Today is Oct. 26 – the 11th annual Day of the Deployed, a day to remember the sacrifices of all the service members deployed around the world. Perhaps, also a day to remember the families left behind as well.
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I don’t know what it is like to be deployed. I only know what it is like to say goodbye and be left behind: the heaviness in my chest, the knot in my stomach, the steely resolve, and the tears hiding behind every smile.
Below is my post from the day my husband last deployed, his fourth deployment, my third. Hopefully, our last, but we never know.
Day 365 – August 26, 2010
A very brief hour and a half after our middle of the night good-bye, I drag myself out of bed, too focused on getting myself ready for the second day of school and getting my Lil Bit ready for daycare to allow myself any more tears. Somehow, I manage to get out the door only ten minutes behind my projection, but I am running on autopilot.
I have rediscovered an appendage, my cell phone. I have an iPhone, so I am extremely attached to it anyways; it practically does the laundry! But now I have to reprogram myself to carry it everywhere. I never know when my husband will call.
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He is still on post, most likely drawing weapons and waiting for the bus to load and take them to their flight, but for all intents and purposes, he is gone. However, I do relish the fact that I can still text message him.
I send him a quick picture of the baby in her red, white and blue outfit for the day and hope it doesn’t break his heart. I could barely drag myself back to work after the summer.
How in the world can he just pick up and leave his children for a year at a time year after year after year?
He has two sons, eleven and twelve from his first marriage (now 18 and 19 in 2017). They have been through all three deployments. Last deployment his younger son really struggled with missing his father and feeling angry about it. I am already planning some new things to help Chad feel more present for them throughout the year.
They have daddy dolls, which seemed too childish, but I got one for each of them, and when they saw them and understood that daddy’s picture would go in them, they both grabbed them and carried the dolls around for the rest of the afternoon.
Last night, his older son called crying.
Chad tried to explain where he was going and that he would be back soon. Due to some developmental delays and autism, we don’t always know what he understands or feels. This was the first time we experienced him breaking down.
His sobs echoed out of the phone and broke like soap bubbles across my heart.
His mother, father and I were all surprised to hear him expressing such strong emotions. I wanted to hug him through the phone. Out of everything, I think this was the moment Chad understood he was really leaving again and had to fight back the tears himself.
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So . . . I am thinking about all three of Chad’s children as I drop off Lil Bit at daycare and head to work. I am smiling, saying “hello” and “good morning” until my friend Liz asks me how I am.
There are moments that we can only manage in silence. Speaking the words is too much.
For a second, the dam cracks and tears rush in. I just shake my head. I am glad she is such a good friend that she immediately knew I couldn’t talk or even manage a hug without losing my carefully placed facade.
Around ten a text message says they are boarding, and I don’t know when I will hear from him again. They fly a few different patterns to Kuwait. He could stop in Newfoundland or Ireland or Maine before the final leg to Kuwait. But I don’t know, I might hear from him again in a few hours or not at all for many days.
As I text back one more I love you and be safe, I realize that my cell phone has to go everywhere with me again. It took me almost the whole year to get used to being able to leave it in one room and walk into another, and now I am tied to it again.
Later, I realized I had missed a call while making copies after school, driving home this lesson. I frantically call back and call back. Even though I kissed him goodbye twelve hours ago, now every phone call, email, text message feels like the last one. The last call on American soil and I missed it . . .
. . . then he picks up. We have only a minute before I hear the boarding call in the background. I am just glad I got to say, “I love you” one more time. Now, it really begins, the wondering if and how we will both survive – on opposite sides of this deployment and the world.
Today, seven years later. I am watching him play with our daughter across the room. His uniform is different, but still says Army. By next year it won’t.
Physically, he’s been home for six years. Emotionally, he has only partially returned. But daily, we work hard to break through and reach across the walls each deployment built between us.
And our marriage is stronger than Army strong.