I was in bed, trying to get my mind to disengage from the day when he called. He could not talk long and I thought he sounded much like himself. When I told him that I had written about him eating the egg sandwich at his mom's, he had to think a bit to remember. "Woman!" he protested, laughing, when he did.
But at the end of the short call he said, "Call me tomorrow...or when you wake up...or...just call me anytime," his voice rapidly losing its official tone, trailing off into the small voice of someone a little lost.
After that, I couldn't sleep. I threw the covers off and padded down through the darkened house to the study and fired up the computer. There was no mention of what he had said on the news anywhere. I changed my status bar on facebook and my father called me in minutes, wondering how I was. After I talked to him for a bit, I made my way back up to bed, but I couldn't sleep.
Tossing and turning, I just kept reviewing everything that had happened. Had I known, deep down, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something really was wrong? Had that been why I had been feeling so disconnected and anxious all day?
I remembered what my friend had told me, about waking in the night, terrified, and wondering if her husband, a submariner, had just that minute had something terrible happen to him, and that was why she woke. But she could not check, she had to wait and simply believe that he must be ok.
I thought over everything I had written and wondered, again, why I was able to be to so revealing in public and what the ramifications might be. I thought of grammatical errors and how I could have better phrased a sentence and I thought of things I would have added, and how, if I were reading my own story, how I would want to skip to the very end to be sure everything turned out ok.
The thought returned to me, as it does often, that maybe no one but T was reading my blog, as though I were speaking to an empty auditorium; even though I know others are, because I see my blog on their reading list. Still, why should the thought still haunt me, that I should have no audience? Why would that be so important to me, anyway? And yet, how comforting and marvelous it was, each time, to see a comment from dear T.
But all these were passing thoughts. I kept returning to what Keith had told me and what that might mean for us. When would that make its way, like shrapnel buried deep beneath the skin, to the surface? How long would it fester in him?
He never wanted to tell me his horror stories and I never pressed him for them. Sometimes though, if he was drunk and falling asleep, pieces of it would come out, in the dark. Later, I would mention them and he would look at me, startled, horrified.
"How do you know that?" he would ask me.
"You told me," I would reply, amazed.
"Damn, I have to stop talking so much around you. And you," he would finish, "you have to stop listening to me!"
As deployment drew nearer, our arguments, which grew more and more heated the closer the day came, would take strange turns. We would be arguing about him inviting people over after he had told me he wouldn't, for example, when, without warning, he would be ranting and raving about things from his first tour.
The first time this happened, I stood stock still, my mind still swirling with feelings of anger and resentment from the original argument, and feeling stubborn and hurt. But my husband was now far, far away from me, even though he still stood in the room; he didn't see me, even though his impassioned questions were directed at me.
I had to take all my feelings from the original argument and put them aside, and take care of this new thing. I had to be calm and compassionate and move and speak slowly and bit by bit, Keith would begin to calm down.
Usually, he would stomp away and then, half an hour later, come back and catch me up tightly in his arms, still teary eyed, and whisper that he was sorry, and I would say that I was sorry, and go off to make the uninvited guests mashed potatoes instead of sulking in the bedroom, like I had determined to do.
Last night, after hours of my mind jumping from subject to subject, as I tossed and turned, I suddenly was struck by something I must say to Keith, immediately. In fact, I should have said it earlier. In fact, maybe I should say it every single day. I reached down for my phone and text in the dim light.
"I cannot live without u. -ur sleepless kitten," I wrote and hit send, then fell back on the mattress, satisfied, exhausted. Then, of course, I started to wonder if maybe he would misinterpret and think that I had meant I couldn't live without him here, with me, as opposed to here, on earth. Moments later, the phone rang and I felt sudden remorse.
"Hi, Sweetie, I'm so sorry, did I disturb you?" I asked contritely, leaning over the mattress, my hair falling around my face.
"Awwww, you little kitten," his voice came, so incredibly warm and tender, "No, you little cutie, you didn't disturb me. Why can't you sleep?"
I couldn't tell him. We have an unspoken pact; we have never once agreed to it, but I am positive he is as aware of it as I am. We never, ever speak of the possibility of him not coming home. Therefore, we cannot admit to fears of him dying. To do so, I am convinced we both feel, would be to crack the door to the possibility of it. It is a superstitious belief, but we are both superstitious people.
"I just keep thinking of you," I burst out, instead.
"Awww, you kitten. Go to sleep, hon," he said authoritatively, as though by giving me an order he could cut through everything that prevented me from doing so. "Call me when you wake up. I love you."
I went down stairs again and heated up a glass of milk and made myself a bagel with cream cheese. I finished my book and then turned out the light and forced my mind, by dint of great effort, not to return to any thought of the day, or of Keith, or of writing.
Again and again, I forced my mind to a made up story, as I have from childhood. Made up stories have distracted and calmed me from as early as I can remember, and I can still remember most of the really important ones, the characters and the extensive, winding plot lines that I followed, night after night, while waiting for sleep to come.
This morning, I went out, into the bright and burning sunshine on the deck, with my book. All I could hear was the rushing of the wind through the bare branches of the trees rising up in the yards all around me, and the dry, papery sound of leaves falling and sifting along the ground. It was deeply peaceful and I let the peace sink into my bones along with the sun light.
I let the clean, warm wind wash away all the strangeness of the last night, of this morning, with the clock turning back and the election which seems, at times, to be dividing the country in two, and the disturbing fact that I still cannot find on the news anything of what Keith told me.
Those thoughts and worries blew away like the thin leaves and left just the truth behind, like the polished, elegant branches etched against the wind washed sky. Everything will settle back into its place and tomorrow I will rise and make coffee and rake the leaves. I will polish the furniture free of dust with the windows open to this unexpected gift of warmth.
And in a month, Keith will come home and for two short weeks, I'll have him so close to me that I will be able to fill my arms with him whenever I want to. What joy.