Saturday, November 29, 2008
But I was a brave girl and I was ready to face what ever life would bring me. I sincerely hoped, at that point in time, that life would bring me a ranch out west with wild mustangs.
I did not celebrate my twentieth birthday; I used it instead like a life line to drag me out of the murky waters of a marriage at nineteen into what I hoped would be respectability. It did not offer me the reprieve I had hoped. That birthday punctuated a winter that was as dark and heavy as the woods that surrounded our home, the home we lived in with my in laws.
It lay down a narrow and rutted back road, almost impassable in spring and glazed with ice in the winter. The room I lived in had huge windows that let in the sight of the tangled woods, with high, towering bookshelves on the other. I breathed in the light as though it were air but I still felt as though I were drowning.
By the time spring came, I and my first respectable car were barreling down the road, leaving that bondage behind and hoping I was strong enough to bear up under the weight of being a divorced woman at the tender age of twenty. I kept his name, partly to remind myself, partly to punish myself and partly because I was too exhausted to consider all the steps involved in changing it.
My twenty fifth birthday was celebrated in South Korea. I was the sole teacher of over a hundred Korean English students, my hands were perennially covered with chalk dust, I was always leaving little cups of green tea on window sills and desk tops. I lived in a dorm room heated by the floor, with a hot water heater for my very own shower (I was the only one who had this privilege) that eventually and dramatically burst into flames one night when I attempted to use it. I washed my clothes squatting on the floor, in a plastic basin and hung them out to dry on a wash line strung on the roof.
I loved being twenty five. I loved being in South Korea, I loved my Japanese boyfriend of two and a half years, whom I had been going to visit each year since we had met in person the first time, in Boston during New Year festivities.
I loved my Korean students who came laughing, exuberant, down the long, concrete hallways of my building, their dark hair lifting, their dark eyes alight. How shyly they would put their heads around the door of my office, to say hello. How sweetly the little girls would beg to hold my hand and cluster around me, chattering unintelligibly, but so hopeful.
During the preschool class in the mornings, I would take them all out, all fifteen of them. Using a little stop and go sign I had made, we would line up and walk down to the small green park at the base of the steep hill that the university was built on. I would be at one end of the green and open my arms to them and they would come racing to me, fill my arms with warm bundles of squirming toddlers.
"Sungsunim, Sungsunim!" they would cry, clustering about me, reaching only to my thigh and thrusting their dripping wet paintings at me, or urgently babbling on about some current state of their affairs that I must know about immediately and then act upon, as their teacher.
I dreaded turning thirty. I dreaded it so much that the thought of turning thirty tainted the ages of twenty eight and twenty nine. I might as well have leaped from twenty seven to thirty for all that it mattered to me. It was almost a relief by the time I reached thirty. I don't even know what exactly I was dreading so much.
I turned thirty in a city downtown, feeding the homeless at a mission established the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It was a snowy and cold night, the homeless ate burritos and salad with Ranch dressing and then there was a Bible study. I wore the heavy, lined black wool coat that I had purchased at Ann Taylor that fall, I kept my cell phone on vibrate and in my pocket in case work called, the holiday season was approaching and there were always call offs and chaos.
Work was a monkey on my back that didn't let me sleep. I would enter the building and the weight of it would settle down, familiarly, possessively. There were always stacks of paperwork on my desk, obscuring the pictures of the elderly that I loved best.
That winter I had thrown off the shelter of a suburban subdivision, the comfort of inground sprinklers and a full basement, of wall to wall carpeting and the color scheme I had picked out and then painted on the walls one spring in a flurry of home improvement hopes.
I had needed the shelter, I had searched it out and then grown up out of it. When I turned thirty, I lived in a little house well out of that upper middle class comfort, starting out with nothing but my dog Lynn and the brand new bedding I had purchased with my credit card at Walmart. I did not even have a coffee maker.
My twenties were a wild ride and I imploded on many occasions. I loved passionately, got engaged four times and married none of them. My body is still straight and slender, my belly taunt and untested; I have never given birth. Sometimes I feel barren, as though because of this my body is holding on to a sense of youth that should have long passed.
People gasp when I tell them my age, some of them get angry, as though I were lying to them and demand the truth immediately. But I feel my age, I feel my age all through me. I feel it in the muscle I pulled doing upholstery with my father that never healed properly, in my jaw where two of my wisdom teeth were pried out improperly, damaging the nerves so that I can't taste on one side of my mouth and I always worry a little bit that I might be drooling slightly and not know it. I feel it in my back that always hurts a little in the morning and after a long drive.
I flung myself wildly on long journeys in my twenties, out into the heart of foreign countries. Lately, my journeys are all internal and I have found marriage to be the most challenging and rewarding one of all. Marriage is my final frontier and I have thrown myself into it with my typical abandon.
I think of all the things I left behind, six hundred dollars in a bank account and the perfect pair of high heeled, black suede Mary Janes in Seoul, my Christmas ornaments in a subdivision, my eight hundred dollar wedding dress in Greenfield, NH, my old fashioned bike with the basket for groceries in Shisui, Japan. Sometimes I feel like I am a refugee from my own life.
Recently I attended a seminar and toward the end there was the opportunity to take communion. I took a piece of bread and a little plastic cup of red wine over to a solitary corner and sat down to meet and review with God, as though at a board meeting.
I struggled to phrase what it was I wanted to say to Him, I thought over my past thirty years, I thought of the many times I felt He had betrayed me, how I had betrayed Him. How I had shut Him out or turned my back on Him, how I had felt He was angry at me, or punishing me and the times I had felt His presence incandescent in my life, full of power and grace.
"No matter what else happens," I said, "I commit to...continuing...to..."
I felt God touch me then, with mercy and with gentle humor. "We've been through all that," I felt He was reminding me, "and here we are. Why not celebrate the next thirty years, whatever they bring?"
So I laughed quietly, feeling the freedom and the grace offered; I lifted my little cup. "Here's to surviving the first thirty, and to next thirty we'll spend together, whatever they bring."
Turning thirty one brings with it contentment and peace, two things I have rarely felt up until now. I need no longer scatter my belongs and my heart around the world. I am no longer driven by the need to prove something to myself, or to some unseen audience. I am safe at home now and can give up punishing myself, just as I gave up my ex husband's name and took on a new one.
Here's to the next thirty years.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
So many of the residents were out with family that we were able to fill only one half of the dining room for dinner and complete at least two thirds of the puzzle left temptingly out by the staff center. It is ostensibly for the residents, but several of us care managers are drawn to it and at any given time, one or more of us can be found bent over the scrubbed wooden table, frowning in concentration.
All evening long the residents trickled back in from dinner out with their families. They came bundled up, muffled with scarfs, their glasses at a funny angle from their hats. Stuffed to the gills, they hobbled their way to their rooms to fall into a deep and peaceful sleep, blessed by turkey and winter air.
Keith called me yesterday around six am. I was sunk so heavily into sleep that I could not move for a few moments, lay instead dizzily hearing the phone ring before I could heave myself over to grab it. I don't remember much of the conversation, I do remember I was not a lively participant in it.
I also remember that Keith said he will turn over his GI bill to me, to pay for me to go to school. This has had a most strange effect on me. I am realizing, slowly, that this means I will be able to go to college. In fact, I will be able to go to college and not worry about supporting myself, because Keith will not only be turning the bill over to me, but is also prepared to give up his dream of a boat to free up the finances for the children we both want as soon as generating them is humanly possible.
This is entirely his own idea. In fact, I promised him a boat, come pregnancy or high water, on his return from deployment. We even agreed on the price. I was actually kind of looking forward to a boat.
"No boat?" I asked faintly, when I heard this.
The other thing I am realizing is that I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, and just thinking about it is hurting my head. The first thing I did think of, however, was a librarian. I confessed this leaning to my husband, which made him laugh, a laugh particularly deep and masculine.
It turns out that if I do become a librarian, I will give my husband the opportunity to live out one of his life long dreams, one otherwise not possible, now that he is a married man and all.
I researched being a librarian and it turns out that is much of what it means to be a librarian. Not only that, but I would need an MA in library science. I don't think I can be that committed, not while raising children.
I am thankful, however, to have a husband who has unwittingly given me a dream I never thought would ever be possible. Never mind that I'm tied up in knots thinking about practicality vs. passion (though ten to one my father, upon hearing this, would ask me why it had to be "either/or" and to consider the possibility that I might be having a "scarcity conversation." Ah, the lingo of life coaching!)
I leave you with a picture of the white Christmas tree, sans ornaments because it turns out the ornaments do not come with the hooks. What insane device is this, to sell them separately? Speaking from the ranks of the absentminded, I protest this unnecessary detail!
Sleep well, all you turkey dreaming elderly. I and my dogs will now take ourselves up to bed and dream of our Staff Sergeant; far, far away but always thinking of us.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
And now the humor...
Why did the Chicken cross the Road?
SARAH PALIN: Before it got to the other side, I shot the
chicken, cleaned and dressed it, and had chicken burgers for
BARACK OBAMA: The chicken crossed the road because it was
time for a change! The chicken wanted change!
JOHN MC CAIN: My friends, that chicken crossed the road
because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and
dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the
HILLARY CLINTON: When I was First Lady, I personally
helped that little chicken to cross the road. This
experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure right
from Day One, that every chicken in this country gets the
chance it deserves to cross the road! But then, this really
isn't about me.
GEORGE W. BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken
crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on
our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either
against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.
DICK CHENEY: Where's my gun?
COLIN POWELL: Now to the left of the screen, you can
clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the
BILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with that chicken.
What is your definition of chicken?
AL GORE: I invented the chicken.
JOHN KERRY: Although I voted to let the chicken cross the
road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross,
and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am
not for it now, and will remain against it.
AL SHARPTON: Why are all the chickens white? We need some
DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken
won't realize that he must first deal with the problem
on this side of the road before it goes after the problem
on the other side of the road. What we need to do is help
him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on
his current problems before adding new problems.
OPRAH: Well, I understand that the chicken is having
problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad.
So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes
and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to
give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across
the road and not live his life like the rest of the
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: We have reason to believe there is
a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access
to the other side of the road.
NANCY GRACE: That chicken crossed the road because
he's guilty! You can see it in his eyes and the way he
PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking
MARTHA STEWART: No one called me to warn me which way
that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the
Farmer's Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped
to a certain level. No little bird gave me any insider
DR SEUSS: Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it
with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it
crossed I've not been told.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain, alone.
GRANDPA: In my day we didn't ask why the chicken
crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the
road, and that was good enough.
BARBARA WALTERS: Isn't that interesting? In a few
moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the
first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced
a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its
lifelong dream of crossing the road.
ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the
JOHN LENNON: Imagine all the chickens in the world
crossing roads together, in peace.
BILL GATES: I have just released eChicken 2008, which
will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your
important documents, and balance your checkbook. Internet Explorer
is an integral part of eChicken 2008. This new platform is
much more stable and will never crash or need to be rebooted.
ALBERT EINSTEIN: Did the chicken really cross the road,
or did the road move beneath the chicken?
COLONEL SANDERS: Did I miss one?
Friday, November 21, 2008
My mom makes this squash apple bake with cinnamon and brown sugar that I love and have tried on occasion to make. It was ok, but just not the same.
2. What do you love about the most about fall/winter?
Oh my, where to start? I love the color of the leaves changing, the leaves on the ground after a rain, the bare branches, the mystery of everything after the snow fell. I love to wear gorgeous, tailored coats and textured scarfs, I love to wear tweed and wool and things that are lined, and leather and suede.
3. Do you decorate for the holidays? If so where do you get the majority of your decorations?
I do, and from WalMart, mostly. I'm never satisfied with the way things turn out, mostly because I grew up in a household where my mother and father were both creative and everything looked as though it was always meant to be there.
4. Do you have an decorations that are extra special to you?
There was this little tiny house studded with sequins, blue for the walls and white for the room, with a little door and windows and a chimney. I felt certain there must be a real family living inside.
5. Any alternative Thanksgiving plans besides dinner?
I will be working Thanksgiving day, as I have done since moving out here. Think the end scene of "Driving Miss Daisy" and you've got the general idea.
I must go and try and get some sleep. It's been really hard falling asleep lately and I'm still two days away from a day off. Today at work, the next bunch scheduling came out, and...oops. Anyway, that was exciting because it's coming up so soon until I see Keith.
Now that I know we shouldn't be putting even leave dates here, it makes me wonder what else I don't even know that I don't know, so to speak. Maybe I should go to an FRG meeting... But Keith was very much against it, surprisingly and so I haven't tried. But I did find myself searching out some form of community and blogging has fit perfectly. Other than the FRG, does anyone know of any other good resources for pertinent info?
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The next night I was making an emergency stop at WalMart after my shift. We've been experiencing a cold snap here and the air was frosty, the roads mostly empty due to the late hour. My phone rang as I drove and I fumbled wildly to get it out of my pocket and free of the seat belt, knowing that it must be my husband at that late hour.
"Sweetie!" burst forth from me in joy. I waited, eager, to hear his beloved voice.
"Jenny!" he replied, his voice intense. I sat upright. He hardly ever calls me by my first name and his tone of voice was business like in the extreme. "Did you buy the ticket?" Oh, the agony of suspense in his voice, the impatience to hear. But what was the right answer? I didn't know, and anyway, it didn't matter, I had.
"Yes," I said. "Remain calm," I was telling myself, as I pulled into the parking lot at WalMart.
"The fucking bastards!" he growled and went on with more profanity and then, in a helpless and impatient tone of voice, explained, "They changed my date again; I'm leaving sometime early in December."
Oh, the relief! He was not angry at me, but for me! And who cared about the money? Suddenly, I was going to be seeing my husband in a matter of weeks and he had a date!! An actual date when he was leaving.
"I can't talk," he said abruptly. "We're leaving on a mission right now, we're rolling out now. Just...try and get the money refunded."
"Don't worry about it, I'll do whatever I can," I assured him.
I could hear in his voice that he was leaving on a mission, he was not using his personal voice. I could see him in that moment so clearly, wearing his hundred pounds of Kevlar, one weapon strapped to his thigh; the other I did not know where, but close about him.
Under the enervating florescent light of WalMart, I wandered the isles dreamily. I felt like going up to random employees and telling them, conversationally, that my husband was coming home very soon, and wasn't it marvelous?
I remembered the dog food, which was the main point of grocery need, and threw other random things into the cart as I went. How beautiful the bacon! How tasty would be the sour cream and onion potato chips! Why not organic oatmeal? Jambalaya red beans and rice? Why yes, thank you. Beans and rice are very healthy and on sale!
I paid for my things in a cloud of bliss and drove to my warm and welcoming home, only to find that a package that my husband had ordered had arrived! I lugged the box inside and left it, respectfully, alone.
Later in the night, the phone made its joyful noise and I groped about to find it in the dark. He had called me as soon as he returned from the mission, sounding tired but content. I was proud and happy to tell him that I had called Travelocity right back and they had given me a full refund, and so he had nothing to worry about. I also told him that his package had arrived.
"Bangin'!" he exclaimed happily. "What's in it?"
"I don't know," I replied, "I didn't open it."
"Go open it!" he said, excited.
I threw on my bathrobe and padded downstairs in the dark. I tore open the cardboard and found a camo patterned cooler that sits in back of the four wheeler in such a way that not only does it keep beverages cold, but provides a seat back for me.
"Whatcha' thinkin', woman?" he asked me, sensing something, even over the phone. I couldn't help it, I laughed.
"I'm thinking I married such a good ol' boy," I replied, grinning.
"I won't lie," he said, both grave and humble, in that adorable way he has, "it's going to be holding mostly beer. But water and stuff for you. And you can lean back on it when you get tired."
"That will come in very handy," I assured him.
We talked about Christmas decorations and he revealed that he would like a white Christmas tree.
"Oh dear," I said. "Exactly how badly do you want a white Christmas tree?"
"Um," he said, grinning now as well. "How much do you not want a white Christmas tree?" His voice was just a little hesitant, shy.
"Well, on a scale of one to ten, how important is it for you to have a white one?" I offered.
"Um..." He thought so seriously about it for a moment. "A seven...?" he replied, again so adorably shy to say.
"Oh to hell with it, we'll have a white Christmas tree," I exclaimed. How tiresome to be a Christmas tree snob anyway. White could be beautiful, I could offset it with shades of blue and silver, with white lights.
I told my boss today and she has already put in my vacation. I looked at the calender and my mind boggled at how soon I will be seeing him. I feel no more dread about him leaving again, I know that will happen and I don't care. I'll be in that moment when it comes; right now, I am in this moment and it is full of joy.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
All this time, I thought I was sitting in the dark and dreary world of no husband, small amount of money being moved around fearfully from this to that, fearing the next unpredictable thing that might happen.
I love the power of choice. It is a frightful power, it unlocks the possibility of everything happening. The choice of stepping right into the heart of what we fear instead of hunching forward against it. That is, I think, what the coach at the seminar meant when she said surrendering to the event. Surrendering to life.
But I'm good at that, I'm good at surrender. What I loved playing with at the seminar was the possibility of saying no. No I won't surrender. Of doing it consciously and experimenting with value and consequence. It felt frightening to me. If I do not give myself, am I still of worth? Now I see how much more there is, how much more than the slice of pie I've been playing with.
This is all frightfully metaphorical, but I mean, going to work and embracing every interaction, of stepping into the tension, whatever tension comes up, and engaging it. Being present. Calling my mother in law back and being present in that conversation, hearing what she is saying to me and being authentic in return. How frightening is that? And yet, how full of freedom! How marvelous to pick up the call and then how equally marvelous to consciously end it, instead of waiting and letting it go on and on for fear of hurting her feelings.
Life doesn't always have to be so serious. Lots of things tap into my survival instinct. Naturally, because I was horribly abused as a child, so I read lots of things as meaning life or death. But why not play with life? Why not risk?
I feel like there was a marvelous, bright and beautiful play ground all around me and I've been huddling under the slide with my few scavenged treasures.
God damn, I'm going to play with the big boys now! I'm going to play in the light! Bring it on! I'll race! I'll scape my knee, I'll be misunderstood, I'll laugh until the snot comes up, I'll fall short and I'll get back up and try it again.
I screamed out, "You have no power over me any more! I am my own person!" But I wasn't just saying that to the man who abused me. I was saying it to everything that I gave power to. I take my power back, I take it all back. I draw the lines, I choose.
And with that power to choose, I choose the wild riot of life; I surrender to that compelling, depthless current.
I bought my plane ticket this morning, I'm going home for Christmas, my husband's gift to me. I just want to announce that I love my husband with a great wonderousity of love; and yes, I made that word up and it's an awesome word.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
It was great. I'd seen all the pictures before, many times, but combining them with the story helped me remember all over again what a fun and exciting summer it was. And how cute my husband is. I know he will love it so much; I wish I could send it to him in time for Christmas, but at least he will get it in time for his birthday.
I ordered two, because I knew I would want a copy here with me. I keep imagining our children begging to be read the book, about how Mommy and Daddy met, and how tattered and beloved it will be. (I know, because I would nag my Mom and Dad to tell me their story more times than I can remember and how enthralled I was at pictures of them before I was born; "Dad wore bell bottoms??? Mom had long hair???)
Also, one my new friends from the seminar suggested that I start a Christmas tradition, even if Keith is not here. I thought this was a great idea and now I am busy thinking about what it will be. Next year, probably, he will be with me and we will already have a tradition in place! And I will get a tree and decorate, and video tape while I do it, so Keith can watch later.
Still, before I got into that project, I could feel how heavy and exhausted I was this morning; it was as though I were moving underwater. I opened the door to the deck and my spirit lifted up, just enough to ease my breath and I left the door open while I did the dishes. By the time I left for work, I was much myself again.
How thankful I am for work! For the excuse to wander slowly around the large, empty dining room arranging napkins or silverware, or to sit at the top of the steps and watch as a group of volunteers played Sinatra on the saxophone, or to make jokes about how my job title should be "Catheter-Care-Taker-Manager!" or about how the latest new hire asked me, so seriously, how long he should go on wiping during toileting. Oh god, this makes me laugh again even now.
I knew the deployment would be hard, but I have to admit, I underestimated how hard. Thank God for the dogs, even if Abby did eat the corner off my couch recently, and for good books and free DVDs at the library and friends to call. And, it is true, as T suggested, that simply coming into the house reminds me of Keith and his love for me.
I am thankful and feel loved every time the heater comes on so quietly, every time I see how the sun falls so warmly on the wooden floors. I told Keith this and it caused him great satisfaction. He must show his love by doing such practical things, so it must have seemed to him that I was, in thanking him for the heater, suddenly speaking his personal language fluently.
I still remember the day after we met him hand washing my car and changing the oil, and then driving an hour into the city for the sole purpose of retrieving my dog Lynn so she could be with all of us for the rest of the day.
It is scary to feel the sorrow and the grief, but I've always believed that without the courage to move through those places, the joy and satisfaction that always does come would be felt a little less. And I've been through some deep places, so I know I can move through this. And there is always the knowledge that next Christmas, Keith will be here and probably annoying me to no end by inviting people over spontaneously, spending too much money and, no doubt, putting reindeer antlers on the dogs.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Keith is not coming home in December after all. I heard this as I was driving up to the city for a seminar, in the middle of the season's first snowfall. The snow was thick and lay heavy on the roads, long lines of cars and trucks slowly wound their way through the white, dull morning.
The phone rang and I thought it was someone from the seminar calling to see if I was alive and well, or overturned in some snowy ditch somewhere along the way.
"This is Jenny," I said in such a dull voice.
"Hey Sweetie," came the voice of my husband, very quiet and raspy with exhaustion, faintly tinged with humor at the way I had answered.
"Sweetie!" I cried out, the joy overtaking me. It was the first time I'd heard his voice in a long time and I wasn't expecting to hear from him at all.
That is when he told me that they had changed the leave dates. I remember exactly where I was; at an intersection in the city that I am very familiar with. Very near by was the posh, upper middle class neighborhood that used to be my home, down the street was Ruby Tuesdays that I used to eat at with Harry so often, dressed up and ready for a strawberry lemonade, in the balmy summer evenings.
I cried in the car, I cried at the horror of it. The horror of the Christmas decorations I had already put up, the way I had arranged time around him coming, at the desolation that was left.
Not only that, but they had moved him to another platoon, so he was not even with the men that he had known, some of whom he had trained and worked with for years. Quiet, capable Gunner and Driver, a laughing, cocky boy from mid America with a dirt bike and not much else.
His move was due to the fact that after being promoted, there was no place for him in his old platoon. So now, not only is he living in a shack with no electricity, but with men that he had not worked with before. And even though he is not working a classified mission, he cannot give me any details of what he is doing. I cannot say, "He is training Iraqi soldiers," or "He is on patrol missions in his tank." I do not know what he is doing.
He sounded defeated and exhausted over the phone. He had already ordered parts for his truck, so he could work on it during leave. In the next few days, they will show up at the front door. I will put them in the already crowded, cobwebbed garage or stack them downstairs in the family room.
There were countless little projects and things he was going to secure for me when he got here. We had gotten into the habit of saying, "But you can look into that when you come..."
I haven't sent packages for Christmas because of course, we were going to celebrate it here. Now, even if I mailed them today, they would arrive too late. He will celebrate Christmas with nothing at all.
Last night I had a strangely vivid dream of him. I dreamed we rode the four wheeler to the grocery story. It was winter and I was expecting it to be cold, but I didn't feel the chill, I felt warm and snug with my arms tightly around him. I remember the clear image of his boot as he climbed off and the look of impatience on his face, an impersonal look which I've seen often when he had to go grocery shopping.
He called me during the seminar, when I was on break. I told him the car had been slipping around the roads.
"Maybe I should put a chain the trunk to weigh it down," I suggested, which made him laugh, so unexpectedly tender. "What?" I asked. "What's funny about that?"
"Oh, my little wife," he said gently, "what am I going to do with you?"
"Keep me, I hope," I replied, grinning.
"Oh, that I will," he assured me with lazy confidence.
(It turns out my car has front wheel drive and therefore, putting weight in the truck would just make the sliding worse. "Slow down," was my husband's advice to me. He always suspects me of driving too fast. I wonder what in the world would cause him to think that? It's not as if I have three speeding tickets and two accidents under my belt...)
Time has been moving along in its irrevocable way all along, and will continue to. The horrible holiday season will pass by and it will be the cold, white clarity of January, which I have always appreciated, and by then, the days and the light will be growing.
I will mark the advent of spring, knowing that I will see him then, and spend the summer months preparing for a whole new life.
I just need to hold on through this horrible and tangled agony, knowing that it will pass by. And it won't be that bad. I'll spend Christmas with my family, my marvelous, courageous, inspiring family.
I just want so badly to hold my husband in my arms that it hurts.
Right now I'm trying to manage several devastating pieces of information about Keith. The first is that he is not coming in December. They switched his R&R to April.
The second is that at some point in the next day or so, he will be going on a mission where he will not be able to call me at all and he is unable to even tell me how long that will be.
He called me last night at 2am and I was so exhausted that I could hardly comprehend what he was saying. His voice sounded so sad and distracted, I could hear voices in the background and then all of a sudden he had to go. Was that the last phone call before the mission? I don't know.
I can't even write about this. I can't write. But here is something I wrote before and expresses perfectly.
Dark rose leaves outside the window must
gleam faintly with the pale leavings of light
that slip the blinds; outside the cold rises like
mist off the grass and the roots of things begin
to curl in, already the lawn lies ornamented by
the pure yellow of several leaves of birch;
loosened early, they lie like estate jewelry on
the rough weave of grass and growing things.
Within my room, I lie at the heart of my recent
solitary confinement; my reality extends only as
far as the lamp lets me see, beyond the golden
cast is nothing but what used to be the rest of
the world, now made formless and void. I remember
you, but lightly. I catch you most clearly from
the corner of my eye; to lean too heavily on that
need would be to break those fast woven lines made
necessary by your compulsory departure.
I live in two worlds. One world is made of coffee
grounds, dog food and the door alarm; of work,
that world you never were party to and so
suffers the least from your leaving. I move
myself from one task to the next and time
moves with me, a reckless tease who withholds
and then upends his wares all at once and
the day ends in a blue spill quickly spreading,
of sorrow and the night. I give up pretending;
succumb to it. Your absence folds over me,
and I sleep, suffocating.
The other is interior, fed like flames by every
moment I can conjure of us, and no less real
for all that it is made up of the double image of
memory and invention.
It is this world I live in and I come out of it only
when forced, to stand, blinking, in the novel
reality of your absence and retreat, as soon
as possible, to my shadowy, lamp lit world, where,
if I do not look clearly, it is still possible that
even now, you lie beside me.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I should be happy, excited. Keith should be coming home in maybe four weeks. That stretch of time is nothing; it will pass by so quickly I can easily discount it. And that entire time will be spent getting ready, making the house look Christmasy, preparing.
But I am not happy and excited. Mule-like, my emotions have dug their heels in and I'm stuck in anxiety and loss. Because it's true; four weeks will fly by quickly and two weeks even more quickly, the two weeks that he will be home for. And then he will be gone again, and gone for close to nine months.
How can I prepare for him to come and also prepare for him to go? Both happen in such a short space of time, and are so intense, that I'm left feeling numb all over. Of course thinking of seeing him again and being with him is an incredible draw and I know I'll be obnoxious with the camera because I'll want as many pictures as humanly possible. This summer I took what I thought was a great deal of pictures, but three months into deployment and I know all of them by heart.
I let some Kirby salesladies into the house night before last. One of them was married to a Staff Sergeant in Keith's division and also deployed. She had to call her husband to see if they knew one another, and he said he couldn't officially say if he knew my husband or not-I wonder if that was because at the time Keith was still running the classified mission, the details of which I am intensely curious to know about.
It turns out she has also left clutter lying around the house; she still hasn't washed the last load of laundry left from before he deployed, even though pieces of her clothing are mixed up in it. I remember the excruciating pain of washing the last load; folding and putting away the clothes, so hideously like normal.
She also had to earn her husband's financial trust, and still includes him in every single purchase, to help him feel included. The lady who was doing the demonstration had a brother in the Air Force and she said that his first wife had run off with everything he owned while he was deployed, cleaned out his bank account, everything.
"Ah ha!" I cried, "so it does happen!" (I wasn't sure if maybe Keith had been exaggerating, I hadn't heard of any other stories than the ones he had told me.)
She nodded soberly. I told her how Keith's first wife had done him; telling him she was going out shopping the day after Christmas in Indiana, and instead, getting on a plane and flying back here and pulling up with a UHaul to take everything back with her.
"That's balls to the wall bad," drawled the woman; she was from Maine and we clicked. Her quirky personality and the way she talked were very familiar to me.
The past two days were dismal and depressing for me. The military wife saleslady talked about how sometimes it's impossible to "get through the bubble" and I knew just what she was talking about. I've been in the bubble ever since Keith told me he wouldn't be able to call and, naturally, hasn't called.
I had no idea how much I truly was counting on those calls, how marvelous to be able to reach him any time I needed to, if I needed to. The thought was enough. It was like this at the beginning of deployment, I just have to get used to it being like this again.
And, I must find a way, or a place, where I can feel everything I need to about him coming home and yet, be able to let him go again. What I feel like is simply falling all to pieces.
However, I do have vague but growing plans to buy a ticket back home, so that, soon after Keith leaves, I leave for the safety of a small hamlet in the backwoods of New England and spend some time opposite a little library and down the street from the little General store and where I can hear the church bells ring every morning from under my quilts. Mom, put on the tea, I need you!!!
out farther into the wilderness, while,
discarded, minutia of your other life
lies marooned, subject to the tranquil
sovereignty of dust.
I am your curator and
live among the monuments.
Deprived even of your voice, I'll
make my bed in memories and keep
company with your singular relics.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
My grandfather had just come back from his tour in Germany at the end of WWII and was looking to meet a nice girl. A mutual friend set my grandmother up with him, but she was very nervous about the blind date. She was the kind of girl that would spend all her salary as a telephone operator on a new frock and live on apples for the rest of the month, in the pictures I've seen of her, she's incredibly beautiful.
She was waiting in the car at the apartment building where my grandfather lived at the time and anxiously watched for the unknown man to emerge. She was horrified to see a rather large and ungainly young man come out the door and, in a moment of weakness, ducked down on the floor of the car, hoping he wouldn't see her and go on past.
Well, unbeknownst to her, on the heels of the first, unfortunate individual came my grandfather, tall and handsome in his uniform. He came over the car, opened the door and my grandmother fell out at his feet.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Now, I may not hear his voice until he comes home in December. It is also a grey, overcast day with a nasty drizzle that is definitely not snow. I was putting off my holiday shopping until my next paycheck, but damn it, I need retail therapy and I need it now.
I am right now in my ratty flannel PJs, hair unwashed and uncombed, drinking cold coffee in my darkened and dusty house. I wondered last night if I could be depressed, but I don't think so, because isn't one of the criteria loss of interest in hobbies? I've never been more prolific in my writing. But still, maybe I should get out more. But I just don't want to. Hmm.
Definitely it is time for Managing Winter Depression Stage 2. (Stage one was the buying and keeping alive of indoor plants. That is going very well. No deaths to report so far, though the cat appears to be nibbling on the potted ginger plant leaves. But the geranium in the bedroom is about to blossom, miraculously.)
Stage 2 is the early buying and putting up of Christmas lights; many of them. I already know how I will manage the outdoor lights; I have a ridiculously long extension cord in the back of my car where it has sat since the day I dropped Keith off on post, deployment day.
I will stretch that from the deck, where there are outside outlets, all the way to the front and I will drape glittering stands of light across the bushes and along the outlines of the house and possibly, up in the birch tree, or winding up around its trunk.
After I got off the phone with Keith for the last time in a long, long while, I was barraged by incredibly vivid and intimate memories of him. Of the top of his head, narrow and adorable looking because of that little swirl of hair at the crown, which always aroused in me the most delectable of maternal instincts. Or of his arm flung over my rib cage, enclosing me and the sight of his hand, half curled in sleep and the light glinting golden on the hairs along the back of his hand and the raw, scraped looking knuckles from the constant upkeep that his tank required of him.
I saw his face so clearly, the features heavy and worried looking even in sleep, and the marvelously long sweep of his eyelashes, so incongruous and yet adorable on him, adding to the innocent charm of his clear blue eyes, or making shadows along the curve of his cheeks.
(He would hate it if he knew I was describing him in this way, so just for the record, I must state that he is by far the most manly and tough guy I have ever known.)
Heh. Which makes me remember one time right after I had moved in. I had bought a new loofah to replace the old one in the bathroom, and the next morning, at breakfast, Keith thanked me for getting it. He's always very good at showing gratitude, it's one of the best things about him, and the smallest gestures delight him. I remember the look of wonder and awe on his face when he realized I had swept the floor. He had to call one of his friends to brag of this. The poor man was dying for some domestic attention...but anyway, I digress...he thanked me for buying the loofah.
"I didn't realize you used that loofah, I thought it was left there...from..." my voice trailed off.
"No, I use it every day," he said and then caught the look on my face and leaned forward. "What?" he said, ominously, his eyes bright. His whole body took on the posture of a predator. I felt the thrill of delight and danger.
"I just find it funny that you, of all people, would use a loofah," I dared to say.
"What are you saying, woman?" he cried, "Are you saying I'm not manly?" Then he did pounce and I was caught up inescapably in his huge arms, shrieking with laughter because, of course, he had found out early on how horribly ticklish I am, which always leaves me at such a terrible disadvantage. If he hadn't of been holding me up, I would have collapsed on the floor, completely incapacitated by laughter.
"Say I'm the toughest man you know," he demanded, bending his head to my ear. "Say it!"
"You're the toughest man I know!" I declared, throwing my head back against his chest, and shouting out, not just with the energy of laughter, but with the utter certainty of truth.
Fortunately, we had just resolved a serious argument just before he left the land of cell phone reception. Navigating that argument was a delicate, time taking process. The fact that we couldn't talk long, or reconnect physically to take the tension off, and more importantly, the over all context of danger and uncertainty meant that the argument was conducted in small, almost choreographed stages.
First he would state his position and then I would state mine and then we would put aside angry feelings and move away from the argument. Then we would call again and restate or renegotiate then put it aside again, to reconnect before the call was ended. By these gradual stages, we reached, eventually, a stale mate.
I felt I could not move from my position and he could not move from his. "I don't want to talk about it any more," Keith said simply, when we realized this. "I love you," he said, soon after and we ended that call.
I was sitting out on the veranda at work, in the crisp, winter air. All the trees are bare now, the mountain side subdued, I could see the traffic rushing by endlessly on the interstate at the foot of the hill, everyone heading home for dinner and the evening news, to bath the children and oversee the homework, to load the dishwasher and read in bed.
Keith's ability to put the argument aside gave me an unexpected gift of freedom. He was letting me be and yet still validating our relationship. In that gift of space, I was able to look in a new perspective at my emotions, to sort through my priorities. Once I had done so, I understood then that I could give him what he needed from me. I let go of the baggage and told him where I now stood. In doing this, I completely undid him, which is a marvelously rewarding thing to do.
This was all happening in the overheated, overstressed atmosphere at work, during the one shift that is mine to manage. I feel my natural instincts to lead coming back to life after being so badly burnt out by the one year of being Department Head. But I can't seem to help myself; given enough time, I will start to messing around in policy, taking on more responsibility than is mine, problem solving and teaching and investing in my team mates.
It just happens and then I find myself suddenly with a weight on my shoulders, with my team mates looking at me for direction, to be saved, redirected or wincing away from me, fearful and resentful. It is impossible to have one with out the other.
But it is, despite the weight of this, ultimately a profound relief to see the burnt out edges of me fall off to reveal the strength still there, and stronger than before. Effortlessly now I manage emergencies, redirect, teach and advise. Almost before I realize it is my own, I hear my voice rising out of the melee, calm and clear and confident. Where did I find that voice?
But then at night, I lie in bed, tossing and turning, fearful of the consequences of taking a stand, of putting myself out there, of making changes. Who now will pull me aside and accuse me of lying, say to my face that they know I am trying to get them fired? What swirling eddies of power will create the cross currents that I wade through each shift, the alliances forming and reforming around me at work and how do I keep my path straight through all this, keep my integrity and my courage? I know so clearly my own weaknesses, my failures are always before me.
I must go and take a shower, dress up for morale and take on Stage 2: Christmas lights!
Friday, November 7, 2008
Near the gas pumps was a Korean restaurant that I pass every day on the way to and from work. Suddenly, in that one moment, I knew that I would have to stop. I would have to go in and order food. Partly this was due to the fact that, before work I eat a bowl of instant oatmeal and then nothing else until two in the afternoon, when I get out.
But mostly it was because I had a sudden, visceral memory of bimbobab, set before me in a steaming iron bowl, while outside the window rose the vertical cacophony of neon signs. They lit up the swirling eddies of young people that rubbed shoulders in the cold winter air, tinted their faces with shades of blue, yellow and red. And my ravenous hunger, the heat of the food and the atavistic satisfaction of mashing everything together with the thin, metal chopsticks and the abiding satisfaction of rice.
Along with this, my body's complete exhaustion; how I slumped in the chair and the smooth, kind face of the very young man opposite me, the cold air around my feet and the heavy, smooth wool of my coat, the scratchy scarf that I unwound, loosened, along with strands of my long dark hair.
"Do you have that soup...I don't remember the name...but you know...the rice is cooked traditionally in an iron pot and then scrapped out into a bowl and boiling water is added to the iron pot...?"
Her face lit up, first with recognition and then a kindly amusement.
"Yes, I know that soup," she said. "But we don't serve it here. Koreans cook it at home, it's not restaurant food."
I shrugged off the loss, not really expecting to find it, but somehow longing for that taste, so unexpectedly comforting, in the way that bread and butter is. I was happy to return home with two mysteriously large Styrofoam containers that when opened, revealed a delightfully colorful and appetizing selection of foods.
There was the vibrant red and yellow and sour sharp smell of kimchi, two kinds. Various picked vegetables, a small square of egg casserole and tiny dried fish, still with little gleaming eyeballs the size of pin points. That was all in addition to the bimbobab.
Yesterday, Larry the good neighbor (I still don't know his last name) came over to change the furnace filter, only to discover that we had not, after all, bought the new filters. He told me that before Keith had bought this house, it had belonged to another military family, and Megan, that wife, had also lived here alone while her husband was deployed.
I liked that history, to know that the house itself was used to the ways of solitary women. After Larry left, I realized that he was the first person to enter the house besides myself, since Keith left.
Even now, I have to think back to see if that could possibly be correct, if I could have been that isolated. But it is true. No one but myself and the dogs have set foot in the house since Keith left.
I remember once, one deep winter, I was driving home late at night. There had been a car in front of me for a little ways before the car took a right and I continued straight. Turning to look, I noticed for the first time how the headlights of a car make a bubble of light, while all around was inky black, and how, as the car got farther and farther away, the light grew faint and the darkness to loom.
Until that point, I hadn't realized how the darkness encased my own car, how it must be all around me, pressing up to the sides of the car, settling down behind me after the headlights went sweeping, briefly, past. It was an eerie feeling, somehow, and I felt the same sensation to realize how alone I have been in this house.
Being alone has never bothered me, in fact, I will search it out if necessary and I am so self absorbed that I seldom raise my head to notice my surroundings. I've been going from room to room in a little bubble of thought.
Until now, I didn't think about how, right now, the rest of the house is empty and dark and quiet and how the faint echoes of the music from my computer must drift up from this one, partially lighted room and how I will lie down alone in a small cast of light from the bedroom lamp and when I turn it out, all will be dark, all the rooms settle down quietly into the night.
I lifted the salt shaker and saw that it left a perfect circle of dark on the dusty stove top. Maybe that's why I feel compelled to clean every week; I must simply go over every surface and room of the house, as though to reclaim it from the atrophy of a self absorbed, solitary woman.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
How all the branches above the narrow road interlocked in elegant, abrupt patterns, swirling as the car went past, the lights glinting over the glass windows and how, in the silence of winter, a single stone dropped could echo through the cold, still air, the rustling of acorns through the leaves, the rippling of the lake water as it sifted through the corrugated metal pipe and out the other side and the opaque beauty of the water, golden dark and winking with the light, breaking and joining and passing over the moving water.
I would walk, I would walk for miles and return again, past the uncertain shadows of the crouching woods which over ran the banks; leaning, leaning in and revealing in sudden shafts of winter light a fall of amber leaves, the glossy dark of rhododendron and the simplicity of a single branch.
Close to the road lay the clapboard houses, moss growing on the foundations, windows shaded and quiet; their owners away, gone away to Boston for the weekend, for the lights, for the seafood, for the symphony.
Coming home, the sun would set in my eyes and by this I knew it was west, but I could not see the entirety of the country spread out before me. I could not believe that inconceivably large sprawl of land was in that direction; the rest of the world must lay behind me and I walked toward the sea.
The setting sun would turn the trees to ink, drawn with heavy and wavering hand on gold flared paper that was the sky and from behind me the growing dark would rise up and eat away the rest of the light until only a pale pink remained and grew dim and died away into blue and as I went up the stone steps to the house, the sky flared up behind me with stars; they overspread the sky with their own precisely moving tides, their channels and tidal estuaries of white light, their swirls and angular constellations.
I would pause, fingers frozen and take one last, deep breath of the night, the bitter, metallic edge of frost, the faint pungency of fallen leaves. Holding it, I would open the door to the hot and heated air of the house.
Monday, November 3, 2008
But, how misleading the little bird was. I had an unabashedly awful day and now I am going to rant about it and then I will go upstairs and make myself salmon for dinner.
First of all, today I sat down to sort through the bills. I should have known not to do this.
Credit Card Service Representative: "Is the primary card holder available?"
Me: "No. No, he's not. As I have been telling you people for the past two months, he's in Iraq. He is not available to come to the phone."
Credit Card Service Representative: "Can I put you on hold?"
Me: "Sure, let me just pull out my handy dandy pocket edition Suduko so I can while away a half an hour of my time while you check my credentials."
Credit Card Service Representative: "I'm sorry, Ms. Indiana, but we haven't received those deployment orders and I cannot tell you what the balance on the account is. You are not an authorized user."
Me: "I have given you hundred and hundreds of my husband's hard earned dollars, I have faxed his deployment orders to you two weeks ago and you cannot tell me the balance, or why there is now a six hundred dollar late fee on the account?"
Credit Card Service Representative: "Can I put you on hold for a moment?"
Me: "Yes. Please do. I do so enjoy the background music."
Credit Card Service Representative: "I am going to transfer you to the Attentions Department. One moment."
Me: "Yay! The Attentions Department! Now, that sounds promising! And yes, I look forward to being on hold while connected to a whole other department."
Another Credit Card Customer Service Representative: ""Yes, Ms. Indiana, we have received the deployment orders, but it has yet to show up on the statement and your payment has been processed, so there will be no late fee."
Me: "Thank god! I remain, however, somewhat confused that, despite all the advances in communicative technology, how the Attentions Department has still not yet communicated to the Billing Department that you received a fax and payment two weeks ago. Maybe you should try communicating it to them via Morse Code."
Exceedingly aggravated by this, somewhat exaggerated account of the exchange, (how about that for a choice selection of vocabulary, huh?) I called the husband in question and woke him from what little sleep he gets. Anguished by this accident of timing (I never know when he sleeps) and harried by static, we could not communicate well. It went somewhat like this:
Me: "Sweetie...?" (Leaning far forward over the edge of the table and squinting, as though this would somehow help)
Me: "Did I wake you up?" (Horrified)
Me: "I was going through the bills to decide which to pay on..." (In one huge rush, hoping he would get all that and then waiting, for him to respond)
Husband: "Spit it out!" (Sounding anxious and cross in that one moment of reception clarity)
I won't go through the whole thing, you get the idea. The call dropped very shortly after that.
Today, I had wanted to rake the leaves. This entails going into the garage after the rake. Going into the garage means going into my husband's side of the closet for the lock box and being confronted by his shirts. I girded up my loins and opened the closet doors.
Immediate side track from the business at hand, as my eye fell upon his rust striped polo shirt. This was clutched to my breast and breathed in deeply. (Does that make sense? You get the general idea, I'm sure.) Dear god, there was his white cotton shirt with the blue stripes, the sleeves still rolled up. This also was clutched up.
Unavoidable memory of dinner at The Red Lobster, him in said shirt, wearing black cap, closely shaved (for once) and wearing cologne. Him asking me to order for him because he was afraid of mispronouncing the Italian. Him standing, (while I put my feet back into my heels) after dinner, and looking so incredibly tall, and large, and masculine and knowing he was mine, all mine, all the way through.
Moving on...to the next shirt!
At least ten minutes and a hundred memories later, I got to the lock box. By this time, I was wearing one of his shirts, which fluttered around me like a tent. This was not enough torture: I then sprayed his cologne on the shirt as well. Trailing shirt and scent, I took the key in hand and cracked open the dusty door to complete nostalgia, laid over liberally with cobwebs.
There before me were all the sheeted vehicles laid to rest. The thin, plastic covering lifted in the eddies of air as I passed by. Underneath lay the gleaming black steel of the HD.
"Hello Girl," I murmured sadly, brushing my fingertips along the side. I searched everywhere and could not find the rake.
"Where's ur rake?" I text to my husband. I got no reply; he must still be sleeping.
(Dear god, did I just wake him up again? Recalled conversation from day before:
Me: "When do you sleep?"
Husband in heavy, slow voice as though speaking to someone deaf: "Hunny bunny, I love you. You can call me anytime.")
How could everything be so well organized, and yet I still couldn't find such an obvious thing as a rake? There were his CDs, coated thickly in dust, his gloves, shelves of oils and unguents, straps on hooks, hunting jackets still caked with dirt, clamps neatly lined up on the counter. He must have lent it out to someone, like the clippers.
Ah, there lay the spill of beer from when he lifted me in his arms from the back of the HD. How often I would lift my arms to him, not having to say a word? How often he would immediately leave whatever he was doing and come and lift me down so gently, put me on my tip toes on the concrete floor.
How proud he was of that floor, spangled and sealed. How horrified he would be to know the entire inside was now criss crossed with fine cobwebs. I went out into the bright sunshine and shut the door, pulling tightly with both hands against the weather sealing he had put down the day before he left.
I went off to the library; I would get a movie, that would help. And, in the parking lot of the library, there was a black, Chevy Silverado, lifted, with a diamond plated tool box against the double cab. And the library was closed. I was on the phone with my father, into whose ear I was just then pouring the angst of the moment.
"There is a person driving Keith's truck, right now, in the parking lot. How can they be that heartless? Can't all Chevy drivers, out of respect, simply park their trucks for a year? I mean, is that too much to ask? How can they just drive around shamelessly like that? Don't they know this is my library?"
And so I got nothing, absolutely nothing, done today. Nothing raked. Nothing cleaned. Nothing paid off. And, of course in the mail, did I get one of the three letters which Keith mailed to me weeks and weeks ago? No. No, of course not. Instead, I got the bill for the Home Depot card.
Home Depot Credit Card Service Representative: "Is the card holder available to speak with, please?"
Where's his whiskey, damn it? I'm wearing his cologne, I'm listening to George Strait; I might as well be drinking a highball.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
I was in bed, trying to get my mind to disengage from the day when he called. He could not talk long and I thought he sounded much like himself. When I told him that I had written about him eating the egg sandwich at his mom's, he had to think a bit to remember. "Woman!" he protested, laughing, when he did.
But at the end of the short call he said, "Call me tomorrow...or when you wake up...or...just call me anytime," his voice rapidly losing its official tone, trailing off into the small voice of someone a little lost.
After that, I couldn't sleep. I threw the covers off and padded down through the darkened house to the study and fired up the computer. There was no mention of what he had said on the news anywhere. I changed my status bar on facebook and my father called me in minutes, wondering how I was. After I talked to him for a bit, I made my way back up to bed, but I couldn't sleep.
Tossing and turning, I just kept reviewing everything that had happened. Had I known, deep down, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something really was wrong? Had that been why I had been feeling so disconnected and anxious all day?
I remembered what my friend had told me, about waking in the night, terrified, and wondering if her husband, a submariner, had just that minute had something terrible happen to him, and that was why she woke. But she could not check, she had to wait and simply believe that he must be ok.
I thought over everything I had written and wondered, again, why I was able to be to so revealing in public and what the ramifications might be. I thought of grammatical errors and how I could have better phrased a sentence and I thought of things I would have added, and how, if I were reading my own story, how I would want to skip to the very end to be sure everything turned out ok.
The thought returned to me, as it does often, that maybe no one but T was reading my blog, as though I were speaking to an empty auditorium; even though I know others are, because I see my blog on their reading list. Still, why should the thought still haunt me, that I should have no audience? Why would that be so important to me, anyway? And yet, how comforting and marvelous it was, each time, to see a comment from dear T.
But all these were passing thoughts. I kept returning to what Keith had told me and what that might mean for us. When would that make its way, like shrapnel buried deep beneath the skin, to the surface? How long would it fester in him?
He never wanted to tell me his horror stories and I never pressed him for them. Sometimes though, if he was drunk and falling asleep, pieces of it would come out, in the dark. Later, I would mention them and he would look at me, startled, horrified.
"How do you know that?" he would ask me.
"You told me," I would reply, amazed.
"Damn, I have to stop talking so much around you. And you," he would finish, "you have to stop listening to me!"
As deployment drew nearer, our arguments, which grew more and more heated the closer the day came, would take strange turns. We would be arguing about him inviting people over after he had told me he wouldn't, for example, when, without warning, he would be ranting and raving about things from his first tour.
The first time this happened, I stood stock still, my mind still swirling with feelings of anger and resentment from the original argument, and feeling stubborn and hurt. But my husband was now far, far away from me, even though he still stood in the room; he didn't see me, even though his impassioned questions were directed at me.
I had to take all my feelings from the original argument and put them aside, and take care of this new thing. I had to be calm and compassionate and move and speak slowly and bit by bit, Keith would begin to calm down.
Usually, he would stomp away and then, half an hour later, come back and catch me up tightly in his arms, still teary eyed, and whisper that he was sorry, and I would say that I was sorry, and go off to make the uninvited guests mashed potatoes instead of sulking in the bedroom, like I had determined to do.
Last night, after hours of my mind jumping from subject to subject, as I tossed and turned, I suddenly was struck by something I must say to Keith, immediately. In fact, I should have said it earlier. In fact, maybe I should say it every single day. I reached down for my phone and text in the dim light.
"I cannot live without u. -ur sleepless kitten," I wrote and hit send, then fell back on the mattress, satisfied, exhausted. Then, of course, I started to wonder if maybe he would misinterpret and think that I had meant I couldn't live without him here, with me, as opposed to here, on earth. Moments later, the phone rang and I felt sudden remorse.
"Hi, Sweetie, I'm so sorry, did I disturb you?" I asked contritely, leaning over the mattress, my hair falling around my face.
"Awwww, you little kitten," his voice came, so incredibly warm and tender, "No, you little cutie, you didn't disturb me. Why can't you sleep?"
I couldn't tell him. We have an unspoken pact; we have never once agreed to it, but I am positive he is as aware of it as I am. We never, ever speak of the possibility of him not coming home. Therefore, we cannot admit to fears of him dying. To do so, I am convinced we both feel, would be to crack the door to the possibility of it. It is a superstitious belief, but we are both superstitious people.
"I just keep thinking of you," I burst out, instead.
"Awww, you kitten. Go to sleep, hon," he said authoritatively, as though by giving me an order he could cut through everything that prevented me from doing so. "Call me when you wake up. I love you."
I went down stairs again and heated up a glass of milk and made myself a bagel with cream cheese. I finished my book and then turned out the light and forced my mind, by dint of great effort, not to return to any thought of the day, or of Keith, or of writing.
Again and again, I forced my mind to a made up story, as I have from childhood. Made up stories have distracted and calmed me from as early as I can remember, and I can still remember most of the really important ones, the characters and the extensive, winding plot lines that I followed, night after night, while waiting for sleep to come.
This morning, I went out, into the bright and burning sunshine on the deck, with my book. All I could hear was the rushing of the wind through the bare branches of the trees rising up in the yards all around me, and the dry, papery sound of leaves falling and sifting along the ground. It was deeply peaceful and I let the peace sink into my bones along with the sun light.
I let the clean, warm wind wash away all the strangeness of the last night, of this morning, with the clock turning back and the election which seems, at times, to be dividing the country in two, and the disturbing fact that I still cannot find on the news anything of what Keith told me.
Those thoughts and worries blew away like the thin leaves and left just the truth behind, like the polished, elegant branches etched against the wind washed sky. Everything will settle back into its place and tomorrow I will rise and make coffee and rake the leaves. I will polish the furniture free of dust with the windows open to this unexpected gift of warmth.
And in a month, Keith will come home and for two short weeks, I'll have him so close to me that I will be able to fill my arms with him whenever I want to. What joy.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
I don't want to be out on the deck, covered with a thick layer of dust, even though the heat of the day beckons. I can't be in the empty space and it is too much to see the grill, untouched for so many weeks. I can't go outside on the front lawn, though I want to rake the leaves. I can't do that because I would have to go in the garage to get the rake and there's no way I'm going in there feeling like this. I feel nauseous and distracted.
There's nothing for it, I guess I must suffer this outpouring, as illogical and humbling as it is. So, I will take refuge in what I always do; my writing and my memories.
I keep remembering our last weekend together, high up in the Rockies. I don't know why my thoughts keep returning to this time. I remember our last night, the pure, chill air, the black night sky pierced with the twinkling, white light of thousands of distant stars. The pine trees rose up all around our camp, towering and dark in the night and the wind moved through them with a quiet, rushing sound like the ocean.
Keith had lugged up wood from the bottom of the ridge we were on, he had had to go far afield to find any and was gone for a longer time than I thought. I was absorbed in my book, leaning back against the pillows in the tent. The silence brought me out of this world, I lifted my head and listened. There was no sound at all in the late afternoon. Before me, the dirt road wound by, dusty and beaten by the hot, late afternoon sun.
Absurdly, my heart dropped a beat. Then I heard a rustling and he came into view, struggling up the slope on the other side of the road, his arms full of branches, his face shadowed by the cap. He dropped the armful in the dust before the trailer and wiped the sweat from his forehead, hot and irritated.
After night had fallen he poured gasoline on the wood, waited a few minutes for most of it to evaporate and then lit the wood. The fire flared up, orange and red in the night, sending up flares of sparks as he moved this or that piece around. Satisfied for a moment, he came over and sat beside me on the trailer. I could feel the heat from the fire on my face and the chill, mountain air on my bare feet.
"Well," he said heavily, breaking the peaceful silence, "I'll be gone day after tomorrow. Is there anything you want to say?"
Confused and alarmed, I searched quickly through my mind, wondering what he could mean. I realized he was giving me one last chance to back out.
"I married you; what more is there to say?" I replied, feeling weary of the constant reassurance he'd needed so much from me in the past month, and running out of new ways to say the same thing.
"It will be harder than you think," a friend from his company cautioned me, as the three of us sat around in the house during the summer. I was working on the John Deere puzzle that now, hod podged securely, sits proudly and slightly off center above the kitchen table, where Keith nailed it.
Keith sat beside me on the love seat, his hand possessively on my thigh, or around my shoulders; he never could, for very long, keep his hands away from me. He waited, intent, to hear what I would say to this.
I looked at his friend's calm, kind face and thought for a moment. "I think it's one of those things that cannot be imagined until one has gone through it," I replied quietly. My answer surprised them both, but his friend nodded slightly, almost to himself.
He was the first friend of Keith's who approved of me, Keith had shocked and horrified everyone who knew he well by the speed with which he had taken up with me. My awareness of this was usually only peripheral, since Keith rarely brought his friends over to the house.
I won Keith's mother complete approval with the help of a boiled egg. Several, in fact. We were at her house one evening during our trip to Indiana, and Keith had made a boiled egg sandwich. I had never heard of such a thing before, but watching Keith, I saw that it was merely hot, boiled eggs placed between two pieces of white bread.
I raised my eyebrows but said nothing, the trip had been stressful and exhausting for both of us; it had caused us to turn to one another for support and strength over and over again and this required keeping my mouth shut when I might otherwise have teased.
One sandwich was not enough; Keith put the bowl of eggs in the microwave to reheat before making another one. He went to take the first bite and the moment his teeth sunk into the eggs, the sandwich exploded with bang.
I jumped out of my skin and then stared at the spectacle of Keith, mouth still open, splattered with shards of hard boiled egg. Pieces of yolk were everywhere, on his face, his collared shirt, on the table around him, even up under the brim of his prized black cap.
Of course I burst out laughing, the kind of laughter that squeezes tears from one's eyes; I had to hold onto the edge of the table to keep myself from collapsing on the floor in agonies of irrepressible mirth. His mother, pacing around the kitchen in bathrobe, on the phone with his older brother, also burst out laughing and shared with him story as soon as she could speak.
Keith found absolutely nothing funny about the experience, he was shaking with rage and pain from the burns. It took the rest of us a little while to catch onto this, by the time we did, it was too late. Keith refused, stonily, our belated sympathies.
His mother was the first to try and when she fluttered away to try and find some pain medication to offer, I went up to him cautiously. He was at the kitchen sink, trying to rinse the yolk off his cap.
"Sweetie," I asked tentatively, "are you alright?"
"No," he snapped, "I'm not alright. It fucking hurts; and I'm not going to take any fucking medication."
He didn't need to say this to me, I already knew his aversion to taking medication; I had already seen him limp away to a full day's work on an ankle so swollen and strained he could barely push it into his boot, the same ankle he had broken twice, and still refuse to take anything for the pain.
"What I should do," he continued stonily, "is to drink whiskey until I pass out."
The thought of this horrified me. "Honestly?" I asked, my voice low with disbelief, leaning toward him.
"Fine," he replied, with absolutely finality, turning away from me. "Have it your way. I'll just fucking suffer. You'll see; in fifteen minutes my mouth will swell up so fucking bad I'll probably have to go to the hospital. But you don't care, you won't let me do one thing that would help."
He stomped off into the living room. I rolled my eyes in exasperation and worry and followed after him. "I didn't say you couldn't," I said to his back, but he didn't answer. He flopped himself into the recliner and lay back, his arms crossed, his face stormy.
I watched him, gathering my thoughts, feeling guilty and worried and at a loss. His mother fussed about him, imploring him to take the medication, offering it to him with a glass of milk. I sighed.
"Glenda," I said at last, gently, "you might as well take the milk away; he won't drink it. He won't take the medication."
She looked up at me, her dark eyes forlorn. Keith shifted in his chair slightly, I knew I had caught his attention; he was waiting. I looked down at his red face, burned without doubt and criss crossed with stony frown lines; but so inexpressively dear to me.
"He's angry, first of all, at the egg, but he can't take it out on the egg," I began. "And he's angry that when he wanted to drink until he passed out, I was horrified. But most of all, he's angry at us for laughing at him. So he's going to force us to watch him suffer. He's going to sit there for fifteen minutes and let his face swell up and there's nothing we can do about it. We might as well just wait."
As I was speaking, I saw a look almost like fear pass over Keith face. He looked up at me, his anger shaken but stubborn still, despite everything.
"Fine," he said, pulling himself together, "so you know what I'm doing. I'm still going to do it." He recrossed his arms, looking suddenly so like beloved and recalcitrant child.
"You do that, Sweetie," I said simply, the humor of it coming back to me. I kissed him affectionately on his hot and sweaty temple, and sat down on the arm of the chair to wait with him, leaning my shoulder against his.
His mother leaned forward, her face reflecting sheer awe. Glenda pointed a shaking finger at me while looking her son straight in the eye.
"She was sent by God," Glenda told him, in a low voice.
"I know what she is," Keith retorted quickly, not ever comfortable stating such things out loud. "I picked her, damn it."
I have to stop writing; I have been writing on and off all day and I'm exhausted.
Ha! I just logged onto hotmail and found a forwarded advertisement for a 1989 Bayliner on sale on Craig's list. My errant Staff Sergeant has re-emerged on the grid and still on the prowl for a boat to purchase when he returns from deployment. That is, if he doesn't buy a dune buggy, another truck, or a house he can fix up and rent out. How ridiculous are my fears and how annoying to be captivated by them despite myself. I'm going to bed now.
Exhausted, I slept until nine thirty this morning and pulled my aching, stiff body out of bed to open the blinds. The leaves have almost all left the white birch and instead lie thickly strewn over the grass, so the view out the window seemed to gleam with unbroken, golden light.
The beauty of it couldn't touch me. Even opening the sliding glass door to let the dogs in, and feeling the unseasonable warmth, did not reach me. I felt instead as though I were slowly, inevitably sinking down and further down, into a silent, solitary place. I left the door open, so I could feel the cool, morning air as I brewed coffee, amazed to be able to do that in November.
In New England, the first snow usually happens by October and by this month, the air is always cold, with a biting, damp chill. All the leaves lie moldering in dull, tawny heaps under the bare branches, blackened by frost. In the morning, the cars must sit, wreathed in exhaust, for ten minutes before driven.
"I'm sorry I was late,' I remember a coworker once saying, years ago. "My car was frozen over." The rest of us looked at each other, incredulous, and then burst into laughter. "So you get up a half hour earlier," one said. "Hasn't she ever heard of a snow scraper?" "How about hot water?"
I came out West equipped with several coats, hats, mittens, two pairs of boots and woolen tights. In November, I found myself on the little veranda of the apartment I shared with my brother, in my bare feet, enjoying the sun.
I've been living in a little bubble and sometime in the early morning hours, it burst. I became aware of the bubble when the realization that Keith would be coming home really hit me. I started to really feel it, I remembered, for a fraction of a second, what it felt like to be actually held by him, to be in his arms, and it was like cracking a door to a landscape filled with light. I slammed the door shut, but it was too late. The bubble started to come apart then and I resented Keith for it.
I was so content, I was so wound up in my little routines and never looked beyond them. The grief had entirely left me, I only felt moments of loneliness and more rarely, moments of sheer longing. But just moments, that was all, and the moment would pass and the time would continue to go by, unbroken, steady and calm.
The last few days, Keith has sounded exhausted and distracted over the phone, and disconnected from me.
"Sweetie," I said finally, my voice imploring, "what is wrong? Are you sleeping?"
He groaned. "I'm so beat down," he admitted, his voice gravely. "Yesterday I had to work close to seventeen hours."
"But," I began, trying to think what I could ask him that he would actually be able to answer. He can't tell me what he is doing, where he is doing it, what is going wrong or right.
"I have to go, hun," he said, his voice brisk. "I'll call you tomorrow."
"I love you, Sweetie," he said.
"But, Keith, I'm worried!" I got out, in a burst. "I'm worried about you not getting enough sleep.." How could I go on to say that, sleep deprived men must surely be more prone to making mistakes, to losing perspective, judgment; I didn't want to think about him having to go back on shift in the way he was.
His response was merely an impatient grunt. "I'll be fine," he said, his voice completely impersonal now, irritated. "I'll call you soon. I love you."
"Ok, ok," I said, stuffing my concern back as quickly as possible from my voice, "I love you too."
Yesterday, my longing to hear from him was more intense than usual; I called him when I got home from my shift.
"Happy Halloween," he said, his voice sounded official and crisp; I knew that voice, I knew he must be around others, probably his superiors. "Can I call you back in two hours?"
"Sure," I said, quickly.
When he did, he sounded more like himself, optimistic and full of vigor, with his emotions warmly pouring through his voice. However, he was never able to talk for long.
I was sitting on the couch, trying to read my newly acquired library book, a treasured favorite, while waiting for trick or treaters. I had found Elisabeth Ogilvie at the larger library downtown, and was reading them as though famished. How beautifully she describes the ocean, the rocky shores, the seasons. I could almost taste the salt spray.
Some comment of mine made Keith laugh, his laugh made me fall over onto the couch in a heap of unabated longing for his physical person; there is something so rich and deep about his laughter.
"When you laugh," I confessed, from my huddle, "it's like I can see your chest."
"Awww," he said, grinning, pleased and shy the way such comments always make him.
He called again after I was in bed, trying to force myself to stay awake, unable to put the book down, though my eyelids literally were falling over my eyes. The lamp light was warm and golden, soothing. The girls were curled up in little bundles on the queen sized bedspread, their backs rising and falling softly.
Again, he could not talk long, though still I could feel his love for me all through his tone of voice.
"Are you tired, Sweetie?" he asked me, his voice tender and laughing at the same time. "I'll call back later."
"No, no," I assured him, my voice all blurred with sleep, "I'm fine, I can stay awake."
"I have to go now, hun," he admitted reluctant. "Sweet dreams."
Minutes later, in the dark, my phone made a little chirp that signals a text. I groped about at the edge of the bed for the phone and dragged it up to me. "I love you so much," the text read. Love welled up in me and I quickly text back to him and fell back asleep.
At two in the morning, the same sound woke me up from a sound sleep. Disoriented, I reached automatically for the phone.
It read "Wont be able to talk for a few days i love you so very much. I have a new mission."
Slowly, inexorably, everything about the last few days came together. His mysterious and infrequent mentions of something happening during the last week or so, the initial exhaustion and disconnect and then new energy and emotion, his many, short calls in the last twenty four hours as he must have been preparing to do whatever it is he is next doing.
Dread sunk into me. What did he mean, a new mission? Did it mean leaving the FOB? Why couldn't he call? Where was he going? Was he alone, or with others? Was it classified like the last one? What about the last one? I thought the last one was suppose to last all year long. Was he back in his tanks, or rolling out in one those absurd and to my mind, useless, armored vehicles?
And so the bubble burst.
"Is it dangerous?" I text back as quickly as my fingers could go in the early morning dark, but there was no answer, there has been no answer. Now, I wish I had text something else, like, "I love you so much," or...something. What if that is the last thing he heard from me, my futile and pointless question? Of course it is, it's war.
Now, I must drag myself up and through the day somehow. I feel again all those emotions I felt at the beginning of deployment; the helplessness and the pain, the immediate and unavoidable loss of something tangible and irreplaceable.
And of course he will come back from this mission and call me, but now what? I won't be able to grow the bubble back, not until he comes back from mid tour and then leaves again, a journey of incredibly painful ups and downs of emotion.
I know what I was doing, all along, it comes to me now with sudden clarity. This peace I was feeling was merely the beginning of the roller coaster ride, the part where inch by inch, the car is being hitched up higher and higher, but so slowly, I was unaware. And it's so quiet and the sun is so hot and all I could see was the peaceful scenery.
Until the peak is reached, and without warning, I found myself this morning careening helpless, out of control, down the unthinkably steep slope and nothing can be seen but the blur of the rails and my own white knuckles gripping the iron bar.
God, how I've always hated roller coasters. There is nothing for it but to close my eyes and hold on tight and believe that everything will come out alright and I'll step off this goddamn thing and safely into Keith's arms when he gets home in about a month. Then of course, it will start all over again when he leaves, but there's no point in thinking about that now.