Yesterday I had the worst scare of the entire deployment. It was strangely and terribly fascinating too, the way in which it came about.
I hadn't heard from Keith for a little over twenty four hours, which is very strange at this point in the deployment. I knew, rationally, that he must be fine and that he was simply too busy to get on the Internet or the phone.
Regardless, I couldn't help but notice how inside me, I started to change, one part of me going deep and silent, the other part of me chattering away on the surface, focused on day to day life. I wanted to document the strange way in which paranoia can creep up, so I started a blog, writing in a kind of stream of consciousness style.
As I was in the middle of writing this, I decided suddenly to search on line for news and I found some and I knew immediately why I had not been hearing from Keith. It had nothing to do with him being busy, something terrible had happened.
It was so unbelievable. I went from simply noticing my own fears to living them out. I wish I could explain or describe the way the fear increases toward the end of deployment, but I can't seem to find the words. I've actually been really proud of myself for not experiencing it as much as I had thought I would. Going into deployment, I thought that I would literally be paralyzed with fear for the last three months.
I haven't been, but when this happened, it was very, very difficult to keep telling myself that Keith was fine, that he would call soon. But I really didn't know if I would hear from him or from the CAO. Part of me was certain he was already dead. Another part of me was certain he was fine and I was being a drama queen and ridiculous; based on nothing but the numbers, he was most likely alive. Most of me was simply stunned, unable to think coherently.
The worst point came later on in the day, when I turned onto our street and saw immediately two police cars and an unfamiliar car parked at my curb. At my curb. Right behind Keith's truck. I couldn't breathe, I think I started to say, "Oh my god," over and over again. I was with a friend, she didn't know what had just hit me.
I'd been avoiding the house all day, out walking or out with my friend. I had discovered that I just couldn't stay there, I refused to stay there for them to come and find me. And when I saw the cars I thought, "Dear god, they are lying in wait for me. They called in the police to come hunt me down."
Completely irrational, but there was no room in me for rational thought at that moment. My friend pulled up and I saw that the police were all over at the neighbor's and the car at the curb was empty. I was suddenly weightless. I had to think very clearly about each and every action, how to close the car door, how to walk calmly.
When I got in the house, I found an e-mail from Keith. I was equally light headed when I saw it. It took a little while for the relief to reach me completely. Partly because he was still in danger and continues to be. He continues to run missions. Why the hell can't he sit at the base and stew like most everyone else? It's starting to drive me crazy.
The rest of the day I was trying to return to normal. I felt like an elastic that had been completely stretched out of shape. I thought about others who had gone though these experiences, only over and over and over again, during the Gulf War, or right now, in Afghanistan. The only thing I can think of is that a person must get almost permanently stretched out of shape, pulled right out of one's normal emotional center.
Keith was able to call much later that evening. He said, "Pray for the families of those men." He was grave and not like himself. I had been thinking of those families all day. Now that I knew more details, the horror of their situation overtook me.
I'll tell the truth, even if it's unflattering, I didn't want to think about them. I'd gone far enough down that path to have had just a glimpse of what they were going through and I didn't want to see any farther down. I didn't want to feel it any more. It wasn't that I didn't care, it was simply that it was too real.
Keith told me about a dream he'd had, an especially vivid and satisfying dream about our life after he gets back, he tells me he has many of them. Now I understand in a new way what it's like, to really know that we can live that kind of life because other people died for it.
I was talking to one of the residents that evening, during my shift. She was sitting in a chair across from the desk, waiting for dinner. A bunch of them were there, chatting animatedly away about their lives, laughing, comparing dates, forgetting things and joking about it. This particular lady had been twenty years old in 1947.
"You can calculate on up from there to eight one," she told me, her hand to her mouth, eyes twinkling. "And it's been a great ride! I've loved every minute of it."
It was so encouraging, and healing, to hear that. After all, she's lived through WWII. I'm determined to live my life in such a way that I can say the same thing too, when I reach that age. Now I just have to get through this last bit of the deployment.
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