The water streamed down my face, so hot it almost (but not quite) hurt. I came out for air like a swimmer, then ducked back under the shower. It was the morning after the notification. I woke up early to call the casualty line, but they had no further information for me. The kids were still in bed. My friends hadn’t arrived yet. For the last time in the foreseeable future, I was alone.
My meditation was interrupted when my eyes flickered open as I stepped out for air. I saw my toes–my feet–brazenly (unabashedly even!) there in the tub, holding me up! Well, they did until my knees faltered and I lay on the shower floor in a ball, my face on the place where his feet used to stand.
There on the floor of the shower I started to realize that he wouldn’t be coming to this home again. We wouldn’t be living here all together as a family ever again. Logistical questions popped up one after another. Where will we live? Where will the kids go to school? Do we have any coffee? Should I paint my toenails? Does my husband know he is short a foot? What should I wear today? When I found myself list making as I stared up at the shower head, I decided it was time to get out and start the day.
“You can fall apart in the shower, that’s it. Nowhere else.” I told my reflection.
“You’re talking to yourself,” she smirked at me.
“No, you’re talking to yourself,” I snapped back.
Amused with myself (ourselves?), I pulled my shit together. “Let’s do this,” I said as I walked out to meet my new reality.
My memories for the rest of the day are foggy at best. Diane, JoAnne, Ayse, Nicolle, Andrea, Tracy, and others came to the house. Some of them were there when I talked with the kids. I think they all enjoyed the excitement of people in the house. Plus, everyone was being extra nice. This was better than late night ice cream.
Birch took the news well. I told the kids that his legs were hurt, but waited to tell them about the amputation until he could talk to them. They needed to hear his voice before they heard the scariest parts of it. The little two were unfazed by Daddy’s “big ouchies” but were very excited to get to spend the day at Alana’s. Someone drove them there. I don’t think it was me.
JoAnne took me to the pharmacy and the commissary. They were only a mile away, but I was kind of afraid we were going to die on the way. I had forgotten that riding with her was a scary endeavor. She was always the best at advocating in medical situations, though. When I stared uncomprehendingly at the form I had to fill out to get my script, she filled it out for me. She made light conversation and communicated with the pharmacists. They let her come back to pick it up later when I no longer wanted to be in public.
I was unprepared for how the commissary would affect me. Of all ridiculous places to start falling apart, why did the bulk aisle in the warehouse get to me? Staring at a wall of family sized sugary cereals, I was suddenly lost. I had no idea what I was supposed to buy. Why the fuck do all these people have two feet? Fucking arrogant bipeds.
I searched the aisles for anything that resembled things that my family eats, to no avail. Just look at all those ketchups. The condiments swam dangerously before my eyes. I leaned on the cart to steady myself beside the vats of mayo.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,” I looked at her blankly. She guided me through the store. I couldn’t stand any longer when we got to the check-out, so I handed her my card and waited for her on the baggers’ bench. How can the commissary be so normal? These people are all talking and shopping and scanning and bagging. And fucking walking. I hated them all that day.
My mouth tasted like metal, I was hot and the electric current was back in my veins. I wondered if maybe there was a bag of frozen corn in one of our bags. She put me in the car, gave me a cold water bottle and headed back to the pharmacy.
“You should probably take one of these now,” she said. She was probably right, so I did. It made the harrowing drive back home much easier, if nothing else.
A Facebook message was waiting for me when I got back home. It was from Randy, Ollie’s platoon sergeant. He wrote in reply to a message I sent him in the middle of the night. I knew they would be upset and I wanted him to know we were okay, to tell the platoon we would be fine. “Don’t worry about us.” His reply said that he was there when Ollie got hurt. “Hughes was Hughes all the way up to us putting him on the bird.” It was the first real information I had from someone who knew. “He told me to hurry with the bird. You know him.” It made me smile to know he was bitching at them the whole time. I learned that Mike and Jesse were there. They had to pry him out of the truck. Ollie was awake the whole time. He told me that Kevin was Med-Evaced, too. Ollie’s driver. I often talk to his mother. Randy and I chatted for a few minutes. I told him to take care of the platoon. I was very worried about our guys.
The to-do lists I made the night before came in handy. “I can no longer think,” I told them. I gave them my phone and my lists. JoAnne took me to housing. Diane took me to JAG and the Red Cross. They took notes, asked pertinent questions, served as buffers for the nonstop phone calls and kept my binder together. Diane printed out hundreds of pages of information from both Walter Reed and BAMC.
Skype pinged mid-afternoon. It was Faith. I apologized for not telling her the news the night before. She dismissed my “sorry’s” and gave me a message from Mike. “Mike wanted you to know that he was with Ollie from the time everything happened until he got on the bird. And that he gave Mike a kiss and told him he loved him.” My heart fell out. Ollie was scared. Faith said that she would arrive the next day to help out and was looking for hotel rooms. I told her to stay with me.
My friends led me through more tasks, but I remember none of it.
My friend Amy, a former neighbor, was in town for a day. We were supposed to make strawberry mojitos like we used to do and sit on the front porch for an exquisite belated birthday indulgence. When she stopped by the house that evening, I was sitting in the floor of the kitchen, a little manic. It seemed like the right place to be at the time. I am being soooo normal! I handle stress AWEsome! People around me were cooking and chatting. The kids were home and I’d issued a moratorium on any scary talk. Amy looked at me with a little fear in her eyes and exchanged looks with whoever owned the pair of legs standing next to me.
Maybe sitting on the couch is more normal. I non-chalantly pulled myself up off the floor and moseyed to the living room.
“Has she eaten anything?” I heard a whisper behind me. It might have been Marlena, who arrived sometime during the day.
“Not that I know of…”
Eating. That’s novel. I fell asleep. Different people were there when I woke up.
“I put snacks out on the counter. Maybe she’ll eat,” I heard them talking in the kitchen.
Uh-oh. They’re talking in hushed tones about me. That can’t be good. I ate a few bites of something to prove just how a-okay I was.
They divvied up the remaining items on my list and assigned duties for the next day. I was grateful for this amazing group of strong, capable, compassionate women who could run my life while I checked out for a bit.