Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy (Early) Halloween

Last night Keith made the mistake of asking me how my day at work was. I proceeded to explain to him how Walter had had diarrhea and the heroic things I had done in the effort of keeping him, his clothing and the general area clean.

"You are a special woman," he said dryly.

"Wanna switch jobs?" I asked, grinning.

"Uh, no," he replied flatly. "I'm, in Iraq."

I was lying on my side of our bed, with Abby sprawled out beside me, getting all excited and chewing on the bedding. I don't know if she can recognize his voice over the phone or if she's just picking up on my happiness, but she gets hyper when he calls.

"What will you do when our kids have diarrhea?" I asked him today. There was a pause.

"You mean, what will you do?" he replied teasingly.

I knew today would be a bad day when my oatmeal refused to congeal in the microwave and stayed instead a thin, gruel-like consistency with an unpleasantly strong cinnamon taste. When I got to work at six in the morning, the lead read out the entries in the Daily Log from the night before.

"Tom reported that he saw two children sitting on his bed when I went up to help him with his ted hose," read one entry.

The elderly often see things, most frequently right before they die, or in the months preceding, or if they have certain forms of dementia. But Tom was not a man who had ever had hallucinations before. In the predawn dark, before we had to go off into our long, empty hallways, it raised goosebumps.

"No way!" exclaimed my coworker, Laura, her voice low. "Bob hallucinated yesterday too! He actually told me! I was kneeling, helping him put on his socks when he just told me, out of the blue that he was hallucinating. I said, "Oh Bob, do you know what that really means?" He replied calmly, "Yes, I do. I see the wheelchair moving back and forth, back and forth."

As Laura told this story, I felt the hair on the back of my neck go up, we were all silent, listening in the small office. She continued, "Then he said, "And there are two people behind you, staring at you."

We all groaned loudly. We all had stories to tell; we had all heard many. Of entering an empty room to see the rocking chair moving in the still, dusty air; of walking down the hallway and seeing a figure in the corner. Of residents who talked to people we could not see.

"Don't let him kill me," Ricky used to plead, in his low voice, as he lay in his room slowly dying. His eyes would roam around the room, dimly lit because he didn't like the curtains open. Slowly, his eyes, sunk deeply into his face, would focus on mine. "Are you going to kill me?" he would ask then.

"No one's going to kill you," I would reply, summoning all the warmth at my disposal.

Once, when I was on the night shift, we opened the door to a bedroom to see the pale, milky shape of the resident in her nightgown, tottering around her room. We rushed to her; she was a very high fall risk.

"What are you doing up?" we asked her, escorting her back to bed.

"The children," she replied. "The children won't stay out of my room."

We hadn't bothered to turn on the lights, suddenly the dark was tingling all around us.

"There are no children here," my coworker said, in her straight forward, it will be alright voice.

"Get them out, get them out!" the elderly lady insisted, but she allowed us to return her to bed.

Two hours later, we did rounds again and found her, again, up and about.

"You stay here," my coworkers said. "I have to call her daughter; she's going to fall and we can't spend the whole night in here. Her daughter will have to come over."

I agreed and sat down on the bed, where we had returned the lady for a second time. She was low, round and softly wrinkled with a pleasant, absent minded face. In a moment, I heard her voice from the dark, from the head of the bed.

"Get that cat out," she said hoarsely.

"Where's the cat?" I asked, trying to ignore my apprehension.

"Crawling across the wall," she whispered. "There."

I made sure my voice would sound calm before I spoke. "I don't see a cat," I replied.

In a moment, she spoke again, into the silence.

"There's someone here," she whispered in a deadened voice. All the hackles on my back went up, I stood as still as stone.

"Where?" I asked, whispering despite myself.

She pointed in the dark to something over my right shoulder as I was leaning toward her.

"There," she whispered hoarsely, "in the chair."

I forced myself to turn my head, I could feel the joints creaking. Indeed, behind me was a high backed, old fashioned chair, with nothing on it, sitting in the absolute dark of the corner.

That was when I gave in, got up and with great focus, forced myself to walk slowly and calmly to the light switch by the door and, finally, flick it on. The room sprang into shape and dimension, but the empty and eerie atmosphere did not go away. It was with great relief when I saw, a good half an hour later, the figure of her daughter crossing the deserted parking lot, on her way into the building.

Well, now that I have thoroughly freaked myself out by remembering all this again, tonight I have to go up and sleep by myself. Well done, me. I'll have to call Keith just to hear his warm, Indiana accented voice.

"Does Abby sleep with you yet?" he asked me last night.

"Of course she does, she always..." I began, and then remembered. "Yes," I said, with a grin, "She sleeps with me still. Farm boy."

"Hey, no teasing allowed," Keith protested.

"I'm allowed," I replied archly, "because I love you."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Counting the Cost

As the time gets closer until I see my husband in the flesh again, and too close to idealize, my thoughts go back to how it was in the beginning, when we were first falling in love. It wasn't easy. Sometimes I wonder where I found the faith, so early on, to believe that it would be worth it in the end.

At work, one of the house assignments is to wash the loads of green and red aprons that we wear to mark ourselves as "Care Managers." If you have ever washed a load of aprons, you will be familiar with the way they can come out of the drier or washer; as a huge knot of tangled apron strings.If I have any time at all, one of my favorite things to do is to untangle them and the more complicated and tighter the knot the better.

The trick is to gently loosen first one strap and then the next, without trying to force any one in particular. After a while, it will slowly start to fall apart until, all of a sudden, it breaks open and the strands can be easily separated.

This was how I had to love Keith, from beginning to end. When I met him, he was one huge knot of tightly wound pain and touching him anywhere too strongly caused an intense reaction. His pain caused him to push me away again and again, it was as though for every two steps forward in love and intimacy, he had to take one, huge step back in fear. It did not take me long to experience this.

The first time we said I love you was only days into meeting. We were in bed together, late at night, curled up in each other's arms in the dark.

"I care about you, Jenny," he whispered into my ear. "I care about you so much. Do do you feel about me?"

I knew it was soon to be saying the words, perhaps perilously soon, but I already knew them to be true and the raw need in his voice drew them out of me.

"I love you," I whispered. There was a short pregnant pause; I could feel his fear and need equally in the close atmosphere.

"I love you, Jenny," he breathed, so soft and so low I wouldn't have caught it if he hadn't of been so close to me.

The next day he was cooler and more casual with me, and I knew immediately why. I felt the pain at his withdrawal. I felt the need to reaffirm that what he had said, so late at night, was also true in the light of day. But I knew that this would be disastrous.When I had said the words so soon, I knew that I would be taking a risk and I was prepared for the consequences. I did not ask for reaffirmation, I matched my mood to his and let him withdraw from me.

That evening he told me, straight up, that he thought it was way too soon to be saying "I love you."

"We hardly know each other," he said, matter of fact.

We were in the kitchen, getting a late night snack. I was always tired then, the demands of my job as department head had increased by sudden staffing drama, and I was driving more than an hour to and from work in order to spend my nights with Keith. Often, during that time, I sat myself up on the kitchen counter, too tired to stand and too in love with Keith to even want to be in a kitchen chair, only a few feet away from where he stood, preparing food or washing up.

I felt the sudden, expected stab of pain at his words, but I did not act out of it. "It's true," I affirmed, trying hard to keep my voice light. "We've only known each other a short time."

"You don't even know who I am," he continued, but he came over to me, his hands on my knees, looking directly into my eyes. Again the pain, but I put my hands on his shoulders.

"I fall in love quickly," I said simply, knowing it to be true.

"Yeah," he said, jumping on the statement, "too quickly. You could fall out of love just as easily; you leave people after six months."

I wanted to protest, I felt stung by his words, I felt as though he were labeling me as someone who could not keep a commitment. I wanted to burst out with a long diatribe about how, in the last four years of my life, I had learned some extremely valuable lessons about the power and the cost of commitment, how real it was and what it required from a person, and that I knew myself and I knew exactly what I was getting into when I had said that I loved him.

But I also felt that his fears were justified, after all, I did hardly know him and I had left relationships in the past, many of them. It would have taken me hours to explain to him the situations and the reasons for ending them, and finally, I knew that now was not the time for that discussion. He wouldn't have been able to hear what I was saying, his fear and pain would have blocked his ability to actually process what I would have said.

"It is frightening to fall in love so quickly," I replied instead, giving him again the validation he so needed.

He went on then to explain to me how he had fallen in love with his ex wife, a girl he had known since high school, for close to ten years; how she must have known who he was and yet had left him. He went over, point by point, things about himself that he said I must be able to come to terms with.

"I'll never know when I'm coming home," he told me earnestly, still leaning up against me as I sat on the counter, his face close to mine in the dim light. "I could think I'm going in for an easy day and end up not getting home until nine; I just never know. When I come home, I'm going to spend a lot of time in the garage, I won't stay in the house all the time. I don't mind helping out with the cleaning," he continued, 'but I won't do it all, you have to do some of it too."

As I was listening to this, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of immature and needy girl his ex was, but I kept these thoughts to myself. I listened quietly until he had gotten off his chest everything he had to say.

"I can handle all that," I said simply. "I like time by myself, it won't bother me when you spend time in the garage, I won't expect you to spend every minute with me. Of course I don't expect you to clean the house, that's my job and if you want to help, I'll be grateful, but I won't expect it. And of course you won't know when you will be home; your job is more than a job, it's your life and I know that.

"I know," I went on, watching the amazement pass over his face, "that because this is true, a great deal of our life will be spent apart; I must be prepared to be constantly on the move and that it is possible you will die in action and I will be left to raise our children completely by myself. I know that you drink a great deal and that it is a risk that sometime in the future it could go from being controlled to an addiction. I also know that because you hate to see the doctor and chew tobacco, that if you don't die in action, it is highly likely that I will be at your side while you die a slow and agonizing death of stomach cancer, or of liver disease. I know all of this," I finished, "and I already came to terms with it."

Unexpectedly he grinned. "Wow, you're really prepared for me to die, aren't you?" he teased, his hands moving up to my hips, leaning in close, his eyes mischievous. "Do you think there's a chance I might actually live?"

"Of course," I said, smiling, my arms curling around his heavy shoulders, but not ready to let go of the seriousness of what I was saying. "But I had to come to terms with how much it might cost me to love you, and that is the worst that it would cost me."

He pulled me suddenly into his arms so I could not see his face. "I do love you, Jenny," he whispered. "I love you so much."

More times than I could count I had to listen and validate his fear, at times while silent tears filled his eyes and overflowed, leaving his cheeks glistening. He would wipe his cheeks unconsciously with the backs of his large, roughened hands and continue on, while my heart broke, hearing his raw pain and stifling the urge to cry out that I was not his ex wife, that I was different, that I would not leave him, that he could trust me.

Instead, each time I would say quietly instead, that yes, it was frightening, that yes, it had been horrible and that his pain and his fear were understandable under the circumstances. My reward for this was that, after he had run through everything he needed to say, he would come back to me, and more irrevocably and deeply than before. Once I understood this pattern, it became easier to bear the initial pain of it; in the process of untangling his pain, we were weaving ourselves closer and closer together.

"You're not a starter man," I told Keith more than once, with a grin.

He never understood what I meant, but he knew that I loved him, so he let it go. But I found that navigating the challenges in our relationship required me to draw from every bit of wisdom that the pain of past relationships had given me. There was not one betrayal, failure or mistake that did not lend me some perspective or strength that I needed when loving Keith and I found it to be one of the most redemptive experiences in my life.

I remember giving so generously of myself in past relationships and doing it almost defiantly, as though throwing down a gantlet. 'I dare you," I was saying to God, to fate, "I dare you to give me the consequences of this. Bring it on."

But it wasn't just a dare; all along, without knowing it, I was investing in the future. Everything I lost came back to me.

I'm scared often. I'm scared that he will die over there. I'm equally scared that who I fell in love with will die over there and someone else will return to me. When I look into the future, so hazy, I think of a thousand smaller, more domesticated tragedies that could occur after he does come home; that our love could die out in the daily wear and tear of managing money, raising children or simply because we are so incredibly different.

But I won't ever choose to act out of that fear. No matter what we weather, how we will argue or hurt one another or inevitably disappoint, I know for certain now that pain and loss are not dead ends. They are what the best of the future is built on, if I can find the courage to keep my heart open despite the initial cost.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Missive from the Girls

Today, I lost my temper at the dogs. It is, I don't mind saying, approaching that time of the month and I can feel the flood of hormones eroding my perspective; my brain seems to be awash with a biological soup it is my cross as a female to wade through routinely.

I doubt the dogs can sense this. All they know is that their beloved mom yelled unintelligibly at them when they attempted to curl up beside me on the couch and each time they tried to make recompense, by thrusting their snouts unto my lap or offering their heavy, clawed feet in tokens of surrender, I merely yelled some more.

This is because I was trying to balance a huge, sloshing cup of hot coffee on my lap while watching "The Queen," and crying at odd and unexpected moments, though Diana's death is more than ten years past and didn't touch me all that deeply even at the time.

The girls argue among themselves as well and, coincidentally, I am always at the center of their arguments. Lynn, my elegant and lean boned beauty, curls herself up literally under my feet and Abby, who, like her father is large, stubborn and incredibly loving, circles the perimeter, looking for an opening, not just to me, but to my cat, who perches on the desk next to the computer. Abby is a black lab and the long, concentrated stare of a hunter comes naturally to her.

Thus, I am at the swirling center of many claims to power, prey and attention. Abby tries to break in, Lynn lunges from below me, snarling, the ground under my feet exploding into a tangle of growling dog. This always seems to happen just as I am at my most focused in writing and the unexpected energy of their argument causes my whole body to jump, and then, I add my own angry voice to the melee. Things settle down again, but only in the way that a jack in the box does when being wound.

The dogs are girls as well, perhaps there is just too many women arguing over one space. Where is that clear and cutting energy that comes from our man? We've been out of balance for too long.

I couldn't sleep last night, after I came off my two to ten shift. Keith had called, as usual, right in the middle of a terribly chaotic dinner, when one care manager told me a resident was on the floor in her bathroom, the cook mixed up the orders, a trainee kept coming to me with questions and another resident was discovered missing.

I sent the med tech to the fallen, called the family of the missing, set straight the confused and wrote up the wretched cook. "So fire me," I heard him say sarcastically, from around the corner, as I was trying to ascertain that everyone was accounted for. "Working on it," I assured him, under my breath.

And now, I find that I have burned my thin crust pizza to a thin crisp; that one concession to the unhealthy cravings that I am just now subject to. I was too absorbed in writing to hear the faint ping of the timer, far, far away in the kitchen. How is it possible that ten minutes could fly by so fast? The remains of the pizza are now beside me, sizzling and charred; I'm eating it anyway, damn it.

"I can't wait until I see you again," Keith said, when I finally had the opportunity to call him back.

I found it literally impossible to express how much I wanted him home. After saying the same words over and over again, "I love you" and "I miss you," a person longs for an entirely new language, with a vocabulary all its own, more uniquely suited to the situation. Much as the Eskimos have scores of words to name snow.

Or perhaps I could develop a graded series of colors to designate the level of need currently felt in the household. Today would be "Code Tangerine: Call Mom and Hide All Carbs."

On the positive side, I have managed somehow to lose ten pounds in what can only be about a month. My scale this morning read a startling 124 and some change. I haven't seen it spit out a number that low for...well, over a decade. This happened because of, as far as I can see, only four changes in my life style.

One, I ate oatmeal every morning for breakfast. I substituted low fat kettle corn pop corn for any other late night snack. I forced myself to take the stairs to the second floor at work no matter how adamantly my thighs complained. And lastly, it's been two months since my husband left and dinners of frozen pizza with mac' n cheese on the side are things of the distance past.

However it happened, I found myself able to fit into my ultimate figure gauge; the pleated, lined skirt that I bought...I can't even remember how many years ago when in Japan, and even then it was slightly too small for me.

Also, wearing said skirt, I successfully infiltrated the post, acquired groceries and escaped unscathed, even remembering to ask for cash back so I could tip the bagger. I will never get used to having some random person following me with my groceries. I keep waiting for someone to call me "Sahib."

But it seems too rude to say, "Thank you very much, I prefer to independently dispose of my groceries today. Best of luck, and all that...Cheerio." (Apparently, the situation also makes me feel British, though that might be the harmless side effect of the movie I watched.)

It is now approximately five weeks until my husband comes home for mid tour. How I do love him and his seductive talk of storm drains, heating costs, gas mileage and disposable income. I must go now, I need more movies, and very possibly, chai tea.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fairwell to my friends

Today, I could not finish the work laid out for me to do, the usual routine of cleaning the house top to bottom. I couldn't because I was harassed by the urgent feeling of needing to write and I didn't even know what I needed to write about. However, now I know. I needed to say goodbye.

I have recently fallen completely in love with this crotchety old man named Walter. Dear Walter. He is skin and bones and balding, with glasses too large for his face and who insists on wearing his pants up as high as they will go, so that at least two inches of sock shows at his ankles. He is easily irritable and very hard of hearing and I am the only one who is fond of him at all and why, I could not say.

He hates to get up and will literally fight off well intentioned care managers who come to help him prepare for breakfast. He is too weak to take care of himself and must be physically assisted with every small task, even to sit up.

I bent over him and spoke directly into his ear, of the delights of breakfast, of hot coffee and bacon. He was not moved by this, and when I swung his light frame up onto the side of the bed, he hit the covers with his trembling fist.

"I despite this waking up business!" he declared, furious with me. How I laughed, despite myself.

"Me too," I assured him, grinning.

Now when he sees me he smiles his wide, sweet grin; he knows me. Yesterday morning, his hospice care providers came to give him one of the two showers he gets weekly and they did the work of getting him up. I did not see him until breakfast, when I was cleaning the tables. He saw me and his face lit up. In his slow and deliberate voice, he said to me, "Nice to see you!" My heart melted.

How strange to love the elderly, with their crotchety and particular ways, their frail skin like tissue paper, their thin hands and wrinkled faces, but I do. The first day I worked with the elderly, taking the job simply to put myself through school so that I could go back to Japan and teach English, I was moved nearly to tears by the end of the day. It took me so completely by surprise.

I remember my first death. She was a lady gracious in life and, ruined by age and disease, she was gracious even in death. At that point, I was passing medication and each evening I would come to her room to give her the narcotics that allowed her as painless a procession from life as possible. She could not hold herself up, I would sit behind her and lean her body against mine, hold her in my arms so she could drink the water to wash the pills down.

Her body was as frail as a fallen leaf, all the bones shown through, the shape of her skull was shown clearly in her face. At the end, she could no longer even speak. But her eyes shown like pools of clear light. To the end, she knew who she was, where she was and where she was going. Her eyes shown like lighted windows in a ruined building.

Then I worked in the secured unit, where those suffering from advanced dementia and Alzheimer's lived. That was a world unto itself, and a strange, strange world it was. Residents wandered freely from room to room and just as easily in and out of memories and their own realities. They were children again, lost and needy.

Their deaths were usually long, slow processes, as they turned more and more inward. I remember one little old lady, who, toward the end of her life, merely sat. She would sit for hours, not opening her eyes, not responding, not eating. But she would smile still, when touched. Where was she? Where had she gone?

In the end, she just slipped away quietly; I touched her pale and cool skin after she had left, I helped to lay her hands out straight, to close her open mouth by pressure on the jaw. The atmosphere in the room tingled on my skin, I felt the hair on the back of my neck go up, but not in fear. The room was full of unseen presences, the air was golden and heavy with it, despite the night pressing up against the windows. I kissed her forehead and let her go home.

I worked there for over two years, it was my home. There was not a resident there that I had not cared for with my own hands, there was hardly a team member that I had not trained. I knew the resident's histories, their family members, their medications. I worked there on Christmas days, Thanksgivings; I hitched a ride in with a neighbor who had four wheel drive when everyone else was hopelessly snowed in and the evening shift had been trapped there for close to twelve hours.

I coaxed the trembling to eat, I caught the blows of angry, unseeing old men on my shins as I attempted to clean their mess, I strained to lift the fallen from the floor and tape together their torn skin. I tried to listen to those who had lost their language, who spoke in an urgent babble all their own. I absorbed the anger from their helpless family members, who demanded lost sweaters, better food, immediate notification and absolution from grief and guilt.

I wheeled those who had survived the long, dark winter out into the bright courtyard to sit like wilting flowers, drowsy and content, in the warmth of the sun. Doris, who eagerly clutched at my hands and, leaning her head close to mine, would mutter away softly, toothless, wordless, but soft with love and confidence. Dorothy, who kept the unconnected and silent phone contentedly to her ear for hours, notepad and pen beside her, and thus distracted, would not rise and then inevitably fall, due to the deadly combination of weakness and complete ignorance of the fact of it.

Gus, dear Gus, stately and dignified, handsome still even with all the flesh fallen away from the bones of his face, his eyes dark with humor and his beautiful wife who came to sit beside him every day, her hair perfectly done, her dress impeccable, who would coax him to eat, to plead with him to get up, and beg him not to die. Worn down and weary with the long, losing battle against the disease, he would obey as best he could, come out of his silent, still place and take one more bite. The disease had taken everything but this last, enduring recognition of those that needed him and he pitted his last remaining strength to stay for them.

He let go the fight recently, let the last of himself pass away beyond the reach of those that called for him. I wasn't there to see it, I had long ago moved here. Doris passed away when I was close beside her, I was the one that combed her thin and brittle hair one last time, and Dorothy as well. Walter, despite the fact that I ply him with pancakes, hot tea, cookies, fruit and oatmeal, will pass away as well. It is expected; that is why he is on hospice care. More than once I have been asked how I can work in this field and not become depressed and I never know how to answer.

Now it is early afternoon and I have written away most of the morning. The floors have yet to be cleaned and I have still to return library books and go grocery shopping; I am out of the most basic of necessities; milk, coffee and detergent. Life goes on, and it is sweeter and more beautiful when it is carried out in the full acknowledgment of its brevity. I do not simply endure the losses of my occupation, I am deeply grateful for the privilege of ushering those that I have loved out of this life and into the next. Standing so close to the threshold of death, I feel my own life so much more profoundly.

So, thank you, Doris, my sweetie, my stubborn and wordless one, and Gus, my dear sir. It was a pleasure to know you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Misplaced Love

So far this week, I have sent a, shall we say, mushy e-mail to the wrong person, by virtue of leaving out the critical letter "e" in the address. Some random person somewhere is, I hope, enjoying their unexpected love letter from me.

Not only that, but I have left at least two, if not more, similarly mushy voice mails on what I thought was Keith's voicemail. But no. Surprise! Random Stranger Two received them.

Actually, I already have a history with Stranger Two; I realized this as I was trying to navigate the complicated process of using a phone card purchased on line. There is a bewildering array of numbers required in order to hear Keith's voice on the other end. First, there is the number to reach the system in which to put the pin number, then the pin number itself, and then and only then comes the crucial time to enter the actual phone number itself.

Well, I entered the number the way it showed up on my cell phone under received calls. This sent me to the aforementioned voicemail. The voice sounded remarkably like Keith, only Keith under stress and being brusque, which I figured made sense, considering the conditions under which he is living.

After three days of not hearing back from him, I was beginning to feel frustrated. I called the number one more time and amazingly, he answered.

"Keith?" I asked, hopeful, but sensing something off.

"You have the wrong number," Stranger Two said and suddenly, it all came together. Stranger Two (somewhere in America, I assume) indeed has the same number as Keith's cell phone in Iraq. It was Two who had answered the day I had locked myself out of the house. He sounded faintly amused and faintly regretful to be telling me, at last, that he was not the man I thought he was.

"That makes so much sense," I exclaimed happily. And so ended the relationship that never was.

In the mean time, back at the FOB, my poor husband was wondering what had happened to me. By virtue of adding "011" to his number, I was able to actually reach Keith. Ah, the bliss of hearing his warm and slightly blurry voice, laden with his familiar accents and phrases. It was short lived, however, as suddenly I heard a bunch of other voices in the background, sounding urgent. Keith immediately had to go, but he told me to call him back in twenty minutes.

Exactly twenty eight minutes later, I called him, using the exact same magical combination of numbers that had connected me to him the first time. The phone rang and rang and rang. I began to get anxious. Obviously, he was still busy and couldn't answer the phone. I was probably annoying him, distracting him at some crucial juncture. But, should I wait so I could at least leave a voicemail for him? I knew he saved them, as I did, so he could hear them again later. But the phone just kept ringing and did not go to voicemail.

I kept imagining him, trying to focus and yet hearing his phone going and not being able to answer it. I closed my phone and ended the call. Later on in the evening, I sent him a text and settled into bed.

Around four in the morning, the phone rang.

"Honey," my husband asked, in a voice ragged with exhaustion, "why didn't you call me back? I waited two hours for your call." His voice was unusually subdued and quiet.

In the early morning darkness, lit dimly by the pale green letters of the alarm clock, I felt my heart drop. I was still fuzzy with exhaustion and, dismayed, could not for a moment remember calling or not calling.

"But I did call!" I hastened to explain, as my mind got clearer. "I called but you didn't answer..."

"The phone rang once, that was it," he said. "And then I waited and waited and you never called back. I just got that text."

"But I let it ring and ring! And then, I thought you must be busy and that I must be bothering you, so I rang off."

Even now, two days later, the thought horrifies me; that my husband, exhausted and trying to keep himself awake at the tail end of his twelve hour shift, had waited in vain to hear from me.

He works twelve hours on and twelve hours off, day after day after day. There is no break from this pattern. And because he is ultimately responsible for that mission, when he comes off his shift, he must set up the next shift and meet with his superiors. Also, if something is wrong or not working right, even if he is off shift, he is responsible for fixing it.

I don't understand how it is possible that a person could survive that. I remember being responsible for one department; thirty residents and twenty some employees and how draining it was to always be on call, always responsible for everything that happened there, always expected to problem solve whatever was not working smoothly. It was completely exhausting and I had weekends. I could go home at the end of the day.

"How can you keep going like that?" I asked him once, a week or so ago.

"You keep me going," he said simply.

"Sweetie," I told him later, "I feel like a failure as a military wife! My man is in the field, needing my call and I dropped you."

This made him laugh his warm and wonderfully forgiving laugh. "Aw, no hun," he assured me, "I was fine."

Stupid, stupid phone. Since then, it has done that more than once, rang and rang on my end, and never connected with his phone at all, even with all the numbers in place. And even though it never went through, it still charges me for simply...ringing something somewhere. I officially hate phone cards at this point in time.

I feel certain that phone cards are governed by little demi gods full of gleeful malice. I refuse to believe that they are the produce of logic and technology. Maybe I should perform some kind of small, ritual sacrifice before attempting to use one...

I may be the sport of the phone card gods, but at least I am not wooing any more of the general populous with misplaces messages...I hope.


(For T, and anyone who has chosen to love completely, despite the consequences. I wrote this after one of my most disastrous relationships.)

I can trace my unbroken, headlong fall
not from the first unforgotten moment
I saw your face, but from a point removed
farther in time, higher in hope, daring
to court a disaster more vast than any
before. No, my fall began when first I
said simply, I will not withhold myself.
Costly philosophy; as mankind knows
well; the ability to choose freely
was merely borrowed from divine image,
our heady inheritance. Even so,
I choose not to fear the serpent's bite, to
take in my own hands life as a live coal;
capable of burning both the bitter
and the beauty from the souls of those who,
fearful of timidity, thirst for unfettered being.
Not merely sensation, not passing
fancy or a fickle call of passion;
but the unpredictable potential
for fulfillment and havoc equally.
The soul thus expanded by a grief more
heavy than gold's viscous elixir can
now resonate with every octave life
can play upon one, a sound limitless
enough to move in time with this planet's
swing around the centered sun, and add in
harmony one note- humble and small in scale-
but, indelible, a part of all the
singing of the stars whose voices ring
out in eternal dark, reaching with their
fingers of light to fall on simple me,
transforming my abandoned falling to
a flight luminous with surrendered grace.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I received my first letter and box from Keith today. The mail man walked up to the door to deliver it. When I greeted him, it was with two snarling, wildly barking dogs entwined between my legs. Through the screen door the mail man gave me a wry look.

"I'll just leave them here," he said, gesturing to the front step.

I nodded, from the midst of my dog melee. Once he had left and the girls finally got it through their heads that they could stand down, I went outside and retrieved the parcel and post. There, on the crackling brown paper, was my husband's writing. He had written my name in large letters, lopsided, trailing off slightly to the bottom right hand corner.

It caused a feeling of great tenderness for him to wash over me. He does not like writing; English was not his favorite subject at school. I have seen him, his large frame bent over the counter tops, laboriously fill out required forms, for ATV insurance, for our marriage licence. I have seen how his hand grips the pen, so tightly one might think it was trying to escape and only by dint of great force could he keep it steady. It goes without saying, I think, that in the case of my husband and I, never had such opposites so attracted each other.

"Man, I wish I'd met you in High School," he's said on more than on occasion. The first time he said this, I gave him a side ways look, amused. He was driving, I remember, but where and for what purpose I have forgotten. "You would have been mine."

"In High School," I stated, "I was painfully shy, deeply invested in being a very good girl and not allowed to date even within my church. I spent my entire time reading. What makes you think you could have gotten me?"

"I got you now; I could have gotten you anytime," he replied, with a smug grin.

I thought about it, tried to imagine it. How awful was my time in High School! I walked the halls with my head down, figuratively and literally. My arms were always full of books, my heavy fall of dark hair bound back in a perpetual braid. I wore large glasses, as was the style in the eighties. I wore skirts and sweaters daily, I was always ashamed of my bulky, shapeless coats and my dingy, graceless shoes.

"How would you have done it?" I asked, curious now.

He shrugged and thought a moment. "I would just have come up to you, in the library... you were probably always in the library, right?" he asked, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. "I would have sat down next to you and just started talking." He thought some more and grinned again. "Hell yeah, I would have. You'd have been mine."

I knew that in High School he had been tall and lean, with a lot of red brown hair and a wide grin. He seemed always to be holding a beer in his hand. He already owned his own truck, he worked full time at a diesel engine company. He spent his weekends on his grandparents farm, working from dawn to dusk. Despite the hard work and the even harder play, in all the pictures, there is something so sweetly vulnerable about his open face, the emotion always caught there so clearly.

His guess was right- I had spent a lot of time in the library, huddled up in the chair, deliberately blocking myself from the outside world with the lives inside my books. I read even during lunch hour, munching away on the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that were my daily fare.

I tried to imagine if someone had come up and intruded upon my heavily fortified solitude, had simply plunked themselves down and said hello, what is your name, what are you reading? How at first I would not have realized they were even talking to me and then, in wonder to lift my head to see who on earth it was. And of course, recognizing him from a few classes, because he would have been boisterous in class and would never have been too shy to speak up, or to act out.

And suddenly, seeing this in my mind, I knew. I knew he was right, he would have gotten me. His sheer stubborn mindedness coupled with his engaging personality, his possession of all those qualities that I lacked and yet admired, would have inevitably worn down all my defenses and I would have given in.

This afternoon, the sun struggled to burn through the heavy, low lying clouds and I went out for a walk. I wore Keith's heavy farm coat, one I have seen in pictures of him as a teenager. The sky was smudged with overlapping layers of charcoal and pearl grey, patches of pale blue shown through and all the trees were burnished with gold. The wind sent the leaves sifting down through the branches to fall in damp heaps on lawns and sidewalks.

I got lost and had to make my way back by instinct alone. It was a strange sensation to come upon my car, shining silver between the pale green bushes, the house was shadowed by trees and set back from the road. It was strange as well to open the door to the shadowy interior, to know the house as my own and I felt a sense of loss.

The house has almost entirely lost the feel that it had when Keith lived there. It has become my own house now, despite all my adherence to routines established by our living together and by the clinging to small objects that are attached solely to Keith. Now they are merely static objects and memories, the progression of daily life has effectively overlaid all the old ways of being and knowing and doing that were wound up with Keith's physical presence.

Oh well. Knowing my husband as I do, it won't take him long to retake everything that is his and my solitude and the habits of my quiet, domesticated living will give way inevitably to his confident and masculine claim.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Changes in Perspective

Today, on my thirty minute break at work, a coworker asked me about Keith and I attempted to describe. "It's not so bad," I said, and saw several emotions pass over her face at this statement; disbelief and a certain kind of impatience. I hastened to try and explain, "I can call him every day and he's coming home for mid tour in December and..."

And what else, exactly, made it not so bad? Her face told me she was not convinced and it reminded me what a strange gulf, even after just two months, there is between myself and someone who has never gone through this.

My scare that he might have been on the helicopter that went down did wonders to clarify my priorities. I realized that it didn't matter where on earth he was, so long as he was on earth. It didn't matter if he was far away from me, so long as he was mine. It didn't matter if he was going to be gone for a year, so long as he came back at the end of it. These truths formed the basis of things being "not so bad."

Once those things were clarified for me, everything else seemed like icing on the cake. He has a cell phone! Oh joy! He calls almost every day! I'm almost ashamed even to complain! And even more, he sends me random texts. How to describe the impact of receiving, at odd times, day or night, a statement such as "Jenny i got your number and in going to make mine i love you," or simply "I heart u". It is like candy for the heart.

Today he called and due to bad reception, was sent to voicemail. This was during dinner, but hectic as it was, I escaped to the veranda where there was a stronger signal and called him.

"Sweetie, you called?" he answered, his voice light with joy. I explained. He told me not to worry and that I shouldn't call, it was probably costing me six dollars a minute.

"I know," I admitted. "But it's so wonderful to be able to call you anytime!"

"I know, kitten," he said, laughing, and his voice was so delightfully rich and warm with love as he spoke. I used to take that tone of voice for granted, now I take almost nothing for granted.

Last week, I went in to work at four in the morning, after some one on the night shift called off. It had been a long, long time since I had worked an overnight shift. I had forgotten the way the dead of night turned the corridors and sitting areas into empty, looming space. All the windows were blackened, reflecting back the pale, orange lights or my ghostly reflection. I sat down at the top of the stairs and simply listened; it was as though I could hear the entire building breathe, in the hum of the electricity and the rumbling of the heating ducts.

It reminded me of years ago, my first job in this field. I got the weekend, overnight shift. I remember how time was measured by laundry and how the clothes would send up soft, white clouds of dead skin and the sickeningly sweet smell of the dryer sheets. Every two hours, my coworker and I would check each room by unlocking it and peering in to the darkness.

This was always a little unnerving, to look into the sudden black, to wait a moment until pale shapes swum into vision, took on the shape of the back of a chair, or the edge of a bed. There would be the gurgle and thrum of an oxygen machine or the throaty rumble of snoring.

The corridors themselves seemed to go on endlessly in the pale light and always something seemed to be moving out of the corner of my eye, a shape caught like a human form, or movement in the depth of a mirror. Countless times my own reflection scared the hell out of me, coming at me from the glass door to the atrium, or in the tiny pantry window.

Certain places felt worse than others, more dead. We moved through them quickly, looking straight ahead. The kitchen, with its gleaming multitude of equipment, hidden corners, dripping faucets and strange hums was the worst. We never lingered, I went there alone only briefly, I forced myself to do so just to prove a point to myself, or to whatever was watching.

Towards dawn my head would fill with a dull ache, a low thrum. Exhaustion would weigh down my limbs. I would fill a Styrofoam cup with a combination of coffee and hot chocolate. The liquid tasted vaguely chalky and a little too sugary, but it was hot.

The best part of the night shift was the last two hours. We would make our last rounds and as we did, we would throw open the drapes in the common areas; the dining room, the sitting room, the ice cream parlor. In the dead of winter, the sky would still be black, the street lights still casting their dull orange glow on the sheets of ice on the pavement.

But it was an act of faith, opening the drapes, and we always did it with a flourish. It might not seem possible then, but dawn would come, light would come flooding in to the dining room, glint off of teaspoons and reading glasses. Residents would spill their orange juice and call out for coffee, they would spread crumbs on the carpet and butter their toast in the strong light of a new day.

After opening the windows, my coworker and I would go and sit in the break room and fill out the paperwork, our eyelids heavy over scratchy eyes. Then there would be the last bustle; pre dawn pills given, early birds assisted, a few beds to be made and suddenly, as I stood on the landing, I would look out through the plate glass window to a world made of blue, periwinkle blue snow, cobalt blue sky, silver blue ice and pink and gold all along the eastern rim of the world, half hidden by bare trees and roof ridges.

Then I would drive home in the quiet and sit, alone in my apartment, while the rest of the world went to work.

I remembered this time in my life so vividly and I only recently realized why; it was one of the loneliest times I have ever passed through. Now I am solitary again, but what a contrast! I live in the light, in a house built up and improved by my husband's own hands, I have the bustle and small demands of work and I have an international calling card so that I can hear my husband's voice whenever I need to, and I need not pay six dollars a minute to do so, either! Things really are not so bad.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Adventures on Post

Today one of my worst fears was realized.

It started out a good day. It was my cleaning day, so I rolled out of bed around quarter to nine and began by brewing a cup of chocolate truffle coffee. The sun was bright and warm enough to open all the windows and the sliding glass doors.

I hadn't been able to clean very well the week past due to my back injury, so I had a lot of catching up to do. I could see the dog's paw prints all over the wood floors where the sun hit.

It was going so well that I decided to pull out the steam vac that has lurked in the back of the family room since I moved in, taunting me with its cleaning potential. I decided today was the day I would tackle it, how hard could it be to get one up and running?

Twenty minutes later and some google searching on line, I figured out the damn thing. Never mind that I had no idea at first to use the trigger and so had to re-clean the entire family room carpet, this time with water, as is the point of a steam vac. Now the downstairs carpets are all slightly soggy and decorated with little balls of assorted animal hair. But clean, very clean.

As usual, after cleaning, I gathered up all the trash of the past week and threw it into the trunk of my Civic to dispose of on post, as instructed by my husband. When he lived here, he would take the trash with him in the morning, and toss it into whatever dumpster was readily available.

I could not be so cavalier. Though Keith assured me it would be fine, I simply could not just walk up to a random dumpster and toss in a trash bag. Surely someone official would bellow at me from afar, come walking rapidly up to me and demand to know why I was disposing of trash in said dumpster, and on what authority and for what purpose and didn't I know that this dumpster was strictly for the use of..., etc, etc.

I have a horror of offending the authorities. Perhaps this was due to an early childhood experience at a water park. It was my first time at any kind of theme park and I will filled with both awe and trepidation, standing in the center of all that bustle, the air filled with shouts and screams of joy, while on all sides the watersides, in their many and varied attractions, rose into the bright blue sky.

The wave pool quickly became my favorite and I couldn't help but notice that many other children and adults were further enjoying the experience by riding on yellow inner tubes. Looking around me, I saw the source of these inner tubes, and filled with an unusual courage for such a shy child, darted over and appropriated one for myself.

Not two steps did I take before a great and loud voice demanded that I stop and put down that tube immediately. At first, I didn't realize the voice was addressing me. But, I froze and turned. Sure enough, a large and red face adult was bearing down on me, anger visible in every line of his bulky body.

"You haven't paid for that!" he bellowed.

Mortification rooted me to the spot. I thought I would turn to stone and then crumble away. I had stolen! Ignorance obviously was no excuse. Trembling in every limb, I stumbled to return the stolen merchandise. Since then, whenever taking on a new task, I have been haunted with the fear that someone will, out of the blue, holler at me from behind.

Today was perhaps the third time I had gone on post to take the trash in, and I was feeling almost confident. I was no longer afraid of getting lost and I no longer suffered a bout of nerves approaching the gate, though I still had my i.d. out long before I reached it, ready to be presented.

I swung into the fenced enclosure as usual and popped my trunk, when I heard, from the rear, a loud voice.

"Do you have any recyclables?" it asked. I swung around and saw a veritable mountain man bearing down on me from his little hut at the gate. He was short, wore jean overalls and was endowed with a beard straight out of any Mark Twain novel.

"No," I admitted. Under the slightest pressure, I will inevitably revert to the truth. It was one of my biggest weakness as a manager.

"That's for trash only," continued Mr. Mark Twain character.

"But what I have is trash," I explained, confused.

"You can't just dump your trash here, you have to have recyclables too," he elaborated. "Do you live on post?"

"No," I confessed, immediately.

He further inflated with offended dignity. "Well," he began, "if you live off post, you can't just bring your trash here to dispose of! Essentially you'd be stealing from the United States Government."

"I was just doing what my husband told me to do once he deployed," I explained, irritated that obedience to one form of authority had caused me to become entangled with another, and one as large and looming as the entire United States Government.

This took some of the air out of him. "Oh," he said. We talked further. He explained to me that not even retired military could bring their trash there to dispose of, also that he had just gotten the job and was worried that if he let me, he would get in trouble, that he was retired military himself.

"Call me Scrapper," he said, now jovial, thrusting forth his hand to be shaken, "Mule Scrapper." (In the interests of protecting my friend's identity, I have taken the liberty of changing his last name. His first, however, remains indelibly his own.) I took the proffered hand and was still flustered enough to have to think carefully before saying my own married name.

Mule leaned in toward me conspiratorially. "Look," he said, "I'm going to be working here five days a week. Next time you come, just bring some recyclables with you and it'll be fine."

He winked; it went very well with the beard. I thanked him, feeling much better, but was still so flustered that I took the wrong turn and almost got lost, had to carefully back track.

Now what will I do? Could I actually dare to go back, even if I have carefully separated my trash into bottles, newspapers and...trash? What if it is not Mule? This time I was genuinely ignorant, the next time I won't be able to pretend it. Well, I have a week to think it over, maybe I should just pay for trash disposal at the house and not tell my husband, who would not understand either my anxiety or my qualms, and telling him would only frustrate him that he wasn't here, himself, to take care of it.

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.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Coming Home

Yesterday, you came home to me;
not for the first time, nor at first sight,
not with the props of adolescent image
or the candied icing of wishful thinking.
You came as you were, grimed, sand engrained
and taking up more space than expected.
I relinquished your side of the bed, I sorted
through your clothes on the floor, I went
to search you out among your machines and
found you knee deep in dogs, smelling sweetly
of whiskey and wintergreen. What is love,
that it allows, so effortlessly, your entry into
my private and careful configurations?
Last night, you relinquished the dregs
of your bitter confessions; once spoken,
their darkness dissipated into tears
that I felt upon my face; as though
baptizing me into an understanding
of love never before realized.
In that moment, my arms could shelter,
but that consolation was merely
temporal; because of that clarity, I
found a voice to beg your return to me.
This sentiment you found only sweet,
it couldn't reach your core-where
duty and guilt combine to make up
a purpose too raw and elemental to be
ignored. Others died, you did not; yet.
With typical cavalier disregard, you will
ignore the sacrosanct edict for self
preservation; instead, you will surrender
your illusion of safety to a tangible
and raw understanding of human mortality,
and to the sovereignty of God, your debt
to Whom you acknowledge nightly.
Though you love me, that offering
cannot be less than your equal as a man;
limitation and ability both serve to define
everything you pour out to me and darling,
I will hold every part, scarred or not.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I had to go outside for a while, to clear my head. It's the first truly cold day so far; the air has that thickened, damp feel that precedes snow, the chill settles deep into the bones. Trees along the street have dramatically burst into color as though someone flipped a switch, and voila- ocher yellow! burnt umber! magenta! The colors glow like neon against the deep, falling blue of twilight.

It has been hard for me to let go of summer. After all, I do not know who Keith is in the winter; my memories began in the late spring and ended in the blaze of Indian summer. I don't know what he looks like in a sweater. Sometimes I must look for proof that I actually knew this man whose pictures are everywhere in this house, but who doesn't live here anymore.

Only perhaps two weeks into deployment I went through the inevitable; the hearing of news and the consequent disruption of inner peace and quiet. It was the helicopter crash that killed seven soldiers on their way from Kuwait to South Baghdad. This would have caused sorrow and disquiet under any conditions, but it happened that almost twenty four hours earlier, I had gotten an e-mail from Keith saying they were on their way and would reach their destination-South Baghdad-sooner or later. The next morning, I heard of the crash.

Of course, putting Keith and the crash together was like spontaneous combustion; it simply and inevitably happened. Suddenly, the world around me was slightly off center. I tried to pretend it wasn't, I knew I should not give in to it. I knew that there were thousands and thousands of soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait, moving back and forth between bases. But the timing!

Then for three days I did not hear from him. By the third day, I composed this message and sent it to my close friends:

-Still no word. Still the names are not released. I never anticipated this amount of reality when considering deployment. This is how altered my world is; I cannot write on hotmail because it is desolate and I can't use it. I can't write to Keith. I used to write to him all the time, keep a running dialogue of my day, he told me more than once that he loved hearing it. I can't do it.

I was working this morning and in the middle of the kitchen, before lunch, I suddenly had to swallow back tears. They just came up. It made me feel frantic. I washed the dishes, it made me want to weep. Every small thing I do, that hints at or reminds me of him causes me pain. It caused me pain at first too, after he left, until my mind had felt that pain over and over again and the wound healed over and I formed a comfort out of those things. I was even able to deviate some from them. Now they are laid over with a deeper, sharper pain.

The phone rang, it rang in the middle of lunch. I stood stock still, not even, for a moment, recognizing my own ring tone. Hope and apprehension washed over my face like a sheet of water, I had to take one deep breath, I closed my eyes; I begged God that it be him. It was a wrong number. I saw the number and I knew it couldn't be him because it began with an area code, from the city. But simply because it was unknown I couldn't give up hope until I heard a elderly woman's voice at the other end.

And I feel so ridiculous to be feeling this, most of me feels certain that he must be ok, that he must have passed into Kuwait days before the crash and that he will call me soon, tonight or the next night. But that part of me doesn't matter and is slipping. It's the panicked minority that holds sway, the minority that compels.

I heard a truck go down the street and I thought, I will never again hear his truck come home, and I almost believed myself. I have to have the windows open, I feel I will suffocate with them closed. I wake every night between 2:30 and 3:30am, because that is when he called before, but only two nights. Because of two nights, two random, not even consecutive calls I now have changed my entire sleeping pattern.

The neighbor Larry asked me if I had heard from him, as I was outside on the deck with a bowl of salad and a book, this afternoon after work. I told him no, I told him about the crash, he nodded, he had heard of it too.

"Don't worry," he said. "Keith's a canny guy. He can manage all sorts of things."

And it only made me angry! I thought, what does it matter, you stupid fool, if he is dead already? What does it matter, if he has physical strength, courage, a sense of duty, a bloody stubborn mind that won't give up until he's worked something out with his own hands, in his own way, none of that matters if he's already dead.

Because if he is, than he died in a pointless helicopter crash because of a mechanical error, a "hard landing" I heard it described. He died slamming into the earth, and no part of who he is and what he's capable of would be able to stop it from going down.

And all I can think of, is that he's scared of heights. He hates to fly. I count the hours forward, eight hours forward, as I always do, and try to picture him, but it gets harder and harder to picture what he could be doing that would keep him from calling or contacting me. Instead, I see pieces of the wreck.


When, the next morning I received a short, matter of fact e-mail from him, my world lurched again, but not back to the way it had been. It never did go back to the way it had been. When they finally released the names of the soldiers who had given their lives, I had to write their full names out; I still think of their families and the journey, indescribably difficult, that they are passing through right now.

On my walk, I passed by the white birch tree that stands in our front yard. Early last week I finally put a yellow ribbon around it. It took me a full month to tie a simple bow, and it was due solely to the perverse power of superstition. Every time I thought about putting it up there, I thought, "What if he does not come home?" It was the unspeakable irony of it.

Ridiculously, each step of putting the ribbon up required incredible amounts of courage. Simply to buy the damn roll was hard. I kept the roll of ribbon inside on the coffee table for another week or so before I took the wrapping off, holding it gingerly in my two hands.

I used to take so many things for granted. I was living in blissful ignorance of an entire world of sacrifice. But now I have stepped over the threshold and I cannot go back again; I cannot get back the innocence of not knowing.

The lopsided, hand tied yellow bow outside our house is the symbol of this new knowledge. More than that, it stands for my choice to keep faith; that despite everything it is possible to lose, I am choosing hope over dread. I will choose to believe that Keith will come home next fall and that I will finally get to see him in a sweater.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I tried to make a coherent post today, but instead, I found myself playing endless games of minesweeper, unable to focus. Instead, I will list, in no particular order, the things I miss the most about Keith:

The huge, messy plates of cheesy nachos that he would make, using all sorts of strange ingredients like ketchup and Doritos, or pepperoni, and how excited he would be about this, describing it as "bangin'" and assuring me that they would be the best nachos I had ever eaten. (Usually they were.)

Hearing country music played so loudly from his speakers in the garage that they would reach to the bedroom in the house, and knowing by this sound, that he was there, and happily engaged in some project.

Sitting outside on the front steps while he watered the lawn and hearing him talk earnestly and passionately about the best way to water a lawn; or equally often, watching him water the lawn from his seat on the four wheeler, and giving in and sitting on it with him after he pestered me long enough to do so, and then wondering what on earth the neighbors must think of us.

Him coming home from PT and throwing his huge and sweaty self across the bed to bury his face in my neck and declare that he must have kisses and that he lived for them.

The savory and smoky scent from the grill on summer evenings, with classic country songs playing, like Conway Twitty singing, "Hello Darling," and the dogs surging happily around under foot, looking for things to be dropped.

Waking up in the night to find that he had migrated all the way over to my side, where I lay, squashed between his heavy, sleeping self and the edge of the bed, and trying to wake him up enough to get him to roll over. (The only way to do this was to sweet talk him into it.)

Him telling me that he was absolutely going to say up til ten or more, and spend the entire time in the garage, only to find him in our bed at eight, talking to the dogs about my sneaky plan to domesticate him and how Abby would have to watch his back.

The way he could never experience anything good unless he were telling his friends about it, so that he was always on the phone, and hearing the incredibly cheerful and carelessly profane way he would greet them, with the usual, apparently necessary, round of profane insults exchanged before moving on to conversation.

Calling and talking with him on every one of my breaks at work and knowing that when I got home from my evening shift, I would find him there, all the lights on, and dinner saved for me in the refrigerator, sometimes with a message from him scrawled on it in marker.

Driving anywhere in the HD, feeling how solid and powerful it was, with the windows down, and watching his hands on the wheel, so large and capable, and feeling how content and at ease he was in those moments, and occasionally "eating"(passing) a Ford truck just because he could.

Brushing our teeth together and him insisting on kissing me despite toothpaste smeared lips and toothbrushes and his irrepressible grin afterward.

Oh, what the hell, I just miss everything.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Back Story

I realized that, unlike my friends on facebook, anyone reading my blog would have no idea of the back story included in this diary, and that knowing it might be helpful. Besides, playing out memories of Keith and I are one of my favorite past times, and writing it out is nothing but a pleasure.

We met on eHarmony, something Keith is often reluctant to admit to, and when he does, he always adds, "My father said I should try it." So, since he is not here to say it, I have included it for him.

He was one of my first matches and at the time, I was highly optimistic and contacting all my matches because, hey, you never know! If I had met him later, I would have closed his match down without a second glance, because by that time I had become inundated with matches and I was closing any that, among other things, hadn't filled out their profile completely, and Keith certainly had not.

(In fact, as it happened, he had filled out his profile completely lit; when he reread it later, he was amazed at how accurate he had been, even when drunk.)

I did not hear from him for three weeks and in that time, to be honest, I almost forgot all about that match. Sometimes I would glance over the back log of passed over matches and see again his picture, of a long legged man in uniform, leaning against his tank with his arms crossed, looking slightly irritated and as though about to speak, not at all ready for his picture to be taken. I found him incredibly attractive, but as I wasn't hearing from him, I had made connections elsewhere on eHarmony.

As for Keith, he had met a few matches in person already and had been less than impressed. He had almost given up on the experience. When he logged on at last and found my request for communication, he gave my profile a passing glance. He told me later he thought I was hot, he thought it cool I had a dog, he thought my having three brothers might prepare me for his family and lastly, he thought my having a career might mean I was independent enough to handle his absences. That was enough for him; he did not read further, he sent a request to fast track the communications.

"I would like to get to know you better. I won't be able to get on line for three weeks, I will be NTC, please just call me at .....keith," read his first message.

I was thrilled and intrigued. What was NTC? Why couldn't he get on line? He wanted me to call him? Not only to skip the slow, steady process of getting to know you questions eHarmony so carefully provided and that I always religiously followed, but also to skip the weeks and weeks of on line, written communication that, in my case, always proceeded a phone call?

I debated for a day. I googled NTC and was shocked and apprehensive when I realized it was combat training geared to mimic as exactly as possible conditions in the Middle East. Did this mean he would be deploying soon? What exactly did a tank commander do?

(My brothers, by the way, were thrilled at his occupation. "You must date this man," one of them wrote me, and when I almost got distracted by another match, one Black hawk pilot with a gifted tongue and varied interests, my younger brother said, wistfully, "But what about our valiant tank commander? I wasn't focusing specifically on men in the military, much as it might seem, it just worked out that way. If I had been paying attention, I would have known this was fate's way of giving me a little head's up.)

I called him. By this time, he was already in California and didn't hear his phone ring; I left an uncertain message, noting that his ring tone, for the caller, was a country song. It was beginning to dawn on me that I had stumbled across a genuine good ol' boy. I didn't know the half of it...

He called me back later that day, just as my brother and I were settled into the Blackeyed Pea for a late lunch. I jumped when I heard the phone and saw, with a thrill, his name.

"It's Keith," I almost whispered, leaning across the table to my brother, phone in hand.

"Answer it!" he said, grinning.

He was unexpectedly soft spoken, with a strong, mid American accent that was unfamiliar to me. He was straight speaking and direct, he didn't let the conversation lag. When he spoke about his dog, or his cat that had passed away, his voice melted away into sheer, warm emotion. When he spoke aside to someone who had come up to him while he was on the phone, his tone was direct and clear.

I was smitten. He, in turn, was impressed that I had taken the time to research the things about him I hadn't understood. He assured me that the training he was completing did not mean he was going to deploy.

"Not anytime soon," was what he said. That comment was made in April. Five months later he was in Iraq. Heh. He told me later he couldn't tell me he was deploying because a guy had to have some chance at getting the girl, and no girl stays around when she hears the word "deployment."

"I would have," I said stoutly, irrationally offended that, early as it had been in the relationship, he hadn't given me any credit.

"Maybe," he said, his voice softening. "You've done great so far."

I never knew when to expect a call from him. I didn't sleep well, I was so afraid I would miss a call, and so hyped up, expecting one. He continued to be the soul of a gentleman, always asking permission to call again after each call. I thrilled to my toes the first time he called me "hon."

I began looking into the military and was stunned at the vastness of it. It was, I was beginning to realize, a whole other world. I found I couldn't watch the news on the Middle East without feeling sick to my stomach. I began to watch, almost furtively, the Military Channel.

One week after the first call, I decided the time had come to find out his last name and his rank, only I didn't know yet to call it rank. Ranks themselves were so complicated and vastly confusing that I had only briefly looked at charts of them before moving on.

"What is your....your title?" I asked, "I mean, are you a..." Here I paused and searched around wildly for the appropriate vocabulary. I wanted something high enough so he would be flattered, but not so high that he would realize I was flattering him. The problem was, I knew almost nothing. I knew general was out of the question. I remembered suddenly one that seemed close. "Are you a lieutenant?" I finished up, hesitantly.

"Aw, no hon!" he protested vehemently, in his drawling voice. "I'm a sergeant!"

At the time, I had no idea what exactly I had done to cause such intensity; it was only much later that I began to understand the difference between Commissioned and Non Commissioned Officers. "Don't call me sir," I heard Keith say once, dryly, "I work for a living."

By the time three weeks had passed we had become comfortable with each other and learned enough to think we were getting acquainted. I knew, for example, that he was a Chevy man, through and through. Before I heard this, trucks came in two categories for me; the kind with sixteen wheels and the kind with four. My eyes were opened and suddenly, I realized there were trucks all over the place, I began looking for the kind he drove, that he had described to me so lovingly, his voice soft with satisfaction- his Heavy Duty, lifted, supercharged diesel Chevy Silverado.

("What does lifted mean?" I asked my younger brother. He was a great help to me during this time. He also explained to me the difference between a diesel and a gas engine.)

He learned that, of all the men I had dated, only one of them had been American, the rest had been Asian. ("Didn't you like no Americans?" he asked me once, shocked. However, he told me later he thought that, if I had the fortitude to make a relationship with a Japanese man work for four years, I would have the strength to make a military relationship work. He was right.)

Immediately after I told him of my relationship history, he went into reception black out for an anticipated three days. I worried that I had overwhelmed him and I would never hear from him again. He called roughly forty eight hours later and when I told him what I had worried about, he laughed.

I began to talk like Keith; I told a coworker once that "I didn't do nuthin' like that," without blinking an eye. Receiving a call from Keith was cause for celebration and I would come out of my office, flushed and happy to announce, "Keith called!"

As the time grew closer, we began to make plans to meet in person. He was delighted to realize that I had done my research on his Abrams tank and offered, when he got back, to show me his tank. This statement became a joke of some proportion among my intimate friends. "Tell him you're not the kind of girl that looks at a tank on the first date," said one. "You should have said, "You can show me your tank only if it's straight shooting, clean and well maintained," another friend suggested, to peals of laughter. And on and on...

Finally, it came close enough so we were talking about what restaurant to meet at, but by the time, his departure date kept being pushed back, and when we finally knew what day he would arrive, the time of arrival changed. He would arrive back around seven in the evening and would still need to unload equipment, which would put our date very late in the evening.

"I don't care," I said simply. "I don't care what we do or where we go, I just want to see you in person. I mean, it's been three weeks of calls! I just want to see you, you know what I mean?" I asked, suddenly anxious.

"I know," he said, his voice resonating with things unsaid. "I know what you mean."

So, it happened that, at about seven thirty on a lovely, clear May evening, I drove down to meet him in person. He lived about an hour away from the city. We decided that we would meet at his house and go out to eat somewhere nearby.

As I drove down, I couldn't help but think that this was one story I would never, ever tell my mother or my future daughter. How could I possibly be stupid enough to drive down to what amounted to a complete stranger's house, late in the evening, alone? There was no good answer to this question.

The first hour or so in his presence I was unable to register much, though he showed me his garage, the HD, the house he had put so much work into. His physical presence was shooting off such a shower of pheromones in me that I was fairly well shell shocked. It wasn't until he had settled me on a stool in his study and was showing me pictures from his first tour of Iraq that my brain started to function again.

I kept stealing glances at him. He was so incredibly large! His face was heavy and scarred, though his eyes were a clear, light blue and shy when they met mine. His hands were heavy and roughened by work, he carried his highball everywhere with him in a large, pink cup.

Our first date lasted about seventy two hours. During that time, his friends and family kept calling him to ask him how the date had went. "She's still here," he would say, with satisfaction. 'Yup, I haven't scared her away yet."

My father called to check in and noting the brevity of my answers, asked, "Are you with him?" "Um...yes, actually," I said, grinning.

We had stayed up til past one o'clock in the morning, on that first evening. Keith was straight and direct with me. He explained that the Army was his life, it was what he did, that it wouldn't change, and that, because of this, he would often be deployed and when he was home, he wouldn't ever be able to say when he would get home. He told me that I needed to come to terms with this; I couldn't, say, six months into it, suddenly change my mind and start asking him to change.

I found his straightforward directness attractive, even if a little intimidating, but I wasn't afraid of difficulty in relationships; I was a big girl and knew my own strengths and weaknesses well enough to look at a thing clearly.

That night we hashed out our expectations for having children, extended family, financial expectations and religion, the use of alcohol and health conditions. It was, to say the least, an intense evening.

I sat on the recliner, he sat on the couch, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. He wore a blue striped, button down shirt over a white tee shirt. The shirt cuffs were undone, framing his heavy wrists, his jeans that kept falling down because he had lost so much weight during NTC and hadn't bothered with a belt. They fell down around the heels of his battered, eight year old, steel toed boots.

At one point, as he was trying simultaneously to get his DVD player to work (by pounding on it while swearing) and holding up his jeans with the other hand, he turned to me, his face open and vulnerable.

"I always make a terrible first impression," he said earnestly. "But if you stick around for a second date, you'll start to see how I really am."

This confession only made me love him more. The day I drove the hour long commute to spend the night with him, and found him fast asleep with his head on my pillow and his phone beside him, in case I called, I knew I couldn't continue as I had been.

Roughly a week later I gave up my job as Department head and my newly leased apartment, and moved in with him at the dusty Outpost town, taking a job as a Care Manager so my hours would be flexible enough that I could be with him as much as possible before his deployment, which I knew by then would happen sometime in August or September.

One month later, I went with him to meet his family during block leave. A month later we were married and a month after that, almost to the day, he deployed for his second tour in Iraq.

I remember vividly one day in early June; it was a hot day and I wore still my work outfit of white, tailored skirt and cap sleeved blouse and heels. I hadn't had time to change after getting back from work; we had gone straight to his friend's house to grill out. He wore as usual an untucked, button down shirt and jeans; he wore, as always, his black cap.

The little neighborhood was full of sounds of family and summer, engines revving, children shouting, radios playing somewhere. The smoke of the grilling meat drifted with the slight breeze. Keith stood as he usually did, feet apart, one hand holding his highball, the other hooked into his belt loop; he reached out to me with that hand and pulled me close to him, his blue eyes warm with feeling.

"Have you ever known a man like me?" he asked with a grin, looking down at my face, so close to his.

I stood on tiptoe in my heels to wrap my arms around his neck. "Not even close," I replied with an answering grin and he kissed me, he kissed me until I felt it was indecent, to be revealing, so blatantly, our complete intoxication with one another to the innocent and unsuspecting public.

Later, his friend's wife asked me when I planned to take my dog Lynn back up to my apartment in the city.

"What's that?" Keith asked, one foot up on the fence railing, turning away from the grill. I told him her question.

"No need," he said simply; he took his cap off and settled it, affectionately, on my head.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Autumn Arrives (And Other, Anticipated Arrivals...)

Today is the first dark and dreary day of fall the season has presented. Last night, I rolled out of my cold bed and stumbled down the stairs to turn on the heater for the first time this season. Minutes later, it seemed, warmth billowed around me and I slept. There is no sun visible, the sky is a blanket of cloud from horizon to horizon. I stepped onto the deck, coffee in hand, and could see my breath in a puff of white vapor. The heater is still on.

In this Western state, the leaves do not turn the gorgeous variety of colors that they do in New England. Some turn yellow, others simply hang on for dear life while they slowly turn brown. The latter is the course of action the trees around my house have chosen; not for them to die in a blaze of glory; no, they want the long slow discoloration.

Last night at about three thirty in the morning, Keith called. It is an interesting thing, the mutual management of the household budget. Before he left, Keith managed all his accounts himself, I was in a hazy fog of happy ignorance, a state I prefer when it comes to money matters. Before he left, he assured me he would set up everything on line, so that all I would need to worry about, bill-wise, would be the electricity.

However, he was unable to do this and in the bustle of leaving, things got confused. The first thing he asked me to do was to make a list of everything, how much was due and when, and to pay the most pressing with an electronic check. This I did.

The next step of the evolution was then him telling me he had over a thousand dollars free and I was to decide how to divide the money up, and into which accounts, to call and negotiate percentage rates and explained to me how to read the meters on the house, so I could call in the exact amount. I did this, my confidence growing with each step.

Today, when he called, he explained that he was going to transfer the bulk of his pay from his original bank account to another one, one that I would be able to access, so I could make payments on line and not worry about the electronic checks. This means, of course, that I have almost complete access to his money.

Now, Keith and I got married very quickly after meeting, but it was not without a thorough discussion of important life issues and money was certainly on the table for discussion. We both wanted separate accounts, our next house would be in both our names, but not this one.

It was understood that we would not have access to each other's money. Keith has seen, up close and personal, the many ways in which a military wife can financially screw over her husband while he is deployed and he was absolutely determined, years before he met me, even, that it would never happen to him.

Well, now he has opened himself up to that happening and I was almost speechless with the weight of it.

"I thought you were never going to do this," I said later, in the shadowed kitchen, while the dogs ran around wildly in yard, in the dark of the early morning hours.

"I know," he said in his abrupt, Staff Sergeant voice. "I talk about that in the letter I sent, but... you've done so good with everything I ask. You've done awesome."

Needless to say, this was the hardest won and most prized compliment I have ever received. Now I feel we truly are a team; we will sink or swim together.

"I thought you said you wouldn't call for forty eight hours," I teased him, later.

"I know," he said, I could hear his grin.

"I was hoping you wouldn't be able to make it," I confessed, laughing.

"I just love you so much; I'm addicted to calling you," he said, in a voice that had nothing to do with the army.

"I think that is an addiction you can feed with impunity," I said, laughing.

"Hunny Bunny," he lovingly reminded me, "remember, keep the vocabulary to the eight grade level..." (This comment being one of our oldest private jokes together.)

His mid tour leave most probably will come up in December, though this is always subject to change. However, this means that in a month and a half, or two months, I will see him! My mind is often in a pleasant blur of white Christmas lights and dark, starry nights, of snow and warm windows, of the excitement of the arrivals lobby at the airport and me in my black, polished leather boots and belted, wool coat with a pink scarf.

I try not to invest too much in these fantasies, as beguiling as they are. I've been party to many reunions and partings in airports and I know by experience they never go according to the script my mind had written months in advance. In my case, absence seems not only to make the heart grow fonder, but also the imagination to grow cinematic.

I remember, many years ago, finishing a quaint novel, the kind that describes a woman's decollete as a "shadowy v," and where the first kiss is always the thrilling clilmax.

"When you get married," my mother told me, later that day, "it won't be like those books. It will be better," she finished with utmost confidence; it was the certainty in her voice that so marked the memory in my mind.

She was right. However glittery my imagination may wax, the faulty, unscripted moment has always been far better.