I had a chance to Skype with Husband for the first time in a couple of weeks and it was so good to see him. I’m not so sure he could say the same thing about me. When I heard the ring I ran to the computer, clicked on the “accept” button, plopped down in the chair, and saw for the first time that morning exactly what I looked like. Frumpolina McFrumperson is what I looked like. What – he can’t call when I’m going out the door to work in a smart suit or when I’m headed out to a dinner party? No, he has to call when I’m running around the house, sweating from doing last night’s dishes, have no makeup on, and have not washed my hair which may or may not have some strange fuzz in it. And it’s all right there, in high-definition baby. Damn that high-def camera. Who thought THAT was a good idea?
But no matter how I look, he always smiles anyway. And I (turn off the Skype window so I don’t have to see myself and I) always smile back.
Whenever I see my husband I always want to ask, “how was work today?” or “whatcha doin?” or “how are things going?” But he can’t really answer any of those questions except to say good or fine. And on the occasion when I’ve just come from a parent-teacher conference and the karate graduation followed by riding lessons and soccer practice, all of which took place after 5 p.m., I’m not always dialed in to the whole joint special operations thing, and I will slip up and attempt to use regular human communication techniques like asking how his day went. He usually just smiles back at me and says “how was your day?” And I tell him all the legal drivel he never wanted to hear.
At the one year mark our communication seemed to change. Don’t get me wrong – Skype has been a phenomenal way to stay in touch regarding the details of life. It makes that connection to us stronger when he maintains the decision-making capability that is a part of our regular everyday routine. But at the one year mark, he started to grow markedly more weary, and I started to run out of nonintrusive questions. There was this odd moment whenever the kids weren’t in the room that we would sort-of stare at each other for a moment.
“It’s good to see your face,” I would finally volunteer. “I’m sure ready to come home,” he would volunteer back.
This time I broke the silence by offering a report on our kids. I shared my observation that they have been emotional stewpots on steroids for about the last week or so.
I haven’t talked to the kids about homecoming in any detail, because true to military form we don’t have an actual date. But I sure remember how I felt as the days ticked down to my father’s arrival home from a deployment. Sadness was tragedy and happiness was exuberant joy. Everything felt raw, and it was confusing. I was supposed to be happy, but I was worried about so many things.
I wanted him to know that I missed him, but I wasn’t sure how to tell him. I wanted to show him I was all grown-up, but I didn’t want him to think I had changed while he was gone. And I couldn’t remember his voice one year, I remember that especially. We had these audio tapes of him reading bedtime stories that warbled from being played so much, and I couldn’t really remember what his voice was supposed to sound like. It really bothered me. And at the same time I was so happy he was coming home. But I just didn’t know what it was going to be like.
Now I know part of the kids’ insanity is a reflection of what they see in me, and I admit that I am a terrible faker. I haven’t let them know the gamut of emotions I’ve felt and written about here, but they can see it. They know when I wash the same dish five times and stare out the window that my head is not screwed on right. They know when I change shoes six times and mutter under my breath about the perils of turning 40 that they had better get in the car without being told. And they know when I sit watching a Cowboys game alone, staring and hugging my knees, that I’m missing my Dallas fanatic. They know I’m going a little crazy.
And this was exactly the comment Husband offered which I did not want to hear: that I was possibly contributing to the mayhem. That pretty much ended our conversation.
I was still thinking about how poorly I handled the conversation when Sweet Pea asked me if we could talk. This is always dangerous territory for me. Once when she was four, on a short car ride to school, she asked, “If Jesus is God, and God has power over everything, why didn’t he just make us all saved to begin with?” As an afterthought she added, “And if you have to accept Jesus to go to heaven, why doesn’t he just show us what it’s like so everyone can believe?” This came at a very fortuitous moment, mostly because I was about to curse (internally) at a car that had just cut me off. And she asked it in the same nonchalant tone as when she inquired about why she wasn’t allowed to have peanut butter in her lunch.
My four year-old wanted to debate free will versus predestination on the way to preschool.
But here she was, twice as old as before and twice as wise, and it was bedtime. I was a captive audience, and there were no opportunities for evasive maneuvers. So I sunk down slowly into her bed, slid under the sheets with her, and held her close while she talked. I always learn something from the questions she makes me answer. I braced myself.
“Mom, whenever it gets dark, my heart starts beating. My breathing gets really deep and my eyes get wide and I feel kind-of funny. It’s like, when I don’t get my homework done. That feeling. Like I can feel my head wobbling. My tummy gets upset. Like stress. Why do you think that is?”
I offered that she had been afraid of the dark and nervous about being alone ever since she was a very small child. I told her about one morning when she was only two, and we woke up to find her curled up in a freezing ball at the top of the stairs on the landing, to avoid the solitary darkness of her downstairs bedroom. She smiled, and I had a temporary reprieve. But she wasn’t satisfied with my answer just yet. “I’m not really afraid of the dark. I think I’m afraid of robbers. But I know we have a safe house. Why am I afraid of robbers?”
“Well … I guess …”
I could feel my heart rising in my chest and I felt a little sick. The corners of my mouth turned down into a droll and my brows furrowed. I saw the digital face of my husband from over seven thousand miles away. I saw myself on the video feed leaning back in a chair with my arms crossed, scowling back at him, wondering why a man who had been gone for a year was suggesting to me how to parent my children. Not our children mind you. My children.
“I think people are afraid of the things they can’t see.”
Kablammo. Yeah, yep. They sure are. “Why are they so afraid?”
“I guess because people start to imagine what’s out there and they come up with all kinds of ridiculous things. And you know, usually there’s nothing out there that’s as scary as the things an imagination can conjure up. But for some people, just the idea of not knowing what’s out there seems scary. People like to see things. And really that’s ridiculous because it’s easier and less stressful to have faith that nothing is out there that will harm you. You’re much happier that way.” I said it again and again during our conversation – probably ten times. That we shouldn’t be afraid of the things we can’t see because it just doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t do any good and it’s never as bad as we imagine it to be.
We said a prayer and I kissed her goodnight, and she clinged on to me a little bit longer and a little more tightly than usual. We discussed the route Daddy would take on his long journey home, and all the places he would go before making his way into our arms. Her eyes danced and twinkled blue, and her smile became deeper. And I made her a deal. I told her if she would be brave about the dark, I would be brave about all the things I worry about too, and we would help each other to choose joy instead.
As I leaned in and kissed her goodnight again, I kissed goodbye to the trepidation of return and reintegration. I brushed off the insecurity of change and my investment in routine. I closed my eyes and I imagined the moment that his bags would be hoisted into the trunk and the door would close tightly with a thud, and we would drive away from that airport without looking behind us.
I’m not saying I won’t mess up and lose my mind (again). But I’m so ready to be happy for the return of our missing piece. I’m so ready to anticipate with pure joy and without reservation the homecoming festivities. And I’m so ready to breathe in long and deep and feel the coolness of air in my lungs, and to push the hot staleness out and away from me.
Now, the countdown begins. Now, we smile. And you know, I might even smirk a little.