Saturday, May 30, 2009

Turning a Calendar Page

I'm flipping the calendar over to June tonight. I feel in a way as though I am turning over so much more than that page. I am turning my back on the endless winter, last fall when the dying light sent me slowly but surely into depression, and this spring that seemed to drag out forever. All of that has closed; I need never go back there again.

Lately I keep having visions of myself in a rocking chair, by a window full of light and my body fallen down all around me in pieces, wearing all the injuries of age. At that point, the body becomes like an anchor, something that one carefully and cautiously arranges. Getting in to and out of bed is a long, slow and deliberate process.

For whatever reason I have been thinking of myself at this age, perhaps because I have worked with the elderly for so long, perhaps because I have become so aware of the passing of time this year, or perhaps because I am over thirty.

I am not afraid of growing old, which amazes me. I should be; I have seen up close what it does to a person. But I think by that time I will no longer care very much. I'll be caught up in an absorbing inner life. I will be invested in the patient work of putting a life to rest, going through piece by piece. I hope I will forgive myself grievances long harbored. I hope I will have wisdom I can only guess at now.

I don't know where Keith will be; if he will be with me in person or just in thought. Until I met Keith, I figured that I simply had a nature that would always be ready to fall in love again, should the current love end by death or disaster.

I had myself almost convinced that it was old fashioned and unhealthy to wish to love a man into the hereafter, to wait for him if he passed on ahead. But it wasn't my nature, and it isn't either bad or good; I just hadn't met Keith yet.

I recently purchased some curtains for the kitchen and sent Keith an e-mail with some pictures and detailed how much money I had spent on them and other little projects I had been working on. This is the response I got back (edited some for content):

"Holy crap, Kitten, that looks amazing!!! I am so proud of you!!! I always wanted something there by the window but could never figure out what would look good. You did a perfect job, and for so cheap.

"Thank you for the pictures of the garage and the HD. It is refreshing to see them again, and the grass looks better than I ever had it! My honey is working so hard!!! I love you!! I am a very lucky man! I feel like I won a prize!!!!! I win everything!!!!! You are such a great woman, I can't stop dreaming about coming home to you. I love you."

(E-mails like this illustrate perfectly why he is referred to as the beloved tempest...)

If I look back at this point in my life, I will remember this deepening feeling of relief. I keep thinking of that little known ending to the fairy tale, "The Frog King." In it, the frog king has a good and loyal servant named Faithful Heinrich. When his king was turned into a frog, poor Heinrich had iron bands fastened around his heart to keep it from breaking.

When his king was restored to him and he was riding behind the coach that held the happy couple, his heart began to swell with such joy that the iron bands to break. This caused the king some anxiety. Faithful Heinrich had to reassure him each time that the sharp cracks were not the coach breaking, but Heinrich's heart bursting free of its iron constraints.

Which reminds me. I've been watching a great deal of Disney movies, as Keith has sent me a huge packet of them. Some of the films were enchanting. "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," for example, with that catchy melody, "Bobbing along, bobbing along on the bottom of the beautiful, briny sea..."

I enjoyed watching that immensely. That and "The Secret of Nymh." What a beautiful film that is. It made me cry, though when I watched it as a child it seemed much longer.

However, what gives with the Little Mermaid? Was she eviscerated? Does she not have two kidneys, a spleen, lower intestines? Or does she not need any of those internal organs because she imbibes predigested food?

I would not mind her bizarre and unnatural waist line so much if Disney had not taken the heart right out of the fairy tale. I believe the gripping part of the fairy tale was not just that the little mermaid gave up the sea, but that she accepted excruciating pain with each step she took on her unnatural legs. Even so, she danced for her prince. Even so, he didn't chose her. She turned into sea foam.

"Dear God!" I hear the collective gasp across suburbia. "Not a happy ending??" Little girls of about three or four are forbidden ever to hear that. There must be a happy ending, there must be scalloped sea shells adoring snotty red haired mermaids who ignore their father and attempt to comb their hair with a fork because above all, the cartoon must be humorous.

It is not generally accepted that to risk all and lose, to resist the easy way out, or that to end up a spirit in the air and not a Princess with a crown might actually be a happy ending. It might be, but it won't sell cheap plastic toys and dust ruffles.

And Heracles? Why even talk about this one, it must have been the point to so distort and destroy the original tale that the very distortion became entertainment. I just sat there, stunned, confused and deeply irritated while watching it. They couldn't have shown the real tale, there is too much cruelty, too much horror and murder. There is also redemption and heroism, but altogether, it's not for children.

There are beautiful animated films out there, Hayao Miyazaki has made many of them. His films are full of all the dark and human truth of the Brothers Grimm, with real magic and courage and passion. And they are beautiful and haunting to watch.

There. That rant was a long time coming. Now I am officially a snob who will be shown her place when her three year old daughter won't eat her dinner unless it's served to her on a garish plastic plate with Ariel enshrined therein.

What a fate that would be. Speaking of fate, the moths are still with me. But I have figured out that they are Miller Moths or Army cutworms. (Yes. I have military moths surrounding me. I have noted the irony.) They are migrating moths, on their way higher up into the Rockies, after being spawned in the Eastern planes. They will die in a few days and the migration lasts into June.

Somehow knowing more about it makes me feel better. Still, freak outs are the order of the hour around here. The dogs have no idea what to do with me.

Attack of the Killer Moths

Last night I was prevented from taking a shower by the presence of not one, but two dark, furry bodied moths. I stood in horror, clutching my can of spider spray and watching them dip and clatter erratically around. They had been sprayed and yet were clearly not dying. I gave up and went to bed.

In the morning, one appeared to be dead in the tub. (It was not, long story, won't go into it. But it's dead now, damn it!) There was a dead one on the living room floor, a dead one inside the sliding door groove and a live one downstairs by the window. I screamed like a girl on and off all morning.

When I screamed and hopped about in shuddering horror for like the zillionth time on the back porch, the good neighbor Larry asked me very cautiously if I was doing ok. He appeared to be very grateful for the fence. I explained my dilemma.

"What is going on? Is it the season for them? What am I going to do?" I wailed.

He explained that this happens once every few years. Great. I am living in the middle of a genuine moth epidemic. He handed me over the fence a large container of indoor/outdoor pest killer that they have been spraying everywhere in their house.

"Spray it on the lamps," recommended Mrs. Good. "That's where they like to be. We've been using fly swatters too."

"Do you want one?" asked Larry the Good.

I figured the insecticide would be enough, especially considering that I can't get close enough to the moths to kill them with a swatter anyway. (Involuntary shudder of horror.) I sprayed the stuff everywhere and goddamn if the moths didn't come out of every crack and crevice in the goddamn house.

The front door was the worst. I sprayed that and an entire cloud, a cloud of moths rose up darkly against the light, igniting such fear in my heart that I ducked and covered, screaming, bobbing and weaving as though I were being shot at.

Now I do feel a little better. The spray should keep them out for the next three months (and Keith will be here long before then!!) and I haven't come across a moth for a little while now.

They are lurking outside though; when I moved the car scores of them rose up in agitation. They are hiding out in the bushes, crawling across the screens and batting about against the street lights.

I just hope and pray I don't dream about them tonight.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Simple Joys

Well, thank God for sunshine. And lemons five for a dollar and Keith finally having a date out of the sand box! I also got a large portion of the initial consult fee from the cosmetic dentist back, and promptly cashed it in and then traded that for loads and loads of bright, summer annuals.
I switched the bright blue pansies out for pale pink wave petunias bordered by sweet alyssum, little bunches of tiny white flowers. Now there are terra cotta pots of blue pansies everywhere around the house, on the front steps with the white hydrangea and along the table on the back deck.

At the local grocery, I make myself buy whatever fresh produce is on sale. Lately it's been lemons, kiwi, zucchini, melons and eggplant. I didn't know what on earth I would do with some of this bounty at first, but obviously, lemonade came to mind. It turned out delicious, but I really need a juicer.

I sliced the eggplant and roasted it with olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and Italian herbs and ate it with spaghetti sauce over top. It was really good. It was good without the sauce. In fact, I may go back, get another eggplant (they're one for a dollar), slice them up thin and bake them crispy. They tasted amazingly like potato chips.

I have been to the library and have a new armful of books to work my way through, fresh melons to be sliced and lemonade in the fridge. There's a load of laundry in the wash, which means fresh sheets on the bed tonight, smelling of lavender and tomorrow it will be in the eighties and I will have the whole day to enjoy the sun.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stuck in a Moment

(I don't know if any of my readers are offended by what my mother would refer to as bad language, but if you are, be warned. I have used some in this post.)

Well, I have had a very fun day of pretending not to be in a terrible mood. Now I have decided to embrace reality with enthusiasm. I did not get dressed until 1pm. I spent the entire dreary, cloud covered morning in my bathrobe watching season one of Army Wives again and eating the rest of the bag of potato chips that I purchased on my way home from work last night.

Shall I speak of Army Wives the show? Naw. I don't want to go there. But I am partial to the light. They seem to always shoot the scenes drenched in summer light, early afternoon, late afternoon, mid day, everything is brilliant. That had me hooked, that and the colors. I want now to go out and purchase some crocheted pillows, some bright yellow plastic pitchers, yards and yards of gratuitous fabric and halter tops. I'll pretend to be someone entirely different.

I hate a few days. I hate six days, to be exact. Right now, at this moment in time, this moment that will never come again, I hate the last few days of May.

I hate the few days until Keith calls. I hate the continuous cloud cover that will preside over the next six days.

It was rainy all weekend. I hate the rain. I hate having to dress warm in May. I want a nice roaring fire, a cup of tea and Keith. In the opposite order. I am stuck in a moment.

I've been starved lately. I've longed for the most ridiculous of foods, like brie cheese on crusty break or Doritios or cookie dough ice cream. Cinnamon buns with dripping icing or French toast. Pastrami on rye with melted cheese. Stuffed crust pepperoni pizza with so much grease it goes running off the top of the pizza in a light golden stream and turns the paper plates translucent.

I prowl the kitchen, I tear open cupboard doors even though I know what I will find. Nothing. I eat tuna fish salad, egg salad, chili, fruit, yogurt and granola. Everything in small quantities. I have lost a lot of weight. I walk religiously. It might be my religion. I walk every single day and for those forty minutes, I am that mindlessly happy that is the product of a body that has sweated enough.

I am sick and tired of having a perfectly good man and not being able to roll around in our large, comfortable bed with him. I mean, for God's sake. I have a man. There is a male of the species out there, in good health and with all the right equipment and he belongs to me and I can't have him. And it sucks ass.

Though out deployment I could not complain like this. I could not embrace the suck because the suck was far to vast to wrap my arms around and if I tried, it would pull me down into some bottomless pit from which I would not have escaped.

In fact, back then I imagined that reaching this point would be nothing but sheer bliss. I imagined it an unfocused melting away of time, everything would pass by in a blur, burned away by the proximity to Keith's return.

Well, goddamn it, that is not how it works. At least not for me. What happens instead is that I have stepped into some kind of cursed time lag where a week takes on the length of an entire month and days are endless and a month appears to go on and on and on like a terrible disco song from the seventies and I can't change the goddamn radio station.

In addition to this time warp, my reward for having reached the last quarter of deployment is being able to be cheek to cheek with the suck. This me and the suck together, saying cheese. What a cute couple we make.

And goddamn it, I know in a week I'll be riding the high of a new month. I know it as sure as I'm sitting here. I'll forget this moment ever happened, except for the fact that I wrote about it. But right now I'm in it and I hate it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

I spent much of Memorial Day trying to pretend that it wasn't. I didn't want to write about it. I still don't. Weeks in advance I was trying out different Memorial Day posts in my head, knowing that it would be expected of me, to write about it.

To be quite honest, I wish I could go back to the way it used to be. I remember the little parade up through the town center to the cemetery at the edge of the lake. The cemetery was built on a gently rising slope and was a good vantage point for watching the fire works on the 4th of July, especially as the bright bursts would be reflected in the still water of the lake.

On Memorial Day, the veterans would walk by and many of them would be people I knew. It was right and good, I thought, that the men should walk so proudly in their varying uniforms, different wars, different branches of the military. It was summer's rite of passage, it was part of the pomp and circumstance of life.

Now when I think of cemeteries, I think of the picture I saw on another blog, of a young widow stretched out against the grass as though she could press her body to her dead lover's through all the dense layers of soil, and whispering into the headstone.

The cemetery of my childhood was small, easily circumferenced. Age had gentled it, spread lichen over the stones, the grass was dense and mossy. Winding stone walls loosely encircled it, hinting at the sheep that once had pastured there.

It is nothing like the cemeteries that are hundred of acres, all of them with countless harsh white stones and looking at them, it is impossible not to realize that entire generations of people had disappeared into them. The weight of the dead is a cumbersome one to carry; it's not unexpected that as a nation we chose to do so officially only once a year, for one moment, at three in the afternoon.

The cemetery of my childhood is nothing like the cemeteries raw with wounds from receiving the constant flow of dead from our current wars. The families that meet there are no different from ours. Last summer, those families were experiencing a quite different sort of gathering; they probably talked about summer vacation, college plans, the best garden fertilizer and the price of gas.

And maybe next summer they'll do so again, only this time they'll also talk about the unseen presence; the open wound that closed in the grass of the cemetery but has yet to in their hearts. After all, their beloved missing died so that the front line could be kept far away from the rest of us, so that we wouldn't lose any more of our city skylines, so that we could celebrate the summer.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cooking Smells and Memories

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.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cheering Up

There's nothing like fitting into a teeny tiny, brown print bikini to get a girl's spirits up and boy do I fit into it! I went and tried some retail therapy yesterday, since it had been so, so long since I'd been shopping.

It didn't really work as well as I'd thought it would, but I did find the perfect summer dress at Target. It's very classic Greek style and light and floaty. Shopping at Target is always so hit or miss, some of their things I can't even recognize as clothing. Is it a shirt? A dress? A tunic? A shawl? Maybe all of the above. I have no idea.

The bikini was for Keith; I figured the next time he calls, if he's down, telling him that I purchased one would be guaranteed to please. Then he could spend all his free time day dreaming about going boating.

I know from prior experience that the sizes have no meaning on bikinis, so I simply gathered up every single size in both styles that I liked and headed to the fitting rooms for some serious pain in the ass. I was disappointed to realize that the size small top fit best. So that's where all the weight I lost came from. I don't have a figure up top anymore; I have only evidence that once, long ago, I might have.

I brought my Toby over to his new home yesterday, that was also contributing to it's being a very bad day in general. Even though his new home is spacious and full of everything a cat would desire; open windows, lots and lots of rooms to hide in and countless warm and appreciative laps to curl up on. It even has a garden with a fence tall enough that he can play in the garden and not get out. It's like kitty paradise.

But I still feel like a bad cat mom and was near tears many times yesterday. This morning I went downstairs and expected Toby to be there and getting in the way and wanting to eat some of my oatmeal, and it was just an empty room. I get home and struggle to close the door as quickly as possible so Toby doesn't sneak out, but there is no little grey cat under foot.

I also feel one step closer to the reality of moving. We have been pared down to the nuclear center; those remaining must all move on. In the meantime, I can visit my little guy every time I go to work and in six months, the transition will be complete. He's already every body's darling there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Turning Point

I realized something today, thank God. The thing about going through a deployment, or anything difficult, is that it becomes absolutely necessary to live in the exact moment that you are given. To step out of the moment causes everything that you have been given to be traded up for everything you wish you had. And it's a poor trade.

All today I was thinking about how it would feel if Keith were a civilian and he came to me and said, "Honey, I must go on a business trip. I have to leave in a few days and I'll be gone until August."

And then how devastated I would be. There goes our entire summer, I would think. What about all those barbecues? What about the fourth of July at my parent's? What about lying in the dark listening to the thunderstorm from the open windows of our bedroom? Or the smell of lake water on your skin, or taking turns putting on the aloe vera lotion after we've both turned as red as lobsters? What about all the love we would never make in that slow and sultry way in a warm, half lit evening while the fan whirled away? What about those things?

If he told me, "Don't worry, hun, it's just until August," I would not be comforted.

And that's if he were going somewhere like Cincinnati or Milwaukee. We could make plans to meet for a long weekend, maybe on the 4th. Make the most of it, get a nice hotel. I would look forward to it on the first week with out him, when I would be miserable thinking of the other nine long weeks I would be without him.

Then I switched up the scenario. I thought, what if he came to me and said, "Hun, I have to go on a business trip to the Middle East. I'll be in so much danger that I'll be paid hundreds of dollars more per month because of the risk to my life, but we'll be able to pay off the credit cards!

"Oh, and I need you to become my POA in case anything happens here because you have to take care of it; I won't be able to. You won't be able to reach me, you'll have to make the best decision you can. We need to review my will in case I die over there and I want you to give this to my mother and this to my brother and this to my father if I do die. Don't worry, I've bought additional life insurance, in case of death or dismemberment. You'll be fine; it's only until August."

Would I be comforted, knowing that he had only ten weeks of putting his life on the line? Would it console me to know that I would still be using the same bottle of conditioner by the time he came home, that the leaves that are on the trees will be on them still when he returns?And when we had reached the end of one week, would I think, "One week down and he is still alive and well; nine weeks to go?"

What has happened to my serenity? I turned away for one moment; I looked down and I saw that all along I was walking a tight rope across an abyss so wide I could not see the edge I had started from. And that at any moment I could lose everything that matters. I have been over this abyss for months and months and months; it has always been there and the exhaustion of ignoring it has worn down into me.

Now I am nearly to the other side and my legs are shaking, from the strain and the fear of being this close and not making it. I am beginning to wonder if there is no way for me to regain the oblivion that sheltered me for so long. I will have to in some way make my peace with fear. I have to stop wishing for what is not real.

What is real, for one, is Keith himself. He is real and he wears my ring on his left hand. This house, so quiet and warm, is real. The two girls are real, the cooling weather, the keyboard under my fingers.

The fear is also real, but it does not undo everything else that is. It's just a dark shadow that I must not focus on. There is no reason for the fear to define the proportions of my life and it will not, even though it will be, I suspect, my close companion for the rest of this journey.

Is there, I was wondering today, any reason in particular why I must continue to gain character? Why should this be necessary? Am I not already passable, at least? I mean, sure, I could use a little improvement, why not, but a deployment? Was that really necessary?

Whatever possesses us to engage life at this level, at the level where it is deeply uncomfortable? How and when do we learn that to turn away from the pain is to ultimately short change ourselves? Today I wished to raise my hand, to say, "Excuse me? I wish to be excused from class today. I need a hall pass."

But I couldn't. This is the life I was given, it is this moment that I'm living right now. I don't have another one available. And I can either choose to live fully, right now in this space, or to check out and miss something that I will never get back again. And I decided long ago, for right or wrong, that I would never live like that, like a ghost in my own life; I have far, far too much to be grateful for.

Over There

I'm stuck down here in the middle of the month. The first half always flies by so effortlessly and it's with joy that I see the days flip by, one by one by one. And then the bottom half gets all bogged down and drags. By the time the new month has arrived, I feel exhausted.

I kept thinking of Keith all day and night. It doesn't help that he is right now doing the most dangerous thing that he has in the entire deployment. It doesn't help that he is the type of man to tell me so, straight up and then to ask for more prayer. It weighs on me. I haven't talked about it, because I haven't wanted to draw attention to it. And I was doing pretty good ignoring it until I heard his tone of voice yesterday.

I know he has reserves of endurance and strength that I can't begin to imagine and that he has been in many ways conditioned to what he is going through. His first deployment was far worse; he spent three months straight in his tank, eating nothing but turkey MREs. To this day he can't stand turkey and won't eat it. We will never have a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.

When he did get orders to come back in and arrived at a FOB that served hot food, he and his crew went straight there without washing up or changing their uniforms. The guards at the canteen took one look at them with their wild eyes and said nothing.

Keith got all the way through the line until he reached the pizza. Now, Keith has a thing for pizza. When he got home from R&R, we ate pizza four nights out of the seven. We ate pizza on our first date. One of our best memories is of making pizza at home. So, even though his tray was loaded with other good things, this was the mecca.

However, he was so exhausted and tense that his hands were shaking. When he reached for the pizza, his tray over balanced and everything slipped off and fell to the floor. As he was telling me this story, when he got to this part he turned to me and his eyes were full of depth.

"It took everything I had not to eat the food off the floor," he said quietly.

Instead, he cleaned everything up and went to the back of the line. The second time through, he kept a firm grip with both shaking hands on the tray at all times, ate too much and got sick later on.

I have an excellent imagination, but it is very hard for me to imagine what his life is like right now. When I try, I see heat and a vast jumble of canvas tents spreading out for miles and metal boxes and the days and nights tupsey turvy and broken sleep and long, trudging marches in the unrelenting heat and confusion and noise and insects and dust and grime everywhere.

The phones are somewhere far away, he has a hard time getting money out of his account, his cell phone does not work, the Internet is far away in a different direction. Everything seems to be sprawled out and overcrowded; it makes the simplest of tasks complicated.

Despite this, when he calls he is usually cheerful and affectionate, or determined with a fierce pride in what he does that shines through and makes his complaints about the difficulties sound more like bragging about accomplishments. This is very reassuring to me.

When his voice comes across all ragged and colorless, so thick with exhaustion that I almost can't recognize him, it is alarming. He sounded beaten down. And then in turn the house feels empty and closed in; I pace around, searching for some kind of distraction and finding nothing.

He'll call me again, either today or tomorrow and be his usual self and everything will return to normal. But I just want to be done with this stupid deployment. I don't want anymore ups and downs. I want a slow, steady return to normal. I want him on a long, even descent to the landing strip. I don't want anythng upsetting things, not this close to the end, not when we are almost there.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Phone Connection

Today it rained, a heavy, thundering downpour that rattled the windows and caused the smell of wet pavement to rise into the air. I can still hear it, the gurgling in the drainpipes. The house is full of blue light.

Keith called. He was calling from what must have been a land line, so I could actually hear his voice pretty well. He sounded terrible, but at first he was all business so I was afraid to ask him what was wrong. Finally I did and apparently he's had a really bad day and couldn't talk about it.

I don't know if it was the phone connection; maybe he's sounded like this before and I hadn't caught it? But it broke my heart. He sounded so much older than he really is. He's only twenty nine. His voice held the exhaustion and fortitude of someone much, much older.

I was literally wracking my brains to think of something to cheer him up when I thought of the utility bill. He has installed all energy star efficient appliances in the house, including the air conditioner and the heater, so he's always excited to see how low the bill is and this month it was the lowest in a long time-the heater has been off for weeks now.

"Guess what, Sweetie!" I exclaimed, leaping up from my perch on the stairs and going to the cluttered bill counter. "The utility bill came in! It was only XX amount!" I waved it around in the air as though he could see it.

And oh, thank God, he laughed. It was a tired laugh, but genuine for all that. "That's pretty good, you little kitten," he said.

And then I thought of how crazy with excitement Abby had gone when she came across Toby the cat in the cat carrier. Toby was on his way to the vet, poor guy. Abby thought that having the cat contained in a small carrier was the absolute best thing in life ever. Her body literally went all rigid with focus. It was as though she had cornered a prize duck, all on her own.

I explained this to Keith and this time he actually really did laugh and then he let out his breath in a long rush. I could hear the stress draining from his body. But all day today I have been wandering around, worried about him. And feeling vaguely guilty that I am so happy and have such a good life.

Even though I know good and well that Keith loves to think of me enjoying our house and if he knows that I am happy and contented that it goes a long way toward him feeling the same. I just wish there were something else I could do. I just want him home so I can actually hold him in my arms and give him a thousand kisses and feed him.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Summer has cracked open like a malachite-
Saturated green from one edge to the other.
Making everywhere inviting, promising
deviled eggs, chocolate layer cake and love.
The ice cream truck sends its siren song loose
In the backwater neighborhoods and young
Love in body piercings walks hand and hand,
Leavings soapy scents of strawberry at least
A yard or so behind.

The birds are bold and the fragile fragments
of their eggs sink slowly into the grass. Women
receive summer catalogues with dread, plan out
tightly scheduled diets as detailed as any general’s

Cantaloupe are three for a dollar and the milky, bruised
Yellow of summer squash are piled high and sold cheap.
They are taken home and grilled. Geraniums become
Impulse purchases, they ride home in back seats full of sun,
Twirl slowly on back porches or front steps.

In the evening, the cries of the children gathered in
Are heard against the still and bluing air. They protest,
They stall, they bargain with devilish skill and then,
Wailing, disconsolate, they are taken in to baths
And then to bed, where they throw the sheets off
and dream in the lilac scented night; the crickets
keep them good company.

A Mishmash Post

There is a difference between chunk light tuna and solid white albacore, my friends, and it is worth the extra dime. That is the lesson I have learned today. It has been one of those days.

I awoke from a dream of intergalactic warfare on a miniature, though tragic scale. It was barely six o'clock in the morning and the dogs were tussling on the rug at the foot of the bed. No sooner had I dragged my butt down the stairs to eject them into the great Back Yard than my cat decided to follow me back upstairs yowling.

When I crawled back into bed, a whiff of my dream returned to me, as it sometimes does, but I could no longer remember it very well. I just knew many small warriors had given their lives for a good cause, taken down by cannibalistic aliens in a fire of sparks. (I should have known better than to eat right before sleeping.)

At eight thirty I was suddenly and completely awake and the air of the upstairs bedroom was already warm and stale. I felt irritable and disorganized; I knew there were many practical tasks ahead of me that day and I hate practical tasks.

We cannot take our cat with us on our move. We could, but we (and by we, I mean Keith) have decided not too. I am ambivalent about this decision; I rarely have time for poor Toby anymore and feel guilty about neglecting him. On the other hand, I promised him he would have a home for the rest of his life when I adopted him. To give him away again would mark me forever as a Bad Person.

It turns out work may have a place for him, among those with advanced dementia. I went wild with joy at the prospect and now am in the bitter grip of fear that something will happen to prevent this perfect solution.

Consequently, I was on a mission to track down his records. This involved many calls to several different vets and anxiety about how much everything will cost. And where the hell did my cat carrier go to? And should I buy one just to transport him? Or should I borrow one, but from whom? I hate decisions, they are like mosquitoes and the smaller they are, the more annoying.

I made coffee to soothe myself, but this only reminded me that I was running short of coffee. And dog food and bananas and milk. There was a check I needed to deposit. Off I went, driving first a long way in one direction to the bank and then back another long way to get groceries.

None of the songs on the radio were what I wanted to hear. I didn't notice a blinking school zone and never slowed down for it, thus becoming a Bad Citizen. When I got home I was hot to the touch from having stewed in the little metal box of a car.

To top it all off, a letter came in the mail today from the dental insurance which seems to be saying that they aren't going to pay as much as the dental office had said they would. But I can't be sure, because insurance bills employ a type of English that is not taught in the public school system, it is closely akin to The Black Speech and one does not speak it aloud in case it catches Sauron's attention.

-For those of you who did not grow up thinking that Middle Earth had a genuine place in human history, The Black Speach is a language Tolkien make up for his character Sauron and those who lived in Mordor to speak.

In case you were wondering, I was the girl that had created a dictionary of Elvish, both High and Low, and was in the process of laboriously teaching myself the language. I was also the girl who read the Silmarillion at the open window aloud by the light of a summer evening.-

Into my messy, broken egg kind of day came a call from my husband. Thank God for his firm and practical grip on reality. He dismissed the dental insurance mix up, certain that it would work out and if it didn't, we would have enough to pay for it. He had an equally calm attitude toward the cat's situation.

There was even time to tell him about my epic battle against a moth. I don't mind any other of creature in this wild, wild Kingdom. I do sometimes question the necessity for the centipede, but am willing to accept. Ants, worms and beetles I can hold in my hand. But a moth will have me undone in a moment.

One of my worst nightmares as a child involved a moth. My grandparents had an old, rusty truck half way up the track to the backwoods garden. In my dream I was playing there, during a scorched and hazy summer day when I looked down to see a large, fuzzy moth clinging to my tee shirt.

Revulsion suffused my soul. I could not take the shirt off, it would bring the creature too close to my face. I could not squash it, that was unthinkable. I would have to touch it. (I shudder with horror just to write the nightmare out, twenty years later.)

Gingerly, I placed my fingers on the soft, fuzzy body of the creature and tugged. It would not come loose. I pulled harder, it stretched the fabric of my shirt out like a tent when suddenly its fuzzy body burst in my fingers. It woke me straight up and I had to go back into the nightmare and make up how it ended, which is what I would do to calm myself after the very worst of them.

Poor moths. Others have described them poetically, soft white forms in the twilight. They are harmless and of scientific interest. People happily hunt them with nets and used to display them with pins.

I, on the other hand, do the terrified dance (you know, the quick, mincing steps while wringing one's hands and squealing.) Oh, how I longed for Keith! Throughout the entire deployment, never until that very moment did I so need him.

It had alighted upon the bedside lamp shade. I could not ignore it. Who knew where it might go in the night? It might brush against my cheek, crawl into the covers, bumble about in the dark. It had to be killed.

The dogs were no help, Abbie looked at me with her warm, brown eyes. She did not know the "Eat Moth" command. Finally I thought of my husband's spider killer under the kitchen sink.

So, picture this. There is a girl in blue and white stripped flannel PJs bathed in the warm glow of a lamp. She is hopping about and shuddering with horror, she clutches the spray can to her chest and takes a deep breath. Hands shaking, she directs the can toward a calm and unsuspecting moth.

The can sprays, she squeals and dances backward, the moth does a death agony against the base of the lamp, where it is sprayed again and then falls to the carpet between the bedside table and the wall. There it dies in oblivion.

The entire rest of the night I slept uneasily, wondering if it wasn't actually dead and would craw up the bed skirt and into bed with me, or across my pillow with decaying body dragging.

Dear God, save me from the consequences of my own imagination, for they are immense.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

True Confessions of an Army Wife

Keith got his orders. We will be reporting to a new duty station by December.

He called to tell me this on a Sunday, when I was behind the receptionist desk, trying to figure out the tangled web of which mother and grandmother were going with family and which were going to church; kind of like resident tug-o-war. The church volunteer, in her zeal, appropriated Mother and took her off to church while I was calling Daughter to be sure this was actually suppose to happen. (It was.)

"I have some news," he said, in this Voice. The voice, along with the fact that he never calls on a Sunday anymore and had just called me for our usual talk just a day before, combined in such a way as to make my stomach queasy. What news; what dread news could this be?

"I drew orders for such and such a state," he said.

And oh, how I did love that state in that moment! That state was a joy, a delight to my heart! That state was my best friend! My delight melted away most of his trepidation; it turns out his Voice was due to his dread that I would flip out over not being able to stay here.

I hung up the phone and the world was transformed. Several things coalesced for me in that moment. One, I realized that I really, truly was an Army wife. The Army had called and I would follow; I must follow. I was being moved. I would learn more lingo; duty station, for example.

I would supervise the packing of the household goods and keep lists of what was in each one and what room they would go in. I would be organized and decisive, I would be like a pioneer woman heading off into the hazy distance with her husband by her side, their few wordly possessions in the wagon behind them, with nothing but their courage and determination.

Or something along those lines. Also, in that moment I went from young adult to adult. For ten years I have been basically rootless, wandering at will. But now I had cast my lot in completely with another; I had grown up.

I realized that even though I had left childhood a long time ago, I had kept the door open and had been standing on the threshold, where I could see down into both worlds. With the news that we would be moving, I felt the door swing gently shut. There was a rightness in this feeling, I felt complete and at peace. I could look down into my childhood and troubled early adulthood with a new and gracious perspective. I was free now to move forward into the future.

The rest of the day passed in a haze as I felt this transformation continue inside of myself. I rarely ever call people on the phone; that day I called five or so people to tell them the news. I felt like I had to, in order to make it even more real to me.

When I returned to the house, it had changed. Something had gone out of it. I was fond of the house, I always would be, but I no longer really lived there. Somebody else would cut the grass, would chat with good neighbor Larry over the fence.

All of this caused me to remember with great vividness my first few impressions of Army life; especially the spouses. I remembered when he was issued some new equipment a few weeks before he deployed. The tailgate of the truck was down, the garage door was open; it was a bright, sunny afternoon. All his new gear was scattered over the tailgate.

There was some sort of new carrying pouch for ammunition; it involved a lot of interwoven nylon straps. I bent my fingers to this task with intense concentration, aware that I was putting together with my own hands something he would wear in the field.

He was trying to figure out this new piece of equipment that was meant to protect the back of his neck, below the helmet. I looked up to see him trying it on in front of the mirror.

"It feels comfortable," he muttered to himself, satisfied.

I felt a surge of primal rage. I literally saw red. I realized that in all the years up until it was just now issued, soldiers had gone into battle without it, and died. What other gaps were still overlooked? Secondly, how was such a tiny piece of equipment suppose to safeguard my husband's life? He seemed oblivious to this; his only concern whether or not it was irritating to wear.

I understood suddenly the stories of Army wives going berserk at FRG meetings, storming into company commander's offices, the result being that their men back in the sand box got called into other offices and chewed out. The wife who had done this had told me this story herself, while her husband helped Keith with the arrangement of his class As before the Promotion Board.

I remember looking at her and realizing that my mouth had dropped open. One, that she would have those kind of cahones. Two, that she appeared proud of having gotten her husband into trouble and three, that her behavior could get him in trouble; this meant of course, that Keith would in turn be held responsible for me. Dear god, I thought. What have I gotten myself into.

I was terrified of this woman; unfortunately, being the first Army wife that I had any real contact with, she then formed the basis of my conception of them. I visualized other Army wives as being tough, strong, abrasive and tenacious; all of them not afraid to voice their opinion, getting involved in company politics and storming about, writing letters to Congressmen and organizing group action.

It didn't help that she was kind to my face and then talked bad about me behind my back. It was my first taste of this sort of thing and I felt deeply betrayed, shocked. I wondered why she didn't like me; what had I said wrong? Had I dressed wrong? What negative consequences would this have for my husband, who reported to her husband?

Except that we weren't married at this time, and neither she nor her husband thought Keith should marry me. They publicly called him out at a barbecue I had not attended, due to work, calling him stupid for moving so fast into a relationship with me. They feared that I was in some way using him. They warned him not to marry me, they warned him above all not to get me pregnant.

Keith had a very good friend that he felt responsible for and we would often stop by their house. The men had been through an earlier deployment together; it has fused this bond that there were no words for. His wife constantly acted toward me as though I were trying to marry Keith for his money and would try to either warn me or brush me off.

Many times I wanted to sit down with her, woman to woman, and say in a very straight forward and common sense kind of way, "Look, I gave up a very lucrative position in management and broke a very expensive lease on my apartment in order to come down here and marry Keith. Money is in no way motivating me. If I had been interested in a man solely based on his financial worth, I would have married the man who had a PhD and owned a three hundred thousand dollar house with tennis rackets and a jacuzzi tub in an upscale suburban neighborhood. But I didn't marry him, I'm going to marry Keith, and I'm going to marry Keith because I love him. It really quite simple."

Obviously, we never did have this conversation.

Looking back, I guess it's no wonder I never felt comfortable on post or in my role as Army wife; I didn't fit the picture that was presented to me. The other Army wives I met were ten years or so younger than I was, already with their first child; the way they spoke and moved brought back images of High School.

Keith had invited them and their men to a barbecue at the house. I felt as though I were simultaneously an Aunt figure and a novice. They were very nice, friendly girls and I liked them, but I had no idea how to talk to them. I couldn't tell if they were being friendly to me because of Keith's rank or because they actually liked me.

They admired my kitchen, the appliances; I hadn't lived there long enough to really feel as if it was mine to begin with, so I was shy about the attention. We all did shots together, secretly stealing the liquor away from the men. When one husband found out, he was really and truly angry; there was a scene and I was very uncomfortable, amazed that they would argue so publicly.

I met other Army wives when I went with Keith to a poker night. I dreaded this and did not want to go; Keith begged me to. He wanted to show me off. We'd been married only a few days; hardly anyone had met me and there was a lot of intense curiosity. We made a deal; I would go only if Keith gave his word that we would leave at twelve on the dot.

"Answer questions directly," he instructed me, as we were driving there. "Don't try to draw attention to yourself and don't get involved in the bullshitting; you're in with the Big Boys now."

"And why am I going?" I asked tersely. "You're not making this easier."

"You'll be fine," he said.

I was so terrified going up the front steps of the house that it was difficult to focus on anything. We were met by a large party of young people who were heading out unexpectedly to pick up a relative at the airport.

The women were young and dressed in tight and bright clothing. Their eyes swept over me, assessing and then away, dismissing. I wore washed out, boot legged jeans and a soft pink tee shirt with cap sleeves and a scooped neck; my long hair was down and I wore thin framed, oval glasses that kept slipping down the bridge of my nose; I was clearly no threat.

I was taken out to the back porch where I was introduced to an entire group of young, lounging men. I was assessed in a completely different way and they attempted to make casual conversation with me. It was difficult to think of how to respond, it took all my concentration not to hide behind Keith's bulky frame. I could tell by their confused expressions that they were trying to figure out if I was stupid or just socially inept.

Keith, on the other hand, was like a fish in water. He wore his black cowboy hat and sagging jeans, steel toed boots and a ripped tee shirt. He casually turned his head and spit over the railing, he bullshitted with great confidence and comfort, with a never ending steam of the worst sort of profanity.

We sat around the table in the dining room; the walls were bare and white, small clots of hyper children surged and retreated like the tide; their mothers scolded loudly or ignored. The light shown down harshly, every one but me had a beer. The chips were counted, the card were dealt.

I was sitting very close to Keith, my hand covering my mouth, watching everything silently. The men were huge and powerful from the inside out, rough around the edges; dangerous. They were all NCOs but one, they were like sharks, powerful and barely controlled; they insulted one another continuously, effortlessly. Keith fit right in; I realized this was his natural habitat.

Many of the women played. I could tell the women in this particular group had fallen into two camps; they had either decided to join the men, bullshitting and insulting like the best of them, or had somehow found a way to be themselves in the midst of it. Only one woman had found out how to do the latter option, she was older and serenely pregnant, good natured and good humored. Her husband was the senior NCO in the room. It was their house.

The other women couldn't play the game as well as the men and kept getting the raw end of the deal. They appeared inured to this. They appeared to me to have incredibly tough skin.

Keith played poker with some kind of casual brilliance; he never seemed to be focused on the cards or even to be watching them. His hand gestures were abrupt, smooth; the brim of the hat shaded his eyes, he never let up on the unending stream of insults and observations that had nothing to do with the cards. And yet he raked in more and more chips, stacking them in tall columns by his elbow.

This pissed off several people around the table; one girl got burned and said to her husband apologetically, "I can't read him," and then to Keith, puzzled, "I can't read you."

"It's ok, hun," Keith said, with unexpected gentleness. "It's just the cards."

The young man beside Keith got burned and started a line of insults that were something quite different from the usual background noise. The men all sharpened their attention; I sensed a certain kind of tenseness in Keith, a readiness. A few more insults later and Keith stood and immediately the other men intervened; the young man stopped the insults but stewed away to himself.

It came closer and closer to twelve; I was continually watching the clock, counting down each minute that I had to stay in this overheated, unstable hell of an environment. I had completely given up caring what anyone thought of me; I knew I had made a terrible impression and I gave it up as a lost cause. I simply didn't fit in and never would.

Keith seemed oblivious to this, he was clearly delighted that I was there. Besides, he wasn't showing off so much how I looked as how I behaved. He had guessed exactly how I would react, he had been counting on it. No one, he knew, had guessed that the broad that had squirmed into his life in so startling and permanent a manner would turn out to be a soft spoken, incredibly shy young woman who sat quietly and didn't drink.

At one point he tilted his head toward me, a wordless invitation to kiss and my body knew his so well that I responded as though this were a conversation I knew by heart.

"Cut it out," said one of the men casually, with a dry amusement. "There are married people here."

When the clock hit twelve, I leaned forward and put my mouth to Keith's ear; he inclined his head receptively.

"It's twelve," I said with unbridled relief.

"Hun," he said gravely, "I can't just leave, not when I've won all this money; it wouldn't look right. I have to give them a chance to get it back. I didn't tell them at the beginning that I had to leave at twelve."

I figured he must be telling the truth, it seemed to make sense, but I was so crushed.

"You gave your word," I whispered back. I couldn't bear at that moment to argue publicly; I wanted no one to know.

"Give me one more hour," he whispered back. "I'll tell the men right now they have an hour."

This is what happened, he announced that he had made a deal with me and had to leave in one hour.

"We all have bosses," said the senior NCO dryly.

The hour went by with excruciating slowness. At one point, the soldier on my other side attempted to flirt with me. I looked at him in stunned amazement. Did he know my husband at all? What could he possibly be thinking? He put his hand on my thigh for a moment and I looked down at it and then back up at him. My face must have been a study.

I knew I was being a poor sport; I should engage in the game, it was considered harmless. I don't know how I knew that, it just seemed to be that way. But I also knew that Keith loved me with as much abandon as he did because, in part, he knew I could not, and indeed did not know how to play this particular sport and his trust was all that mattered to me. Everyone else was a stranger that I might never see again.

I stonily ignored the man for most of the evening. His eyes sometimes fell on me with troubled sadness, a soft rebuke. "Why?" he seemed to be asking. Later on in the evening I took pity on him and we talked, but because I had drawn the lines so clearly, he did not try again to flirt.

The hour passed by and Keith said that he had to play three more hands. I knew that he was pulling my leg now, that he was trying to see what he could get away with. I considered and decided to give him one more hand and to pull the plug at the second one. I did not tell him this. I decided that I would make a public scene if he refused; it was now one am and I would behave like a fish wife in the market place if I had to.

He played that hand and I pulled the plug. He argued, I stood firm. He pleaded, I refused. Everyone watched. I ignored them. He got sulky; I didn't care. We took our leave, the other men were not impressed with me. I said goodbye with impunity; they could think what they liked, I would never go to another poker game with Keith.

And I did not, even though he wanted me to, very much.

"Have you forgotten what it was like the first time?" I asked him, amazed. "Do you remember the huge argument we got into because I made you leave?"

Either he didn't remember or he didn't care, but I didn't go. I gathered my initial impressions of Army wives from these interactions. Eventually though, I had the pleasure of meeting other Army wives that did not fit the mold that these experiences had made in my mind.

"Don't worry," said one, when she invited me out. "We don't do drama."

My eyes widened, her statement was both a confirmation and a relief. When we went out, it was true. The girls were younger than I, but they were gracious and dignified, or quirky and sweet. They had come to terms with the Army life. I never knew what rank their men were and it didn't matter.

We bonded over the common experience of deployment, care packages and R&R plans. We spoke the common language.

Through blogging, I found a whole other world of Army wives and Military wives and breathed in a long, deep sigh of relief. I was not alone. There were lots of other wives just like me, who were proud of their men, proud of their country and yet remained themselves.

And now I am going deeper into the territory; I will be more absorbed into it. But I'm not as afraid anymore. I understand there are as many different kinds of Army wives as there are women and I can make a place for myself within the culture. Hell, I might even buy a sticker for my car.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Summer Classes for Men

(One of my besties sent this to me and I thought it was too absolutely hilarious not to share.)
Summer Classes for Men at
By Friday, June 29th 2009
Class 1
How To Fill Up The Ice Cube Trays--Step by Step, with Slide Presentation.
Meets 4 weeks, Monday and Wednesday for 2 hours beginning at 7:00 PM.
Class 2
The Toilet Paper Roll--Does It Change Itself? Round Table Discussion.
Meets 2 weeks, Saturday 12:00 for 2 hours.
Class 3
Is It Possible To Urinate Using The Technique Of Lifting The Seat and Avoiding The Floor, Walls and Nearby Bathtub?--Group Practice.
Meets 4 weeks, Saturday 10:00 PM for 2 hours.
Class 4
Fundamental Differences Between The Laundry Hamper and The Floor--Pictures and Explanatory Graphics.
Meets Saturdays at 2:00 PM for 3 weeks.
Class 5
Dinner Dishes--Can They Levitate and Fly Into The Kitchen Sink?
Examples on Video.
Meets 4 weeks, Tuesday and Thursday for 2 hours beginning At 7:00 PM
Class 6
Loss Of Identity--Losing The Remote To Your Significant Other.
Help Line Support and Support Groups.
Meets 4 Weeks, Friday and Sunday 7:00 PM
Class 7
Learning How To Find Things--Starting With Looking In The Right Places And Not Turning The House Upside Down While Screaming.
Open Forum Monday at 8:00 PM, 2 hours.
Class 8
Health Watch--Bringing Her Flowers Is Not Harmful To Your Health.
Graphics and Audio Tapes.
Three nights; Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 7:00 PM for 2 hours.
Class 9
Real Men Ask For Directions When Lost--Real Life Testimonials.
Tuesdays at 6:00 PM Location to be determined
Class 10
Is It Genetically Impossible To Sit Quietly While She Parallel Parks?
Driving Simulations.
4 weeks, Saturday's noon, 2 hours.
Class 11
Learning to Live--Basic Differences Between Mother and Wife.
Online Classes and role-playing Tuesdays at 7:00 PM, location to be determined
Class 12
How to be the Ideal Shopping Companion
Relaxation Exercises, Meditation and Breathing Techniques.
Meets 4 weeks, Tuesday and Thursday for 2 hours beginning at 7:00 PM.
Class 13
How to Fight Cerebral Atrophy--Remembering Birthdays, Anniversaries and Other Important Dates and Calling When You're Going To Be Late. Cerebral Shock Therapy Sessions and Full Lobotomies Offered.
Three nights; Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 7:00 PM for 2 hours.
Class 14
The Stove/Oven-- What It Is and How It Is Used.
Live Demonstration.
Tuesdays at 6:00 PM, location to be determined.
Upon completion of any of the above courses, diplomas will be issued to the survivors.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Caught up in the Introspection

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.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Eight Things

I got tagged by Melissa over at New Girl on Post to do the Eight Things Meme that has been floating about the blogosphere. Thanks for the tag, Melissa, this was fun!

8 Things I Look Forward To...
#1.) Going mad along with other crazed women some time in mid August when the ceremony is over and or falling on my face while trying to run toward Keith.
#2.) No longer tasting at the back of my mouth nasty ooze from gums that are, I hope and pray, healing up.
#3.) Stuffing my face with crispy foods-it's amazing just how many foods are crispy. Grilled cheese is, and bacon. Chocolate chip cookies, even.
#4.) The end of May. (I know. I should appreciate May while May is here and I do. I love May. But I will love it more in retrospect, I'm sure.)
#5.) Reading the rest of "Cat's Eye" by Margaret Atwood, as this is a marvelous book and not at all about vanity as I had thought at the very beginning.
#6.) The unspecified date in the future when I will actually clean out the car.
#7.) Temperatures in the upper eighties. Mmmm. Heat.
#8.) Driving along somewhere in mid America, listening to the radio and feeling the wind on my face and knowing that we will stop for dinner somewhere soon and then find a place to camp and sleep in the bed of the truck, squashed together on the air mattress with the stars and the dark canopy of leaves above.

8 Things I Did Yesterday
#1.) Balanced on the edge of the curb at Village Inn while talking on the cell phone with Keith and telling him I missed his sweaty shirts. Ahh, the sweaty shirts! The damp cotton, the warmth, the smell of him.
#2.) Watched my brother and his young son from across the booth, amazed at how alike they are.
#3.) Sat on the lawn and weeded with my mom. (My lawn appears to be growing lettuces.)
#4.) Watched "Antiques Roadshow" with Mom and laughing uproariously at the feedback session at the end.
#5.) Watched the Rockies white with snow come rising crisp and sharp over the high, sloping edge of a green hill.
#6.) Discussed the meaning of Robert Frost's poem "A Prayer for Spring" with dear, resident poet Jack and laughing so much that my mouth hurt for hours afterward.
#7.) Kissed my dogs several hundred times and talked the worst kind of baby talk to them.
#8.) Stayed awake hour after hour after hour imagining the moment of meeting Keith and that night and the next day and the week later and then back to the moment of meeting him, and so on and so forth and suddenly it was five am and I hadn't slept at all.

8 Things I Love
#1.) Waking up in the morning with sunlight pouring in through the white, wooden blinds, knowing I will pad about lazily in bare feet, coffee in hand, watering my plants and blinking in the sun.
#2.) The fact that I don't call or write my best friends for weeks (and sometimes months!) and they remain, still, my best friends.
#3.) My dog Lynn's ability to read my mind.
#4.) The slowly gathering numbness of narcotics. Mmmm, Vicodin.
#5.) Hearing the cell phone ring and seeing "keith?" on the display.
#6.) The fact that I can surround myself with music at the touch of a button, at anytime, day or night. What luxury. Seriously. In what other age did people have this luxury?
#7.) The warm comfort of hugging my mom. She is most huggable.
#8.) Sleeping with the window open and hearing bird song at three am.

8 Things I Wish I Could Do:
#1.) Fly
#2.) Wish magically for a gallon of milk and have it appear without having to go fetch it from the grocery store.
#3.) Play the piano brilliantly.
#4.) Buy a plane ticket to Iraq, sneak into the back of a van, infiltrate Keith's FOB in the early morning hours and crawl into his sleeping bag with him. This wish has many different variations; it all ends the same way.
#5.) Sew darling little summer frocks.
#6.) Actually sit down and write the next damn chapter in my long neglected novel.
#7.) Speak ten languages fluently and work as a translater at the U.N., with a sophisticated flat in NY with a view of the park and wear understated, classic outfits to work with shoes that cost more than my car insurance and drink French martinis. (Next life? And Keith can be my sexy CIA agent husband from the Midwest, still with long eye lashes and drawling voice, copper colored hair and a taste for whiskey.)
#8.) Get pregnant in the first three months after Keith gets home, in order to give birth before his next deployment. But I'll take whatever comes.

8 Shows I watch:
#1.) Extreme Home Makeover. Watch out for this show; be prepared to bawl your eyes out.
#2.) The World News with Charles Gibson; mostly because when he says "Good night, and I hope you had a good day," I really believe that he does hope that and am flattered.
#3.) Dancing with the Stars, though it annoyed me that the fans don't allow the judges to criticize anyone. It's a competition, people. And I think Shawn Johnson is so cute.
#4.) That slightly corny Sherlock Holmes show on PBS.
#5.) Ummm.....I don't watch that much TV. I used to watch Celebrity Apprentice until Clint Black became maniacal and the tension got too much to handle.
#6.) Sometimes I watch Judge Judy on rainy or otherwise depressing afternoons, but invariably the shows makes it more depressing (how can people make those kind of choices, live those kind of lives?) and I end up turning it off.
#7.) The local news, affectionately nick named "Mistakes Are Us" that daily includes such entertainment as "wrong sound clip," "not turning the camera away from the poor newscasters," "wrong video clip," and "no picture at all," which is a particularly exciting one.
#8.) Oprah, if I can remember to turn it on at the right time.

I'm not going to tag anyone but I actually enjoyed doing this meme a lot, and would love to read others!