I wonder sometimes, as I type out gnome-blogs, insert funny gifs, tell stories, if I forget to say that some days this is not okay. None of this is okay.
There are days when I’m pretty sure that this deployment is going to break me down and shred me. There’s not much funny I can say about that, no clever way to make it sound like an amusing anecdote, especially when I fear it’s true.
There are days when it’s everything I can do to put one foot in front of the other and not burst into tears, and if we’re completely honest, sometimes there are days when I’m forcing myself forward as the tears blur my vision and fall.
He’s been gone five months, and I can’t remember what it’s like to have him here. He was gone so much before he left, that it feels like he’s really been gone 14 months already. After all, I’ve spent 2 1/2 months with him in the last 14 months. His scent has washed out of everything that I haven’t ziplocked like a crazy person. There’s no casual reminders of him around the house left: no baseball hats left haphazardly on the back of the couch, no hoodie left hanging on the banister. I still sleep on only my side of the bed, but when I close my eyes and try, I still can’t remember what his breathing sounds like next to me, or what it’s like to roll over and have someone share that space.
His clothes are neatly folded in his drawers. There’s dust gathering on the shoulders of his shirts hanging in the closet, and I’m scared to see if spiders have taken residence in the boots he left. (You might want to check those when you get home, love, spiders are YOUR territory.) His SUV sits in his garage stall, where I foolishly let the battery run to dead, just one more thing I need to fix, to handle. That thing is just like me, sitting idle, in a permanent state of waiting for him to come home. There’s nothing ACU or Multicam left hanging on the furniture, and if not for the pictures on the walls, I almost wouldn’t know he lives here. I mean, I think he lives here. Sometimes I feel like he really lives other places, and just kind of stops in to refuel and refit. I don’t even dream about him being here any more, like my subconscious has accepted this as the permanent state of affairs in our life. I swear, it feels like parts of me have simply shut down in a desperate attempt at self-preservation, while the other parts resent how horribly numb I’ve become to it all.
But then there are moments when it comes rushing back with the force of a tsunami, taking me unaware and bringing me to my knees.
I found a package on my doorstep last week, and the handwriting was so achingly familiar that I may have just held it for a minute, fascinated to touch something he had just a couple weeks prior. I sliced open the tape, and the scent hit me at once. He had packed gifts for us in his t-shirts to keep them safe. T-shirts I knew he couldn’t have washed, because they smelled like him, like home to me. I buried my face in that shirt before I bothered to see what else he had sent, and for that moment, I could almost feel his arms come around me, that all-encompassing feeling of safety, acceptance, and unconditional love. He’s been gone for five months, and in those seconds, with a simple inhale, it was like he’d just left that morning.
I couldn’t stop the tears any more than I could put that shirt down.
Man, I sound like a crazy person.
The most insane thought? I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the intensity of this heartache. Why? Because I have someone I love so immensely that missing him physically hurts. How can I not feel grateful for something so beautiful? Even the ache of missing him, that dull throb that cuts into me over and over like rope that’s rubbed through my skin, is something so precious that I have to almost savor it. Love that runs this deep and survives through these endless deployments has to be cherished, even in its most painful moments, because we are blessed to have it.
So yes, there are days when this just sucks. There are days that this is NOT okay, where the kids are screaming at each other before the sun rises, where I’d give anything to look at Jason and say, “your turn.” Days like yesterday, when Brody had a flurry of four seizures, and I just wanted Jason to tell me that it would be okay without having to see it merely typed out. There are days when I think I cannot possibly make it another four months without mid-tour leave. God, I miss mid-tour. But I also know that for every one of these days that I’m shoving past the brutal ache, Jason is too. I’m not alone in this, even if he’s 6,000 miles away, and that makes all the difference.
I know that for every day I count down, he’s ticking off his calendar too. For every kiss I miss, he’s missing them too. Every time I see the kids do something new, and I get a twinge that he’s missing it, that event hits him like a sledgehammer that he’s watching his kids grow up over Skype. For every funny, empowering story I write or tell, there are three more that I don’t mention because if I let it in, the feeling of utter defeat, it will take me down. These little boys can’t afford for me to get beaten down by something as temporary as a deployment.
Number four is brutal and cruel, and is teaching me about my strengths, my weaknesses, and turning the cracks of my flaws into canyons of self-awareness. Number four is beating me down to where I want to lay on the floor and simply wake up when these months are over.
But you know what? Number Four is also reshaping me. Not just my body, but my mind, my soul, my heart. It’s teaching me about gratitude not only for Jason, but for the friends in my life, both past and present, and my own inner strength. It’s teaching me about grace, dignity, and the power of forgiveness. It’s teaching me about personal peace during this more-than-decade of war, and finding a way to force happiness for the sake of these beautiful little boys who deserve so much more than the lot they’ve been handed. It may be breaking me, but this insanely hot fire is also forging me into something stronger, without ripping out everything tender. For that, I find myself morbidly thankful for Number Four, even while I’m crying in the dark of night for it to come to an end, for the fear of losing Jason to stop.
Number Four is also making me pray harder than ever that we never see Number Five. The weariness and exhaustion of this lifestyle seems to set in earlier with each deployment, and I fear that after eleven years of this, Number Five would break us before he’d even leave.
So, okay, there are days when this deployment feels okay, but underlying it is always the feeling that it really isn’t. That the “okay” feeling is just the beige cover-up on the dark-circled eyes, or the coffee to cover up the lack of sleep.
We’re five months in, and it’s only okay because it has to be, because there’s no option to fail Jason or these kids.
Now, I think I’ll go and smell some shirts and pull my… ahem… well, pull my shit together, because hockey practice is in 3 hours and my hour of self-pity is up.
Deep breath. Another cup of coffee. Another application of cover-up. Stretch my neck. Roll my shoulders. Dig out.
Four months. Four boys. A love big enough to span continents, oceans, and wars. A love I’d wait forever for, so I will. We will.
Big girl panties up. Ready to roll… for as long as it takes until he’s home, because I have to make it okay, even when it’s not.