to leave me?” he asks, laughing. “Found some hot dude over in Thailand, have you?”
Alicia meets his eyes, begging him to see her. Wanting him to hear the deep longing in her chest. The need to be more. Feel more. The desire to just run away and forget it all. Leave it behind. Pretend all the pain and loss and death never happened. Just run. Forever. With nothing holding her back.
He laughs and turns toward the door. Never waiting to hear her answer. Whistling as he walks out into the cold morning air.
She turns to the screen, slowly closing it as she hears the kids beginning to stir.
“Why would I ever think that?” she says.
She wraps her palms around her favorite Paris mug, and steels her body to face the day.