Ah, reintegration. Sigh.
You know the ads on TV, like the superbowl ad, where the soldiers come home and there’s a giant parade, and everything is picture-perfect from the second they walk through the door? For those of you who think that is a normal homecoming…
Real life, real reintegration is not like that.
You know what I want to see? I want to see the ad where the guy isn’t sleeping at night, and the wife wonders if it’s her fault, like her presence in their bed is throwing him off. Or the wife who isn’t sleeping either, just because she hasn’t shared her bed in a year and the extra body heat is throwing her off. I want to see the ad where a hockey puck hits the glass so hard that the sound startles the wife, and yet she can’t ask her newly-returned husband if he’s okay because she doesn’t want to draw attention to it if he’s having a rough time. I want to see the husbands who can’t be in crowds for long periods of time, or the wives who make inconspicuous excuses for them. I want to see the ad where dad has to raise his voice to a kid for the first time, and they realize that Daddy isn’t just the only-fun guy, but he’s home for good which means you can’t get away with being devious by a quick smile. I want to see the ad where the wife sees him reach for a weapon that isn’t there, or has to remind him not to drive in the middle of both lanes to avoid IED’s. I want people to understand that homecoming is like the wedding, and reintegration is like the first mortgage payment coming due.
Reintegration isn’t easy, my friends, but it is worth it.
Sure, it’s miraculous, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I would rather wake up twenty times at night because Jason rolled over and it startled me, then sleep all night and wake up with that pit in my heart because he’s still deployed. My purpose here isn’t to whine about reintegration, but rather to make those of you who aren’t military families understand it’s not always sunshine and roses.
There’s something we like to call the honeymoon period, and it’s simply amazing. The rush of finally getting them into your arms cannot be overstated. It’s like pure joy shooting through your system from the simple knowledge that your spouse is home, safe and sound. During the honeymoon period, I could care less that Jason hangs the towel off the four-post bed, and I adore the abrupt change in my schedule.
Honeymoon wears off, and there’s this stark realization: Wow. I’ve been apart from my spouse for nearly a year. Think of how much changes in a year. TONS. Reintegration is real life, it’s what happens after the banners come down and the parade is long-gone. Reintegration is the the tough work, and it’s different for everyone. Some people soar right through it, some struggle… some go through the blackest moments and head toward divorce. We’ve lost too many of our friends down that bleak road. It’s not always pretty, and I can admit that idolizing that moment of homecoming annoys me because most of the population doesn’t understand – that moment passes. Reintegration is harder than homecoming, and there’s just no ticker-tape parade for that.
The first deployment, he came home wounded, which was an adjustment all in itself. The second deployment he redeployed struggling with PTSD. Last deployment, we bought a house, and Brody was diagnosed with epilepsy. Jason couldn’t find anything for a month; I constantly had to fill him in on where things were. This deployment, my career took off, which means I have other obligations than the piled-up laundry, and we have a beautiful foster-daughter we’re head over heels for, but we’re not sure if she gets to stay. He’s got a lot to adjust to, and we’re all adjusting to having him back.
There are little things to adjust to, like who controls the remote, who runs the kids to hockey, who tosses in another load of laundry. But there are bigger things too, like finding time to work now that he’s here, adjusting to real dinners again after I’ve been cooking mainly for the kids the past year. The biggest adjustment? Accounting for my time. For the last nine months, I’ve done whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to. I’ve thought of no one besides myself and the kids. I haven’t asked anyone else what they wanted to do, where they wanted to be – we simply went.
The truth is, I’m reintegrating as much as he is.
Did you read the sleep thing? Yeah, that was us. The first few weeks he was home, he tossed and turned all night. I blamed myself, thinking he couldn’t sleep next to me any more. Yes, ridiculous, but still, my thought process. I wasn’t sleeping either, because as Jason was tossing and turning, he was also heating up our bed. Okay, down, girls… not that way. 😉 Jason runs hot (temperature wise, but yes, looks too…) and I’d wake up multiple times on FIRE. Well, not literally, but it wasn’t pretty. Have you seen me without sleep? That’s not pretty either, and knowing Jason wasn’t sleeping was breaking my heart.
You’d think we’d be used to this by now, the adjustment, but it’s different every time. There are different challenges we face with each deployment. So we took our reintegration issues and we’re trying to tackle them head on.
Rather than finding every little thing I hadn’t got done, he asked me for a list of things I needed help with around the house. I promptly handed him a list entitled, “Shit I Broke While You Were Gone.” He’s on leave all this month, and has been systematically fixing everything I’ve destroyed.
I’m doing my best to remember to fill him in on our schedule, our time-management. He’s doing his best not to get annoyed that things are completely off-kilter since Full Measures is releasing super soon and I’m a wee bit neurotic. We’re handling this like we do everything else in our marriage, with honest communication.
I’m loving him. Every minute of every day. I hug him every chance I can, I curl up in his lap. I kiss him as often as possible. I tell him that we’ve missed him, and how happy we are to have him home. Then I back off when he needs the space, the alone time he’s so accustomed to. That’s hard too. He was gone so long I have to restrain myself from following him into the bathroom when he’s taking a bath. Seriously. I just want to stare at him and prove he’s really here. It’s been amazing to have him home, and to think this could be our last deployment for a while? There’s no words for the relief that brings. It’s like I can breathe again; everything bad is clearing away and our family is returned to whole.
So this is what happens after homecoming, after the music plays, the “welcome home”‘s cease. It’s not always pretty, but it is always beautiful to us, always real. And I wouldn’t trade it for all the ticker-tape parades in the world.
But I will say that the ticker-tape settles, and the clean up from what we’ve both gone through this last year begins. We’re knitting our lives back together in the spots his lack of physical presence ripped us apart. We’re some of the lucky ones, because all our pieces still fit. He is still mine. I am always his. No deployment could change that.
Oh, and we turned on the air conditioner in the bedroom and now we sleep all night. Thank you, God.