I remember it now, the first time. We had barely been dating six months when he left. Standing in that crowded armory building surrounded by sobbing wives and children clinging to their father’s necks, I felt numb. Like there should have been tears or heartache or fear filling in the emptiness inside me, but instead the vacuous space swelled with darkness. Even when I nuzzled into his neck, the smell of a thousand wearings seeping from the collar of his uniform mixing with the sweet-smelling moisture of his skin, I felt void. Somehow robbed of the pain that the others in the crowd were feeling so palpably. But I held tight to him. I could feel the pins on his uniform pressing into my skin and it felt as if they were poking through my ribs into the delicate flesh of my heart. I hugged him even tighter. When our embrace slackened, we met eyes for the last time before he hoisted his rucksack over his shoulder and climbed onto the bus. Something passed between us then; an understanding of duty, a sharing of strength unspoken, feelings that would only be mangled if put into words.
Now only a few precious weeks from his second departure, ten years, a marriage, a house, and two kids later, I’m beginning to toe up to the precipice of the darkness once again. That hole inside me where I fell the first time, where I tried to buoy myself above the loneliness with liquor and late nights. Only now, I stand on the edge holding the hands of my two young sons, fearful that I might slip. That the tiny piece of earth that keeps me above the depression will crumble and I won’t be able to save them from my misery. The acuteness with which children feel emotions weighs heavy on me now, an extra load to carry along this long year alone. This time I can’t fail. I can’t lose myself in a bottle and call in to work the next day. Though my post in the Army doesn’t require a uniform, it does require strength, discipline, and dedication and is shared by thousands of other spouses in this great country.
Now that we’re nearing another deployment, I wonder how many other women and men are out there watching their significant others as they haul out their gear and spread it out on the floor or bed and take inventory, trying to make sure that they have enough green socks, the required t-shirts, et cetera, et cetera, and have to look within themselves to take an emotional inventory. I have, and just as I procrastinate with school assignments, cleaning the bathroom, and dentist visits, I have been glazing my fear of the next year without my husband with the thick sugar coating of denial. And until his D-Day comes, I’ll continue to look the other way when I feel the heat of heartache starting to melt away my resolve. After all, I am an Army Wife; when I said ‘I do’ it meant ‘I’m in’ for whatever comes next.