Sunday morning, I wake up with a sore throat and the three girls do the same.
Canceled plans for the day turn into canceled plans for the week as all four of us are the sickest we’ve ever been over the longest amount of time.
Tuesday evening of that week, girls in bed, Lane and I are on the couch when I just can’t stay awake a second longer. We haven’t spoken much, our minds are other places; specifically for me, on how terrible I feel, and for him, on the trip he leaves for the next morning.
I peel myself up from the couch and slowly walk over to him. He wraps his arms around my waist, “I hope you feel better, baby.”
And then, for reasons I’m not sure of but maybe because he wasn’t saying it himself and I needed to know that he knew, I say “You do realize that you’re leaving a sick wife behind to take care of three sick kids, don’t you?”
Oh, I was fishing alright, and these kinds of statements have not historically gone well in our marriage, but I needed to know that he knew that we sacrifice for him, too.
“Well… it’s my job.”
I want to say things about his job and his schedule and what it puts us all through and that it feels like too much and it requires too much and of course he’s leaving us when I need him the most, he’s always leaving us, I should be used to it by now. I want to tell him how desperately I needed compassion but he gave me coldness.
But I don’t.
Instead I turn to head upstairs, without a word, without goodbye, without telling him that I feel so, so alone.
When his alarm goes off the next morning, it wakes me up too, but I pretend to lay still in bed. He kisses me on the forehead, room still dark, thinking I’m still asleep when I’m so very awake.
He walks out the door and the space widens between us still.
And he comes home and then he’s gone and he’s gone again and he’s gone some more and we never really address that time when we were sick, we just keep going- one day at a time, right?
One morning, I hear Lane still making noise as I’m walking down the stairs- Oh good! I get to catch him before he heads out the door– he’s getting Tupperware for his lunch, pouring coffee in a to-go cup, zipping up his gym bag, 5:25am. I’m still groggy, haven’t looked in a mirror, bed head and top knot and pajama pants.
“What’s up, beautiful?”
He moves toward me- I go in for a hug right as he goes in for a kiss and we both miss our intended target and he kind of kisses my eye as I stumble into his arms.
We kind of laugh as I rub my eyes and he walks out the door.
I’m beginning to get settled in at this point, and Mae comes downstairs- Oh, it’s too early, baby, it’s too early, this was my time, though.
And as much as I hate it, I begin to think about how this is just another example of how I’m always the one who has to adjust, how I don’t have control over any of it, how I just needed something- like these early morning hours- that are mine and this morning has been taken away from me too.
I remember my good-bye kiss with Lane earlier and how that’s exactly how it feels between us sometimes. I wonder if he even realizes it- sometimes we think we’re in it together, but we’re aiming for two different targets and miss each other completely instead.
I begin to think about all the times he’s going to be gone over the next few months- Don’t worry about me, I’ll just keep adjusting while you go off and do your thing. Don’t worry about me, I’ll just continue to make the best of life here without you. Don’t worry about me, I’m a strong Army wife and can do it all.
And even though I don’t want it to, the more I see what’s not there, namely- him, the more I feel my resentment grow.
How’s that for being a supportive military wife?
And we get further apart, still.
It doesn’t ever seem to get easier, I realize one day. Stress is still high, tempo is still high, fear- yep, that’s still high some days too, and I wonder what it would be like to have a predictable, ordinary life.
Lane counsels marriages in crisis and I write about it and we’re trained in leading marriage resiliency events and here we are, a husband and wife throwing zingers at the other, unable to close the gap between us.
I remember a time a friend looked at us after a deployment, almost with awe, and said “Because of what you guys have gone through, you have this strength to your marriage that we’ll never have,” and I wonder if we can find that strength again.
It continues to be wild and I continue to see what’s not there- namely, him- when he comes home one evening after being gone for a week. His hair is disheveled, his face is tan from the sun, I can see the exhaustion in his eyes.
He flops his body on the couch, looks at me, and we settle into a comfortable silence borne from our seventeen years together. He needs a longer runway to ease into being back home so I go back to my book and simply… wait.
He takes some deep breaths. He sighs a few times.
He rubs his eyes and I see the lines on his face from his sunglasses.
As I watch him readjust to being back home with me, I feel a tenderness toward him that I didn’t while he was away.
It’s hard for him, too.
He’d rather be home with me, too.
I wonder how long it’s been that I’ve been viewing our life from my experience, only.
I begin to wonder what it must feel like to be the one that has to say goodbye to our girls, watching them wave from the front porch as he drives away, pudgy hands and twirly dresses sending him off.
I begin to wonder what it’s like to call home, to lose the connection, and not be able to try again.
I think of his late hours, the way he serves his guys, the broken stories they tell him.
I think of things he’s seen and casualties he’s seen and pain he’s seen and how he feels like he needs to keep it together so that everyone can break around him and he’s there to pick up the pieces. I wonder about the toll that takes on his soul and how it’s true and it’s true and it’s true that the body keeps the score.
I wonder how long it’s been that I’ve thought only about myself: This is hard on me, can’t you see I sacrifice too, don’t you see me, but what about me, though?
About twenty minutes pass, we’re still in the living room. He looks over at me and says “Okay, I think I’m here now.”
And then something funny happens-
I begin to remember.
I remember dating him and watching movies in our dorm rooms and I remember making pies from the frozen section and taking them to the rivers edge and eating the whole thing, he with one fork and me with another.
I remember when he came back home from Iraq and my heart was pounding until I saw him in the sea of uniforms and when he came back home and when he came back home again.
I remember all of the times we’ve said there’s not another life in the world right now that we’d rather be living because this life? This life is ours and this life is good.
I think of when the girls and I were sick and I accused him of leaving me to deal with it all alone.
I had forgotten that we’re in it together, after all.
And so I remember Lane and I, in it together, and how this never changed, not once, even when it felt like we were far apart- I just wasn’t seeing correctly.
I was only looking at myself when I should have been looking at us.
We’re all carrying our own degree of pain, really. It’s hard for all of us, really- husbands and wives and all of us. I begin to be easier on him, both in my mind and in my actions.
He is for me not against me and I repeat this both daily and often.
Life is hard and marriage is hard and it’s going to continue to be hard in one way or another.
If I’ve learned anything from this whole thing, it’s that the more I widen my lens to look from his angle too, I begin to actually see.
And this seeing is the beginning of loving well and sacrificially and first and often and extravagantly because I remember it’s not about me, it’s not about me, it never was only about me.
And the space between us closes.
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