In the past 5+ years of my husband being in the military, there are few things that surprise me anymore. Most of the big life-changing events that his service has brought on are things that we could see coming. They were on the horizon all along, like a ticking clock in the back of our minds. And deployment was no exception.
Like any military couple, we got the usual false alarms. We would get word of a rumored deployment coming up, only to have it fall through. Sometimes it would be a year out, or a few months, but the rumor mill usually simmered out just as quickly as it started. So, when we found out it was real, we didn’t even know how to feel. I think we spent those first few weeks in shock. It was as though an earthquake had come through our household, and when we let ourselves forget the reality of it all, the after-shock would pass through and remind us. Because as much as you expect it to happen, there’s no rule book on how to handle it when it does.
Questions started coming out of the woodwork from family, friends, coworkers, and anyone who caught wind of the news. Before I knew better, I would take the time to explain the details to those who were close to us, and I always felt like my head was ready to spin off. Those questions would create more questions, and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t get it. I mean, it’s so simple, right?!
But it’s not.
Until you’ve packed those bags, and filed the Will away, praying you’ll never need to take it out again. Until you’ve gone through the checklist of necessary items, as well as your own “what if” list. Until you’ve held the hand of that loved one, and wished for just a few more moments of peace. A few more moments where your world was still whole and they were still right there in front of you.
Until you’ve held back tears so that they won’t worry, only to crumble as soon as the phone hangs up. Until the only real connection you have is packed in a USPS box each month, with items you’ve selected specially for them. Until you’ve had to wonder if the person you love will still be that person when they return, or if they’ll be someone new; someone unrecognizable.
Until your spouse has deployed, there are just some things you can’t understand.
The goodbye is not the hardest part
For a long time after Kyle left, people would console me by saying, “Don’t worry, the hardest part is over.” and to some extent, they were right. “Hard” doesn’t even begin to define how truly heart wrenching the goodbye was. But the hardest part, that defining moment or feeling, changes over time. During that first week, it was the goodbye. After a couple months, it was the overall realization of how long we would be apart. After 5-6 months, it was all the things he was missing. And now, it’s the overwhelming worry that he may come home a different man than the one I miss.
You have your own life, and they have theirs
Picture this: You’re 17 years old and you meet the love of your life. You spend nearly every day with them for 5 years, move in together, get engaged, get married, get a dog. Everything is combined; two lives have merged into one. But then all of the sudden, it’s pulled apart again. And you’re left to relearn something you thought you left behind: being alone. And the only way to cope with that is to accept that some parts of your life will be disconnected from theirs. There will be friendships, memories and unexplainable moments for both of you, that the other will not be part of. Those roots that were once intertwined will have this detour that can’t be changed or erased. And that’s hard to be okay with.
“Hurry up and leave”
I took a week off from work when Kyle was getting ready to leave. We spent that week visiting people together, having a going away party for him, and tying up loose ends. And every morning when I woke up, there were these blissful moments where I forgot what was going on. You know, when you’re just coming out of a deep sleep and your eyes haven’t quite opened yet, and reality isn’t reality? And then it hits you; all those scary feelings and thoughts. It tightens its grip on you once again.
I would wish, in those moments, that I didn’t have so much time to think about all of it. That we didn’t know for months that this was coming, and I couldn’t think of every possible “bad thing” that may happen. I would say to Kyle, “I love you, but can you hurry up and leave so I can start counting down?” And he would just laugh, because he felt it too. You prepare so heavily for it, that you just want it to start already so you can stop thinking about how it will all feel.
Homecoming is scary, too
“Will he be different?”, “Will I be different to him?”, “Am I Different?!”, “Will we be able to pick up where we left off?” If you’ve been through it, you know what I’m talking about. Expectations. Homecoming carries a lot of expectations. We all want that romantic, Gone with The Wind, cry-worthy YouTube video of a homecoming. I want to run across that tarmac and jump into my husband’s arms without a care in the world. But when you’ve been apart for so long, it’s like you’re meeting again for the first time. You’re both different because of what you’ve been through. There’s all this build-up and excitement, and it’s easy to feel nervous.
You would move mountains to see them again
Prior to deployment, Kyle was shipped to Texas for training for nearly 2 months. We had already said our “see you laters” and had the big send off on base. But when we found out they would have a 4-day pass for Memorial Day weekend, myself and a few other wives didn’t hesitate to buy plane tickets. We all flew down to meet up with them, buying us a few more days before they would officially ship out. We wanted to take advantage of every free moment, even if it made it harder to say goodbye again. And let me tell you, it was worth it. No matter where, when, or how, we will always find our way to each other.
What was deployment like for you? Was it hard for your to relate to spouses outside the military?