Keith called last night. He's been calling a lot more often lately. He can't ever talk very long and usually just needs to say that he is missing me terribly and thinking about me a lot. Before I can think of what to say in reply to this; what do you say when you have said, "I love you so much" and "I miss you so much" a hundred million times and now the sound of them is like fingernails down the chalk board and all you want to do is hold that person in your arms and say those things without words, over and over again? Before I can say much of anything, he must go.
I spent much of this morning reading over a series of e-mails I sent to a friend throughout the course of last summer. I also spent hours looking at pictures and I read some of the first few e-mails that I sent Keith at the beginning of deployment.
When I was going through the pictures, I kept coming across random videos I had taken of him, and then I got the very first one I ever took, one of the last mornings on our camping trip up in the mountains.
"I should never 'a shown you how to use that," Keith says in the video, his voice rueful, grinning. He is driving and the early morning sun is making shadows across his face and arms. He drives with casual competence, with one arm; he keeps looking toward me and when he does, his face falls into shadow.
"But these'll be precious memories," I protest, but I am laughing so much I don't make a very good case of it.
"I give you some precious memories," he retorts with a wicked grin, turning to me and the sun catches on his eyes lashes.
I remembered that morning after three days without showering and how we took turns holding open the door of the outhouse for each other, keeping watch for spiders and moths. Now there is the very definition of intimacy.
I read my first e-mails to Keith after he left and felt all over again the sharp pain that edged every single thing I did those first few weeks, and the dull pain that underlined it, as though I had sustained internal bruising.
"This is going to sound silly," I had written to a friend of mine, a week into it. "But this is much harder than I had anticipated."
There was thunder in the clouds outside the open window, and ground beef browning on the stove when Keith called this afternoon. I was in the middle of making chili, hoping to cheer myself up with the cooking and rich smells. My phone was buttoned into my back pocket and I was twisting around like a dog chasing its tail in the kitchen trying to get at it.
"Sweetie!" I exclaimed, breathless, when I finally got the phone free. I told him how I had spent the day so far. "Do you remember the first time I make you lasagna?" I asked him.
I could remember, vividly. The incredible way it smelled, the golden brown mozzarella across the top and the way the red sauce bubbled up at the sides. There was a little saucepan of French cut green beans on the stove top, cooked in butter, salt and pepper because Keith loved it that way.
Keith and one of his soldiers came inside in time to see me take the lasagna out bundled so deeply in its oval casserole dish. I was ever so careful, trying to get a good grip on the side with the bulky oven mitts. Their eyes went wide, they ate most of it at one sitting. Keith kept kissing me.
"This is the best thing I've ever ate," he declared. "We'll never go to the Olive Garden again. Waste of money." When I got up to get something, he snagged me around the waist with his arm and pulled me in close to him, kissed me. I got pretty good at cooking lasagna last summer.
We traded shared memories for a little bit, I felt oddly close to tears and wondered if Keith would recognize the gathering thickness in my voice. I didn't want him to know.
"We've been through so much," I said in sudden wonder, remembering the chaos and pain of pre deployment, the first e-mails, the weight of months. I had to swallow the tears back.
"I've been thinkin' the same thing lately," he said in a low voice.
"Remember you have pictures of me in a string bikini on your hotmail account," I reminded him, before he had to go.
"I know," he said in a voice suddenly shy and adorable. "I just know if I see them, I'm gonna miss you so bad I'll go crazy."
"I have to go, I should get a coupla' hours sleep," he said later, reluctant. "I'll call you tomorrow."
"I'll be here," I said simply.
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