veiled in pride and bitterness - a military wife's story

My eyelids were swollen and heavy from tears. “Don’t wake up, don’t wake up,” I thought. This dreaded day is here. With my arm outstretched longing to feel the warmth of my soul mate, the sheets are cold and the bed is empty.  All I hear is the distant sound of my husband and our children talking quietly.  This is the last time they will see their daddy for a year.  This is deployment number four.

I make my way into the kitchen, veiled in pride and bitterness. My whole life greets me with somber smiles as the aroma of Colombian roast tickles my nose.  My knight in shining armor reaches out his strong rugged hand and our embrace is interrupted by two tiny arms snaked around my legs. Morning hugs for mommy.  I ease myself onto the couch with my hero and our little boy as I pulled our princess into my lap. Today will be more challenging than all the other times; this trip to the “beach with no ocean” as my husband calls it, is 4 times longer than any of the others.  Of course, I go through all the same motions to make it normal for everyone, especially the children. I make breakfast and small talk. The smell of smoky bacon, eggs and toast dance through the air and I place plates before my sweet little family. I take my place and stand at the counter.  With a coffee mug in my hand, I try to remember every line of his face, every image of this moment. 

After breakfast I help him pack.  Just like all the times before, I am a puppy dog following him from room to room.  I am lost without him when he is gone. Tears well up in my eyes and that all too familiar feeling rises up in my throat.  I swallow the knot back down and give him a weary smile.  I give him an “everything will be alright” nod, but he can see in my eyes that I am devastated. One year, two children, alone and worried. I can do this.  I have to do this. He pulls me in for an embrace bringing me back from my anxious thoughts. “It will be over before you know it,” he says.  I giggle and roll my eyes and he grins down at me because we both know that is a lie.

The day passes so quickly.  It does not slow down even though I find myself begging for a few more hours. The house is loud with laughter thanks to the tickle monster as the sun sinks into the horizon. The sky is painted glorious hues of orange, purple and pink; clouds are in the distance.  In an instance the sun is gone, the sky opens up and rain pours down emulating my tears from earlier. It is time. It is time for me to accept this may be the last day I have with my husband, my hero, the father of my children. It is time to drop off the strongest man I know and send him to what is known as the “triangle of death”, Sadr City, Iraq. 

The silence in the car is deafening.  I grip the steering wheel until my hands become numb.  I can only hear his breathing and the pounding of my heart in my ears.  The car guides itself into the parking spot as I have completely blacked out. I am numb.  I fight back the tears watching my babies kiss their daddy goodbye for what could be forever and will certainly feel like it.  Now it is my turn. I am facing him, studying his expression and he gives away nothing.  I memorize his chiseled jaw and deep blue eyes so when I close my eyes, it will be all I see.  His face is handsomely lit from the lamppost above us where moths flirt with each other in the hazy yellow glow. I have forgotten how to speak and have no words. Once again I hear promises for his return.  I lean in to kiss his face and taste the salt of his tears and it breaks me.  I quietly vow strength, love, fidelity, honor and patience and he strides away, looking back only once.

My eyes are cast downward as I climb into the car.  I sit up straight, giving off the impression of strength to my small children.  Tears pool in my eyes and I can wait no longer; they are a river flowing, soaking my shirt below.   As I make my way home, I begin the countdown, 364.