Managing deployment anxiety is, for me at least, a full time occupation. Rather than “one day at a time,” I find myself living “one breath at a time.” From the moment he left, it felt as though an elephant had become a permanent resident of my chest cavity. I was determined that the deployment elephant wouldn’t win, though.
I practiced my Zen meditation, attempted mindfulness and tried being fully present. I looked for the beauty in each moment, whether it was in the water flowing over my hands, the sting of snowflakes on my face, or the trees dancing in the wind. Some moments were exquisite. Most moments were a struggle. It was a constant mental battle to choose peace over panic.
Part of my survive and thrive plan was to fill up the calendar with events. In addition to the MWR’s monthly events for Blue Star Wives, I attended Operation Faithful Support meetings, went to the gym, attended FRG functions, and took the littles to Ballet and Gymnastics. My goal was daily exhaustion so that I could get at least four hours of sleep before Ollie died in my nightmares. Again.
January flew by with few incidents. Birch’s party was a raging success. The girls sang, danced, and made t-shirts way cooler than anything I planned. Food was plentiful, laughter was abundant. My Army sisters–Diane and her daughter, Tracy, Ayse, Mandi and Joanne–came through to help me with everything from setup to childcare to last minute supplies to clean up.
Even in the midst of the shrill chaos, I frequently found myself peering out the front door, searching for the official car. They couldn’t come tonight. I needed to catch them before they got to the door. I considered making a sign that said, “Come back tomorrow. Don’t ruin my daughter’s party.” I decided that exceeded the threshold for totally fucking crazy, though, so I did iron-on transfers for the girls instead.
A week later the doorbell rang unexpectedly. My friends and I never rang the doorbell for each other. Even the UPS guy knocked a cheerful rhythm or rang the bell twice in succession. My heart hit the floor (again), my ears rang, and time slowed down. It was my neighbor. She was looking for her cat. It took me over an hour to recover.
The deployment elephant perched on my lungs for days. My inability to reason myself out of the intense reaction to “ding-dong” made me feel weak and stupid. My resolve to triumph over the deployment grew along with my anxiety.
I exuberantly practiced Ollie’s Law for Driveway Snow Removal. Sometimes in the dark, wee hours, I attacked the driveway with my shovel and broom. Ollie’s Law states that if you remove the snow while it is light and fluffy, it doesn’t stick to the driveway surface and turn to ice. The cold air shocked my lungs into breathing, the activity caused me to break a sweat in the single digit temperatures. I cleared the driveway in his honor, dammit. It felt good.
We took our first road trip in early February to surprise my eight year old son for his birthday. We met up with him and his father at a ski resort in West Virginia. Before we left, I made sure the rear detachment commander had the address and room number for the resort, just in case they needed to find me.
Hank was pleasantly shocked to see us and delighted to eat his homemade key lime pie. That night’s sleep was so good I still remember it–piled up on a king size bed with all four kids, watching silly movies until we crashed.
February crawled by. Ollie was disappointed when I told him we did nothing for Valentine’s Day, so I made up for it a few days later. Communication with him was intermittent at best. I often stayed up most of the night, waiting by the computer just in case he came online. When I slept, my phone was in my hand.
The Red Cross sponsored a “Mock Deployment” for the kids of deployed soldiers so they had an idea about what their dads were doing overseas. They learned about Afghanistan, the terrain, the equipment, and MREs. It was brilliantly done. Birch had a blast. She and a friend earned a 3-star General coin for singing the National Anthem for the whole crowd. I was grateful that our kids were remembered, that they were cared for while their soldier parents were away.
February drew to a close and we were relieved to put it behind us. March was one month closer to the end of this, but March was also one month closer to spring. As the weather warms up in Afghanistan, so does the fighting.
On February 27, I suspected that communication was blacked out. You can usually tell by the number of wives signed in on Facebook. Here and there, a few casual messages are exchanged, “Hey, have you heard from your husband lately?” Even if our own soldier didn’t call, it eased the mind when others did. It meant communication lines were open. Open communication lines meant no incidents–no one in the unit was hurt or killed. Blackouts meant incidents. Blackouts put everyone even more on edge, as we waited to know whether the incident involved our own soldier or someone else’s.
They called us to the chapel for a casualty brief on the last day of February. Spring, and the hell that accompanies it, had come early in Afghanistan.