I think I had my first official deployment moment this morning. It began when I got up and checked my phone, this being instinctive now. If I and the phone are separated for more than a minute I have panic attacks and, with dread anticipation, open the phone to see if I have...(gasp!)...missed a call from Keith. This has not happened yet, but the very thought of it fills me with horror. (Even though he himself told me, kindly, that it would be alright if I missed a call, he would simply call back a few hours later. I don't believe him.)
When I checked my trusty side kick, I saw that I had received a text message. It was from Glenda, Keith's mother.
"Ah ha!" I thought, "she is finally getting back to me." I had, at her son's request, given her a call a week or so ago, to let her know he was ok, etc. I had left a voice mail and never heard back. Her text message this morning read:
"Call me when you get this message. Call me when you get this message."
I thought the repetition strange, but called her, as doubly instructed. No one answered, so I left a chatty little voice mail telling her what little news I had of Keith of late; that he had called a day or so ago, was still in Kuwait, seemed more positive about his mission, though I had no idea what it was yet.
As I went downstairs, I tried to ignore a niggling little sensation of something off. It was the repetition. Surely it was an error, and not some strange urgency? I checked the text and noted, with a deepening feeling of misgiving, that it was sent at three am.
Who sends texts at three am? I tried to pretend that I was not doing this for any specific reason, but I turned on the TV when I went downstairs to make coffee, the dogs tumbling after me. The house was empty and chill, but the sun was already pouring down outside the windows, making leafy shadows on the wood floor.
I was disappointed to find merely cartoons; to the rest of the world, this was Saturday, not just another day in a long, grey rotation of days that must simply be passed through. I had forgotten all about Saturdays and suddenly, the thought comforted me. Other families were happily together, spilling Cheerios on table tops, padding about in slippers, thinking about mowing the lawn or going grocery shopping. In fact, it was probably happening all around me.
There were no news, and a little voice told me, nothing would be on the news yet anyway, they notify the families first...(but wouldn't they call me? But what if he didn't finish the paperwork and his mother is still listed as his emergency contact? He's not like that, he's very thorough...But what if army beaurocracy hadn't gotten around to making the switch and his mother knows something she can't leave in a message...? What if she didn't answer because she's in a little puddle of inconsolable grief somewhere...?)
"Enough!" I told myself, and dialed her number again, in the spirit of grabbing the bull by the horns. No answer. So I left another chatty little voice mail explaining that the time she'd sent the text started me worrying, even though I knew it was probably nothing, but I was sure she'd understand and wouldn't she please call me back as soon as she got this, just to set my mind at ease?
So the long morning and afternoon slid by. I couldn't focus on anything, I played endless games of minesweeper, I sat out on the deck reading a book one of the residents had given me. It was one in the afternoon before a pang of anxiety penetrated my wall of calm.
Why the hell hadn't she called? I knew she slept in, but it was one pm! Surely she would call by now. But if she wasn't calling, wasn't that good news? If something really terrible had happened, wouldn't she have gotten in touch with me by now? Surely this means it was some small misunderstanding...?
I called her number again, feeling slightly sheepish and slightly irritated at the same time. Someone picked up and then hung up. I stared at the phone, bewildered. I gathered my courage together again and called ten minutes later. And got voicemail.
I called my father; he picked up. I related to him the above and he was as puzzled as I. He suggested perhaps I try calling Keith's brother. I thought this a marvelous idea and rang off to pursue it. Surely Jason would know something. However, where was Jason's number? No where. Where did Jason live? Somewhere in Indiana. What town, what town, what town...? I couldn't remember.
Suddenly I remembered Keith had the old boat title that was still in Jason's name in the lockbox upstairs in our bedroom. Up I went. Sure enough, there was Jason's address. Back down I went, dogs following me, slightly puzzled, but game. I looked on line, found no matches. He must have a cell phone and not a home phone, I decided. I even tried his wife's name. No luck.
However, now it was abruptly time to go to work. I rushed the dogs outside, filled their water bowls, put my shoes on, turned on the alarm to "away" and left, feeling slightly ill. I called Dad again. I related to him the further non developments. There was nothing for it, though, but to carry on. I couldn't reach Keith by phone. I could send him an e-mail that he wouldn't get until he got back in from a training mission. And by that time, it would have been sorted out and I would feel foolish. (Or, the little voice insisted, it would be far, far too late.)
My mind kept going back to that message: "Call me when you get this message. Call me when you get this message." Why ask that if she wasn't going to pick up, unless she was utterly distraught? Onward to work I went. Irritable and unfocused, I barged into my shift. I worked the first couple of hours and couldn't take it anymore, I took a ten minute break and went outside on the veranda.
I called my dad. (Poor Dad!) I simply had to talk out loud to someone, to say how ludicrus my fears were and yet how bizarre the situation and what did they think was happening? This done, I called Glenda yet again. It rang, and rang and rang and...she answered. Never had her gravely, soft voice sounded so sweet.
"How are you?" she asked happily.
"Well," I said slowly, "I'm not sure...! Have you heard anything from Keith?"
She had, it turned out, heard from him, exactly the same things I had heard (and also that the food there was good, he thought. He had had a very good Philly cheese steak the other day.) He had given her my number, as it hadn't shown up on her phone when I had left the first message two weeks earlier, and had, that night, being the night owl that she is, thought of it and had sent me the text, not wanting to wake me up. She then slept in for most of the day, missing my calls. She sent it double by mistake, not being a person that texts a great deal in her day to day life and hadn't realized the time showed up on them as well. She was sympathetic and sorry. I was relieved and reassuring.
Thus was everything explained.
So far in this deployment, I have discovered that the sprinkler is broken (something I will not tell Keith, he would fret for no reason) and that the clippers are missing (something I did tell him, via e-mail, as he might have loaned it out to someone.) I have discovered that my long time wish of being able to cry more easily has been, miraculously, answered! I cry when I entered the garage, when listening to country songs, when passing by restaurants and spontaneously, on the phone with various family members. It's a marvelous thing.
I have vivid dreams of him calling me, only to wake and check the phone to make sure it didn't actually happen. He calls in the middle of the night and I'm so tired it's more like a dream than the dream was and I find I have nothing to say, and should have taken the advice of the propaganda pamphlet, of keeping conversational tidbits on the bedside table for just such moments.
He sounds tired and his voice is gravely. In the dark of our bedroom, the sleeping forms of the dogs curled up close to me, I can close my eyes and I see him vividly. He has sand in his hair, in his eyebrows, in the pockets of his fatigues. His face is sunburnt, the lines at the corners of his pale blue eyes whiten when he smiles; he sits in a small, not private booth in a trailer in the desert with other men (and women) who are struggling to connect and convey over the telephone line. He holds the phone too tightly and hunches over on his seat, his long legs sprawled, his boots caked with dust.
I see this and I know that I must come to terms not only with this deployment, but with every other deployment that will happen, a long line of them stretching out until his retirement. I must not merely endure, I must put to good use. But how, and what use? Only time will tell, and I have nothing if not time.
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