I have a job where I can update spread sheets while listening to Beethoven. Any job where listening to Beethoven is encouraged, even required, is a good thing. But I also am required, not just encouraged, mind you, but required, to bake chocolate chip cookies. Therefore, I am banned from ever complaining about my job. (I'm going to change that rule later on, I can just feel it...)
There is a lovely routine to my days. It is a quiet and sleepy routine. At a certain point in the afternoon, I know that Keith will call me. When he calls me, he is walking under the sky full of stars, stars that look just like those at home (I asked) and it is cold, but he refuses to wear a coat, or a long sleeved shirt under his uniform jacket, because later on it will get too hot.
Then, a few hours later he will call again and then, before I go to bed, I send him a text and he calls me right before I fall asleep.
I love this routine. To know that I will receive not one, but two or three calls from him in a twenty four hour period is a luxury and I know it full well. It wasn't always like this during this deployment and it won't be like this in the near future, but while it can be, I soak it up.
A few days ago Keith called as usual. I no longer remember what we talked about. I remember it was a somewhat goofy conversation. He said as usual that he would call me in a little while. I rang off and went about my tasks.
Time went on and I didn't hear from him. I started to wonder a little, in the back of my mind, but I don't entertain the ghosts. They are always there, but I don't listen to them as long as I have the strength to resist and after half a year, I've gotten a lot stronger than I was.
So when he did call back, it wasn't with any kind of intense relief that I answered the phone, I did so in my usual manner but my husband was not at all as usual. In the space between one phone call and the next, he had come under attack. Just like that.
He couldn't talk long. I was left holding the phone, sitting at the kitchen table, wondering what to do with myself.
Now, if he were home and had, say, gotten into a car accident, first of all, he would have called me right away. And upon hearing this news, I would have had a start of anxiety and adrenalin, but I would also have had a purpose. I would have gone to pick him up or or to go with him to the hospital, just to be sure he was ok.
I would leave work. I would call my family and say, "Keith's been in an accident, but he's fine..." and I was say how it happened, because Keith would describe it to me in detail, with more profanity than proper nouns. And there would be all those sounds of dismay.
Then later that night, I would snuggle up to my husband in bed and let myself think, for just a moment, how it could have turned out differently. But it didn't and I'll wake up in the morning by the sound of the alarm going off at four forty five and Keith rolling over on top of me to shut the thing off and kissing me in that slow and lazy manner.
But he didn't get into a car accident. He's not home. He's in a foreign country and he took mortar fire. And there was nothing for me to do. That's what got to me the worst; the absolute nothing with which to respond. I tried writing; I couldn't. I tried reading; I couldn't. I felt like going around and around in the kitchen in little circles, like a hamster in a cage.
Eventually he was able to call back and simply talking to him again made my world go back almost to normal. Except for the realization that the conversation I'd had with him before could have been the last time I'd ever spoken to him. And I couldn't even remember what I'd said.
Here's the thing; over all this time, the jagged edges of fear and urgency had worn down; I had achieved balance. I think this is healthy; it must be. Without that, how can a person carry on? And one must carry on. Otherwise the dogs are not fed and the bills are not paid, otherwise when Keith calls I am depressed and anxious and then he is in turn worried and anxious and that means that not only is he deployed and responsible for a dangerous, on going classified mission, but also that he has me constantly on the back of his mind, constantly wondering how I am doing, if I'm going to be strong enough to make it through this and how helpless he is to do anything for me and it would eat away at him like acid.
But how can I balance sanity with the constant knowledge that this time, this conversation, might be the last one I ever have with my husband? And I tell myself all kinds of things. I tell myself every time I sent him off to work on post, it could have been the last time; that's life. There's no guarantees. Life has to go on.
I tell myself that the war is officially over in Iraq. That the number of casualties have dropped dramatically. That the odds are incredibly in his favor. That people have been through far worse. I think of the women who waited through World World II, hearing the broadcasts of cities taken and retaken, of war ships sinking; all those foreign places now of intimate significance to them, a personal inner landscape. And all the while waiting for either a letter, or a knock on the door.
This is all true. It is all true and yet I relinquished my husband to a land like a twisted chess game, where falling on the wrong square results in death or dismemberment. And there are no rules to it. It's chance.
Despite this, Keith goes on about his duties in an orderly and responsible manner, focused. Because it doesn't matter what is happening all around him, it doesn't matter what the numbers say, what the odds are. He will do what he is there to do regardless.
Fear will do me no favors either. I must greet fear as though a passing acquaintance; with a brief nod and then pass on. "I knew him once," I will say to myself. "He wasn't pleasant, but he taught me not to take life for granted. I should remember to send him a Christmas card this year..."
And then I'll go back to the business at hand and to being grateful for each and every time I hear my husband's voice over the phone.
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