~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~When Shakespeare said, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” he was absolutely, certainly correct. However, he didn’t take into account how I loved, how I lost, and in spite of it all, was so incredibly glad that it happened, and even for how it happened. I am not a masochist, I am just thankful for the good, and have learned - albeit the hard way, from the bad.
She was so excited to see his face that she could barely sit on the bleachers. Who could sit still at a time like this? She had pictured him dying so many times in her mind, that his return was absolutely surreal. The crowd was electric. Every time a bus went by, people began to walk to the open doors hoping that it was THE bus. Our guys. But, we waited for NINE hours. By the end of that time, we were all in a frenzy. They had already been delayed by five days, what was the hold-up now? What could possibly be as important as continuing with the rest of our lives? We were all jumpy with anticipation. I spent my time talking to Gideon’s best friend’s parents. They had driven out from Texas to welcome their son home and to accompany their new daughter-in-law at the re-deployment ceremony. Their other son, Chase, had just deployed to Iraq with the Navy. The service life was one whose sacrifices they were deeply familiar with. Just then, their phone rang. His dad went outside to take the call. We continued to chit-chat and pass the time away as our rear ends began to go numb from all the bleacher time. It was utterly exhausting. We had been told to stay in the bleachers “just in case” the guys came before their 9:00 arrival time. It was now four o’clock in the afternoon, and it was clear that no one was going to catch us by surprise. The entire base was on the look-out for the infamous bus.
When Chase’s dad came back into the room, he was pale and puffy eyed. Something was horribly wrong.
“What happened? Is everything ok? Are they not coming after all?”
“My father just dii-iii-ed-dd......” he said in a controlled, muffled sob.
We all stood frozen in place as he broke down. No one was prepared for this.
Just then, we heard the crowd moving around us, and the people began to gather by the door. Something else was going on, though it took us longer in our compromised state to be able to identify what was happening.
The buses were pulling up. The guys were home.
None of us quite knew what to do with this new and painful situation. It was hard enough just getting a chance to speak with them in person for the first time in almost a year, but now, Chase was faced with the death of his grandfather as well.
“EVERONE…. SIT DOWN IN YOUR PLACES. OUR WARRIORS ARE HOME. WE NEED YOU TO RETURN TO YOUR SEATS SO THAT THEY CAN ENTER THE GYM AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE,” someone said over the loudspeaker as we quietly discussed among ourselves what to do with the newfound information. Chase would be able to see that his dad was visibly upset. Would he be able to conceal it long enough so they could celebrate his return as a family before his heart would be broken by the news?
Then, the familiar screeching of bus brakes interrupted our plans. Each small, commonplace sound was amplified from that moment on. Even our heartbeats. The hush that fell over the crowd was unchangeable. We all had anticipated this moment, hoped and prayed for this moment, and even in a small way dreaded this moment. What lie ahead was unknown and dangerous.
What will he be like? Will he have changed? Will I recognize him? Will we become another casualty of this war? What do I NOT know that he will tell me? What will I NOT know that he WON’T tell me?
All of my thoughts were at a standstill the instant I heard boots hit the pavement. Thoughts didn’t matter now. All that mattered was the one pair of boots that were mine. His.
The uniforms all blended into one solid swatch of desert camouflage that kept him too far from me to connect with. I couldn’t see his face in the midst of the overwhelming volume of the busy pattern effectively distracting my attention and making me light-headed. I was dizzy as it was, and the swirling neutrals weren’t helping me to regain my balance. We were all standing on top of the bleachers to get a better view of our respective soldier.
My eyes scanned the audience for the entire thirty minute ceremony… only settling on his face five minutes before the end. I had actually begun to wonder if he didn’t make it back with the group until my best friend, Katie, pointed him out to me.
He didn’t wave. He didn’t look. He was just focused straight ahead, like most soldiers do, as if there was a tunnel immediately before him and the only thing he could see was in the light at the end of an immense distance. He had fought his battle, never thinking he would actually make it home.
When the ceremony was over, we were on the edge of our seats, ready to leap up the second we were given the go-ahead to run straight into our loved ones’ arms. But, we should have known better. If military ceremonies are one thing, they’re too long. All we wanted to do was to talk to them, touch their faces, and we were being held back by an invisible brick wall.
I have never been one to follow the ‘rules’, and at this moment I was ready to cast my fears aside and run up to him without permission. What could they do, tackle me and drag me out of here? I thought. I was past the point of caring what would happen. My eyes were on the prize.
Thankfully, the announcer prevented me from making a fool of myself.
“YOU MAY NOW JOIN YOUR SOLDIERS AND WELCOME THEM HOME!”
I don’t think half of us even heard or processed exactly what he had said. All we knew is that everyone else started running, and we followed suit.
Big days like this had a tendency to all run together, and my goal would be to simply put one foot in front of the other. I wondered if everyone else felt the way I did.
Pushing through the crowd, seeing familiar haircuts, uniforms, hats…. It was exhausting and overwhelming. My heart was racing so fast I was sure it would explode…. Unless…..
There he was. I had waited so long to see him. He looked strange. Different. I didn’t take to him as I thought I would. I was actually afraid. Very afraid. His face was pained, but he was trying to smile. His words didn’t fit with his stance and expression.
“Hey girl.” he said with a hesitant smile.
“Hey.” I returned a smile, except mine was my typical wide grin.
I tensely walked up to him and he wrapped me in his enormous arms. It had been a long time since I had been hugged in this way. That made me feel better. I relaxed. He kissed me briefly, and I let go.
I was having a moment of cuddle time with my sweet baby, one I treasured. My whole body was electric and alive with love at the source of its energy. The feeling was radiating out of me in a beautiful way. This is the most enjoyable feeling of motherhood - to look at what your body produced and to love it with more than your mind, but your physical self as well. It is an endorphin rush that cannot be duplicated.
Interrupting this feeling was an unexpected image. It was small, distorted and glowing white, bleached from the summer sun streaming in through the tiny basement window directly overhead. I was sitting in an armchair, holding my month-old son and looking into his eyes for what seemed like the first time. It was a rare moment where I actually saw and processed what was in front of my face. In his eyes was something I hadn’t seen in a long time; something nearly foreign, but at least unfamiliar. It was myself. The light shining on my face made me glow in the reflection of his perfect newborn eyes. Where had I gone? It was painful to think about the last few months and what had happened. It was almost impossible to wrap my head around it. I kept wondering if it had all been a dream. It was so awful, it certainly was too difficult to accept the reality of what was before me now. Their father did not care about them.
My daily life as a mother was not unlike I had always dreamed it would be. Caring for my children and demonstrating my love for them in a practical way from morning ‘til night was like breathing to me. So natural. So pure. What I could never had anticipated, though, was how desperately alone I felt in my tasks; maybe it was because I was… I was utterly and completely alone.
When Brendan William was born, I would cherish the times at night just before bed when I was able to tell Gideon all about my day with our darling little boy. We called it “Amy Time”. It was not uncommon to only see him for two or three hours a day, as work kept him busier than we had ever dreamed. Moments alone were rare and painful, because we knew that our time was always slipping away.
Now, I only had myself to recount the milestones of our children, the remarkable traits he and the boys shared even though the distance prevented any contact with them, and with the amazing journey of motherhood I was now experiencing in a whole new way. These are things that you can’t just discuss with your parents or with a friend. They are deeply intimate and often times quite revealing - something I just wasn’t going to talk with someone else about only to have them give me a blank stare. Gideon would understand - or at least, he would have tried. Now things were too convoluted to make any sort of impact in our personal relationship, so I would have to make do with talking to God.
Sitting in my favorite chair, I reclined it all the way and stared off into space with my towel on. That scalding hot bath was just what I needed to relax my body, but my mind was buzzing. With heavy-lidded eyes - I needed to sleep after a full day of crying and contemplating suicide. I decided I couldn’t go to bed. Not yet. Bed meant dreams, and dreams meant torture. Seeing his face every night, and watching him inside my mind on yet another escapade. I was an unwilling fly on the wall in the life I imagined he had. I decided instead to let the pain consume me for what I had hoped was the last time. If I was lucky, I would be able to go to sleep after this. If I got what I really wanted, I wouldn’t experience this level of pain ever again. However, if the trends of my recent lapses in judgement were to end, I would have to let go of the one man I had ever truly loved. The one person who had single handedly built her up, and had crafted her spectacular fall.
How did I get here? I had my whole life ahead of me, and I gave it all up for him. I wanted to be a nurse. I was the top of my class. I was well loved and had the world at my feet, and I destroyed every relationship in my life for the sake of my love for him. I had fallen in love with a desperately flawed man, whose imperfections were magnified by his experiences in the war and in life away from the bubble he grew up in. I am penniless, a mother of three and divorced. He didn’t love me ENOUGH. He had chosen someone else. He had moved on. NOW what was I supposed to do?
I learned this year about the importance, no… the necessity of caring for ourselves first. Don’t get me wrong - our responsibilities are sincerely important to meet, but sometimes, we just can’t be super mom. As a mom of three children under two, beautiful, active, healthy little boys, I could clearly see how easily someone could lose themselves in caring for their children. My kids’ well-being is always on my mind, but in order to be the kind of woman that they would be proud of, it took a careful examination of the balance of my life to become a thoughtful, responsible mother. Seeing who I am on the inside, what I wanted out of life…. Even things as simple as what my favorite food was - all things that I had neglected since my first pregnancy - left me feeling hopeless and empty when my husband chose to move on just a month before the twins were born.
There are a few things that I learned, through trial and error exclusively, that got me through the most difficult year of my life. I made a handy list, so I could frequently turn to it when I was too emotional and broken to think for myself...