We had a couple of days together. We played house for one night, we played apartment the next. Maybe it was better that the 3 bedroom temporary lodging was booked after that first night. Because it's hard to be so sad and lonely in a one bedroom apartment with 2 kids.
I want to write about how it felt to let him go. It's like.. a bandage ripping off, a second time, and hurting worse than the reason it was there in the first place. We had spent 5 weeks apart, trying to adjust..wanting it over fast. I distracted myself with packing, moving, stressing, traveling, getting to my parents' house, then traveling to see his parents, trying to square away some doula support. I started to "play house" a little here in Louisiana. All the while, looking forward with sweet anticipation to our meeting again after his training. And it was a good two days. A little weird..knowing you have only 2 nights together. 2 nights and about 2 days to make the most of every second without feeling like you're making the most of every second. You want it to be natural, easy, fun. And it mostly was.
We waited for what must have been 30 minutes for him to descend the escalator through the giant glass windows at that quaint Florida airport. The flight was late, a crowd had accumulated to greet the passengers. Every uniform..and there were a lot.. would bring on a tightening in my chest. But he didn't come until literally the very end. There were a lot of military folks on that flight. A lot of guys from his training. A couple of people returning from a deployment, being met by representatives from the base nearby. I guess they weren't married or were too far from home to be greeted by family. Everyone waiting around applauded for a bit. But I did so with a touch of bitterness and jealousy. And when John appeared at the top of those rolling steps I wasn't even sure it was him.. he walked like him. wore clothes like him. different hair? different something. And this was only 5 weeks. We watched him and waved as he made the descent and exited the secure area. We all hugged and I teared up. I wasn't going to cry! We shared a kiss. And sweet Kassidy realized who he was and protested that she was in my arms, fussing and reaching for him. He scooped her to him and she immediately laid her head on his shoulder, and kept it there. I didn't know or expect she would react quite like that. It was one of those simple, normal, beautiful things. It meant so much to him and me. I felt a few eyes on us, probably thinking he was back from some huge absence. And I wished it was that moment, I almost pretended it was that moment.
Sharing meals and snacks and car rides as a family unit. Swimming in the gulf and eating at a fancy place. Ordering pizza, indulging in a 6-year-old birthday ice cream treat. Him feeling the baby kick for the first and only time. Savoring every cuddle, every kiss-and-more moment. Not one of those things was enough. Every one with a lingering thought, unspoken fear, dreading the big goodbye. But it was worth the pain of separation. To see and touch and experience our cohesion again. Talking and dreaming about the future us, the one after this temporary divide.
Temporary. That's the thing. Nothing is temporary until it's over and done with and its reality can begin to fade from the front of your brain. So -this- this is now. This is real and not done. And fresher than grass grown too tall. And that hurts.
We didn't walk with him to the group casually waiting around, ABU jackets off. Looking relaxed and carefree. This wasn't some big family event with banners and flags and bands, it was just one stop on his journey there. So the few family farewells were spotty and private. We said our goodbye in the parking lot. It was a long time coming on that day. We did get some extra time by being his chauffeur, instead of the big sterile white bus that carted around most of the others. We had our last meal at the base exchange. a mini-mall. It was sweet and so normal feeling. So was the big goodbye actually. There was no drama..just some welling of tears and a non-chalant kid adios. It didn't feel real but the front seat emptied. And it is and will be for a while. And that also hurts.
It was in the few hours between goodbye and his flight taking off that I went a little bananas. My husband, my friend, my heart and my partner. He was across the highway, no doubt being relaxed and carefree as the others I'd seen, and that's how I wanted him. There was no one stopping me from going back and seeing him. It was just HIS time now. A couple of briefings and waiting for the plane. But during what was now MY time, it was all I could do to stop myself from following my weak and history-proven desire to know more, do more, take more, see more. It's just like me to find a parking place just in sight of that building and watch and stalk. Part of me wanted to do that, pain and all. But I didn't. I had to be strong right? But I don't know how strong I was sobbing and pushing the kids in those swings as the sun began to set through the salty tall pines. He was still there to see that sun and feel that heat and swat a mosquito or two. He was so close but already gone. And my deep reaction to that would sneak up on me and escape from my chest. The emotions that run through you are frightening. and a bit uncontrollable. I just felt so weak for being so crushed when this isn't even the worst kind of deployment. I would try to be together and a random thought would trigger that letdown. Yes..like breastfeeding. Thank goodness for portable dvd players and entranced 6-year-old boys and 13-month-old girls who aren't big enough to quite get it.
Later as we hung out in our tiny home for the night, I heard a plane take off. A big plane. A delightful excitement, a jolting and out-of-place feeling. I ran to the door and knew it was his plane. Surprisingly close, low and turning. In the humid dark, I felt a connection to it. It had to be his. The only one on a weekend night at this sleepy fighter jet base. It banked sharply and headed north. It was almost like I could really say goodbye. And really let go. I wished he could know that I was watching his flashing little red jet-plane lights as it faded and grew small in the distance. Gone. Really gone. And the emotions still strong and biting had gained a little room to breath. A little recovery from the tarry, heavy misery that they had been seeped in all afternoon. I said goodbye and waited to begin the long slow way back home.
And it had to begin here.