Monday, December 29, 2008

A Windy Day

Today the wind blew in from God knows where and like a mad housekeeper swept up all manner of debris from one corner of town to another. All morning long the wind would grip the edge of the outside doors, pry it open and slam it defiantly shut. Each time, bits and pieces of crumbling leaves would swirl in, until the rug in my little area looked as though fall had sneezed on it.

The energy inside the building matched the blowing outside; all day long everyone raced around, frantic to put together this project, to reach that person.

The bread baking activity was forgotten and I should not neglect to mention that it was I who should have remembered to put the bread in. I was deceived by all the little dishes set out with a pat of butter on each. No one knows who so thoughtfully set the activity up, but whoever it was successfully duped everyone else into thinking that someone else was doing it.

Also, our beloved house dog Sweetie Pie was carried out in a sling by sympathetic veterinarians; she had broken her hip and had to be put down. This caused a dear lady to break down into tears most of the morning; Sweetie Pie had been her baby. However, a new dog was introduced by mid afternoon and the slightly nervous but good natured fellow was immediately adopted, taken for walks and fed treats on the sly.

He's technically on a diet, but it is forever the fate of house dogs to be over fed. After their stay with us is over, they waddle into the golden halls of Evermore full furred and rotund, their gentle eyes peaceful and content. There's simply no way to convince the residents that fifty nine other of them are also slipping the house dog bacon after breakfast; the moment remains an individual one for each.

It was my particular chore today to complete the AP Packet, the details of which I will not bother to go into; the title alone should indicate its tedious nature. I labored on this project from early afternoon on; the knowledge that, like death and taxes, the FedEx man would come at four pm on the dot, possibly earlier, to collect his due.

It came down to the wire and I was steadily copying one invoice after another after another when my coworker came flying into the cramped and stuffy copy room. If it were possible, her hair would have been standing up on end in vivid expression of her energy, crackling with static electricty.

"Is it done?" she thrilled. "He's here!"

"No!" I retorted, indignant. After all, it couldn't possibly be four already; it was positively indecent of him to arrive so early. "What time is it?"

It was Time. In a flurry we finished, in time for it to go out the door; book keepers and business officers now all able to breath a sigh of collective relief; life as we know it would continue and each item would be totaled for Corporate's accounting pleasure.

I also fed the birds and made the four pots of coffee required, baked a half dozen chocolate chip cookies and remembered to put people on hold so I could buzz the respective Department Head before sending the supplicant through to them, if they were approved. If not, they were sent, dejected, to the dungeon of voicemail, where their message might languish for days before being attended to.

I enjoyed my new found command over the complicated phone, that and the little ring of keys that dangled, chatelaine-like, from the waist of my skirt and jingled as I walked the halls on any of my varied errands. I did still manage to send one of the important calls for the Executive Director into voicemail, most inappropriately, and to hang up on one random, unidentified person. One hang up a day seems to be my average; it could be worse.

When I got home, I was startled by the sight of a tall, gaunt looking person standing, motionless, to the left of the garage door; after a moment or two I recognized him as Larry the Good Neighbor.

While I was at work, the wind had been busy at home and knocked down part of our fence in the back yard, releasing the girls into the World-At-Large. This was very exciting for them at first, but then, according to Larry, Lynn had retreated back into the backyard and Abby went to Larry's house. Larry had patched up the piece of fence that had fallen, but it will need more permanent work.

I collected my errant girls; both of them very glad to see me. Lynn was especially shaken; in her mind, fences should never fall down. Abby didn't seem to mind, though she sat eagerly down on her haunches and lifted large and loving paws up to me when I came for her.

The wind has all settled down now and so must I; it's time to crawl into PJs and watch one of the comfort movies I rented yesterday, the girls arranged lovingly around me. I hope tomorrow is more calm; a girl can only drink so much coffee in one day.

Pain Management

When I was a child, I was subject to startling bouts of pain that came with no warning and could last for hours. Much later, as an adult, they were diagnosed as pleurisy. I never asked for help when enduring this pain, it never occurred to me to tell my parents or to see the doctor. The sharp, intense bursts of pain came often in the night and I suffered them alone.

Though I didn't know what the pain was called, I learned more about its nature. I learned that if I turned on my side, away from the pain, the pain would actually get worse; if I leaned into it, it might lessen. Any sudden movement would cause it to escalate; if I lay still it would throb quietly away and slowly, slowly ease. If I choose to get up and walk, the pain would be excruciating, but sometimes would pass by quickly.

If I had enough courage, I would sometimes get out of bed and hobble down the dark hallways, to try and force the pain to pass. Usually I would choose to lie still and submit to it. Perhaps in order to manage the fear, I personified this pain.

I remember learning that word "personify." I loved that there was a term for something that came so naturally to me and for something which existed only in thought. I personified everything, from the weather to my crayons. My favorite were numbers. I hated math and perhaps this was something I did to make it interesting for me.

The numbers one, two and three were children, three being a toddler and one being a baby. Four was a lovely young woman. Five was a strong and gallant fellow, six was a wise old man and seven was a dapper, swashbuckling hero. Eight was the bumbling side kick to nine, who was the evil mastermind.

Addition and subtraction became small battles between good and evil, depending on what number was the sum. So 9-4=5 was nine attempting to kidnap beautiful four, but she is saved by stalwart five. It is perhaps no wonder that I was never very good at math.

In this way, pain became a panther, black as night and so large it might take up the whole room, the edges of its shape blending into the shadows. Pain was this panther gnawing on my bones. I could vividly imagine its eyes, glowing and fathomless. If I lay very still, I might be able to tame the creature, or at least not disturb it.

I thought of this memory as I've dealt with my back pain. It makes me feel old, in a way nothing else has. I can't wear heels, my back would freeze up in an hour. Though I ran out of the narcotics a week ago, I still have to take ibuprofen with me at all times, and take four at least once a day.

My first day at work crawled by. I am used to the chaos of hands on care managing, the pressure of getting everything done within tight time constraints, and that tends to make the day fly by. Sitting at a desk, however, waiting for the phone to ring does tend to stretch the hours out. I managed to hang up on one customer and thoroughly confuse another; a good day's work!

On the up side, there is a great deal of busy work that involves typing, something that I actually enjoy. I used to save this kind of work up when I was manager, and then do it all in one bunch with my office door closed, the blinds down, listening to U2 as loud as I dared.

Also, part of my job responsibilities include making coffee, feeding birds and changing menus. Ah, the delight of lots of little nothings to take up one's time.

I left work early, due to the pain increasing. I did some shopping and tonight I ended up eating the almost obligatory pint of Ben and Jerry's, while watching "The Great Gatsby." Still haven't bawled my eyes out yet. I just hope it doesn't happen at work, that would make answering the phone most inconvenient.

Oh, I want to say thank you so much to you kind ladies who had such comforting words to say. Thank you. If it wasn't for this online community, I don't know what I would do with myself. Seriously.

Back on the Chain Gang

Well, things have settled into my post R&R routine, with an inevitability that was almost scary. Last night was pretty bad, after driving up to hand the parents over to my brother Tim so he can have some time with them before they return to New England.

Driving home wasn't so bad, I was eager to return. Once I got in the house, however, I didn't know what to do with myself. It was so quiet. I ended up watching the second half of "The Sound of Music" and eating popcorn for dinner. I felt full of unshed tears just sloshing around inside me, threatening to overspill the brim at every movement. I managed not to spill yet, but I will soon.

Keith has strangely and miraculously been able to call me on his American cell phone throughout almost the entire journey, so I had been getting calls from him every few hours or so. The last I heard from him he was going to sit up and look at pictures on his laptop while waiting the three hours for his flight further into the desert.

"Maybe I got you the international calling plan by accident" I suggested, when we talked about the impossible calls.

"I don't think so," he said. "Calls won't go through to anyone else, and no one else with me can reach anyone. I can only reach you."

The miracle must have ended some time last night, because I haven't heard from him. I'll have to wait for a call from "Keith?" which is what I labeled his Iraqi cell phone number, back when I wasn't quite sure.

So now I am back to waiting for a question mark to call, eating oatmeal for breakfast and obsessively carrying the phone around with me. My job has changed, however; due to my back injury I can no longer work as a Care Manager without being in extreme pain and causing further damage to it, so I am going in today to start training as the receptionist.

I've done that once before and really enjoyed it, mostly because I got to wear high heels to work. I'm also looking forward to working nine to five. I have to go upstairs and change soon, but before I do, I wanted to include pictures of another thing that has not returned to deployment mode-our bedroom!

I enlisted my creative genius of a father to make a floral arrangement for our bedroom to match the bedding Keith and I picked out this Christmas, and I ended up letting all the delicious fabrics and sheers and colors go to my head and picked out a new rug, drapes, throw pillows and blanket while out shopping, bringing the total expense to something that makes my head swim, but oh well. It was so well worth it. And anyway, Keith bought a truck. Fair's fair.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Leave Taking

This morning I took Keith to the airport in the absolute black that is four am in the depth of winter. It was freezing cold, I felt my lips turn numb, I felt the cold creep tingling up my spine. At the airport, we hurried inside, to be met with warmth and canned piano music, the audio equivalent of a Monet print. I thought immediately and definitively, "I will hate this music for the rest of my life."

I no longer think so; it wasn't the music that defined the experience; it was the fact that I could get a pass to go through security with him, and wait for his flight to be called. It turned out that what makes my husband an excellent NCO also leaves him liable to arriving three hours early for his domestic flight.

Going through security, he set off the metal detector and grimaced with good nature. We were already the focal point for every one else; the six foot two soldier in those dun colored fatigues which turn his blue eyes a soft green, holding tightly to the hand of a young woman with uncombed hair and bewildered dark eyes.

To be perfectly honest, I was almost resentful of all the quick and inquiring looks; I did not want my very personal crucible be the object of everyone else's romantic speculations. Which is very unfair, because I was perfectly content to accept the attention when picking him up, almost in that very spot, just two weeks earlier.

It turned out that it was his belt buckle that set the alarm off; our whole line drew to a halt as he slid the nylon belt loose and dropped it in the bin. I myself was annoyed at the officious security guard; how dare she question the integrity someone who so obviously risked their life for the security of something so much larger than one airport? But Keith did not seem to mind; he is inured by long experience to the small trials of air travel.

We spent the three hours sitting close together and laughing, of all things. I can no longer remember what exactly we both found so joyful or what exactly we said. I do remember his hand over his eyes while his shoulders shook, and then looking up at me, his eyes full of light. Or how his hand reached for the back of my neck and pulled me roughly to him, so he could kiss my hair.

I found him so incredibly attractive and magnetic that I actually looked around anxiously, to check and see if random females were approaching, zombie like. (Apparently he was only effecting me in this way, as the coast was clear.) He was just so unutterably masculine, with his goodly length of muscled leg sprawled out and his irrepressible and devilish grin.

And then it was time and both of us knew it. He pulled himself together, sat up straighter and looked down at my face. He did not have to say what he was thinking; I knew he was asking me to carry on, so that he in turn could carry on. So I did.

We walked all the way back through the terminal, calmly and almost relaxed and at the end, I turned and he pulled me into his arms and kissed me, slowly and thoroughly, and when he was done kissing me, he said, "I love you; I"ll see you soon," and his voice came out quite like his normal voice.

And I broke down only a little, only enough to send me back into his arms, to stand on tiptoe and kiss him, just because I wanted to feel it one more time, the way it is to kiss him. Then I stepped away and said "I love you," quite composed, and turned, and walked away and I thought, "Don't turn around, don't turn around, don't..." But I did, and I had one more glimpse of his long, straight back, his stride purposeful and impersonal, and then I passed through the entrance way and into a completely altered world.

As I write this, he is somewhere over the Atlantic ocean. I must call his cell phone company tomorrow and shut down his cell phone. While here, he fixed the leaking faucet, all the slow draining sinks, signed me up for garbage removal service and gave me the garage door opener, kicking out the Ford that used to reside there, so I can park my humble and foreign import next to his HD.

When I got home from the airport, I crawled into our bed and the girls both leaped up and arranged themselves around me, as though they knew. After I got up, my parents helped take down all the Christmas decorations and it was no more painful than tearing a band aid off, quick and decisive. I feel none of the dread and grief that so crippled me when he first left.

"This leave has only made us stronger, hasn't it?" he remarked once, a few days before he left. And it is true, it has. We have so much faith now, in each other and in ourselves. I feel the strength in me, entwined all about with my love for him and it makes for a peaceful place to rest in.

So I am in the home stretch now; the long, unbroken days of winter unroll in front of me, and offset by the knowledge that already the days are growing longer. By the time the balance is reached and the night begins again to slowly overshadow the sun, I will be in the glowing green heart of summer; mere months away from seeing my husband again, and this time he will come home to stay.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve

My parents have left here and are on their way up to my brothers; Keith and I will soon follow. I spent the whole night in pain; fortunately the muscle relaxers and the vicodin both make me sleepy, so I was pretty well knocked out. Each time I woke I was immediately conscious of two things, the pain shooting down my right leg and that soon Keith would no longer by lying beside me.

I feel so terrible about the timing of my injury; the entire two weeks Keith has been here, I've been limping, groaning and gasping my way around the house. Riding in the truck is excruciating, even though the seats are heated. I haven't been able to ride the four wheeler since that one time, and I know Keith was looking forward to taking it out and trying out the new tires. I would have encouraged him to go riding with some of his buddies, but all his buddies are either in Indiana or Iraq. He's been so incredibly patient with me, despite all this.

There's no way I can continue with my usual job; I can't risk my back again and I have no idea how long I'll be in pain. My appointment with the back specialist is not until next week; I've already run out of vicodin and must get more today, despite the fact that I've been spacing them out as far as possible and taking ibuprofen instead as often as possible.

I called the clinic this morning, but their entire computer system is down. Worse comes to worse, I guess we can go to the emergency room. On Christmas eve. sigh.

Oh well. That's just the pain talking. On the other hand, it's Christmas Eve, and I have Keith and my family close beside me and tomorrow, we will drive up to have Christmas dinner with my brother and his family, and Mom and Dad. It will be such fun to watch my niece and nephew's faces when they open the gifts Keith and I found for them.

Alcohol will be consumed, children will be hyper, there will be the smell of good food and too many people in the kitchen, a dog underfoot and carols playing on the stereo. And maybe after the meal we will make lovely music on the rims of half full wine glasses as we sit, too stuffed to move from our seats.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Quiet Life

I officially have not only a bulging disk, but an already deteriorated spine; another words, I may be thirty one, but my back thinks I'm sixty. I heard this from the on post clinic doctor and my heart sank. This is the first time I've ever had a serious health condition; it was very sobering. I have an appointment with a back specialist to evaluate me for surgery.

The clinic itself was an interesting experience. It was rather like an airport lobby. I held my ticket with my number and waited in the rows of seats to hear the number called. It was a very efficient system, numbers were always being called up, to the Laboratory or to Radiology or to the Nurse's station. I sat anxiously, my purse in my lap, listening and watching.

Keith's father was still visiting and Keith had taken him back out before he got too impatient, which was a good thing because it was a long time before I heard "Now serving number thirty six at the Nurse's station..."

When I emerged, I found Keith sitting forward, his elbows on his knees, deep in thought. He saw me from the corner of his eye and lifted his head; his face broke out into a sweet, delighted smile.

"There you are, woman! What took so long?"

I explained as best I could.

"So what do we do now?" he asked, anxiety making his voice sharp.

"We wait for the next appointment and go from there," I said.

He scowled; waiting is not one of his areas of expertise. But he took my hand and led me back to the truck, where his father was waiting. I climbed gingerly into the truck and we headed off for some shopping.

When we got to the store parking lot, Keith came around to my door and stood still so I could slide my arm around his shoulders; he lifted me gently out of the truck and onto my feet so I wouldn't have to struggle trying to reach the ground.

Keith's father bought us both presents; he got Keith truck parts and for me, he bought a charcoal grey Kitchen aid mixer. We went to three different stores to be sure we were getting the best price on that appliance and to make sure we were getting exactly the right model.

I trailed after the two determined men, assuring them that I didn't really need the kitchen aid, but they were on a mission. Boxes were opened and examined, prices were compared, questions were asked of clerks and finally the purchase was made. Keith carried it out of the store hefted up on his shoulder.

Keith's father is almost exactly like him. They both look the same, with the same cleft chin and heavy, masculine facial features, and they are both stubborn, hardworking men who have not always gotten along but have achieved a mutual respect for one another.

We just finished watching "Lions for Lambs." Holy crap. It's a good movie, but I don't recommend watching it if anyone you love is serving in the Middle East. Keith and I have been in hibernation mode today; I left the house only to return library books long overdue.

It is strange and yet liberating to not care where my phone is, or to hear it ring and then look over and see Keith beside me. This is the first time he has not gone home to Indiana on his leave and he is happy just to lie low during these days. I know I am.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Marking Time

Today a melancholy feeling fell down around me like fog. I have ten more days with Keith. His presence here is so brief and yet so spectacular that he sometimes seems like a ghost; except that he is entirely tangible.

I was washing a few dishes before dinner tonight when he came up behind me, put his hands on my hips and bent down to kiss my cheek. He didn't say anything, just kissed me and then went on preparing the cheese sauce for the broccoli.

His father arrived; that officially marks the end of our time together alone and therefore, the beginning of the end of leave. From here on we will be with family. I am looking forward to seeing them, a great deal. But it means also that the day for his departure is coming up.

He barbecued steaks outside in the freezing cold; the sun sets so early that it was pitch black outside.

"Go on out and smell that," he urged me, "Tell me you've never smelled anything so good."

It did smell delicious, the smell of steak seared and crisping, the tang of the barbecue sauce; it was a rich and heavy smell redolant of summer and strangely out of place in the pitch black of a winter evening.

"Abby, you're such a pretty girl," Keith told his dog affectionately.

We were all standing about in the kitchen, waiting on the steaks and mashed potatoes. The broccoli simmered away on the stove and the table was set. He cradled his drink against this chest as he always does; he wore a blue woven shirt and straight legged jeans.

Abby lifted her silky black ears and looked adoringly at her dad when he spoke to her.

"And you're pretty too, Lynn," Keith added, turning to my dog, sitting quietly near my feet. He looked at me and suddenly grinned. "And you too, honey, you're real pretty too."

"Gotta cover all the bases, huh?" asked his dad, laughing.

"Yeah, gotta watch my step; could get myself in a world of trouble," Keith drawled, his eyes twinkling.

I changed into PJs and came back downstairs to find Keith alone, watching TV in his usual seat. I curled up against him; he smelled warmly of whiskey and soap and very faintly, of barbecue sauce.

"I miss you already," I whispered, barely able to speak it at all.

"Awww, my poor little kitten," he said quietly, his arms holding me tightly.

Everything has by now returned to usual; he washed the dishes for me, didn't get all the food off because he's too impatient and so he became the dish drier and I the dish washer (and oh the triumph when he returned the saucea pan to me because I'd left a smear of cheese. "You got me," I admitted. "I gotcha," he replied, with satisfaction.) His shoes and boots are everywhere, his magazines and spit cans show up at odd locations, he's always losing his phone somewhere and his uniform hangs from the foot of our queen sized sleigh bed.

Last night I woke up to find myself wedged between Keith on one side and a dog on another, the covers all twisted up. I was actually too hot and flung my arm out of the covers, wiggled carefully up higher. Looking over the bed in the silvery moonlight, I could see every inch of space was taken up by someone or something that I loved, one large, peacefully sleeping, deeping breathing pile of warm bodies.

I couldn't help but remember how it is when I sleep alone; how only one side of the covers is disturbed and making the bed consists of simply flipping it back in place and propping up the pillow. When Keith is here, no matter how tightly I tuck down the sheet, everything is topsy turvy in the morning, a great jumble of bedding and pillows.

I thought of my quiet mornings, the smell of oatmeal and coffee, the cold winter air as I let the dogs out, the silence and the stillness every where. How any one thing will stay in one spot indefinitely, everything around me static, like a movie set after hours, when everyone has gone home and the objects are dimly lit by the emergency exit signs.

I will return to that life, it is inevitable. But I have thought of something which makes it easier to endure. Instead of thinking that he is returning to finish out his 12 month tour, I will pretend he is beginning an eight month tour.

How marvelous that sounds! How lucky I am, that my man will be gone only eight months! Why, some people are sent out on 12 month tours, hell, some are still finishing 15 month tours. But not me. I need send my man out for only eight months.

These are the silly little mind games that I find myself playing lately, but whatever gets one through the night, so to speak, and I have a lot of night ahead of me yet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

True Love, Narcotics and Truck Parts

Keith has bought a truck and I have broken my back, or at least it feels like it. Yesterday I was in enough pain that Keith insisted on taking me to the emergency room on post to get checked out.

We are in the middle of a cold snap here and it was freezing all day long. There are patches of ice and snow on the sidewalks and smeared across the parking lot. I held on to Keith's hand and hobbled along beside him, my nose and ears tingling with the cold.

He was dressed in his uniform because that morning we'd gotten his I.D. updated to reflect his new rank. The place was packed and we waited over an hour to see an assistant, along with many others waiting on similar business.

I needed to use the restroom, so Keith led the way there. It happened to be located at the far end of a long, narrow hall lined on both sides by soldiers, their legs sprawled out, talking quietly. They all lifted their heads and drew in their feet as we passed by; I felt like I was walking the gauntlet.

Later, I asked Keith why they were all there and he said they were in the final stages of preparing for deployment. In the waiting room, there was a young couple near us that sat and cuddled and talked quietly about his up coming deployment.

Keith and I sat silently, for the most part; I was concentrating on bearing the pain and not moving much. I felt like part of an old married couple, especially when Keith started a word search he found in a magazine and then asked for my help. We finished it together in a matter of minutes, murmuring, our heads close together.

My picture on the new I.D. is very different than the first, in which I looked solemn, my hair pulled back and glasses on. In this new one I am smiling a cheesy smile, I look confident and cheerful.

Afterward, we stopped for lunch before going to the hospital, where we anticipated long lines again. I ate a chicken sandwich and 1000mgs of ibuprofen. It didn't seem to do much good, but I still felt silly going to the emergency room just because my back hurt.

Keith was remarkably patient; he carried my coat down the hospital corridors and offered to take my purse as well, but I felt that would be too much. He came into the examination room with me and sat silent, his cap on his knee. When the doctor told me to kick my shoes off, Keith leaned forward and took them gently in his hands and slid them off for me.

The doctor tested my reflexes and seemed particularly interested when I told him that I could feel the pain all the way down into my feet. He scribbled for a long time after he let me get down from the exam table.

"Don't worry, hon," Keith said, out of the blue. "We'll get you one of those electric carts for you to cruise around in, I'll paint it up real pretty for you."

After a bit, the doctor told me he thought the pain must be from a disk in my spine; he thought this because I'd already had x-rays taken and they hadn't shown anything, and because the pain showed up in my ankles and feet. We made an appointment for an MRI the next morning; he prescribed me vicodin and a muscle relaxant.

Riding the happy high of the muscle relaxant, I followed Keith into the commissary; our final stop for the day. I love the way Keith shops; he simply goes up one isle and down another and tosses in whatever catches his eye. In this way, we soon found ourselves the lucky recipients of Fruit Loops, purple mouth wash, assorted Snapples, barbecue potato chips, steak, cauliflower, Velveeta and a ham, among other things.

Today he reviewed all the bills and threw away my hand written reference sheet with all the account numbers, fax numbers, due dates and minimum payment information on it. He also tossed out all the bills I was keeping for reference and was very proud of himself for having so dramatically pared down the paperwork sitting around.

I was horrified and a little angry; I had put a lot of work into that seemingly disorganized pile of paperwork and in one fell swoop, Keith had obliterated all my carefully arranged order. It would be one thing if he were staying for good; he could simply take over. But he's not staying, and in less than two weeks, I'll have to painstakingly piece it all together again.

"You love your husband," he reminded me, when he saw how irritated I was. "Don't you forget it!" (This is his get-out-of-jail-free card, and he uses it often.)

He's finished all the projects he had set out for himself and has lately been suffering from a lack of purpose. Keith cannot tolerate long stretches of time with nothing to do. At first, he was happy just to be home and walked around in a daze.

But eventually, real life set in and he found himself at home, for two weeks, with no purpose. He felt bad about this; he was feeling pressure to exude happiness and contentment twenty four seven, but I have told him over and over that it's ok if he isn't, that I won't take it personally.

Which all led up to him excitedly calling, "Woman!" as he came bounding up the stairs to the bedroom, where I was lying in a drug induced stupor. "Woman, you should never leave me alone for more than five minutes," he continued, leaning his face down close to mine.

"What did you buy?" I asked, resigned.

"I haven't yet," he confessed, looking guilty in the most endearing way.

Not an hour later, however, we were the proud new owners of an ancient and beaten up work truck. As I write, Keith is in the garage, in tee shirt and jeans, oil and grease smears up as high as his elbows, completely absorbed in his new project.

"No more purchases," I said sternly, shivering in the driveway, as Keith sang the truck's praises sky high in order to convince me it was worth it.

"No more," he agreed solemnly, gesturing abruptly with his hands. "I'm content."

"Give me your word," I pressed.

He sobered up immediately, we both know what it means to make a promise in our relationship; they are commitments that we don't make lightly and we don't ask them lightly either.

"I promise," Keith said quietly, I nodded and that was that. As for me, I currently lie upstairs, one pillow under the small of my back, counting the hours until I can take my next vicodin. I can hear the powerful thrum of the four wheeler engine outside, even though it's fully dark.

I did get to ride it, once; though I suspect that ride did further damage to my back. It snowed yesterday morning, when Keith opened the blinds, he turned to me, elated.

"It snowed!" he exclaimed. "It snowed for me!"

He threw on some clothes and went out to do donuts in the road and later on in the day, persuaded me to join him. He was wearing the tan farm jacket and gloves and cap; he looked incredibly long legged and broad shouldered.

He swung the fourwheer around in donuts, over and over again, sending up the powdery snow in light and airy waves. I screamed and clung to him with all my strength, burying my face against the back of his shoulder.

"Honey, I can't control it! You have to stop doing that!" he'd say, looking back at me, his mouth curled up into a grin. "Is that our driveway?" he'd ask, as we approached it, "Is it here?"

"Yes! Yes, it's here!" I'd cry and we'd begin to turn in, only to swing loose, flying in backward circles over the packed snow.

"It did it again!" he say, pretending to be shocked. "I just don't know what happened to this thing!"

I'm quite sure it did my back no good and probably a lot of harm, but I can't regret it. The doctor thinks I have injured a disc in my spine, but he thought adequate pain medication should cause it to quiet down some. I really hope so, because right now, everything hurts and my days of four wheeler riding, looking effortlessly to the right, getting easily off the bed and sitting for longer than two minutes are over. I have another appointment day after tomorrow to see what more can be done and what my MRI results looked like.
Check Spelling
Many times in the past few days, I've looked over at Keith and thought to myself, "Who is this man and why do I love him so?" He'll be talking away, animated, earnest, about spark plugs, for example, and I'll just watch his face; he looks so young to me lately. I'll watch his face and think, "This man; I married this man." And I feel incredibly grateful and amazed, and then of course, I must kiss him, because I can, because he is there, because he is mine.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Some Christmas Shopping and Seafood

As I write this, the house is pounding with the effects of the surround sound system blaring forth the back ground noise of war, courtesy of “Call of Duty 5.” I can feel the tension mount; I can hear the screams of the tortured and dying. But I can’t see, because the screen of the laptop is fortunately hiding the TV screen.

I am writing flat on my back because in the last day or so, I have completely neglected it, other than to throw a few ibuprofen its way, and now it is enacting its revenge, I can feel the pain shooting all the way down to my ankles.

Keith has worked nonstop in the garage all day, he figured out the push bars for the truck; it is now firmly installed and the ATV tires no longer reside under the Christmas tree, but under the vehicle itself.

I watched him use the wrench for loosening the bolts on the old tires; they were screwed in very tightly. Sometimes he had to stomp down with his boot on the wrench and each time he did this, a spasm of pain would cross his face and profanity would ensue.

“You hurt your back, didn’t you?” I asked him, out of the blue. I was sitting in the lawn chair, my feet up, book in hand.

“No,” he said, a tad too quickly.

“You did, didn’t you? You hurt it sometime over there and you didn’t tell me.”

He gave me a tender look, but simply shook his head at me. I knew then that I was right, but that I would hear no more about it.

Sometimes I look over at him and I simply cannot believe that he is here, with me. It never feels quite like it was before, but I am constantly reminded of how it was. It feels better than before; we’ve been through a great deal and we came through together.

On his first night back, we had several intense discussions; Keith was doing what I had been planning on doing; saving these discussions for face to face time. I was amazed and humbled at Keith’s conclusions; he had obviously been doing a great deal of thinking.

We have rearranged some things, Keith’s key line on all of these matters being, “we are a team.” This was music to my ears. Many, many times I looked at him, amazed, wondering how on earth he had connected the dots so wonderfully, how he could know so well how it felt from my perspective and then formulate plans to take care of me based off of his conclusions.

“How did you know that?” I asked him, several times.

“A good marriage doesn’t just happen,” he said during that time. “It’s what we put into it.”

“I know!” I exclaimed, amazed, agreeing. “I want to be old, and look back at our marriage and know it was the best thing I did with my life.”

“We’re not going to get old,” Keith replied quickly, his eyes twinkling.

The next night he took me out to Red Lobster for dinner. He read that blog I posted about wearing his shirt out to the garage and how I remembered him taking me there before, wearing a certain shirt. It stuck in his head, so that was our destination yesterday. (Now that he realizes people actually read my blog, his only request was that I take down the photograph of us, so that no one accidentally reads this and figures out who he is. Therefore the picture is gone.)

It was warm and steamy inside the restaurant, and fairly busy. It was so lovely to be going out. He ordered a Bud Light and I got a decaf coffee and we ordered lobster artichoke dip to start. We laughed a great deal and suddenly remembered that on the East coast, all the power was off, I called my dad to find out how he was.

He was without power, but warm and toasty due to the wood stove and horribly bored.

“I’m bored!” wailed Mom, from the background.

“I’m thinking no wonder pioneers had so many kids,” Dad quipped, which made me almost snort up my coffee in a sudden burst of laughter.

“Sweetie, you want to talk to Dad?” I asked, lifting my eyebrows. He shook his head; he’s been notoriously shy about my parents, whom he will be meeting here shortly.

“You should talk to him, Baby,” I teased. “After all, you’re going to be seeing him soon in person…” I launched into the theme song from Jaws, which made my husband roll his eyes.

“Do you think they’ll like me?” Keith had asked me, nervously.

“Oh sure,” I said easily.

“Why?” he probed.

I considered, and then went with the gosh darn truth. “Because they’re determined to,” I said with a grin.

This somehow did not reassure him.

“I better go, Dad,” I said, after the Jaws episode. “His dad is coming out and I better play nice.”

“Payback is sweet,” said Keith, with an evil grin.

His dinner was a steak, with grilled shrimp and a baked potato. Mine was half a lobster tail, grilled, with grilled scallops and shrimp. It was delicious, all buttery and hot; I tore the sweet, tender meat out of the lobster tail with my fingers.

“Wanna try a scallop?” I asked him, offering him the morsel on my fork.

“What’s that?” he asked warily.

“It’s like a…shell fish. When it’s alive it’s kind of gelatinous and when it cooks, it hardens up.”

“Gelatinous?” he asked suspiciously, “Is that even a word?”

“It’s a word!” I protested. “Like jello.”

He tried it, but was not terribly impressed. “It tastes all lemony and stuff,” was his verdict. “Here, try this,” he said, offering me a piece of his steak, with Heine’s 47 sauce. “This is what we like to call American food.”

I took the bite from his fork and was truly appreciative of a good side of beef, that corner stone of traditional American cuisine.

We went and did some Christmas shopping today; on the way, we stopped for ibuprofen and a latte, and then some lunch at Taco Bell.

“It’s Saturday,” I said, suddenly realizing it. “Walmart is going to be hell. If it gets to be too much, we can simply leave. That’s the plan.”

We got into some stressful situations in the parking lot; Keith has never been what one might call a laid back driver; and now that he has push bars on his truck, he is almost eager to use them.

“We’re not even in the store yet,” I sighed.

“Woman!” he protested. “Who lets idiot drivers like that on the road anyway?”

At one point in the shopping adventure, he parked next to a much smaller Ford.

“That’s just mean,” I commented, “parking next to that Ford. People aren’t going to even recognize what kind of vehicle it is. ‘Is that a compact…wait, no…I think, I think it’s a truck…”

“I love you,” Keith said with a quiet smile, taking my hand.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The First 24

I have had approximately two hours broken sleep last night. I woke up once in the night and was completely startled by the fact of Keith's presence beside me. He had slept during all or most of his flights so he was, to use his own term, "wired." He did not fall asleep until past two am and woke up at five forty five, ready to make cheesy eggs for breakfast and start working on his truck.

At the airport, I couldn't stand when I was waiting for him, I sat huddled down in an airport chair, it took all my concentration to keep my pounding heart in my rib cage. People kept trickling by and I began to worry that maybe he wasn't on that flight. I started to pray, "Dear God, please let him be on the flight, please.."

Then I saw him, he was talking in a friendly way to a fellow in a cowboy hat. Keith's uniform was crumpled and stained and his shoulders were sloped forward from the weight of his ruck sack.

I knew him at once, but not because of the uniform. I saw his face and in that one moment, I remembered all of those things that I had lost. I couldn't believe how much knowledge of him time had stolen away and that in one moment, and one glimpse of his face, had been returned.

I stood as though pulled up by strings, I walked to him in a daze, faster and then faster, he lifted an arm and I was tucked up against him. I forget what we said, all I know is that I had him in my arms and I wasn't letting go.

"...and I'll leave you alone now," finished up Mr. Cowboy hat at that moment, humorously and I think, a bit jealously. I was looking far too elegant for the surroundings, in polished black boots, belted coat and my face pale as fine china (I had done a mud mask that morning to ensure that affect; there, the secret is out...) and set off by the high collar of my Burgundy sweater.

There was a whole semi circle of other people still waiting and I felt the pressure of their awareness of us, but my back was to them. I was delighted by everything Keith did or said, by the sum total of who he was. I couldn't believe that I had had the good fortune of finding this person and then marrying him.

We began walking, still tucked up close; we turned and saw the entire group of people watching us. I was incredibly proud; I couldn't hide it, my face shown from it. We felt the warmth of their attention and good will.

"Welcome home, Soldier," said one woman and we were so in our own world that she had to repeat herself. I felt as though I were focusing on her face from a hundred miles away as she spoke.

"I stink, honey," Keith said, more than once. "It's all that water got dripped on me."

Apparently, all the condensation from the cabin accumulated over his seat and steadily dripped down on him the entire eighteen hour flight. When they were landing, the dripping became a sudden down pour.

"Oh, Baby," I said, laughing despite myself, "how could that have happened?"

"We're not going to talk about it," he said with cheerful determination.

As he was waiting for his bag, we stood huddled up close together; I couldn’t stop squeezing him. I had forgotten how affectionate he is, that little, mischievous grin that he get when he puts his face down close to mine and lifts his eyebrows, his blue eyes all devilish and dancing.

He put his face down close to mine; I knew what he wanted but I was shy in front of the crowd of other people waiting for their luggage. I lifted my face to his anyway and he kissed me softly; it caused all the joints in my body to unhinge, I had to hide my face against his chest.

“I had forgotten how nice you are,” I declared happily, as we were walking out to the car.

“Awww!” he laughed. “I am a nice guy.”

“I know,” I said in joyful wonder.

“Honey, do you mind if I drive?” he asked me, so humbly.

“Of course I don’t mind!” I replied. “But I did expect you to be, well, at least a little sloshed.”

“That’s another thing we’re not going to talk about,” he declared with the air of a martyr.

“Ah ha,” I replied, laughing. “Then, maybe this is also a good time to not talk about the fact that there’s a bag of trash in the truck of my car right now…”

He laughed. “I’ll take it on post for you tomorrow,” he said.

When he stepped in the house, he dropped his bags with a thump to the floor and straightened up wonderingly. He took a deep, slow breath.

“It even smells good,” he said softly, crossed over to where I was in two huge strides and caught me up tightly in his arms.

“I love you, my little wife,” he murmured into my ear.

Then he let the dogs in and the place erupted into doggy joy. Both of them leaped up on him, over and over again, frantic to lick him, barking and wiggling up between his legs and over his boots.

“Honey,” he said, turning his open face to me, “they remember me!”

“Stand back, honey,” he said, after greeting the dogs. He was wrestling with his boots. “You have no idea how bad I stink. I’m serious.”

“Ok, I’ll stand over here,” I said, positioning myself behind the couch, “up wind of you.”

“I’m just going to take a quick shower,” he said, bounding up the stairs.

When he came back, he was still soaking wet. “Where’s my wife?” he asked, and threw himself on the bed, belly first.

Sometime later, we left the chaos of the bedding and went out to inspect the rest of the house. I had told him that I was nervous about how he would think of my job on the house, so every where we went, he made a point of saying over and over again, how beautiful everything was and how proud of me he was.

“It feels like a real home,” he said wonderingly, standing in the middle of the kitchen. “It never felt like this before; it’s because of you.”

“No, sweetie, not just me,” I protested, “It wouldn’t be like this without all the work you put into it, making it so comfortable and warm.”

“Trust me, hon,” he said wryly, “all the work in the world doesn’t make a place a home. It’s because you’re here, it’s because of what you’ve done.”

“Well, you put down the foundation, I just built off it.”

“You built well.”

As I write this, I am sitting in a spill of light that falls through the partially opened garage window. I feel the cold, fresh air, but the garage is warm, heated by a huge, kerosene heater that is reminiscent of a small and throaty jet engine, and its rusty, smoky smell is faintly present.

Keith had felt bad at keeping me up so late last night, so this morning, after breakfast he told me to go back up and nap while he went out to buy some motor oil and chew.

“I want to go write,” I said seriously. “I don’t want to forget any of this.”

His face melted; he kissed me goodbye and I went upstairs to write most of this. When I heard him come in, I met him at the stairs; he simply pulled me up against him and buried his face in my neck with a deep sigh.

“Woman,” he said sadly. “I’m never doing that again.”

“What?” I asked, tenderly, “leave without me?”

“Yes,” he breathed. “All I could think about was coming back for more kisses. They didn’t even have the oil I was looking for, I went to four places and then the light just kept on never changing...I didn’t even bother with the chew, I just came straight back here.”

I laughed and covered his forehead with little kisses. “What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Stay in the general vicinity of you.”

I think that’s a good plan and we will stick to it.

He just now got the truck up and running, she started without a hitch and his face lit up. He wandered over me at one point though.

“I’m still not fully relaxed,” he admitted.

“I’m not surprised,” I said simply. “You might not be able to be; it’s only for two weeks.”

He said nothing, simply tapped my nose gently with his finger and nodded, went back to his work.

I went out and got him chew and myself a pumpkin spice latte at the local seven eleven. I ran into Larry’s daughter, Larrietta. I told her that Keith was back, we got to talking, the subject of children came up.

“Yeah, we’re kind of hoping something might happen on R&R,” I told her. “We’re working on it.”

“Wow, that sounds like a job that might take up a lot of time,” she joked, both of us laughing.

“My god, it’s grueling,” I replied, rolling my eyes. “Though, of course, it does have its rewarding moments. In fact, I should probably head back and get some more work done…”

“That is the kind of job I would love to have. You go punch that time card, honey.”

We had pizza for lunch; I had forgotten how he loves to have ketchup on everything. His face lit up when he found the white cheddar cheese puffs in the pantry.

"I know you told me not to go grocery shopping, but I had to go out and pick up a few things," I explained.

"I couldn't help but notice," he teased, "that they are all my favorite things. Imagine that!"

"Yeah, funny how that happens," I replied.

He is now in the garage, literally wresting with the grill for the truck. It didn't come with instructions, which means he can complain about the lack of them, but I can assure you, if it had, he wouldn't have looked at them. I couldn't figure out how to get my file from the laptop onto this computer, he came in here and tackled it.

"Just promise me..." I said, trailing after him as he went determinedly down the stairs, "that if you get frustrated you'll just walk away."

"Nope," he said, without even thinking about it. "I can't walk away."

He figured it out, of course, and is now back figuring his own project, and I must go rejoin him. But I could no more stop writing than I could stop breathing, so T, no worries! Further blogs are bound to come, and I'll be writing the next one on Keith's laptop, he's had enough of mine.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Last Minute Preparations

I am about to go pick up Keith. In less than an hour, the whole feel of this place will change, for two brief weeks it will be dynamic, unpredictable. Then I will go back to my solitary waiting.

There cannot be many luxuries greater than sitting quietly while the one that loves you best comes slowly and inevitably closer. The peace of this has sunk deep into my bones these last few days; I didn't mind waiting longer for him; to prolong the anticipation of meeting was no hardship for me.

But I will tell you straight, I am terrified of the cost of these luxuries. In the moment I meet him, the hourglass will be upended and the sand will spill out so much more quickly than it is now. I am looking down the barrel of the gun, to when he leaves again and all that I have put up and marked in my mind will cause only pain.

I remember now, that this is how it felt as the date of his deployment grew nearer and nearer. I remember again the feeling of almost panic, of wondering how it is humanly possible to reach that point, to let go, to turn and walk away.

But it was reached and I did all those things. I turned my back to him, got in the car, and drove away. I didn't look back because I was afraid I would crash the car or kill some hapless private; my driving abilities were, at that moment, worse than usual and I could not afford to take my eyes off the road.

So I know that if I managed it once before, I will be able to do so again. I will be able to drive him to the airport, follow him to the terminal gate and watch him walk away from me. And then, thank God, I will not have to return to an empty house. I will drive for over two hours north, to my brother's house, and pick up my Mom and Dad. When they are with me, I will be able to take down all the Christmas decorations and put the house back in order, in time for them to leave.

And then the house, and I, will return to our muffled and quiescent waiting; the hourglass will turn again and I will be immersed in the complicated calculations of dividing time up into smaller and smaller pieces.

But I have no more time to process this; it's time now to go pick him up.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Particulars of Waiting

Yesterday, I was slowly and patiently working my way through a bowl of my very first, "homemade" oatmeal. It was rather soothing to make. It was soothing to stir the milk in the silver grey saucepan with a wooden spoon, to smell the milky flavored clouds of steam that billowed up and out. It was soothing to measure out three fourths cup of oatmeal, looking so simple and healthy in their raw state.

It took a long time and I thought about how it must have been, back when almost everything had to be made by hand, how time must have moved so much slower. I actually got a slightly panicky feeling as I was starting the process, thinking, how on earth am I going to get everything done today if I can't just pop this in the microwave?? Then I had to laugh at myself.

I've had to do that a lot in the last twenty four hours. Now, not only is it that time of the month, but I have hurt my back again by assisting with the wheelchair during a van ride. I strained it so badly I was literally in tears as I hobbled from the dinning room, majorly embarrassing myself in front of my boss, who came up just in time to see me and I had to twist my face up desperately in order not to simply break down in sobs of pain.

I wanted to tell her, "I've been very emotional lately, you know." But she did know. She herself has been deployed, she worked in intelligence. When I heard this the first time, that she had been in the Army, I relaxed. "Ah," I said easily. "You'll last." She gave me a funny look; that was a while ago, back when she was still fresh and innocent, before being torn to stressful pieces by the demands of the job.

So I have been limping carefully around the house, slowly but surely taking care of one thing at a time. I completed the grocery shopping, it was rather startling to look down into the cart and see the heaping bounty piled there. Putting away the Gatorade and sausage and hamburger patties made his homecoming suddenly real.

He text me early yesterday morning: "I love you. I am GETTING ON THE BIRD!" So I figured he'd be here sometime today, maybe in the afternoon, and when I got a call from him this morning, I was thrilled.

"Baby, get a pen and paper for my flight details; hurry, I've only got nine minutes left on this card."

Back injury forgotten, I flung myself out of bed and went downstairs, mumbling urgently to myself about pen and paper. Without my glasses they would have been difficult to locate, but I remembered where I had left a pen from yesterday.

"Ok, go!" I said, poised over the table. I recorded the data and then asked, joyously, where he was.

Not anywhere close to America, was the flat answer, still in the Sand Box. I deflated in a matter of moments. He told me it's been hell. When they arrived there, he went to the latrines to take a shower and searched through his duffel bag to find that clean uniform that he was saving to meet me in and turned on the water. No water. No place to sleep. No place to put his bags.

"If I wasn't going to see you, this wouldn't be worth it," he said. "I would just go right back to the FOB. Honey, I'm going to need a shower first thing and I hope to God you got some whiskey."

"I did," I proclaimed, all proud of myself. "I have whiskey and pizza rolls and stuff to grill out."

"You're so...refreshing," he said, gratefully. "Ok, little kitten, go back to sleep. I'll call you when I reach the States."

So, he won't be here today after all. He will be here sometime tomorrow, which is really good, because it gives him a chance to get right onto our sleep cycle, and my back a chance to be as good as new. And, he'll be here for Christmas day for sure.

"If it goes on like this," Keith had said dryly, "I'll damned well be there for New Year's!"

Monday, December 8, 2008

Enter: Reality

Ok people, I'm going to get real here, for a moment.

(If you are anyone not wanting a biology lesson, skip this blog entry, or at least the first part!)

I just now started my period.

Yes, yes, exactly. Keith is about seventy two hours away.

At least the four large zits that were on my face have now cleared up.

And...there's no more that can be said about that. Moving on...

Keith has been stuck in a certain leg of the journey for more than a day now, at an airport. Now, the word airport conjures up certain images for me and so I was imagining Keith uncomfortably lying slumped down in one of those plastic chairs, all attached in rows, with the upholstery cracked in places. I saw the low grade, blue rug stretched out, down the wide, endless stretch of the terminal, and I saw the wide glass windows and through them, planes slowly taxing back and forth and those strangely shaped little trucks coming and going, hoses unravelled, baggage caravans trundling off busily.

So, I asked him, "Have you been sleeping in the lobby?"

I was not prepared for the outburst of genuine, belly shaking, joyful laughter that suddenly poured out of him. I had to wait a long time for the laughter to stop.

"You little cutie," he said tenderly. "Naw, hon, there's no lobby. We slept outside on the concrete; it was damn cold. Today they gave us a tent."

The other day Keith and I were talking about our trip together to Indiana last summer.

"Remember that one night we slept together on the couch at your mom's place?" I asked warmly. "We were squashed together and I couldn't sleep, so I got up and slept in the recliner. You woke in the night and couldn't find me, and called for me. You told me that in the morning, when you woke up; you were so sad and adorable."

"I don't remember that," he said immediately, but I could hear how the corners of his mouth were twitching up. "But I do remember sleeping in the bed of the truck one night."

It had been a rainy night, we had scooped up a couple of quilts his best friend had left for us. With these bundled in our arms, we had ducked through the falling rain, dodging mud puddles in the dirt driveway, to the barn where the HD was parked.

We didn't want to sleep on the open living room floor, in the small house filled with curious toddlers; we wanted our own space and the HD had become like a second home during the month long trip. We had purchased an air mattress and it fit the bed of the truck perfectly.

The smell of the rain and of grass filled the night, along with the warm notes of engine oil and hay. The rain made a quiet, steady music on the roof of the barn and fell in long, glistening strands of twisting water from the open barn doors. The porch light caught in the rain and gave every thing a golden glow.

We made love under the quilts; sunk deeply into the mattress, with the sound of the rain all around us. It took me a long time to fall asleep afterward, I kept rolling into Keith because his body weight caused such an incline. He, of course, has the soldier's talent of being able to fall asleep anywhere. Eventually, I fell asleep plastered against him, hearing the first, tentative bird calls as dawn approached.

(When we talk about the story of making love on the truck bed, in the barn, Keith often throws in this: "You wanted a country boy, hon. Well, you got one!")

Yes, yes I did, and I love him.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I'm having trouble writing anything coherent, it's probably due to the fact that I'm not thinking coherently; funny how the two are so connected! I am a little emotional, as well. Consider the following example.

I went to rent some movies and saw "Hope Floats." (By the way, movies at Block Buster in my area are ninety nine cents to rent! I love capitalism, I love it.) I rented "Hope Floats."

Now, I knew that I was going to be emotional when I saw it, that was rather the point. My mom and I watched it together years ago and we both were incapacitated by emotion at exactly the same points.

However, I was not prepared for the volume of emotion this time around. Cut to the scene when Birdie's senile father opens his arms, silently, lovingly, to hold her and dance with her. Immediate sobbing. As in, one minute composed, watching the film; the next, drenched in tears, contorted on couch.

Next scene, when Birdie's mom says, "All mothers love their daughters, no matter how poorly them may know how to show it." Instantaneous sobs.

Cut to Bernadette sobbing and pleading with her father to take her with him. Wrenching, awful sobs.

Lastly, Birdie's mother dies and Birdie holds her in her arms and begs her not to go, not now, not when she needs her.

When I finished watching that movie, I had the same light, cleansing feeling that a good cry always leaves me with. Thank god Mom and Dad are coming out here for Christmas; Dad will open his arms to hold me and Mom will love me with all her new found strength and I will happily put my pride aside and receive it.

I keep getting calls from Keith, first he is packing, then he is en route. How strange to think that while my routine goes on, albeit slightly featherbrained, he had already begun the long, syncopated process of travel.

Also, on this day twenty nine years ago, my brother Tim was born. He was not, at first, a welcome addition to the cozy threesome I and my parents had made, to my mind. I showed this distaste by developing a horrible habit of biting him, which Mom only cured by biting me back.

Once we were over this little speed bump, I and my little brother were inseparable. He amazed me by eating bugs, live. He could climb trees and cribs at the age of two. We were our own, wild little tribe.

Our grief was large when we left the Grey House, that fabled first house, where Snowball had and lost her kittens, with the chickens behind the fence in the neighbor's yard, and where Dad plowed up the back yard for a garden. Where the stairs from the attic were unfinished, so we could crouch on them and watch, upside down, forbidden TV shows in the living room.

However, soon we were settled into our new world, a green and leafy one. We lived near the edge of a swamp and periodically, we would put on our oldest clothing, pack a lunch in ragged back packs and tromp off into them on an "explore." We brought our younger brother Scot along with us on these excursions. We would return, hours later, grimed with mud, hot and sticky, satisfied that we had set foot on the far side of the swamp.

As we grew we argued as passionately as we defended one another. Tim was fearless. He drove cars and shot bb guns, he got into the worst scrapes. When we were in our early teens, we home schooled together for one year. We spent that year mostly in my large, sunny room, talking for hours about life and love. I was amazed at my little brother's wisdom.

He was the first child to express anger in the family, he was always pushing the rules and he was the first to leave. He went out west and disappeared for a while. Years later, he returned to help me drive out there to join him.

He had a little girl by then, just like him. I stayed with them, Tim cooked his famous biscuits and gravy breakfast. We went for long drives and talked for hours. He took me to see Mannheim Steamroller in the City and bull riding.

Our first Thanksgiving, we were poor as dirt and cooked an entire chicken with bacon, carrots, onions and potatoes all around it, simmering in various sauces which we had found in the cupboards. It took hours to cook and tantalized us by the smell. By the time it was done, in the late evening, we picked the chicken off the bones.

Now Tim is the dedicated father of three, an excellent cook, a fisherman, an AM radio intellectual and the founder of his own fence building company. He has the good fortune to be loved by a good woman and has good friends close by him.

Happy Birthday, little Bro! I can't imagine life without you.

(I just got a text from Keith: Honey, I love you.
Immediately I text back: I love u too! I am counting the hours!
Moments later: Me to! I love you.

I confess; I kissed the phone.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Peace and Joy

Outside, huge, light and fluffy flakes of snow come twirling down. Already soft piles lie over the ground, a select few fell on the lighted snowflake Christmas decorations that I put up last night, driving the stakes into the cold ground with the heel of my foot.

Inside, all is quiet and still. The fluffy cat Bean is curled up tightly on top of the printer, his favorite place to nap, one silvery paw over his face. I am listening to Mannheim Steamroller's version of "We Three Kings." I have always loved this song, from the first time I heard it as an impressionable teenager.

The chimes and steady, lopping gait, the pipping sound of the instruments always evoked for me so clearly the great, rolling open sand of the desert at night, the wind blowing, the camels making their slow and steady way forward, the fringes on their ornate harnesses lifting in the wind, the wise men riding in silence, lifting their faces to the bright and burning light in the vast night sky.

I feel the peace of the Christmas season and I cherish it because such a feeling is fleeting and rare. This peace is in part because Keith and I have finally concluded a long and messy argument that strained us both terribly.

It is amazing to me how much faith is required in a relationship; faith that the best in the other person will rise to the surface, faith that whatever hardships we go through, they will in the end make the relationship stronger. At one point, during the worst of the argument, I cleaned the house with much vim and vigour, and made a decision. I sent this in an e-mail to my husband:

"I've been doing a lot of thinking through today, as I cleaned and I realized a couple things. First of all, I give up on trying to control how you feel. I can't. You're going to feel what you need to feel and believe what you need to believe. And that's ok.

As for me, I'm not going away. Sweetie, you got yourself a woman who's just as stubborn as you are and who knows how to love, both you and myself and I'm not going away. I'm going to be here, whether you talk to me or not, whether or not you're angry or hurt or what.

I'm decorating the house for Christmas with a white Christmas tree just like I said I would and I'm going to put red bows on the tires and wrap up the packages. This is our first Christmas together, and it doesn't have to be perfect. It just have to be real. Perfect is impossible.

I don't care how you come home. You can come home unannounced, angry and hurt. You can come home happy and loving. I'm going to be here, loving you, no matter what.

So, bring it on, husband mine! I'm big enough to take what you dish out and love you anyway. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt me; it does. But I'm not leaving you and I'm not giving up on you.

I love you just the way you are and I believe in you. I believe in the best of you even in the middle of the hurt. I know that you love me and that you want to trust me. I know that about you. I believe that God choose us for each other, I know it. I love you. You're my husband and I don't want anyone else but you.

I want you, with your Indiana accent and your John Deere leanings and your broken heart, and all your scars and the skin graff and the strength in you. I love your stubborn, tender heart and your mind with its crazy thoughts and all the hurt you carry from being to war and being through a terrible marriage and a hurtful childhood.

I love you just the way you are and guess what? We are going to spend the rest of our lives together. We get to do that! I don't care where. It could be out East in a double wide with two four wheelers. It could be in another state because you're posted somewhere else. I don't care, because as long as I'm with you, I'm where I need to be."

It occurs to me that renewing one's vows happens over and over again in the midst of a marriage. And each time we say, Yes, I Do and Yes, I is more meaningful than the last time.

I thought that the argument was resolved after this, but it began to dawn on me that I was still angry at him. I was angry at him and feeling insecure and I couldn't tell him. I was afraid to and I kept putting it off until he got here in person, which rather took some of the delight away from seeing him, and made me stiff and strange over the phone.

Last night, however, he said something which triggered an outpouring of honesty from me. This was occurring over the phone, and it kept disconnecting. Picture me, in bathrobe and bare feet, sobbing into the phone while wandering aimlessly around the house, dogs at my heels and talking for literally minutes before realizing that I was talking to dead air. And then calling back and picking up where I had left off and...disconnection again.

Finally, I was able to say everything I needed to and lo and behold, my husband was not angry at me for saying it! In fact, he was able to absorb it without becoming defensive and then to assure me, over and over again, not to be anxious.

Here are some of his e-mails on the subject:

"Aww, Sweety! I love you so much! Ok, Sweety, I am wrong again; maybe I come down too hard in full force but it's the only way I know how..I will work on it. I know I put you through a lot and things are just as hard back there. Thank you for forgiving me when I get upset. Seeing those pictures of you just broke me, I am so in love with you- I just want to protect my investment. Honey, I don't think I ever told you this, but every night when I pray, I thank god for sending me you. Thank you for doing everything you do; I love little kitten. Give the girls kisses and Toby will just have to settle for a pet, the only male touching those lips is ME!!!!!!!!I love you."

(Toby is my cat. On that "coming down full force" comment, I cannot count the times I have said to him, "Honey, I am not a soldier; I am your girl. I have not been through boot camp.")

By the way, I told him I would be blogging all this and asked if that would make him uncomfortable. He said, carelessly, that it didn't. And I'm deeply glad, because I think the good things in life never shine so bright as when they lie in recent comparison to the dismal.

So, let it snow! I don't need to clean anymore, my husband is under the impression that I am stressing myself out too much with it and that I should just relax more and that he is not going to be doing a white glove inspection when he arrives and actually, just wants to spend time with me and not even to go grocery shopping, because we can do that together when he gets here.

And, I got paid! So, perhaps tomorrow I will go out and (gasp!) buy myself something with my birthday money from my parents. And go to the library. And day dream about how soon he will be home. So soon sometimes it is hard to breathe and I get these shivers like fire all along my skin and then I don't think about it anymore because, after all, I do need to breathe.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Confession Amid the Cleaning


I think I have successfully moved the dirt around the house. I have not actually cleaned, but I have moved it from one area to another. I also have succeeded in jumbling all the downstairs furniture in the laundry area and soaking all the carpets with lukewarm, dirty water and then rolling all the pet hair up into damp, disgusting balls of dark mats. Yes, it has been a productive and happy day in the Indiana household. Ask the dogs. As I write, my bare feet sink into cold, damp carpet, the cuffs of my cargo pants are slightly bedraggled.

I retreated from the misadventures of cleaning to immerse myself in writing. There's no help for it, I am no Martha Stewart; I am far more along the lines of Erma Bombeck.

I called Keith earlier and he asked me, in the course of the conversation, when was the last time I had been to the garage.

"Oh, a long time ago," I replied carelessly. Oops.

"Woman!" he protested. "How do you know the HD is still there?"

"Um," I began, laughing. "I don't know. Because misplacing a truck that weighs more than a few tons is difficult to do?"

I went into the garage with him on the phone, just to put his worried mind at ease. It's a cold day today, chill and overcast and in the garage, the air was damp and cold.

"Oh my god!" I exclaimed, flipping on the overhead lights, "the truck is gone! I can't believe they took the Ford!"

Which earned me the looked for response of laughter. The Ford is his friend's truck and the ribbing they give each other over their chosen brand of truck is on-going and will be so indefinitely.

I have a confession: I have forgotten what kissing is like. This kind of forgetting always takes me by surprise. After all, when kisses are a dime a dozen, it's easy to assume that like the taste of PB&J, kisses will always be an inherent part of one's sensory knowledge. And there are so many kinds of kisses.

There are the spontaneous kisses, when it dawns on one that the man, the adored, flesh and blood man is in the house, and the impulse to kiss him sweeps over one and one goes in search of him. Or when he snakes his arm out as one is passing by, absentminded, on the way upstairs. Caught, one is pulled in close to where he is sitting and he asks, "Woman, do I have to put up the toll gate again? Where are my kisses?"

Then, of course, there are the other kind of kisses, the ones that are like the tide, sweeping one out into the deeper, more turbulent waters, and it thrills me down to my toes, to feel the strength of this current, to know that my man will pull me out and tumble me head over heels in it, like riding the ocean waves into the shore.

How can one forget such a thing? But it happens. I wake up one day and imagine meeting Keith at the airport lobby, I imagine myself on tiptoes, searching through the crowd, my hair pulled back and shinning in the lights. I imagine seeing the anxious look on his face as he is looking for me, his unmistakable gait and then running and then...and then I realize that I have forgotten what it is like to kiss him.

So, any of you out there who are reading this, whose man is near, within reach; go! Go and kiss him, because you can, because he is there, because you love him. Kiss the children, kiss the dogs. Kiss mom and dad. Mistletoe is not necessary.

As for me, I must go back to the misadventures of house cleaning, Erma Bombeck-style.