Yes, you read that right. This is a 500 level class. Maybe even higher! Okay, so maybe not everyone has as much trouble as I do with this subject. But after you read this you will understand.
One of the greatest events in military life is the homecoming. Think of those iconic photos of soldiers in uniform kissing their sweethearts. The ticker tape parades, the balloons, the fanfare. Babies meeting their fathers for the first time.
These moments mean the end of a very long, very stressful period. Deployments are hard. For everyone. The soldiers are lonely and sometimes in life threatening situations. The families are worried and anxious. The children are cranky and confused. Homecomings are the ultimate relief to all of this.
Too bad I haven't had one yet.
True, my husband has been deployed and come home. So in that sense we had a homecoming. But I have somehow missed out on some secret code of the military life.
The first deployment was shortly after we were married. I knew nothing, NOTHING!!! about the military. I quickly learned that the unofficial motto of the Army is "Hurry Up and Wait".
SO when my husband said he would arrive at 8am I expected 9, 9:30 at least. I had a nursing baby at the time. I decided to get up, feed the baby and get to the homecoming ceremony around 6:30. That seemed more than reasonable...right? Imagine my surprise when my husband calls at 6:00 wondering where I am. We were disappointed that we didn't have that "moment" but it was fine. We were just happy to be together again.
Secretly, I made a note to myself that I would show up earlier the next time.
There were a couple of unofficial deployments where there was no ceremony. He just showed up at the hangar or the house and that was it. No real fanfare except from me and the kids.
Then he went to Iraq for a year. It was tough, I won't lie to you. I worked hard to keep things running smoothly. I ran myself ragged so I wouldn't have to think about loneliness and danger. When I got the call that he was coming home I kicked things into high gear. I cleaned the house from top to bottom. I stocked the fridge. I made banners.
He was due in on a Friday. The previous Sunday I had driven our van home from church, locked the doors and gone up to our apartment. Monday I walked the 2 older kids to preschool. Wednesday I walked them to preschool again. Then I ran back to the van to run errands. I had one of those buttons that I used to unlock the doors. I strapped in the twins. Then I got in to start the engine. My key was gone. Gone from the keyring. I spent the rest of the day looking for that key. I even went though a bag of garbage. Unfortunately, I had thrown out one bag already and it had been picked up. I can only guess that the key was in that bag. I never found it. It took three weeks to get a replacement. (Thank you technology for putting microchips in our car keys!!)
I finally gave up on trying to find the key and made arrangements to get to the homecoming ceremony, scheduled for 4am. That's 4 o'clock in the morning!!! I arranged for a friend to come over and sleep on the couch while the kids slept. I would drive her car to the ceremony and bring him home. We agreed that she would be at my house by 1:00.
Now, unlike the first deployment, this one had a stellar FRG and Rear Detachment. They had created a call center for all of us anxious spouses to call and talk to a real person and find out exactly where our husbands were and when they were coming in.
At 10:00 I called the Call Center. I was told that his flight had arrived. I asked if the ceremony was being moved up. I was told no. She said they had to go through customs, etc, and make the 3 hour drive from the airport. "Should I come now? or sooner?" "No. Even if they get here early THEY WILL NOT BE RELEASED UNTIL 4:00." (that is a direct quote.)
I set the alarm for 12:30 and went to bed. I forced myself to go to sleep. I reasoned that I would need the rest. I was exhausted. I fell asleep much faster than I expected.
I was woken from my deep sleep by the sound of my husband's voice and the slamming of a car door. I was out of bed and next to the window in one movement. I looked down at a snow-covered parking lot. Next to the door was car and there stood my husband.
If I thought I was a basket case before, I can't even describe how excited and sick I felt in that moment. I thought I had overslept. Why hadn't my friend come and woken me? I looked at the clock. 12:15? That can't be right.
I opened the door to a cool reception, and it wasn't just the snow. While he brought in bags I called my friend and told her not to come. We spent the next few hours trying to smooth over this terrible disappoint. Even now, I feel the pain of that moment.
That was the last deployment. It was over 6 years ago. While time has certainly soothed much of the pain and disappointment of that expereince, we both still feel it. If we talk about that night, we both fall into feelings of regret. We make excuses and sigh deeply and silently vow that it will NOT happen again.
Now we are coming to the end of another deployment. That homecoming is looming on the horizon like a giant wave, racing to carry us along or come crashing down on us. Which will it be?The anticipation is killing me!
I'll let you know how it turns out!