The worst part is watching him pack. One by one every article of clothing he owns gets folded neatly and carefully placed inside his duffle bag. Underwear, t-shirts, green socks, boots, uniforms…one by one they disappear not to be seen again in this house for another 10 months. I sit on the bed trying to read…trying to avoid watching him pack…again. It’s too painful, but it’s our life…it’s what we’ve chosen.
We make small talk as he packs, trying to avoid the inevitable. “Do we have any more bar soap? How’s that book you’re reading? Are my clothes done in the dryer yet?” Everything seems so insignificant at this point. What could be more important than tomorrow? Certainly not the status of the clothes in the dryer. I have learned after 15 years that first of all, this crap never gets any easier and secondly, men make small talk to avoid talking about their feelings. They are not afforded the luxury of crying…of screaming about how unfair it is that he has to go away again. They have a job to do. A job that provides for their family and in this economy they are happy to have at least that. It’s a job. Not a choice but more of a calling. Their job becomes our way of life. It is what it is and only other military families can truly understand it.
He finishes packing and we get ready for bed. We talk about silly things…the kids, the dogs…stupid stuff we did while we were dating…friends we miss from college and future plans…plans that will have to be put on hold for another 10 months. He holds me in his arms and I try to memorize every muscle…every breath he takes in and breathes out. He holds me tighter…so tight I can hardly breathe…but I say nothing because tomorrow night his arms won’t be holding me as I fall asleep. I am thankful for this night, this moment in time and wish he didn’t have to go.
Morning. I hate mornings to begin with but this particular morning is going to suck more than most. I get up and shower while he finishes packing. Again with the small talk while I do my hair and he shaves. Stupid small talk. So worthless to me and yet so necessary for him. It’s his only way of letting me know that he’s sad too. I make my way to the kitchen…there are lunches to pack and planners to sign, e-mails to check, kids to get off to school. Damnit, why does life not know how pissed I am right now? Why doesn’t it just stop and give me some time to mourn…time to cry and scream and…life simply goes on around me. I must find it somewhere within myself to function…because my children are depending on me…my husband is depending on me…to keep everything normal so he doesn’t feel so bad about leaving. Maintain normalcy at all times, even if it means hiding feelings and putting on a show because that’s what we’re called to do. Show no weakness…be strong so our husbands can focus on their mission. Not as easy as it sounds.
The morning progresses and there are pictures with Dad before leaving for school. First the Jr. High picture then the Elementary picture. Lastly the Mom and Dad picture. Bags are put into the truck, goodbyes are said and the kids go to school. We are now on what I call The Drive of Dread…heading to the drop-off point. He makes stupid jokes to lighten the mood but the tears still well up in my eyes. I have no control over my emotions and cannot for the life of me stop crying. I tell myself to be strong…that I can’t let him see me crying like this…I can’t let him see me be weak. He needs to count on me to hold things together and I can’t do that if I’m an emotional wreck. I stop crying immediately. Again with the small talk…traffic, work stuff, the weather…until we’re finally there.
He asks me to stay until they leave. I don’t have the heart to tell him no. I sit in his office with him reading a book while he finishes up some last minute paperwork. One by one soldiers file in and out of his office with this question and that…”Sir, can you sign this please?” and “Here’s the mission brief you requested, Sir.” I’m seeing a side of him I don’t usually get to see. It’s fascinating to me to see him in this capacity…like he’s another person all together. Why hasn’t he cried at all? How does he put aside his emotions so easily? I see now that it’s required of him. There’s a saying something to the effect of “If the Army didn’t issue it, you don’t need it.” Well obviously emotions didn’t make the packing list.
It’s time to go. Here come the tears again. We walk down to the hangar…a few last pictures, interviews with the media, pep talk with the troops and it’s time to head out to the aircraft. He looks at me and says “Thank you for coming out here and spending the day with me. It really means a lot to me that you’re here.” Even more tears…the sobbing, uncontrollable kind. He kindly and gently asks me not to cry, tells me he loves me and that he’s got to go. One last gut-wrenching hug and a kiss and he walks off to his aircraft. I watch as he walks away, hating everything about his job at that moment, thinking about what awaits me back at home…an empty house filled with children and noise and laughter but missing one of it’s most important parts. He flies away and my heart aches. I can’t get out of that hangar fast enough…away from it all, from the life that just took my husband away from his family. I hate it all. Tears stream down my face more from anger now than from anything else. And then it’s done. By the time I get back to the truck and get ready to head home the sound of the rotors have faded as has every emotion I felt that day. I am numb. I drive home in disbelief…exhausted and finding it hard to face the reality that once again I’m on my own with the kids and the bills and the laundry, the groceries and the vehicles, the lawn and ….everything. It overwhelms me. 15 years of this crap and it never gets easier.
Now it’s evening. I have only gotten one text from him since he left 7 hours ago. Worry fills my mind but there’s no time for that as I need to run homework and dinner…laundry and check work e-mails that I’ve missed all day. The kids need baths and showers and we need a few groceries from the store. Life goes on with or without me. There’s no time for self pity, no time to whine or whimper, and no one who gives a damn whether I just don’t feel like doing it all this time. Because it is what it is…and life goes on and kids need their mothers when their fathers are away protecting our country and providing for their families. Life goes on and so must I regardless of how I feel or what I want. All I have left holding me together is Faith. God put us here for a reason. We are exactly where He wants us to be so the only hope I have of making it through this is knowing that it’s God’s will and if He brings me to it He’ll bring me through it. If God is all I have then I have all I need.
Thousands of families go through what I just described to you every day. Our military families are called upon to dig deep and become stronger in the face of adversity. It’s not an easy task, but we do it. We are military families because God knows we’re strong enough to face whatever comes our way…but only by His grace and mercy. When you go to bed at night say a prayer for all military families. We serve too.
- I Am Indeed An Army Wife
- The Day After…