When I was woken up this morning at 2 am, I remembered, eventually, to say to myself, "It is November." I'd been waiting all month to be able to say that.
Exhausted, I slept until nine thirty this morning and pulled my aching, stiff body out of bed to open the blinds. The leaves have almost all left the white birch and instead lie thickly strewn over the grass, so the view out the window seemed to gleam with unbroken, golden light.
The beauty of it couldn't touch me. Even opening the sliding glass door to let the dogs in, and feeling the unseasonable warmth, did not reach me. I felt instead as though I were slowly, inevitably sinking down and further down, into a silent, solitary place. I left the door open, so I could feel the cool, morning air as I brewed coffee, amazed to be able to do that in November.
In New England, the first snow usually happens by October and by this month, the air is always cold, with a biting, damp chill. All the leaves lie moldering in dull, tawny heaps under the bare branches, blackened by frost. In the morning, the cars must sit, wreathed in exhaust, for ten minutes before driven.
"I'm sorry I was late,' I remember a coworker once saying, years ago. "My car was frozen over." The rest of us looked at each other, incredulous, and then burst into laughter. "So you get up a half hour earlier," one said. "Hasn't she ever heard of a snow scraper?" "How about hot water?"
I came out West equipped with several coats, hats, mittens, two pairs of boots and woolen tights. In November, I found myself on the little veranda of the apartment I shared with my brother, in my bare feet, enjoying the sun.
I've been living in a little bubble and sometime in the early morning hours, it burst. I became aware of the bubble when the realization that Keith would be coming home really hit me. I started to really feel it, I remembered, for a fraction of a second, what it felt like to be actually held by him, to be in his arms, and it was like cracking a door to a landscape filled with light. I slammed the door shut, but it was too late. The bubble started to come apart then and I resented Keith for it.
I was so content, I was so wound up in my little routines and never looked beyond them. The grief had entirely left me, I only felt moments of loneliness and more rarely, moments of sheer longing. But just moments, that was all, and the moment would pass and the time would continue to go by, unbroken, steady and calm.
The last few days, Keith has sounded exhausted and distracted over the phone, and disconnected from me.
"Sweetie," I said finally, my voice imploring, "what is wrong? Are you sleeping?"
He groaned. "I'm so beat down," he admitted, his voice gravely. "Yesterday I had to work close to seventeen hours."
"But," I began, trying to think what I could ask him that he would actually be able to answer. He can't tell me what he is doing, where he is doing it, what is going wrong or right.
"I have to go, hun," he said, his voice brisk. "I'll call you tomorrow."
"I love you, Sweetie," he said.
"But, Keith, I'm worried!" I got out, in a burst. "I'm worried about you not getting enough sleep.." How could I go on to say that, sleep deprived men must surely be more prone to making mistakes, to losing perspective, judgment; I didn't want to think about him having to go back on shift in the way he was.
His response was merely an impatient grunt. "I'll be fine," he said, his voice completely impersonal now, irritated. "I'll call you soon. I love you."
"Ok, ok," I said, stuffing my concern back as quickly as possible from my voice, "I love you too."
Yesterday, my longing to hear from him was more intense than usual; I called him when I got home from my shift.
"Happy Halloween," he said, his voice sounded official and crisp; I knew that voice, I knew he must be around others, probably his superiors. "Can I call you back in two hours?"
"Sure," I said, quickly.
When he did, he sounded more like himself, optimistic and full of vigor, with his emotions warmly pouring through his voice. However, he was never able to talk for long.
I was sitting on the couch, trying to read my newly acquired library book, a treasured favorite, while waiting for trick or treaters. I had found Elisabeth Ogilvie at the larger library downtown, and was reading them as though famished. How beautifully she describes the ocean, the rocky shores, the seasons. I could almost taste the salt spray.
Some comment of mine made Keith laugh, his laugh made me fall over onto the couch in a heap of unabated longing for his physical person; there is something so rich and deep about his laughter.
"When you laugh," I confessed, from my huddle, "it's like I can see your chest."
"Awww," he said, grinning, pleased and shy the way such comments always make him.
He called again after I was in bed, trying to force myself to stay awake, unable to put the book down, though my eyelids literally were falling over my eyes. The lamp light was warm and golden, soothing. The girls were curled up in little bundles on the queen sized bedspread, their backs rising and falling softly.
Again, he could not talk long, though still I could feel his love for me all through his tone of voice.
"Are you tired, Sweetie?" he asked me, his voice tender and laughing at the same time. "I'll call back later."
"No, no," I assured him, my voice all blurred with sleep, "I'm fine, I can stay awake."
"I have to go now, hun," he admitted reluctant. "Sweet dreams."
Minutes later, in the dark, my phone made a little chirp that signals a text. I groped about at the edge of the bed for the phone and dragged it up to me. "I love you so much," the text read. Love welled up in me and I quickly text back to him and fell back asleep.
At two in the morning, the same sound woke me up from a sound sleep. Disoriented, I reached automatically for the phone.
It read "Wont be able to talk for a few days i love you so very much. I have a new mission."
Slowly, inexorably, everything about the last few days came together. His mysterious and infrequent mentions of something happening during the last week or so, the initial exhaustion and disconnect and then new energy and emotion, his many, short calls in the last twenty four hours as he must have been preparing to do whatever it is he is next doing.
Dread sunk into me. What did he mean, a new mission? Did it mean leaving the FOB? Why couldn't he call? Where was he going? Was he alone, or with others? Was it classified like the last one? What about the last one? I thought the last one was suppose to last all year long. Was he back in his tanks, or rolling out in one those absurd and to my mind, useless, armored vehicles?
And so the bubble burst.
"Is it dangerous?" I text back as quickly as my fingers could go in the early morning dark, but there was no answer, there has been no answer. Now, I wish I had text something else, like, "I love you so much," or...something. What if that is the last thing he heard from me, my futile and pointless question? Of course it is, it's war.
Now, I must drag myself up and through the day somehow. I feel again all those emotions I felt at the beginning of deployment; the helplessness and the pain, the immediate and unavoidable loss of something tangible and irreplaceable.
And of course he will come back from this mission and call me, but now what? I won't be able to grow the bubble back, not until he comes back from mid tour and then leaves again, a journey of incredibly painful ups and downs of emotion.
I know what I was doing, all along, it comes to me now with sudden clarity. This peace I was feeling was merely the beginning of the roller coaster ride, the part where inch by inch, the car is being hitched up higher and higher, but so slowly, I was unaware. And it's so quiet and the sun is so hot and all I could see was the peaceful scenery.
Until the peak is reached, and without warning, I found myself this morning careening helpless, out of control, down the unthinkably steep slope and nothing can be seen but the blur of the rails and my own white knuckles gripping the iron bar.
God, how I've always hated roller coasters. There is nothing for it but to close my eyes and hold on tight and believe that everything will come out alright and I'll step off this goddamn thing and safely into Keith's arms when he gets home in about a month. Then of course, it will start all over again when he leaves, but there's no point in thinking about that now.
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