Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.
There it is, the same wall I have felt before, the wall I leaned against when I sat down to write my wedding vows. Actually, if I remember correctly, the wall was sitting on my lap.
People will read these words, hear these words. Can I translate this raw emotion and actually do it justice?
About one year ago, JT told me he would be deployed in the spring of 2018. Yesterday I kissed him goodbye and watched him fly away from me, into the clouds.
This past January, I decided that when he left I would write my way through his absence. I have been preparing to start this online journal for a few months now and all of a sudden I am self-conscious and concerned that my words won’t adequately portray this experience. I am already worried that I will stop writing… I have many journals with only a handful of inked pages. My hope is that this keyboard gives me the kind of therapy I have imagined it would, and that I make regular appointments.
Worries aside, I am going to start. Because this is for me. I will write to process my thoughts and feelings, to document this part of our journey through my eyes. I will write to give my husband the feeling that he is laying in our bed beside me, listening to me talk about my day.
The trouble is, you think you have time.
In the year-long anticipation of this deployment, I spent a blissful few months in the denial stage. JT had been told before of deployments that never happened. I let myself live in this stage until mid-summer. I spent an evening at the Union Fair with my great friend T. We walked around the fairground loop countless times, talking about family, work, my upcoming wedding and her own wedding. When we decided to head home, we stood by our vehicles for a long while and JT’s deployment came up. T had been through her brother’s deployment and she shared a little bit of her experience. After weeks of brushing it off, I looked at her and said “This is real, isn’t it?” My eyes filled with tears.
Honestly, the anticipation was killer. There were many days when I wished that he could just deploy already, because it felt as though I was suffering in anticipation, knowing I would suffer through the deployment as well. The day before send-off, we talked about how our wedding day, just six months prior, seemed like it was years ago.
The months have been long.
JT and I have spent a considerable amount of time apart in our almost five years together. It has been our normal. Despite this, we both knew that the time we had together before he left needed to be appreciated and used well, and it was. The day before he left was surreal. I ran errands while he finalized his flight plan and prepared for departure at the flight facility. When I got home with dog food and yogurt (grocery shopping always a strength of mine), I watched a YouTube video on folding an origami envelope. Inside it, I tucked a black dog tag that I had laser etched with a wedding photo and an excerpt from my vows. I replayed that part of my vows, hoping that my husband would recognize them and feel the depth of their meaning. I felt calm, yet I still counted the hours we had left a dozen or more times.
I promise that I will need you,
But I will always be able to take care of myself
So you can focus on the mission at hand.
I vow to be faithful to you, to keep a space in my heart that is only for you
And I promise that I will forever be your family and the home you return to
It is truly difficult to express what my mental preparation has been. Even on my last day with JT, I battled with my runaway thoughts. I am not in a unique situation. I have not lost him. But still, there is a sense of loss of what will be missed and overwhelming anxiety about what I risk losing. I continue to balance in my mind a voice of guilt that minimalizes this (“you haven’t lost him forever,” “you don’t have children to take care of by yourself,” “this is only your first deployment”) with a quieter voice that wants to justify my feelings, my anxiety, and my tears.
After dinner, JT built a fire in our fireplace using wood I had stashed away for the occasion. We ate Gifford’s ice cream in front of it and laid on the floor in sweet silence. All four of our pets joined us in this room we plan to make our family room.
Live like he deploys tomorrow.
And now I know how it feels, for my husband to deploy tomorrow. And while I am too realistic to think that I can cherish time like that day, every day, I now have a perspective that I did not have before.
I busied myself during the morning before the send-off. Our mothers arrived at our house to ride to the ceremony together. All of my calm from the day before had left me in my sleep and yet JT had his game face on. He is steady and sure, trained and prepared. I have to be reminded to check the mail.
I had been keeping track of lasts. None hit me as hard as when we were leaving our house and JT had to say goodbye to the dogs. They are our babies, the highlight of our days and a never-ending source of comfort, entertainment, and love. I couldn’t watch or listen. I stayed upstairs and cried. JT found me in the bathroom and just hugged me. When he moved away from me, I noticed one of my tears had transferred to his right cheek. I watched it glisten on his face and appreciated that he did not wipe it off. We had to get going; trying to regain control of myself after this was difficult, and when I did, it didn’t last long.
It was repeated during the official send-off ceremony that people often find that specific time to be the most stressful part of deploying. It was. At this point, my stress and sadness were coming out of my eyes at the slightest trigger. Finally we were able to transition to the flight facility where 9 helicopters stood waiting for their crews.
The pilot seats in the Blackhawk that JT flew from the send-off. I can still hear his mother telling the helicopter, “Take care of my son.”
JT would fly out in the third wave, meaning we could postpone our goodbye just a little bit longer. I watched crews for the first wave head to their aircraft. The first helicopter was started and my eyes welled up. My mother-in-law hugged me. It got a little easier after that. Eventually, JT turned to me and said he was going to go, and he hugged me. I asked him if I could be his last hug, so he said his goodbyes to everyone else and he came back around to me. He was ready to go and at that point I was ready too, ready to start the countdown to his return.