As I wait for the official word of Husband’s impending arrival, the day keeps shifting and changing. But I’m not irritated or impatient or completely mad out of my skin just yet. I guess I’ve been managing expectations with the military for long enough (my entire life) that I’d just be shocked by anything definite and certain. Admittedly, I’m in favor of him spending just a little bit of time in the post-deployment decompression chamber. I love the idea of him coming home fed, bathed, and in the right time zone.
This week he writes …
“Things are beginning to slow down a bit. The Warrior Transition CO said our job is to relax. I like that kind of job and apparently I’m fairly good at it.” This is laughable because Husband is NOT fairly good at relaxing. I can just imagine him sitting in a room with several other men and women forcing themselves to relax after living at breakneck speed for the last year. These are men and women who really just want to get themselves and their backpacks full of their worldly belongings back home to their families, their pets, their homes, and their beds. I imagine the paperwork and the waiting and I imagine them leaning back in their chairs uncomfortably. “Relaxing.”
And you know, in all of that, there’s something I just can’t visualize: his uniform.
When I think back to his active duty days in the Navy, he wore khakis with gold wings and a neat cover that looked like an envelope. He had brown shoes that he polished every evening and a shiny gold buckle. He also wore a green flight suit with Velcro patches and lots of zippers and a Darth Vader helmet bearing his callsign in electrical tape. He had dinner dress blues and I knew how to fasten the cumber bun and tie a bow tie. Finally later he wore Navy “Digis,” the strange camouflage-inspired blue pixellated combat-style uniform which was guaranteed to hide him from the enemy in the event he ever went into the matching blue Drink. Of course it would also hide him from Search and Rescue. Fabulous.
But I know these uniforms. I know what he looks like in them. I washed them and dried them and sewed patches on them. I knew about the creases and the shirt stays that clamped to his shirttails and wrapped around his legs and held his socks up. (Yes it’s weird and yes I teased him and yes I called them garters just to hear him say, “they’re not garters!”)
But then he left to train at an Army Camp, and his blue uniform came home to me in a box. A box. I can still remember opening what I thought was a package from my husband, only to find his boots and uniform inside. I held up his empty uniform, looking at his name and his wings embroidered across the breast pocket, and I stared at its lifeless form for a very long time.
Luckily, the Army didn’t make him go naked; they gave him a new uniform. An Army uniform. And a helmet. And a flack jacket. And Army boots. I’ve heard it all my life, but I finally learned the word “ACU” this year. Navy pilots don’t wear such things.
So what I’ve been thinking about so much is how he has been living in a uniform I’ve only seen in pictures. He’s turning in gear I’ll never see in person. I’ll never smell it or touch it. I’ll never know what it was like to see him moving and walking in the things he’s lived in for the past year.
And there’s more. There are plenty of other things I’ll never see, never hear about, never know about.
There was an email I received from Husband recently that simultaneously provided sadness and beautiful epiphany. He wrote: “Nevermind. It’s okay. You don’t understand.” I sat looking at those words and they really stopped me cold in my tracks. My initial reaction was to squint my eyes and purse my lips and see it as a virtual blow off. But it wasn’t delivered that way. Even through cyberspace I could see it was just the truth. He was right. I didn’t understand. And I really might not ever understand. And that was going to be the end of the conversation. Over and over again.
So here’s my solution to the problem: I’m going to ask Husband to lie to me.
That’s right, that’s what I said. I’m going to ask Husband to tell me crazy outlandish stories that involve “Other Government Agencies” perpetrating conspiratorial international espionage. I’m going to ask him to describe all of the ferocious one-against-two-hundred gun battles, and the superhuman feats of extraordinary special operations mythology. I’ll ask him to completely manufacture answers to all of my inane questions, and together we will create characters like “Buck Blackwater” and operations like “Mission Desert Annihilation” and we will discuss the top-secret specs of secret experimental craft like “The Hoverator.” I’ll never even know if he slips a kernel of truth into the tales, but will secretly hope that he does. I’ll start sentences with “tell me about the guy who single-handedly brought down the rebels” or “how did your team ever survive getting stranded in the desert without water for thirty days?!” And even though I know he mostly lived in concrete barracks with air conditioning and internet access, I’ll ask him to repeat the stories over and over again.
But then he’s just going to smirk and shake his head, and I’m going to smile back at him. And he’s going to say that mostly it was relatively boring and that I really wouldn’t be impressed and that we should have short ribs and strawberries for dinner.
And in that smile I’m going to understand exactly what I need to: that I don’t have to expose that part of him to still belong to him. That I can be his refuge and he can be mine, even without full knowledge of the events that have transpired. That he can have secrets without hiding things from me. And that it’s really okay that I don’t know.
Afterall, I’m not telling him what I did (or didn’t do) with the laundry while he was gone. I mean, I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear laundry aboard this vessel. Can you? He’s on a need to know basis. And he doesn’t need to know.