Like Santa’s elves, we hauled the goods from Black Friday shopping back to my aunt and uncle’s house in Rose Bud. The rest of the day was filled with a few unfulfilling hours of exhausted sleep, then plates of leftover turkey, potatoes and corn, and, finally, calls to my family in Indiana. I hadn’t wanted to ruin Thanksgiving for them, or me, by telling anyone about my upcoming yearlong deployment. Whenever a substantial struggle presented itself in my life (divorce, sickness, a year in a war zone away from my sons), it was important that, before I told anyone the news, I was able to handle the concerned reactions. Sometimes, the love of others was too heavy to carry when I was barely able to lift my own chin. All my energy went to simply functioning. Until my marriage was breaking, I never realized the strength needed just to share my life with others. I barely survived telling family and friends when my husband moved out, and now I had to tell them about my deployment, while calming their fears that I wasn’t going to have a nervous breakdown. Unsure if I was rebuilt enough to handle this next struggle, I started dialing the numbers, and the phone calls to family and friends were, as expected, exhausting.
“I’ve been selected for a 365 to Afghanistan. I leave for pre-deployment training on the third of January.” It didn’t matter very much who received the news; the responses were interchangeable.
“Oh, Nancy, honey! Where are the boys going to go? Won’t you miss their birthdays and holidays? How are you going to get ready to leave in just 30 days? Gone for a whole year! Why would you need to go for an entire year? Will you be in danger? You won’t recognize the boys when you get back.”
I knew they didn’t mean to be cruel. The concern simply voiced every fear and doubt that resided in my head. But I knew the fears and doubts I held inside were also held by the people who loved me. They wanted me to give calming, reasonable, panic-dampening answers to reassure them that I was okay with the deployment. If I was okay, they could be okay, too. I could bear the weight of nearly all their concerns except one: “What does your husband say?”
The phone call to my stranger-like husband wouldn’t come until after we returned to Illinois. I needed time. I needed to pretend, for just awhile longer, that I could laugh again, and feel content again, and be normal again, because it had been so long that I almost forgot that I could. I needed the extra days to wrap my mind around the implications of this deployment. I had never deployed as a mother before. I had never deployed for a year before, and I was being sent to the same location where my husband became a stranger in the first place. My hand shook as I dialed the number to his cell phone.