I am ready for this. We will travel, host house guests, practice self-care, make fun and entertain as many distractions as I can muster. My ukulele is sitting there ready to be learned. You can cry into a guitar, but you can’t cry into a ukulele. That’s why I bought it. There are birthdays to celebrate, Sunday Dinners to host with friends, and against my better judgement, an FRG to run.
I know, I know. I said I would never do that again. Last time was a fiasco by the end. But Andrea was struggling with getting things set up. I’m kind of a silent partner. A consultant. I’m not really in charge of anything. I’m leaving in a few months, anyway, so I can’t really take it over completely.
Besides, Diane said she wouldn’t do it again, but she’s right there leading Echo Company FRG. And Heather is leading Charlie Company. The three of us survived the last deployment together, we can do this one, too, right? This young group needs experienced leaders. They need strong voices to advocate for them.
Damned Type A personality. Why can’t I just let other people deal with this?
Birch’s tenth birthday party is next weekend. “Why don’t you invite all the girls in the class? Sure! They can all sleep over! Karaoke? Heck yes!” I am clearly out of my mind already and he’s only been gone for a week.
I google party ideas. Guitar cake. Taylor Swift posters. Red curtain backdrop for karaoke machine. Foam board guitars. T-shirts with iron-on decals. Party food. Afghanistan. DOD casualty count. How many casualties in his area in the past year? Nationality? Branch? Rank? MOS? Lots of Polish losses. The Polish are part of NATO forces? Who knew?
Party planning, dammit. This isn’t healthy.
Is he online yet? Will he come online tonight? Is he in his final destination? Is he warm?
Guitars. She could use a guitar.
Why hasn’t he contacted me yet? I peer out the front door. No official cars.
This is crazy. Sit down and plan a party.
Concert ticket invitations! I can photoshop it! I’m a genius.
What time is it? Is it too late for notifications? It is too late. If something is wrong they won’t come until tomorrow.
Shit. What if they come in the morning?
Shut that voice up and plan a party. You will have 13 ten year old girls here in a week. Quit worrying about stuff that hasn’t happened.
Diane might help me with the party. Diane’s daughter is a teenager–she will be great at the party or helping out with the little kids. Maybe I should take her for a pedicure to thank her?
He’s probably cold. The box with the space heater hasn’t gotten there yet. I hate the idea of him being cold.
JoAnne is my “deployment wife” for several years. We have spent more holidays and birthdays together than we have with our husbands. Her teenage boys helped out with Birch’s Harry Potter party last year. She will be here.
I am lucky to have friends who entertain my crazy-ass ideas.
I’m at the front door again, just to be sure. A white car is coming up the road and I’m frozen for a moment but then the phone rings. I stub my toe in my scramble to get it. It is too late to be anyone else and it is an UNKNOWN number.
Breathless, hopeful, excited, “Hello!?”
“Hi, baby,” he said. His voice is better than valium. I think. I’ve never had it.
“Hi, sweetheart.” I’m probably blushing. How does he give me butterflies from so far away? What a pain in the ass.
“Honey, you didn’t already mail that box of stuff for me, did you?” he asks. Something is off in his voice.
“Yeah, I mailed it at the beginning of the week to the address you gave me.”
“Oh. Ok. I hope it can find me,” he is disappointed.
I’m pissed. “Are you serious? They couldn’t give us the right address? Do you have any idea how many packages have already been mailed to you guys?”
“Well, it’s not really everybody. Just our platoon.” He rattles off a new address, including an acronym that catapults my stomach right through the floor.
I repeat it.
He can’t tell me what it means over the phone, but he doesn’t have to tell me. A few weeks ago my friend Shannon told me about this platoon. It is comprised of an elite group of scouts who have been training for months to be the most forward platoon in the battalion, possibly the brigade. Her husband was selected for it. Its missions will be high risk, high exposure, high speed. She and other wives in that platoon bonded long before the deployment because it would be a much different experience for them than for the rest of us. She spoke of it lightly, but I was privately afraid for her and the others in that platoon.
Now Ollie and his men are that platoon.
I can barely speak. “But… I thought…they were…you are…this…how did this happen?” I might puke.
He says evenly, “It’s okay. We have more resources now. We will be okay.”
“No! This isn’t supposed to be this way! Two days ago you said you were building shit on the FOB? What the fuck?? Did you fucking volunteer for this!?” Hot, angry tears pour down my face.
He recoils at my accusation. His words get a little hot as he tells me how they were pulled from their original mission and put on this one. “I did not fucking volunteer for this shit!” he half-yells at me. I relent. He apologizes. He promises me that he won’t get hurt, he promises me that he will come home.
“You can’t promise that,” I gently admonish him. “Just… be smart. Stay safe. Kick some Taliban ass.”
Our fifteen minutes are up.
It is the time of night that most people go to sleep, so I go to bed. Sleep does not come easy. When I finally drift off, I am jolted awake by a doorbell in my nightmares.
I throw open the front door. No one is here. No cars in the drive. No cars on the street. Maybe they will cruise by the house to see if I’m here. I wait. I watch. I listen.
My heart slows down, my wits return. I collapse in front of the computer. Sleep isn’t worth it. Not if he dies over and over again in my dreams.
For the party we will need a veggie tray, a fruit tray, chips and dip, and drinks. She wants to feed everyone spaghetti for dinner. It is three in the morning. I make my shopping list.