Such is the nature of addiction: to be eating potato chips even though the very act of doing so causes pain and the only way to manage the eating of them is to nibble on them slowly, as a rodent would. Even so, in this way I have actually finished off two bags that were left over from when my brother visited.
The last few days I felt well enough to walk again. Seeing the houses and trees that line my route was like seeing the faces of good friends. Spring has long since ceased to be a private affair; it has gone exuberantly, shamelessly public.
There is a house along this route that I love so much I can hardly look at it straight. It is set on a corner lot, far back on the smooth edges of green lawn. On the front lawn a large, sturdy oak tree is growing and under its shade are set two lawn benches in wrought iron and wood. They are set a little crookedly, but this only serves to give them a friendly, approachable look.
On the table between the benches are straggly house plants that have barely survived winter and are now given up to the sunshine and fresh air to recuperate. There is an old Ford on the curb and a medium sized boat covered with a tarp on the other curb and a baby swing hanging under a tree.
I love this house so much because it is exactly what I imagine Keith and I will create, given enough time. (Except, I feel compelled to add, that the truck will be a Chevy.)
Yesterday evening I was sitting outside on the lawn, happily puttering away with a gardening tool. It was about seven by the clock, but the sun had yet to set and the light was a golden amber that shown almost horizontal across the grass, lighting up each individual blade, turning them translucent as jade.
I sat back on my heels and listened; a cricket was singing somewhere nearby, the first one I had heard since last fall. At his unmistakable voice, I was suddenly awash with nostalgia. I felt the wash of time running over me like a brook over river stones.
In quick succession, I felt the long, hot days of summer pass by, the endless, golden afternoons, the golden rod massed on the banks, the trees at the edge of the swamp turning a toasted brown and yellow, the dust rising up glittering in the sun by the side of the road. And then the end of summer, the turning over into Autumn.
And it amazed me that even though I want the end of summer, I want it terribly, because it will bring my husband back to me, at that moment I didn't feel joy; I felt deeply melancholy. Thirty one years worth of summers had sunk the meaning into the marrow of my bones: that the sound of the cricket brings in the fullness of the season and then its closing.
There are two little birch trees growing at the corner of the lawn where I was sitting, I saw them and then I saw them twenty years from now, grown wide and sturdy, sunk deep into the earth. I knew that I would see it; we don't plan on ever selling this house; when we move to another post, we will rent the house out.
When I saw the trees full grown, I felt grief wash over me and something like terror. I couldn't understand where the emotion was coming from and it was disturbing. (The moral of this story will be to avoid weeding the lawn during long, golden May evenings, as it can cause severe bouts of introspection; much safer to have stayed inside and watched "Wheel of Fortune.)
By then, what language will Keith and I speak that no one else will know? What scars will we carry that no one else will see? I could see myself, but I was a stranger. I could not imagine what I would have gone through by then, the testing grounds I would have weathered and the things that, like Mary, I would carry around, treasured, inside my heart.
And in order to be that woman, I will have to leave myself behind. When I reach that point, I will look back at myself, kneeling in the grass with the young trees, struck mute by the inevitability of the future and that girl will be a ghost. I will think fondly and tenderly of who I am now. I will want to reach out and assure her that everything will be fine, that I am stronger than I think and that above all, no matter what it brings, life is worth living.
There are a lot reason, I guess, why I should so suddenly have been dropped into introspection as though a stone into water. There are many different things slowly converging on me.
For one, I met Keith for the first time a year ago. Everything is like it was when I first met him, only he isn't here. This is mostly comforting but also sometimes a little eery. Songs on the radio that I heard that spring come back now as I drive. The leaves look the same, the light falls in the same way.
Also, and this may be hard to understand if one hasn't gone through a deployment; the end of the deployment is not effortless, it seems to me. It brings about huge changes, usually ones that cannot be very well anticipated and that cannot be very well controlled. I have had almost an entire year of remaining static. Sometimes this drove me crazy; most of the time it was my most vital support system.
Keith's return means that we may very well be posted elsewhere. He may change his MOS. Even if he does not, he will be trained to a different role, which will mean him going to an Army school who knows where. None of this is certain; Keith is not sure what he wants and won't be, I think, until he returns and returns to himself.
Before he even left, I knew that I would be receiving home a different person from the man I was sending off. Right now, he is under incredible stress. He is finally doing things he feels is worthwhile and with a group of soldiers that he fondly referred to as a "good crew."
However, there is the unrelenting tension of doing patrols, living in a crowd, not having contact with home often and working under conditions that I won't go into, except to say normally the Army has standards in place to prevent it, but in this company's case, it didn't work out so well.
Even when he came home for leave, he was so tense that I had to loudly announce myself whenever entering the garage or he would startle so bad it hurt to watch him.
"Do you want to kill me, woman?" he asked me once.
I will be receiving from Iraq a man who will desperately need somehow to release that tension. He will be ragged at the edges, the reservoirs of anger and frustration will lie just beneath the surface. I hear it in his voice even now, over the phone. He will be, I think, driven to reclaim his place and to make up for a lost year.
The first goal will be simple enough to accomplish; all I will need to do is to let go completely of all those things it had been my responsibility to arrange. It will be simple, but not easy. As for the latter goal, that will be impossible and until he realizes this and mourns the loss, I anticipate having very little in the way of peace. Looking at it in such clear terms is my way of preparing.
In the end, it doesn't matter what shape he will be in when he comes home. My job is very clear; I must be like the girl in the faerie tale who rescued her love from the Elven queen. She simply had to hold on no matter what shape he took, no matter if he snarled at her as vicious as a tiger, or burned like rod of glowing iron.
I have no doubt that I will be able to and also no doubt that it will hurt like hell. I am his front line and will receive the brunt while he is caught up in the storm of his own pent up emotion. And it's not that he doesn't love me enough not to; it's the opposite. He loves me so much that he will be unable to hold back. I am too close and too vital to escape whatever he is going through. This is what happened in the unrelenting stress before deployment and I am certain, what will happen afterward.
It is still three months away and I would have him home tomorrow if I could choose to. I can't, of course. Instead, I feel as if I am waiting in some quiet, sun filled antechamber. I am gathering my strength and clearing my mind in order to receive home the beloved tempest.
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