In this one, we're reminded of the stress and anxiety of preparing for homecoming. That fear that the changes that have happened, both in our bodies and our lives, will somehow take away the love our partner has for us.
Rene stood in front of the mirror. Something she had avoided for several months. Her favorite black yoga pants had morphed into a soft, dull gray. Fraying at the edges and giving way to new weight.
She pulled at the sides, hoping to see space there. Wishing for less flesh and exhaling with frustration as it rolled out over the top. She peeled down the elastic band, just below her belly, and examined the thick, red zigzags of traumatized skin. A checkered pattern telling a story. Only, a story that felt like it had run off without her—the protagonist.
Getting pregnant had been hard on both of them. So many nights of watching a thermometer. Holding of breath while peeing on a stick. The shots. The pain of seeing a negative. Again and again.
The elusive positive they both hoped for wreaked havoc on their marriage. Where there was once light and happiness and impromptu dinners and dates—hours of anguished waiting filled the air. Arguments were plenty, always pushing and questioning why they were doing it. And if it was all worth it.
The answer was clear to both of them when the double lines appeared. Small, thin, pink affirmations that all their hopes and dreams were real and worthy--their entire universe wrapped in a small white piece of plastic.
Rene had put the thin test stick in a plastic bag and wrapped it inside a sock for safe keeping. She kept it in a shoebox, just above her clothes. Should she ever need it. Should it ever call to her.
At times, it had.
And at times, she cried with it tucked close into her chest.
The pregnancy was hard. Harder than most, she felt. But too scared and too much of a beginner to ask. The mommy circles were hard, she had learned. Quick to support. And quicker to condemn.
She kept to herself as much as possible. Holding her stomach while she made dinner. Waiting for that uniform to show up in the driveway. Those boots to fall to the floor.
Together they would watch movies, both cuddling around her growing belly. Living in the thick moments of family. Of life.
“Why can’t you talk to somebody?” she had asked. Over and over again. “Don’t they understand I am pregnant! Can’t someone else go?” They both looked down to the floor. Both longing for the ability to speak that truth out loud to someone. Anyone. And both feeling guilty for what it would mean to even consider asking—someone else would go to war. Someone else could die. Forever cementing their presence into their marriage.
“Orders are orders.” The words had fallen flat. Stuck in her heart with a twisted dagger of truth. They both knew this could happen. And they both knew they could not wait to start a family. Waiting had no promises in the army. Yet, Rene had wanted, just once, to come first. A military impossibility most times.
The words were thick between them. Twisted and jagged edges. Thick syllables. Dark adjectives.
And her belly grew.
Until the day she held Reese for the first time. Her belly now an empty cave. A reminder of all that had lived there. All that had breathed. And the time that had passed that would take her to a bus. The white ones she had come to dread. And love. A symbol of a cycle of missing and kissing.
From the moment she said goodbye and walked away, months crawled. And while she worked each day to remember that her Reese was a gift she had delicately packaged and kept safe, he was also a reminder of the family that was not whole. And his eyes held the one person she did not want to see, over and over again.
It was a twisted paradox for her. A constant punch in the gut. Followed by guilt.
Those eyes were also a reminder of all that she believed in. All that she had ever hoped for. For the three of them. For herself.
She loved seeing the world through his eyes. Loved watching them grow big and round when he saw an ant for the first time. When he first tried whipped cream. There was magic in his eyes. And Rene was addicted to it.
Each day brought them closer. Tighter. Developing a language that only the two of them understood. A routine that held them. And carried them through each day.
Every night, Rene collapsed into her bed. Exhausted from nursing him and working to find a way to keep Reese happy. Living. Laughing. And to keep her heart beating while it felt bent.
So much of it felt unfair. So hard to understand. How could one person feel so attached to a baby and the person he becomes on a daily basis, and to the life they share, and yet, feel so empty? Like a shell working to find its way back to the ocean floor. Each day brought a wave of confusion as she moved from extreme happiness in all that Reese meant. And was. To deep depression when she realized, again, that she was alone in witnessing it.
She held her stomach. Lifting the extra folds. Pulling on the story it held.
“So much for losing all the baby weight before you came home,” she exhaled into the bathroom air.
She pulled the new dress she had bought herself over her head. She spent several moments staring into the mirror, her mouth in an ‘O” shape while she worked the mascara through her lashes. It had been a while since she put on makeup. She had to admit that it felt nice to get dressed up. To feel like something other than a mother for a while. To be a wife. A woman. Again.
She leaned into the mirror one last time, taking in her face. A face that felt different. New. More abundant. She could hardly see the concealer she had layered over the dark blue and purple rings just under eyes. Or the crow’s feet that had settled around the corners.
Part of her wondered if it would matter. Would she still be attractive? Still be wanted? She knew in her heart of hearts that none of her fears were founded. But change has a way of leaving jagged edges.
Months apart works into a psyche. Shreds at confidence. And several reunions had already taught her that nothing is for certain.
She could expect adjustment. And difficulty. And a first kiss that would send her body into spasms and would light her chest on fire. Again.
She sighed, deeply. Looking to the clock to see the minutes have finally ticked by. One moment closer to being a family again. To being whole.
She wondered for just a moment if she could share Reese. Would she be able to give him over so easily? To put him into arms that had not held him? Had not nursed him? Had not comforted him through countless long and exhausting nights, his cries filling the small home and floating up into the floor of her neighbors above her. Those arms had not been there to hold her at night while she wondered if she was failing. If she was a good mother. While she begged for sleep that just would not come.
Those arms had been gone for so long.
She pushed the fear and worry down deep inside her. To a secret place she hoped would stay locked. And dormant.
She pulled the brush through her hair one last time, and ran to get Reese. 6:00. It was time to head to the hangar. The same one she had been to several times before. But this time, she would be the mother she had always envied before. The one carrying the diaper bag. The frozen milk. The stroller. The snacks to pass the time when delay upon delay happened. The one hiding her fears and worries and concerns about how to become a family again. And the one who couldn’t wait to get home. To be alone. In the dark.
She followed the crowd of cars into the parking lot and worked to unload all she would need for the long wait. Snacks. Sippy cups. Plush toys. Her excitement rose as she looked to Reese. His eyes taking in the balloons. The bright reds and blues floating in the cloudless sky.
They ambled along with the crowd, finding their spot on the metal bleachers. Rene covered her heart in hopes to slow it. All the waiting. All the nights of reaching over to the next pillow, only to find it empty. They would be over in mere moments. The same thought radiated through the room. Bouncing from nervous person to person.
The hangar door opened and a voice boomed through the loudspeaker. The bleachers vibrated, the crowd roaring in response. Rene grabbed Reese, jumping to her feet. Her ribcage rattled with each heartbeat.
Nothing mattered. No worries. No fears. No countless thoughts cluttering a brain that had too much time to think. Nothing existed between them but a man who droned on and on while she searched the crowd for those eyes. That hair. That wink that she knew would come her way.
His voice finally stopped. And then she heard what they all had been waiting for. The dismissal. She ran. Her heart pounding. Her world moving toward completion.
Through the sea of uniforms, she found the arms that were just for her. Molded for just her shoulders. And she fell into them, inhaling all they had endured for the last several months.
She sighed deeply, pulling Reese from her hips and moving him into the arms that had waited to hold him. The ones that had been there, curled around her belly. The ones that had spent hours writing letters. Creating videos. Aching.
“Reese! Mommy’s home!” she said into his ear. And she exhaled, for the first time in months, as her hand fell into the familiar mold of her wife’s.