My mind begins to sluggishly stir, mired as it is right now in depression, exhaustion and undernourishment. Today, for example, I slept only four hours, ate nothing but a cup of god awful coffee, a bagged salad and almost the entire bag of chips with onion dip (my "Code Red" comfort food that inevitably wrecks havoc on my stomach. I still can't resist it in times of great need.) I changed into my PJs at three thirty; I drift from room to room, keeping the worst of the depression at bay with music, two dogs and one lone, Louis Lamour paperback novel.
Last night I was buoyant, swept away on a tide of what must have been sheer nervous energy, knowing that soon Keith would be landing in Kuwait and I could expect a call from him from any time past ten pm.
The deployment process is a long slipping away of treasured things. It begins long before he leaves and doesn't end even after he's gone.
Some losses are unanticipated; for example, right in the middle of an innocuous grocery trip I went to stock up on a favorite food of his that I saw was on sale, and realized, sickeningly, that it wouldn't matter, he wouldn't be around long enough to eat them. I left them on the shelf and went on to other things.
Other losses are planned for, but all the planning in the world pales in comparison to the actual deprivation of them.
I am very good at navigating time, in the long count down of anticipation and in the shorter, sickening process of watching time wash away. I taught myself how to manipulate time; that is, when I was in the long process of waiting, I knew how to wear the time down until even whole weeks were meaningless, and when I wanted it to lengthen, I knew how to expand each moment perfectly, a polished memory almost before it was over. I have been putting this knowledge to good use ever since I met Keith.
Coming up on deployment, at first it was a vague and hazy threat that loomed at summer's end, like a stain slowly making its way toward me. But it brought pressure to bear, enough so that, even as fast as I made my life changes, I felt I was hardly keeping abreast of it. The wave that has been driving me forward has just now crashed around my heels and my life is, just for now, a mess of debris left behind.
I move around the house slowly and pick up the pieces one by one. Yesterday I washed the last of his clothing that were left in the hamper from when he lived here. Today I threw out the remains of a meal we ate together. Every day I walk past an assorted bundle of rejected military gear on the chair, past his ball cap on the chair, every morning I walk past his extra pair of combat boots lined up next to my shoes.
His call came through around nine thirty this morning; as he had said it would, his number appeared as a strange jumble, unrecognizable. I knew it was him, but he wasn't sure it was me. "Jenny?" he asked, urgently, anxious. I simply left; went straight out the front door and sat down on the veranda outside, around the corner from the front door.
His voice had that thick, roughened sound of sheer exhaustion, the one I remembered from when he was in combat training for three weeks out in the California desert. The flight had been long, he had been up for almost seventy two hours by then, the heat in Kuwait was like a sauna. He will be living in a tent for a week before being sent, he thinks, to South Bagdad. No one is sure of what they are doing or what their mission will be.
He couldn't talk long, beside, how often can one try to express in words what cannot possibly be contained there? Sooner or later, one gives up; consigns it to the ever expanding bin of losses. I went back to work, but the energy slowly sunk out of me, leaving me limp and hardly able even to talk by the early afternoon.
Now, I am past, I think, all the preliminary stages of this thing. The phone call from him on a strange number, at the strange time, and so short, marked the real beginning. Now there is no more barrier, however flimsy, between myself and the reality of where he is and what my life will be like.
"My husband left for Iraq on Tuesday," I heard myself saying, more than once today. Each time my voice was toneless, asking for nothing, giving away little. I see my hands as I remember this, how my hands moved without thought to gather the dirty china; I kept my eyes on the backs of my hands and did not lift them to read the expression in my coworker's face.
Each time I acknowledged that he had left I would think, first of all, of how dramatic my statement sounded and would chide myself for posing. Lots of loved ones left for Iraq on Tuesday; hundreds, in fact. The other thought that occured to me was how unreal it was. What could it mean? That country is not real, it's a place of nightmares, of smoke and terrible stories. Real people couldn't possibly go there.
Oh well, so the last remaining shred of camouflage has been torn away; so now I am facing the bald reality of this thing. Bring on the night, dark, sweet and cold. Bring on the long procession of days, marking weeks, marking months; it's only the beginning that's the hardest.
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