Friday, October 17, 2008

Hating My Phone and Hugging the Boot...

...the insanity of deployment continues!

Well, we have weathered our first post deployment argument. Though I'm not sure it was an argument exactly, it was more like an upheaval. Either way, I knew such a thing was inevitable, given our natures. And it was incredibly hard to get through, anticipated or not.

Our very first argument ever was like that too; frightening and challenging. When I met Keith, he had separated from his ex wife a mere five months earlier and he was still raw from it. The marriage had only lasted two years and the second year had been one of fighting and discontent. Keith's one refuge was the garage and he shut himself up in it on an almost daily basis, when he couldn't take any more.

We had had disagreements and some heated discussions, but the evening when Keith declared, in a cold and distant voice, that he was going out to the garage, I felt my heart sink all the way to my toes. I knew we had been having a very emotional argument, but until he said that, I didn't realize how deeply the hurt must have sunk into him. I felt a sense of failure, and of helplessness.

Angry and hurt, I went upstairs and got into bed. I knew that he was wrong and that if he could just see sense, he wouldn't be carrying on like he was. But as the long minutes went by, alone in our bed, I wondered what it meant to me, to be merely right. I wondered what was more important to me; to wait for my position to be justified by him, or to mend the recent breach in our relationship.

Furthermore, I knew a lot of the pain and anger that was flowing through him had more to do with past hurts than it did with me, and that if I stayed stubbornly in bed, I would simply be playing into Keith's memories of his ex-wife. I didn't wish to play that part; I wanted to write my own.

I got out of bed and drew on my bathrobe. Bare foot, I padded out onto the deck. The garage was all lit up, the music pouring from the open windows and doors. I felt nervous. What if going to him only made him more angry? What if I should give him his space, let him calm down and then approach him? It was a risk, and I knew it, but I also knew there are some risks worth taking.

I took a deep breath and tiptoed carefully to the open door, peered around. When Keith saw me, he struggled to hide his amazement. I saw that I had gotten him completely off balance, but, careful of his dignity, he studiously ignored me. He went to the tailgate of the HD and sat down, cradling his highball in its pink plastic cup.

"Can I come in?" I asked him. Again, emotion passed over his face, but again, he shut it down and merely nodded. I hitched myself up next to him and we began what turned into a two hour long discussion. It was exhausting. Keith was angry and wanted to fight. He was used to fighting with his ex wife in a certain way. But I didn't like that kind of argument, the kind where no one wins and no understanding is gained and everyone is trying merely to score points, though no one knows who is keeping track or what the prize is.

It was hard work, to listen and not be defensive, to speak and not incite. But it was worth it. At the end of the two hours, we had never been so close or had such trust. Keith and I argued many times after that, and they only got more intense as deployment drew nearer. But we were always able to make up, and make better, even if a took a few days, or him stumbling upon an e-mail of mine, or my getting a sudden insight into why he felt so strongly about something that was merely a side issue to me.

Going into deployment, Keith expressed many, many times his fears that I would find someone else and leave him while he was gone. At first this offended me; naturally, I took it personally and I couldn't believe he could look at me, know me, and still think it possible. After a while, I detached myself from it, since, I realized, it had almost nothing to do with me personally.

It had to do with what he had seen and experienced on his first tour of Iraq; wives leaving and taking everything, wives having affairs and the news of it reaching his fellow soldiers. There were countless, terrible stories he recounted to me.

And it had to do with his own personal history, of his ex wife telling him, the day after Christmas in Indiana, that she was going shopping, and instead, getting on a plane and flying back here, where she had a moving truck already hired and started to move out everything. Keith only got wind of it because one of his good friends happened to see the moving truck and called him. He drove for two days straight, through a blizzard, to get home. By then she was long gone, along with the leather furniture and many other things.

Countless times he would say to me, "If you leave me, just take what is yours. Don't take my furniture."

Each time, I would reply, earnestly, "I am not going to leave you."

The first time I said this, his reply was abrupt and cold. "I don't want to hear it," he said simply. I realized it was nothing but the truth, he literally did not want to hear it. So I didn't say it. After a while, I knew he was wanting to hear me, but not willing to believe me. When saying the words, I could see him searching my face and eyes for a sign, a clue, for something that would tell him it was safe to believe me.

The last weekend we were downstairs in the study together while he downloaded music. The atmosphere was dismal, the weather was cold. The last week had stretched both of us about as far as we could go without breaking. His black lab Abby was there, her head on his knee.

"Honey," said Keith quietly, turning to face me, "if you leave, just take what is yours. And take care of Abby. We've been through a lot together." His face was open, the sorrow written there so clearly. I took a deep breath and leaned forward, putting my hands on his shoulders.

"Honey," I said gently, looking at him straight in the eye, "I am not going to leave you. I am not going to find another man. I, and the girls, and the furniture, will all be here when you come home."

First the first time, after months of him deflecting me, denying what I said, I watched his face as he let himself believe me, I saw it sink down into him. He couldn't speak, he merely nodded and turned back to the computer. I, however, was filled with light; I felt buoyant, I felt as though I had come through a long, grueling battle and had won.

However, I knew I would be fighting this battle all over again, and on a different kind of battlefield, after he was deployed. I knew it was inevitable, but when it happened just two days ago, it still was excruciatingly painful.

It started because my phone, instead of ringing when he called around five thirty in the morning, instead sent him straight to voicemail. It does this, on occasion, when the reception is bad. I had been waiting for his call for three days. It was a dark and cold morning and I was making oatmeal so I could take my ibuprofen; I recently suffered a back injury lifting one of the residents at the assisted living home where I work. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket, and filled with joy, brought it out only to see that it said, New Voicemail Message.

My heart dropped into sheer dread. Sure enough, it was from Keith. His message was short; he hoped everything was ok, (there was an edge to his voice when he said this) and he would call again in a few days. A few days???

In a flurry of frustration, I raced downstairs to the computer, and typed out an e-mail to him, asking him please to try calling again, that the phone hadn't picked up his call, etc.

Then I waited, all day. The phone continued to act strange and there were times when I felt unadulterated hatred for the object. When Keith did get through, later in the afternoon while I was sitting, moodily watching one of his movies, he was distant and cold. I knew I was in for it.

"You didn't answer the phone," he said, in that light, sharp tone that signals danger ahead. I explained. He didn't believe me. I, frustrated and exhausted, began to cry over the phone. Keith's tone of voice became immediately contrite, he began to apologize and then the phone dropped the call. I waited, quietly, the quiet before the storm, for him to call back. He didn't. I lost it.

I sat at the computer and started to write out, to Keith, an angry and bitter e-mail. (I didn't think I would actually send it, I just knew I needed to get the emotions out there.) I couldn't type fast enough; I stopped and just screamed at the computer screen. If anyone had been able to see me, I am sure they would have thought me insane. But to scream out loud felt so damn good that I did it again.

"I feel so stupid," I wrote out, between sobs and screams, "so stupid for loving you and thinking of you and all the stupid, stupid little things I do because I love you, and all of that means nothing, nothing, just because I couldn't get your call and you don't even know how badly I needed that call, how I had been waiting days to hear from you and now, because the call didn't go through, you think I could be with someone else. Do you know what I did yesterday afternoon? I missed you so damn much I got down on the bedroom floor and hugged your dirty, dusty and battered boot. Yes. And how stupid and meaningless now..."

And on and on in this vein, until I went upstairs and found that he had tried to call, but the phone had sent him to voicemail. I cannot describe the irony of that moment; while I had been writing my hate mail, he had been trying to call. He left a subdued message, for me to send him a text when I wanted to talk.

I sent him a text. He called and finished apologizing and I continued crying, I couldn't stop. It was the first time I'd cried since the first few days after he left. I explained to him what I had felt, hearing him doubt me. He assured me that he did know that I loved him and he hadn't really thought I could be with someone else and that he was proud of me, his voice tender, with just a hint of tender amusement. (I think because I couldn't stop crying and kept hiccuping.) He explained that already two of the men in his company were begging to go back home to try and fix their marriages, and it made everyone nervous.

We talked for a long time, just talked; about the dogs and his mid tour leave and the bills and of memories of this and that. It was soothing to both of us. When we ended the call, I went back downstairs to write a very different kind of e-mail and then, exhausted, fell into bed, though it wasn't yet seven in the evening.

The next morning, I found a this from him in his e-mail: "Hey my little kitten, I needed that email, I will hold it very close to my so forgetful memory...You help most through this deployment because I have no stress from back home, I know that my kitten is there, waiting..."

I know, in the next ten months or so, other calls will be dropped, misunderstandings will occur and fears will be aired, and rarely tactfully. A year is a long time, there is no getting around it. But the next time something like this happens, we'll already have a foundation to build on.

That was my goal, going into deployment; I wanted the time to count for something, not to be just empty space in my life. I wanted it to make our marriage stronger, ultimately. Now that we have passed the first real test of our marriage since he left, I know that it will. After all, nothing worth having ever comes easily.

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