As a military spouse I have experienced different types of separation. Separations with many time zones crossed. Some with more uncertainties than others. In this age of instant communication, I have learned about waiting. I have sent many emails that feel like “lost letters.” During one separation that felt the longest for me, I did not hear from him for over two weeks. Not an email. Not a phone call. Not a text. That disconnection was almost unbearable.
Hours, days, weeks, months....they all add up. Personally it feels like time behaves differently when your other half is in harm's way. This piece is an attempt to depict the way time feels.
Even though I have been gathering info from my soldier about wartime images ,the spacing in this piece describes the element of time from my perspective. In the beginning there is a dragging on. Almost a ripping away feeling, as I have spent every possible moment with him before he leaves, and then he’s just gone. There’s a painful emptiness.
I remember my first deployment goodbye EVER in 2010. We stayed up late the night before, we got a movie with every intention to watch it, but didn’t get around to it. He bought flowers (upon my request) because beauty has a way of lifting my spirit. We woke up and he made videos for me to watch while he was gone (for when I miss him and can't call him - because I have to wait for him to contact me.)
We went to Waffle House, and conversation was awkward. I wanted to enjoy it and be normal, but in my mind I knew in a couple hours I would be giving him his last hug and kiss for a WHILE. A long while. Words were stuck in my throat. So I just looked at him and commented about the food, small talking my way through it. Anyone who knows me would tell you this is not my style. I love delving deep. Not this time. I wanted to just keep it (mostly) together and try to think about anything except this HUGE gap we were facing. He surprised me after breakfast, and we stopped at a nearby park and strolled, enjoying what beauty was left that February. We embraced and even danced to one of our songs in order to feel close before we drove to where I was dropping him off. It is all the small things in those moments that matter. The hand holding, the hugs, the kisses, my mind and heart try desperately to capture them, how they feel.
The together memories are freshest in the beginning. The days drag as I learn to accept this will be my reality for a while. I will not get to welcome him home each night. I will not be sharing about my days over dinner every evening. We will not be keeping each other warm as we fall asleep. So I depicted the second longest space in the very beginning of my piece. For me it takes a bit to change gears. To figure out what this separation is going to look like. On both ends. How will the internet be where he is going? How often will he be able to call or Skype? How busy will he be? Who will I spend most of my time with here? Who do I know that is facing the same thing right now? How can I stop avoiding my empty bed?
Eventually plans do get made…..sometimes more than others. I get some sleep. A groove is found and the pieces getting closer together reflect that new rhythm. It is not a given, but many times I can find a friend or two and we do dinner together or hang out on the weekends.
Then there is the half way slump. It is a mixture of emotions….I feel happy that I’ve made it half way, but then again that first half felt SO long… can I really make it through the second half?! Can I really face it? The time and distance are so massive, there is no way around it. Busying myself or traveling doesn’t make it go away. The separation goes with me. Each time I come home or there is a lull in the busyness, the separation is there. The longing to be together. The desire to connect for an entire evening, not just a snippet of time. But those snippets get me through. The emails that are in my inbox when I wake up. The rare occasion of a package or letter. The phone calls or iMessages when he’s available. They all get me through. It takes work to stay connected and open, for both of us. This piece is about being WORLDS APART but still working to be TOGETHER, through the good, the bad and the ugly.
Usually I have my "Half Way Never. Going. To. Make. It. Meltdown".... because I feel that I should be encouraged or MORE encouraged that we are halfway through, but some days all I can see is how BIG the second half seems. Eventually I find my rhythm again. I get back into doing life and making plans. Often I have a couple things planned that I look forward to.
It’s helpful if I spread my plans out a bit, because I have learned over time that depending on the build-up or preparation, I can experience a bit of a letdown afterward. For example, my third daughter turned ONE last deployment and historically (with our other two) their first birthdays were a BIG deal. Even though she wouldn’t have known that I didn’t throw a party (until she was much older); I felt it was important to stay true to our traditions, even though my husband was gone. Thankfully with GOOD help and a little money spent (for some items that I wouldn’t normally pay for), IT WAS A GREAT BASH! I did it! The rain held off, people came, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. But afterward there was that letdown…. I have realized it with other big events too. A sort of build up and excitement before and during the event, and then a low when it is finished. My friend described it as “an adrenaline letdown.” Combined with my normal good and bad days of deployment, I can fall into the pit of despair if not careful.
I am a person that craves closeness and connection. One thing I do while to keep my heart open and soft while we are separated is to reflect. I reflect on the good times by making books with our old photos. During our second deployment I made a book about our beginnings. I wrote about our first date and our wedding, plus our first year. It is something I still look back on to remind myself how much we love each other. Our vows are in there so we revisit them on our anniversary. I also have a special playlist on my phone that is called “love stretching the miles”. They are all songs that make me think of my love. Sometimes I play them loud and dance silly. Other times I just cry as my heart is softened and remind myself that no matter how many times we say goodbye, I still matter to him.
The “home” stretch is always a whirlwind of emotions for me. Not unlike many of my fellow army wives, we have goals to accomplish in the time apart. Sometimes that half way point can be a wake up call that I haven’t gotten as much done as I had hoped to. Whether the goals are projects or fitness oriented (two seemingly common goal areas), if the first half is unproductive, the disappointment can set in. When that is the case I have to remember that I am not “winning him back” or “proving my worth”, I am WELCOMING HIM HOME. I keep chipping away, but mostly I need to “be kind to myself” and judge my accomplishments in light of all I shoulder when my other half is gone.
The COUNTDOWN is an exciting time. It is close enough that I have to start leaving my schedule open to account for the BIG change that is about to occur. Wanting him home and wanting the wait to be over is so thick, I find that I am distracted by it. It can be consuming. Sometimes there is a surge of activity, but I choose to pace myself. He is not just coming home to the 4 walls, but to me. I need to be open to him relationally. The end stretches on to what feels like forever…..I try to prepare my mind for a stage that I never knew existed: REINTEGRATION…..This is the time of trying to become a family all in one place again. Everyone has changed. And even the GOOD changes take adjusting to. There is pain and hardship that has to be unburdened on both sides and intentional TIME TOGETHER is the only way I know how to figure it out….of course personal space is needed too, but I must not give in to the thought that being healthy “just happens” by him returning home.
Before I ever experienced deployment, my expectations of separation and how I would feel were different than reality. I thought “I am a independent person, I have art to make and friends to hang with…” . But I can feel lonely even with all that. I miss the fun and lightheartedness that my husband brings to my life. Life with him has the potential for a crazy adventure every weekend. New projects. Impromptu dinner parties, just FUN. I am naturally a bit more serious……yet I am learning that I need a variety of interactions, deep conversations, as well as silly and light times. When He is gone, I must be more intentional about seeking this out.
Deployments have taught me that I need others who are in tune to me and my rhythms. Ones who know the cycle of emotions that come with deployment, usually because they have lived it, or are living it beside me. This is one reason the gardens at Rick's Place are so special to me. COMMUNITY. I've found a place to be me whether my husband is deployed or not. It's a place where there is no shame in receiving, but also plenty of ways to give back.
If you are local and want to experience this community, we have a workday at Rick’s Place April 30 (it happens once a month). This Saturday it is from 9-12. It is a time to get your hands dirty and make some friends. After a bit of manual labor, lunch is provided and hanging out is encouraged. Even if you are not local you can become part of our community through monthly giving and connecting to RHFnow on Facebook. Or contact us through the website if you have any special skills to help further our cause. It is takes a community to build this community. We can’t do it alone.