Happy Hour

court house

photo credit: Adam Fagen

There are certain people who understand the numbness you can get working in a prosecutor’s office. Mostly that includes prosecutors, defense attorneys, cops, journalists, medical professionals and military folk. I don’t bear the burden of knowing my actions will incarcerate or release a criminal; I’m in the civil division. My coworkers refer to me as a “fake prosecutor.”  But hey, we do review contracts and enforce land use codes and collect taxes and advise elected officials. We’re very civil over here in the civil division.

Yet one of the duties even the civil division cannot escape is the responsibility to advise officials who are making decisions about high-profile public record releases. A couple of months ago I had to look at some pretty nasty crime scene photos and read some interviews with very young people who should never have to experience such things. Unlike my counterparts, the “real” prosecutors, this part of my job often bothers me because there’s nothing I can do; I can’t prove guilt, advocate, or counsel anyone. I’m just there to decide which of the photos are too gruesome. It feels like purposeless voyeurism.

So there I was, flicking through glossy photos as fast as possible, looking away between each one in an attempt to cleanse my brain’s palate before exposing it to the next image. I braced myself not knowing when I’d reach the ones I had been warned about by the police. I felt sweaty.

I left early that day and went to happy hour, because it seemed like the right thing to do: be happy. I called my longtime law school friend Kelly. She’s a former DA, the one who always responds to my calls for happy hour, and the one who makes me laugh until I cry by saying completely inappropriate things like “douche nozzle” just a smidgen too loud in public places. Plus she always brings along with her a crew of other ne’er do wells that sufficiently numb my headaches: a video producer I once married (as in I was the justice of the peace), a banker who likes to be called “The Sheriff,” and a securities salesman who infrequently dresses up as a leprechaun. In other words, non-lawyers. My kind of people. And they were all there.

Kelly saw me and said it first: “Are you OK?” I wasn’t. But I wasn’t about to fake it, either. Kelly Walsh comes from a big family of Irish Catholics in Montana, and she doesn’t take anything fake from anybody without calling them out on it. Instead of answering her I raised my glass for an air-clink and she hugged me before settling into the chair next to mine. Without looking up I told her I’d been looking at crime scene photos for three hours and she nodded in my peripheral vision. She knew just what I meant and she wasn’t about to ask questions. Likewise, I knew enough not to share the details because those are the kinds of things that can infect you. There’s information you want to share because it feels like it might somehow purge your memory, but you learn quickly that it doesn’t. So you don’t share, out of courtesy. Anyway I knew she already had plenty of old images and cases bouncing around in her own head. She was probably suppressing more than one of them at that very moment. So we talked about everything else for the next two hours.

When I finally got home, Randy was tucking the kids in bed and he came downstairs to find me seated at the kitchen table with a bottle of red wine and a glass. I wasn’t drinking it. I was just staring at it, remembering the day that I poured an entire bottle down the garbage disposal after finishing a particularly sickening case, because I realized I had turned to wine ten consecutive nights in a row. This was night number one, I thought. He grabbed another glass, poured himself one, and sat down. “So what’s going on?”

That shocked me a little.

It seems that over time (i.e. twenty years of marriage) when I’ve come home in a work-induced foul mood he has traditionally and successfully taken the “ignoring it till it goes away” strategy. But yet here he was, sipping wine and looking at me. It completely disarmed me.

So I did what I always do. I started talking. I told him about the bad man. I told him about the child, the blood, and the dead body. I told him about the interrogation and the police report and the autopsy. And then I told him the part that was bothering me. I told him the part that got to me. I told him the one thing that I wanted to purge. The one thing too many.

“Her hands looked like Sweet Pea’s.”

I buried my face in my hands, sobbing. I’d finally lost it, and a whole day’s worth of tension came out at once. That was it. I was identifying as the victim’s mother. I was feeling guilty but I wasn’t sure why. All the small-talk from happy hour, all the light-speed photo flipping, all the distracting office chit-chat … it all fell down at once.

And he sat very still right across the table from me as I sobbed. He didn’t move.

After a moment I stopped crying, and he spoke. “I can’t tell you details, but I know how you feel. You have to get someone else to look at those photos. Someone who doesn’t have kids.”

We disagreed quietly, and there was conversation after that which resolved nothing but was still oddly comforting. It wafted of a late night debate from a moonlit log on Glorietta Bay, a memory I had from a very long time ago. A young Navy pilot in flight training was debating with me over the pros and cons of euthanasia, and we were learning from each other. Midway through that conversation I discovered it wasn’t just theoretical for him. He’d watched his grandmother struggle with cancer and refuse treatments. His comments sounded different to me after that.

I watched him as he got up from the table to go back to whatever he had been working on before finding me and my wine bottle. Initially I felt empty when he walked away without hugging me and I wished that part of him would come back soon. But then I thought about the first thing he said: “I can’t tell you details, but I know how you feel.” And his comments sounded different to me after that. This wasn’t theoretical advice. Our experiences overlapped. It felt like connection.

Post-deployment reintegration turns out to be a series of small Paula-Abdullish cycles. It’s a two steps forward, two steps back kinda thing. (What? I’m over 40. It works for me.) But even as I’m going back and forth, it starts to feel a little like a familiar dance. It’s klutzy and outdated and I step on a lot of toes – and yet the footing beneath us is common ground.

Anyway, I say it’s high time to head over for happy hour, now. He’s been home for ten months, and the “suck phase” of reintegration is supposed to be officially coming to a close, now. So let’s just cut out early, find a leprechaun and a cop-impersonating banker in a bar, and, well … let’s just be happy. It seems like the right thing to do.

Cheers!

cheers toast

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Lonely Things Come in Small Packages

Late Saturday night I lay in bed under the only light in the house that was still on, staring at my thighs. On the night before Jesus’ resurrection from the dead I was thinking about my own burgeoning thighs.

“They were smaller once too,” I thought. I’d been previously staring at my sleeping boy. This night he managed to convince me to let him crawl into my bed, and successfully cajoled me into letting him stay a little longer, a little longer … a little longer … until he was now asleep, his lanky legs tenderly infringing on my personal space, threatening to keep growing until they could no longer fit in my lap.

And my thoughts drifted away from my thighs. Because staring at my long-legged children always makes me wonder what it must feel like to be Husband. To have missed things I cannot imagine missing, and to miss them without any way to reclaim them. I looked down at my phone, and my fingers typed out the first thing that came to my mind: “I can’t remember the last time you were home for Easter. That can’t be good.” Send.

It was dispatched across the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t take it back.

I flopped my head back on the pillow trying hard to recall our Easters past, rubbing the little ankles sprawled over my thighs without looking at them. I sometimes stare upwards for mental support in my moments of greatest need, like there’s an answer up there, in my ceiling fan.

There was that first kid Easter. He was home then. Sweet Pea was in her little red poppy dress and white gloves, trying to eat purple hard-boiled eggs with the shells on as she wobbled to sit upright in the cool wet grass. That was seven years ago. There were a few minutes of silence as I struggled to think of another Easter, when my phone buzz-interrupted. I slowly shifted my gaze from the hypnotizing ceiling fan to a solitary word on my phone’s screen: “Sorry.”

He couldn’t remember, either.

I put the phone down. There was no follow-up I could muster just then.

He’ll be on a training exercise while I sit through the Easter service, admonishing my kids not to snicker at the lady with the big purple hat. He’ll be in a windowless room for twelve hours while I smile at children scrambling mercilessly over each other in search of neon plastic eggs. He’ll come back at the end of a day to musty quarters eating a commissary snack plate out of a plastic dish while I prepare for a houseful of friends, smelling the rosemary as the sun floods my kitchen with yellow light. He’s the one missing all this. I’m here. Staring at my thighs.

It’s just. I’m just. You know. I’m alone. Again. Still. Or not alone, but. Lonely. A lot. Still.

It’s my ridiculous first world “complaint.” I feel lonely. WAH WAH WAH. But it’s still real. And I still feel it. I still look around Starbucks and hate the couple that sits on the same side of the table. I still drive with the radio on too loud  after I’ve dropped the kids off at school, hurtling down the freeway screaming lyrics of unrequited Adele love, tears streaming down my face, until I realize I have a meeting in ten minutes with an unrepresented man who wants to discuss the Magna Carta. “Do you even read French?” I like to say to distract him from my running mascara. I wish I could actually say that in French. That would be cool.

But then, there’s this moment. There’s always this instant where the momentum from the lonely is too much and it all turns. I rarely see it coming, but it comes …

On this night Sweet Pea came in to scope out whether her brother had managed to secure a spot in the coveted Bed of Mom. Because there must be complete and absolute fairness at all times between siblings when a father is away and there is a potentially empty portion of mom’s bed to be occupied.  She’s  learning to be subtle, though. She smiled and slipped under the covers next to me, wiggling in under my free arm. “Mom, guess what? We’re doing reports at school. And I got Louisa May Alcott!”

A hushed frenetic conversation about Little Women ensued between us in quiet whispers so as not to wake Captain Exacto Ninja Star Master of the Transformers’ Deathstar of Doom. I was enthralled to have a connection. And it was a book! It was like there was this panoramic camera hovering over our heads, rising straight up into the atmosphere. We were there, huddled together in our frenzy of favorite characters. In one moment, I could see every blemish and flaw with amazing high-definition clarity. In the next I was looking into the concave lens with myopic dysfunction. And in the next, I couldn’t focus at all. The camera kept rising: there was the street, and then the other houses, and then our sleepy little town. And the higher it went, the more generic things got. Blurrier. Prettier.

I always look prettier in low resolution.

And then, as the camera was rising up high into the sky, she spoke. “And I was thinking” she said, “that for my presentation,” she said, “I could use the guinea pigs as the Little Women and reenact a scene from the book and we could buy them little mini outfits on eBay and Buddy could be Beth!”

Guineas. In clothes. And she was deadly serious.

This was going to be what saved me. This was going to be that moment where I toggled over from thinking I wanted to die of loneliness to wanting to die of embarrassment from the snot slinging right out of my left nostril. Wait. This was going to be what saved me? The guinea pigs? The guinea pigs that tortured me the day Husband left? The brilliant (stupid) idea that Husband had to provide an endless array of distraction for our children upon his departure was now the thing distracting me?

Husband was brilliant. Latent, but brilliant. Again.

The camera hovered very high up there in the sky that night as we relished those last few moments before bed, laughing and snuggling and discussing the merits and design flaws of miniature turn-of-the-century guinea pig bonnets. I reiterated that any “sewing” on my part would be accomplished solely via glue gun. And then, as always, I said something out loud that made me stop.

“It’s all going to be very, very small, isn’t it?”

And in that moment I realized the gravity of my statement. Because someday it will all seem so very small. Very small indeed. Ahem. Just like my thighs. Were.

The Sound and the Fury

humerus
Photo by AJ Gazmen/Flickr

I have a penchant for humor. People around me slap me on the back and say “Oh, you’re sooooo funny.” And that’s usually when I’m just being wry or sarcastic.

But it’s partly true only because I observe and remember things around me. Sometimes I sit and watch events unfold and they seem hysterical to me, though nobody else is laughing. I can find humor in the mundane, the trite, and the ridiculously predictable habits of humans. We are fickle and flawed and yet so determined to be clear and bright. But the key is not only in observing these things; it is in remembering them. And I’m good at it. Or at least, I used to be.

Over the course of the last four months I’ve been so focused on the transition of my husband and my family and my marriage and myself (in that order it seems) back into this non-deployment life that I seem to have lost my funny bone. I’ve either not seen the funny, or I’ve forgotten it. And that’s a crying shame because a good funny bone is an awful thing to waste. I once wrote that my motto was “quit taking yourself so seriously.” Huh. I guess I forgot about that.

Figures that I forgot to take my own good advice.

But today, I remembered. Today, I found humor in the mundane. Because today my six year old protested against his normally yummy after school snack so vehemently that it required cross examination which, after tears were shed, revealed that the true reason for his disgust was the slimy load of boogers he stealthily and invisibly smeared all over the granola bar when he thought said snack was designated for his sister’s snacking pleasure. I momentarily and silently considered making him eat it anyway, until his sister (drunk with power upon observing the scowl on my face) suggested exactly that notion which I was contemplating. Once I saw the resulting look of horror on my second born’s face, it was like a free test drive and I was relieved that I had not suggested it. So of course I did what all good mothers do: I admonished the first-born for uttering such a terrible thing.

At this point, one child was crying and the other was pouting. And suddenly, I laughed.

Oh sure, the gesture drew ire from the crying, booger-infested peanut gallery. But I laughed anyway. I laughed at myself. I laughed at the seriousness with which I approached a courtroom-like exchange regarding boogers. I laughed at the pure maniacal genius of my son and the ironic twist of fate which befalls all evil geniuses: being ensnared in their own booger trap. And I laughed at the thought that he had been unwittingly undone by his nemesis, who, after becoming momentarily power-hungry, had turned to the dark side.

Ah humor, I’ve missed you so. You are so lovely.

What is it about this ridiculous reintegration process that so completely occupies the entire space of my mind and prohibits these exchanges from making it into my memory synapses? Because these are the things worth remembering and talking about, aren’t they? These are the events that will become dinner table fare, homecoming date fodder, and legendary family fable. These are the things I want to think about. Tell you about.

So I’m resolving to focus on the mundane. Not so much because it’s entertaining, but because it’s not reintegration. If I find the funny along the way, we’ll all benefit. But as I told you last year, the shortest distance between two inevitable points is an impossibly long line of distractions. Back then it was in reference to Husband’s departure. This time, it’s in reference to his full return.

To my full return.

Fish-infested Waters

I haven’t written much since my husband came home from the Middle East. Yeah, there was the rush from settling in after homecoming and the visitors and the family and the friends. And then there was Husband’s return to his civilian job and the whole readjustment-thingy. But really, it was the usual insanity. The real reason I didn’t write: reintegration sucked the whole living life out of me.

I really haven’t felt like writing about it. Or anything else for that matter.

Look it’s hard to explain if you haven’t done it, but when your lover first comes home from a long military deployment, and the shininess wears off, you start to stare when he’s not watching. I’m waiting to see if he unravels. And if he doesn’t, I might even pull on that dangling string.

I want to know if he’s here, with us, or still out there, in the desert.

Let me try to explain.

I spent most of my Navy Brat summers in coastal towns with beautiful beaches. I bounced around between Corpus Christi Texas, Orange Park Florida, Coronado California, and Honolulu Hawaii. I laugh when people ask me if it was hard being a military brat considering my residential repertoire. I often fall asleep to my wave machine and dream of beach memories.

In the absence of a “home town” that percussive sound is the glue that sticks my childhood together.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, I was a sunburned haole girl living in Hawaii. I had a hand-me-down surf board which wasn’t anything glamorous and I wasn’t any good at all. But we all had surf boards and bubble-gum scented wax, and we all had sand rashes on our bellies. And we had no idea how much fun we were having.

Somewhere along the way that summer I befriended a group of locals from Haliewa who convinced me to come surfing. And I found myself out on the North Shore with four Portagee boys who knew all the unmarked public access points to the hidden beaches along that coast. I went to some “secret beach” with them that summer, which still horrifies my father.

This was summer, so we didn’t expect big waves, but this day was particularly lazy, even for summer. We sat in a flat glassy spot in a neat line, the waves bunching up slowly and slushing out underneath us. We gripped the pointy points of our boards and dipped the backs of them into the water, our legs dangling down and swirling us around. As we talked we squinted for a set, shifting our gaze between the horizon and our own floating shadows on the sand below.

Suddenly the boy to my left pointed a sharp finger at the water, and I saw a huge dark black fish off my starboard side, its crisp edges contrasting sharply with the bright sand that seemed to glow underneath it. It jerked and flipped its tail, and the boy called “shark” much like a kid calling “car” in a street basketball game.

My veins popped and adrenaline made my ears swell with sound. My instinct was to practically climb inside of myself, sucking my limbs up tight. I laid still, keeping every body part out of the water except for my poor little fingertips, which I was forced to dip into the water in order to hang on and keep from plunging headlong into the ocean. I still remember the gritty wax against my cheek as I looked across at Portagee Bo, who had laid his own face down on his board sideways. He was looking into my eyes, just like a murder scene in a movie where the camera does a close up of a dying man as his eyeballs go vacant.

I remember the next moment clearly. I looked into his eyes, and I peed. I wondered if sharks could smell pee in the water like they smelled blood. And I wondered if Portagee Bo could smell pee, too.

Somebody finally got up the courage to look, and no more big black fishies were in sight. A small wave set of minimal worth rolled in, and we rode it expertly all the way to shore without putting a single toe in the water.

PTSD

Flickr photographer: Slapshots

And that’s just like reintegration. You’re there, sitting on that surf board, not expecting any big waves and just enjoying the company. But soon the slush that comes along is disappointing and unsatisfying. So you start to spend time glancing at your own floating shadow, imagining that some latent PTSD is lurking below.I go back and forth between the comfort in knowing that PTSD would explain the gap between me and my husband, and the fear that it might not be the reason we are still so disconnected.

Some days I’ve curled up into a tiny ball and defenselessly prayed that I would not be fatally wounded by my own fear. I’ve instinctively sucked inside of myself and just waited for the bad feelings to go away. I’ve looked over at other spouses nearby and seen the vacant look in their eyes. And I’ve been too afraid to peek over the edge of the board. I have held every muscle in my body tight, trying desperately not to fall off. And I’ve been forced to dip my fingertips into the water, because it’s the only thing that would save me from making that fatal splash.

But finally, you garner the courage to look down into the water. You just can’t sit there waiting to be eaten by a creature that may not even exist. Nobody is coming by to rescue you. You have to be willing to stick your neck out and peer straight into the water.

So far, it’s empty down there. There’s my own hovering shadow, but no sharks. In fact, I’m aware there’s a very real possibility it was just a fish the whole time. And as time passes, I do get braver. I know this. I can feel it deep inside of me. Plus, there’s the fact that I haven’t peed myself in a very, very long time.

Preintegration

reintegration

photo courtesy of annstheclaf at Flikr

Young men came home from World War II in boats. They laid in the belly of a ship and they decompressed over cards and cigarettes for weeks and they talked and they told stories. They heard stories. And they had time to think about their girls back home.

But thanks to modern travel, today’s veterans can be plucked right out of a war environment in the desert and plopped down in the middle of a luxury shopping mall a dizzying twenty-four hours later. Not too great for the romantic homecoming everyone dreams of.

Thank goodness our military is smart enough to realize that our warriors need that decompression chamber. Unfortunately the modern equivalent of the Queen Mary is a combination of red tape, medical exams, and DoD-sanctioned debriefs mixed with mandatory periods of relaxation. However, after seeing what 24 hours of planes trains and automobiles looks like (hint: R&R), I was thankful to have a Husband who was well-rested, clear-eyed, on the right side of the clock, and ready to be here.

I’m told we are now in the phase called Reintegration, but it doesn’t feel like we are integrating anything yet. We’re sort of just standing here looking at each other. When we hold hands, there is still a space between us. It’s really more like Preintegration.

I am quiet mostly because I can’t imagine being inside the mind of a servicemember who first realizes people actually struggle to make decisions like what kind of latte they want to consume that day. It must be unreal to make life and death decisions on a daily basis and then come home to discover you have no control over the mind of your six year-old. If it were me, I would put it all off and just smile and hug my family for a few days, too. So. Preintegration it is.

I’ve been reading all about what is supposed to come next, because the last time I did all this I was a newly married girl with no kids. I mean I don’t even REMEMBER reintegration the last time around. I’m entering unknown territory. Again. Just like everything else in this deployment, I’m totally winging it. At least I get points for consistency.

laughing children

his hands were full

So when Husband came home we basically just hung out for a couple of days. We saw friends. We snuggled. We sat on the couch. We watched football. We tickled. We made and ate some of his favorite foods. We listened to stories. We went on walks. We basically just relaxed.

In all of that, I realized that I didn’t remember how to just “be” with him. When we were alone I sat awkwardly and waited for him to speak. I just stared at him. It wasn’t the “oh I’m so gaga in love with you” kind of staring, either. It was more like the “I wonder what happens if you poke it with a stick and pour salt on it” kind of staring. Not that he’s a slug … gah. I’m so romantic that way.

But when he woke up early one morning and made me a cup of coffee, that’s when I knew my husband was returning. And that meant I could return with him. “Thanks for making me coffee,” I said, smiling and batting my eyes. “It’s my job” he joked.

Oh yeah, it’s his job. Oh yeah! It’s his job!

You see, I pretend that being the honored recipient of this tradition puts me on par with the likes of Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, who I’ve heard routinely have their morning cup of First Lady coffee made lovingly by their presidential husbands. Because yeah. Me and the First Lady. We’re like this.

But the best part of this beautiful ritual is that I have never once asked my husband to make coffee. Not once. One morning I simply woke up tired and late, and he made me a steaming sweet cup of wake up. I must have been in a good mood because I took a sip and said, “Oh. Thank you so much. I love it when you make me coffee. It makes me feel like a princess.”

After that, he started making the coffee. Every single morning, without being asked. And I always said thank you. And I always meant it.

By the way, don’t get any bright ideas and blame me if this method doesn’t work for you. For example I tried it with “I love it when you put the toilet lid down because it makes me feel like such a princess.” But it’s pretty hard to refer to a repository for stinky bodily functions and simultaneously refer to yourself as royalty.

Finding a fresh pot of coffee became such a lovely ritual for me that I remember standing over my kitchen sink crying that first morning after he left, like I didn’t know how to operate a simple piece of machinery. That’s why this morning, here, now, was so beautiful. When I woke up and smelled the steam that was wafting up, I sighed out loud. When I saw the heavy moisture that rises up when hot water pours over beautiful shards of crushed brown beans, I smiled. And then I almost cried again.

I know there will be more days. There will be days where I stare into my reflection in the bottom of the cup and wonder how I’m going to convince my husband that logic is not the only factor in decision-making. There will be days where I do poke him with a stick in an attempt to see if he will actually bleed, or cry, or express an emotion I haven’t seen in a while. And there will be days when I get up and grumble, and forget to say thank you for my cup of coffee.

But for now, we have Preintegration. For now, we have the honeymoon. And for now, I will sip and smile and remember that I’m not the one making the coffee.

Mmmmm. That’s nice. Thank you.

Hold, Please

military homecomingWe’re on  hold. We’re listening to some soothing yet increasingly annoying elevator-style music.

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.

 

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