Since I have known my husband, his shoes, flip flops, sandals, hiking boots, or even his houses shoes have been under my feet. Tripping me.
“Could you please pick up your boots?” I asked nicely in the beginning. Always attempting to sound like the calm, gentle, newly-minted bride. He complied. Sometimes grumbling. Sometimes apologetic. When pleasantries failed, I turned toward the power of suggestion. “You know, it would be much easier for you if all your shoes were in the same spot,” I hinted. “They are in the same spot. They are here next to the door where I need them,” he answered. But no matter how often I asked or begged, his shoes still remained under my feet. A constant point of contention.
Seven years of marriage, I still walk through the door, groceries in hand, children in tow, and stumble, yet again, over the desert boots he now wears for his job. “Is it so freaking hard to pick up you stinking boots?” I yell through the house. “What am I? Your mother?” I bellow, wanting to kick them across the room.
He walks toward me, grumbling, and picks up the boots. “Sorry,” he says. Again. “Yeah, I know,” I mumble in return.
I have tried everything I can imagine to break the habit. I have picked them up myself. Hid them. Buried them under his covers on his side of the bed. I have taken the laces from them. Filled them with a dirty diaper. Nothing has worked. We are now locked in battle of wills.
I never imagined that something that once sent me into a rage could now bring me so much comfort. We have spent years apart now with deployments, schools, and training. The one constant in our lives is separation. But, those boots, the same ones that trip me, baffle me, and haunt me, bring me a sense of comfort. Our marriage is tied up in those battered laces.
Long after the smell of his cologne leaves the house, long after the dent in his side of the bed has disappeared, long after his dirty towels are washed and his voice has faded in the distance, his boots still linger next to the door.
I trip over them, falling through the door while I unload groceries. Herd children. Check the mail. Their awkward weight lingers under my feet, and I catch myself wanting to yell at him. I long to hear his grumbling answer. He hasn’t been here for months. And my heart feels empty.
I bend over, pick them up, place them back in their watchful position, and leave them to wait for him. I will stumble over them again. Will want to kick them across the room. But, until his feet return to fill them, I am content to see, feel, and stumble over the memories of our life together.
Denial is easy. We default to it when we do not want to believe something. You get a positive pregnancy test and you go take another because that first one could be wrong. You find out that a friend from high school married your ex-boyfriend and you insist that it is a joke. When our spouses are getting ready to deploy we notice all the things that annoy us about them. We hide behind these little annoying things. We bury the real issue, the fact that we are going to miss them while they are gone. We are going to worry. We will be lying awake at night, wondering if they are going outside the wire or if the threat will come to their FOB (forward operating base). We hide. We hide the fear, the anger, and our feelings.
This is normal. It is how we cope. It gives our brains time to come to terms with the stress and the change. It gives us time to find a way to survive the battles that are in our near future. So we fight our soldiers over the little things. We nit pick their every wrong move and we hide from the real bombs a little longer. This is normal. This is survival.
When our soldiers head out, we find rituals to help us get though those times when we miss them. We leave boots by the door. We say goodnight to them out loud when we go to bed at night. We wear their t-shirts. We leave a toothbrush in the bathroom for them. We find ways to prove to ourselves that they will be coming back, that they belong in this home with us.