“Do you need me to drive?” My aunt was concerned with my breakdown, and she probably wasn’t expecting to die on this holiday drive to Arkansas because I was sobbing and couldn’t see the road. My tears didn’t surprise me anymore. I had grown used to sobbing. I guess that’s what happens when your marriage is dying, tears become normal and peace becomes strange. “I’m okay,” I tried to reassure Debbie, and then I started talking through it.
I needed to deal with the facts and place each one where it belonged. I’ve been called to Afghanistan. I’m in the military. It’s part of my duty to serve wherever I’m called to go. I had deployed four times before. I wasn’t afraid of the danger. Dying in Afghanistan didn’t scare me; I wasn’t really alive in this season of my life anyway. But as soon as I stepped foot on the airplane to take me away from Illinois, I would mark the end of my marriage. I did not have the strength to fight for it from Afghanistan. I talked through all these facts, giving them shape and calming my nerves with the reality of each of them.
And then my youngest son said something, or did something from the back of the rented mini-van, and he broke through the compartment in my mind where I had placed the boys. I broke again, a fresh wealth of tears where there should have been none remaining, and I thought of my children and everything I would miss while away. A sad movie highlight reel of moments streamed through my mind: my oldest starting kindergarten and mom wasn’t there; my youngest learning to potty train and mom wasn’t there; my sons’ birthday parties, at least one for each, and mom wasn’t there. I could not process the loss yet. Not yet. NOT yet.
After four hours on the highways between Illinois and Arkansas, we arrived in Rose Bud, a small town of about 400 people situated north of Little Rock. Thanksgiving was the next day, and our family was excited to spend time together eating, drinking, and laughing. But for me, I didn’t think laughing was possible. I was still trying my best to compartmentalize the different disasters in my life as we pulled into my aunt and uncle’s driveway. Be normal, I reminded myself. I didn’t know yet that normal wasn’t needed, laughter was a must, drinking was inevitable and Black Friday shopping was mandatory.