Recently I left my cell phone in the bathroom over night. I never know when Keith will call, so even when I wake in the middle of the night, I carry it around with me. Unfortunately, nothing can change the absentminded nature I was born with and I went back to bed without the phone in hand.
When I woke, my first conscious thought was surprise that Keith hadn't called at four thirty in the morning to wake me and talk excitedly about the new exhaust system he'd ordered for the four wheeler and other engaging subjects.
My heart sank to my very toes at the sight of the phone lying innocent upon the bathroom counter, and dropped even lower when I opened it and saw that I had missed nine calls from him. Nine.
I met Keith when he was at a point equidistant between his painful divorce and his upcoming deployment; about five months lay between us and each event. It is a position perfectly placed for marital mayhem and downright foolhardy of us to marry when we did and I don't recommend doing anything like it, if it can be avoided.
Naturally, incredible amounts of strain were put on our union from the beginning. It required us to be very specific in our language. During our first real fight, I could tell that Keith had been used to a fighting style that took no casualties.
I remember sitting on the tailgate of the truck, listening and feeling the pull to give in, to simply give way to anger and outrage; not just at him, but at anything, to simply engage, to go down guns blazing. I didn't.
"You won't fight!" he burst out suddenly, twisting around to look me in the face, exasperated.
"What am I doing?" I asked him, curious to know what it felt like to him.
"I dunno," he said, spreading his hands, frustrated. "You're...you're always taking the highroad an' stuff!"
The fight didn't end there, it still took several hours more before we each felt as though we had been heard and before we had laid down ground rules for the next fight.
Part of my huge dread of deployment was my understanding of how the dynamics would put incredible amounts of strain on us, and after we had had such a short time to grow into one another.
The first time I missed a call from him it started off a huge fight that took several calls and a couple of hours to move through. Eventually, we developed a language all our own to deal with the issues that kept coming up. Whenever Keith lost his temper and his perspective, we called this "shooting the moon." This has proven very helpful for us.
"I know you are in orbit right now, but when you come back down, just remember I'm here and I love you," I have texted him.
Recently I missed several of his calls while downstairs, where the reception is not good and on top of this, the last he had heard I was going to be at a house party where purses would be displayed for sale, with a group of primarily other army wives, none of whom he knew.
I didn't end up going; I had written the blog about my childhood abuse and knew that I didn't have energy left over to socialize, but I hadn't told him this and when I didn't answer his calls, he most certainly experienced lift off. When I did talk to him, he was rocket propelled. However, we were able to talk it through in one phone call, a most amazing thing.
"Jenny, don't you do that; stop doing that," he cautioned me during this, when we were in the thick of it. I could hear the humor cracking through his anger; I knew he was trying his damnedest not to smile.
"Stop what?" I asked with a grin. "Stop being reasonable?"
"Yes! You stop that!"
"Next time, Sweetie," I asked him, as we were concluding, "just try and assume the best of me. Just try. Just consider that there might be a reasonable explanation to why I am not answering the phone and I will try to remember that an e-mail or a text letting you know of a change in plans would be greatly appreciated by you."
I was listening to music the other day, music that I used to listen to at the beginning of deployment and that I hadn't listened to in months. I can trace the length of deployment by the long graduation of music that has gotten me through each stage.
I remembered the first stage, the feeling of shell shock that I carried around inside me, the oppressive feeling of months and months, unknown, so far away that I could not imagine them or who I would be by the time I reached them.
This thought was so unnerving that I couldn't admit to it, I went blindly about each thing that I needed to, holding adamantly to routine, as though I were a work horse with blinders on, just plodding around and around in my little trodden path.
Now, here I am at the unimaginable place of half way through; I have now been much longer apart from my husband than we have been together in person. We have not yet known each other a year.
I picked the phone up and stared at it ruefully, that morning I found it, reproachful and abandoned, on the bathroom counter. I sent Keith a text explaining and that I loved him and about ten minutes later it rang. I prepared to engage in landing procedures.
"Sweetie!" I greeted him.
"Hi honey," he replied, his voice sounded tired. "I love you."
"I love you," I replied, a little surprised. I began to explain, but he stopped me.
"It's ok, I know," he said. "I've done that before. I was just a little worried."
I sat on the edge of the bed, stunned. Who was this man?
"I expected you to be angry," I said.
"Well, hon," he replied, "I thought about it, but I got myself a good woman; I don't want to lose you."
Well Sweetie, that would be impossible, to quote a very famous and important person, "You're stuck with me now...ha!"
Besides, I have an important date that I have to keep with you. I have a date to meet you on our back porch thirty or so years from now. The tomatoes will be ripe and dusty in our garden and the grass thick and green and the sweet, fresh smell of it just cut will linger in the air.
There will be country music from the open windows of your garage and the grandchildren will be there. They will want a ride on the four wheeler with you and you will take them up on the back trails around the house, in the woods that we'll know so well by then.
You'll be grey haired, no doubt, (though it'll still be cut military style; some habits die hard) and you'll be covered with grease as usual. You'll be just as tough as you were back in the day; you'll be wearing saggy jeans and a ripped shirt and your face will be all bristly because you hate to shave but I'll kiss you anyway, lots of kisses because I'm sure even by then I won't be paid up on my kissing debt.
This is a very important date and I absolutely cannot miss it, even though it's very casual and I'll be wearing no makeup and an old pair of jeans, and dinner will be spaghetti and fresh beans from the garden and the grandchildren will make a mess and we'll look at each other across the table and grin because we get to send them home to their parents. Ha!
Until then, Sweetie. I love you.