What is it about the fives that really makes us think?
I mean, I know I don't miss an anniversary without thinking, but there's something about intervals of five that are so profound.
Five ridiculously long, painful years.
I wanted to cling onto you that night. Well, let's back up. Let's start from the beginning. We knew it was going to happen from day one. But then the rumors got closer and closer. You were supposed to go in August, but that was to Iraq and for some reason someone didn't want the unit going to Iraq. I guess there wasn't enough action there? There were rumors for the reason, but we'll stay away from those now. So, it became the waiting game. You'd leave for training upon training and the deployment wouldn't come and at one point, dropping you off for training I said, "I kind of wish this was just the deployment. Not that I want you to go, but I want to get it over with."
All I wanted was to get it over with.
Anyway. We (the families) would be told things like, "24 Hour Standby," and "Leave at a Moment's Notice." It started to get more specific; "Don't expect your Marine to be here until Halloween."
Halloween came, you were a cowboy and I was a leopard. We went to a friend's house for a Halloween party and had so much fun. I was hormonal though, and we got in an argument that night. We made up because it was stupid. I'm sorry I was so damn emotional.
Then we heard, "Don't expect your Marine to be here for Thanksgiving." We went to Maryland because my mom had planned a surprise baby shower. It was such a great time. I think you were the most involved dad-to-be I'd ever seen at a baby shower. You handed me the gifts, smiled in the photos, and generally played along.
We had planned to spend Christmas in Florida with your family. At the rate things were going, of course you were going to be here for Christmas, they kept warning us with no consequence. It wasn't really going to happen, was it?
Things were changing in Afghanistan. The command over there were asking for more troops. The president was stalling on his decision. December 1st there was a press conference. He announced he would indeed be sending more troops (although not the number that was requested...) and we knew immediately you would be in that surge.
December 4th was a regular day. We went out to eat at Golden Corral. I was eating banana pudding, a delicious combination of banana flavored goo, Nilla wafers, and whipped cream. Your phone rang right as I was about to take a bite. I tried to listen. It was the sergeant from the armory. I heard a lot of "yes, sergeants," spoon hovering mid-bite. What was happening? You ended the call. You looked me in the eye and said, "I have PT Monday morning and then... Tuesday afternoon." I crinkled my brow... "Why are you PTing Tuesday afternoon?"
"No babe. I'm leaving Tuesday afternoon."
The spoon remained midair as the tears slid down my cheeks, salty paths of the composure I could no longer hold. There was only one place to which you'd be leaving. You were worried I wasn't okay. We had taken separate vehicles and you were so concerned about me driving home. I assured you I'd be fine and off we went to our little duplex in Richlands; you following, always watching to make sure I was alright.
We decided to blow up the air mattress that night, the nice king sized double stacked one we borrowed from my parents, and put it in the living room. We watched movies and cuddled so tight I briefly thought of crawling into your skin so I never had to be without you. How was I going to survive without you?
Four days. We had four days to prepare for the inevitable. You went through your packing lists and I double checked them behind you. "Where is your side arm holster?!" I looked for that damn thing for hours. It was missing one piece. And I knew without that one piece the world would fall apart. "Babe, I can rig it up and it'll be fine." I made you show me. It looked fine. I questioned your packing style, shouldn't you have the most necessary items at the top of your sea bag? You laughed it off and I'm sorry I was such a pain in the ass. I just needed you to be ready. We joked about how you weren't allowed to go on convoys. About how you'd get there and dig a hole in the ground with a bubble over it and just wait out your 7 months. It was funny, but really I was terrified.
We went and picked out the final colors for the house we'd bought pre-construction. Blue with wine colored shutters. Countertops, the shape in the front door, carpet styles... we were so glad we got to do that together. We went to our plot, talking about all the things we would do in our brand new house when you got back.
We had a Christmas. We went out and bought a little tree and some bulbs, put it up and decorated it. We did presents. I had bought you new pajama pants, you loved pajama pants, and a new digital camera. My mom tried to get the camera to us in time before you left but it didn't, so I gave you my own. I wrapped a picture of the pajama pants (that I'd left in Maryland, thinking I had time) and a picture of the camera in cereal boxes. You drew me a card. Inside there was a picture of a blue house with red shutters, a woman, a Marine, and a little girl. You wrote, "My promise to you." You were gifting me our dreams, our life together.
You called your family and said you were leaving. Your mom and Emilie came up and we had a great visit. You got promoted that weekend. I was super proud. You let me pin you. I tried not to slap you too hard, but enough for you to feel it.
Decemeber 8th came. We loved and it was so ridiculously hard to walk out of that house, knowing I'd return without you. It was such a beautiful day, the sun was shining and it was relatively warm but my spirits couldn't match. Lady Gaga's Bad Romance came on the radio and we laughed and laughed about such a ridiculous song. We went to the 7 Day Store for some last minute items. An officer was there and he welcomed you home, you told him you were just leaving and he told you he'd see you soon then.
We had to go in early because you were an armorer and you had to hand out the weapons and all that other stuff. It was a special day so I got to go in. I talked out the window to the Marines in line and got a good scolding for that. Your sergeant told us it was stupid to think you'd never convoy, I let him know I was aware of that, it was just our joke.
We went to the staging area. I didn't want to let you go. People were taking pictures, many women looked so presentable with their makeup. I hadn't worn makeup that day because I knew I'd cry and it would run down my face.
There was a lot of standing around and socializing. We were just killing time. You spoke to your daughter. You told her how much you loved her, and told her to take care of mommy, you promised her you'd see her soon.
All of a sudden, you were called to FORM UP. I watched you walk away, a quick kiss but no real goodbye, and join the rest of the Marines. You were spoken to, then told to head to the bus. I watched you walk toward the bus. Everyone was walking away. Could I go? Could I follow? I would've folded up into your pocket if I could, just to stay by your side. A couple wives started walking that way and I did this skid/walk/run maneuver to get to you. I wanted to remain professional and composed and show you I was strong enough to handle this. I didn't want you to know I was falling apart inside.
I caught up to you. Our last kiss. Our last hug. Our last spoken I love yous where we could look in each others' eyes. I watched you walk up the steps. You took a window seat. You signed that you loved me, the way we would, and I watched the tears slip down your cheeks. You didn't want to go, I think you would've folded me into your pocket if you could. What was I without you? What were you without me? I Love You sign language, and tears, and then the buses rolled. I couldn't look away. I stood there, watching until there was nothing left to see. I wanted to fall apart but I wouldn't allow it. I tried to detach.
I numbly walked to the FRO's office where a few of my friends were. I returned the FRO's coat. She'd let me borrow it as the sun sank and I started to shiver. Your sister called you, I had your phone because it was against the rules to take it. Hearing your ringtone ripped another piece from my heart.
I went to a friend's house, as I wasn't ready to greet an empty house. They made me eat dinner. They reminded me I had someone else to think about, growing inside me, who needed nourishment.
I drove home to an empty duplex. The tiny house that had felt so cramped was now far too large, an echoing mansion mirroring the emptiness inside me. Baby furniture had arrived on the porch and I had to wiggle it inside without lifting it, my huge belly bumping it the whole way. It was my first task alone.
I paced the halls. I didn't want to be alone, but I didn't want to be with anyone else or in any other place. Our home was both a prison and a sanctuary.
As I lay on the couch, unable to lay in our bed without you that first night, drifting to sleep, I thought of when I'd see you next. In 7 months, you'd be back in my arms, and my loneliness would be relieved. I could make it. I'd be alright. You needed me to be strong and I would be what you needed.
That was the last time I saw you, soul present in body, on this earth. The last time I felt the warmth radiating from your skin, the last time I felt the tingle of your kiss, the last time I felt safe and whole.
I look to my right and there you sit. Your body in a small wooden box. I look to the Heavens and there you live. Your soul, watching down on me reminding me that I will be safe and whole once more.