The (last) three weeks have been awful. You’d think that we would enjoy every (last) moment we have together. We don’t acknowledge the (lasts), but they hang heavy in the air until everything reeks with meaning. Even the mundane is dripping with it: the (last) time he takes out the trash, the (last) time he scrapes my windshield, the (last) time he shovels snow from the driveway, the (last) time he goes fishing, the (last) time he checks the air in my tires. With each of his (last) household duties, he gives me instructions.
“If you shovel the drive while it’s still snowing, it won’t freeze. Make sure you get it off the driveway while it’s still fluffy.”
“Don’t forget to drive both vehicles. Check your tires before you drive. Don’t let the gas get below a quarter tank.”
I already know these things, but he reminds me anyway.
With every (last), the tension builds until we can barely tolerate one another. We argue over stupid things. His mind turns from us and towards war. I panic a little over his withdrawing from me. He is home, but not really.
We have our (last) Thanksgiving. We celebrate our (last) Christmas. On our (last) New Year’s Eve, he signs in from pre-deployment leave. We have our (last) family dinner.
Tonight is our (last) night together. It isn’t really our last night, though. We’ve gone through enough of these that we know that the last last night is a loss. Last minute packing consumes that night. It involves a lot of cussing, sitting on bags, panicking over forgotten comfort items, more cussing, a few runs to the store, and items that can’t be coaxed into the bags thrown into a box labeled “Mail to Ollie in Afghanistan.” So our (last) night is the night before the real (last) night. As with all the other (lasts), we don’t talk about it, we just know.
We scrub the frustrations of the (last) few weeks off of each other in that awful little shower with the 1950s-era puke-colored tile. I try to memorize every last detail about him. His hair gets all mussed up when it’s wet, his Barney Rubble toes gripping the floor, his odd drying ritual where he squeegees off the water with his hands before reaching for the towel. I do not follow any particular religion but I try to infuse him with every blessing I can muster, whispering protection over his mind and body. I hope that somehow my love is strong enough to keep him safe, to shield him from those who will attempt to do him harm.
I massage his feet–each little toe–for the (last) time.
We collapse together as always, my head on his chest, his arm holding me close, our legs tangled together. He snores within seconds. I lay awake as long as I can, memorizing all of this: the sound of his heartbeat, his breath tickling the top of my head, his hand cradling my waist, our skin all mashed up together, the smell of his neck crack, his feet keeping mine warm.
As I begin to drift off, he does that thing where he squeezes me just a little closer and whispers, “I looove you, Megan…”
“I love you, Ollie…”
I fall asleep hoping that is enough to bring him safely home.