The story of a soldier deploying.
He proposed a few days earlier, but that was enough for everyone to call me “the Mrs.” I knew it was going to be rough, but I’d agreed to come to see Justin off anyways. I guess I severely underestimated the situation. All of the army green bags laying on the ground outside, waiting to be packed. The smell of the exhaust as the bus awaited its passengers. The people moving around from room to room. The overwhelming green camouflage of uniforms. Some were excited, partially for the opportunity for extra money. Some were nervous or sad.
I managed to keep my cool, even though I was one of very few civilians there. It shocked me that the other soldiers didn’t have anyone to see them off. Maybe they’d been through deployment so many times their families didn’t think anything of it.
I sat with Justin on a black sofa next to the window. I didn’t dare look out. I didn’t want to see the bus being packed outside. I knew that once he got on it, I may never see him again.
We tried to talk about other things. What was I going to do while he was away, what he was going to do for fun, how often he’d try to email or call. We danced around the subject on both our minds.
“Don’t worry about him ma’am,” someone had said. “We’ll keep him safe.”
I looked up. I hate crying in public, but someone always had to ruin it. My once-collected composure was now in ruins as I cried. The unsuspecting soldier backed away. I’m sure he thought he was helping, but he definitely wasn’t. I didn’t want to think about it. The dangers. The distance. The possibility of death.
Eventually, I managed to regain my composure. The cycle repeated itself a couple of times that day. I would be okay. Then something like “It’ll be okay,” “we’ll take care of him,” or “you don’t have to worry.” It made it all too real. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life. Didn’t anyone see that saying those things didn’t help? He was going to Iraq and I was powerless to stop it.
He was gone.
I stared after the bus until it was out of sight. Numb. I attempted to dry the tears that had managed to escape.
“He’ll be okay, you know. You’ll need to be brave for him.”
“Sure.” I said turning. I hadn’t noticed the chaplain was standing next to me.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He attempted a smile. “You can stay as long as you like.”
“No thanks,” I muttered as more tears streamed down my face. I wiped them away again. I kept my head down as I walked back into the building. I longed to be home, in my own room, alone. I grabbed my bag, dug out my keys, and walked out of the building as calmly as I could, acutely aware the chaplain was watching me.
Once outside, I ran to the rental car and locked myself inside. I cried some more, feeling a little more alone and free to do so.
I made no attempt to dry my tears. I had an hour drive to the airport, and I was in no hurry to collect myself. Luckily the drive was a straight shot. I was able to drive and cry at the same time. It was strangely therapeutic.
Sitting in the airport, waiting and thinking. Justin was on his way to Iraq, possibly never to be seen again. I’m so numb from crying that I don’t notice the hard seat or the little girl screaming in the next row. I notice my phone vibrating. I look down, expecting my mother.
“What are you doing?” Justin says.
“Just hanging out in the airport, waiting for my flight. What about you? Shouldn’t you be gone by now?” I’m relieved by the sound of his voice. He sounds so close.
“I’m waiting for my flight too.”
“Ah. How long till yours leaves?”
“Another hour or so. You?”
“What gate are you at?”
We talked about the drive to the airport, and suddenly he says he has to leave. Immediately, I feel alone in the crowded airport.
A little while later, I hear the familiar voice.
“What are you doing?”
I spin around in my chair. He stands there smiling at me, dressed in his army uniform and holding two ice cream cones.
“I figured you’d be flying out of an army base or something.” I say.
“Nope. We fly from here to New York. Then make a few stops for connecting flights.”
“Well that makes sense I guess.”
“Yeah. You can’t just fly into Iraq, you know. It’s not like it’s a popular tourist destination.”
We sit with his arm around me, and my head tucked between his neck and shoulder. Our hands entwined.
“Thank you for what you’re doing for your country,” an older man holds out his hand. Justin stands up to shake it. The man turns to me then. “And thank you for your sacrifices.”
Unable to say anything, I nod my head to acknowledge the sentiment.
I didn’t cry this time, because it was then that I began to realize that I was going to war too. My fight wouldn’t be quite so dangerous or obvious. My war would be much more private. One of loneliness and quiet longing. The smile I’d have to fake for those around me would soon become my uniform.
The attendant makes the final boarding call before I move from my seat. I move to board the flight that will take me back to my family and the familiar. I hand my ticket to the attendant and walk through the doors. I turn to wave goodbye. Justin stands smiling, waving in the over-enthusiastic manner I’ve grown to love. The kind that makes people wonder if something is wrong with you. The kind that makes you look like you have the enthusiasm of a five year old at Christmas. I wave back in the same way as the flight attendant closes the door between us.
The door clanked shut in front of me and I knew it was time. I wasn’t ready, but our time was up. I walk slowly down the narrow path to the plane, listening to the echoes of my footsteps. Trying to hold onto the feeling of being with Justin, I enter the plane and take my seat.
“Are you okay, miss?” This man sitting next to me asks.
I picture Justin, crazily waving goodbye with that smile on his face. I can’t help but smile. If that really was the last time seeing him, that was how I wanted to remember him. The guy who knows me better than anyone, surprises me with ice cream, and isn’t afraid to be goofy right along with me.
“Yes,” I say. “I’ll be okay.”