Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Guest Blogger Melinda: The Send Off

**Melinda is a friend I've had since the 5th grade, she lives in Idaho and works as a High School teacher, where she waits for her deployed husband to come home , they have a 4 month old son, Che. Melinda keeps a private blog, and I asked her to post here regarding her recent goodbye to her husband. I've found it difficult to put into words the feelings I have about my own brother's deployment. Melinda's husband is in Mississippi with Matt and they will head to Iraq together. Because I love her and because of this, I feel extremely close to her right now. She is a gifted writer and I was touched by her words about their send off.**

I waited a week before trying to write this. It's like writing what I saw at a funeral, which you might rightfully question as not a good idea. But it's like documenting my hours of labor. Something important that I went through. That was hard. That I might have to go through again, so it's a good idea to process it for future reference.

Last night, as Juan and I chatted about his three days of leave in November (right before he officially flies overseas), we quickly came to the mutual conclusion that it was a bad idea for me to try and spend his leave with him. Several well-intentioned civilian acquaintances have mentioned that I could go down and see him if I chose, and I feel like a bad wife for saying, emphatically, NO. And Juan agrees. Here's why:

1. Military bastards change their dates all the time. If I had been a blogger at the time I was planning my wedding, I would have told you all about that. The effort and expense of a possible date change would be very bad on my blood pressure.

2. It's expensive, and we're trying to save money. A current dream is to use our accumulated vacation fund to spend an entire summer in Mexico when Che is three. I'd blow hundreds of that money for a few nights down in Mississippi. Not a good exchange.

3. It's not fun flying as a single parent with an infant. Five hours. I don't know this from personal experience, and I have no desire to find out.

4. Juan needs time to bond with his new guys. He went from Delta Company to Alpha Company just before the deployment, which cut off his entire military social support system. He needs a chance to make non-Iraq memories with the people who he trusts with his life. I get that. Go watch a football game together, drink some shots. Pack six guys in a hotel room. All that important stuff.

5. And the big one: saying goodbye again would really, really suck.

One week ago, I came home from a loooong day, with puffy eyes and a bone-tired body. Last Monday night, yes, my last night with my husband for a year long deployment, was spent at parent-teacher conferences. I thought about taking the day off, but in the past, I weirdly have had the luck of getting the stomach flu or food poisoning on that very day, and frankly, I think the parents are getting a little suspicious. So I sucked it up, raced home. Got there five minutes after my mom did. She unpacked, set up on the couch, and commenced the much-needed nurturing.

Juan and I played 'pack the duffel bag' and I don't mean a fun bedroom game. Elsewhere, I suspected, in hundreds of Idahoan National Guard homes, delicious nooky was taking place, but not here. We were finding goggles, batteries, headlamps, mouth wash. Asleep by 11:00.

Awake at 2:30.

On base, I dropped off my soldier and crawled into the back of the Tahoe with my sleeping bag, catching a cat nap for about an hour . . . a nap punctuated by slamming doors of late soldiers and the mass chanting of hundreds of voice shouting, "Go Desert Storm!" No, not that. "Go, Desert Wind!" Maybe. "Go, Desert Kitty Cat!" Who knows. They were like a huge football team before a game.

So I slept. Then drove to the hangar and hung out with him for an hour and an half or so. There were sweet old ladies and motorcycle gang veterans there serving us breakfast burritos, stale cookies, and watery coffee. God bless them! Every time I think that they're doing something corny, I remind myself that they could be cozy in bed. They think that it's more important for us to not feel alone right now, for us to feel loved. What must Vietnam have been like for them to feel so determined to love on us right now? I can't even imagine?

So in a room of high strung children playing in the dead middle of the night, clutching their daddy dolls, hugging their daddies' knees, it started to slowly hurt. I felt that nervous before-a-race feeling from high school. I went pee three times. We chatted about nothing at all. Juan told me the gossip on everybody new - those that I'd likely never see again.

Some politicians wandered in, looking so incredibly polished, pressed, and out of place. No media was there, not that I saw. Must have been, though, for the mayor to show, right? I sound cynical, but Juan's last deployment taught us a thing or two about politicians and their lust for photo ops with troops. Take away a camera and they 'stand you up like a fat girl on prom night' as my husband put it once or twice.

Then they called for the troops to gather in 15 minutes.
15 minutes passed very quickly. Juan kissed me and said goodbye. Turned away happily to his guys. Probably fake-happy -- you do what you can to get through it, I've found. I walked out into the night and suddenly I felt sick, literally like I was going to vomit, which was handy since I was right next to a row of port-a-potties. And I started bawling. Finally, it was just me and the darkness and I could really let it go. I didn't have to be strong, organized, disciplined, supportive. I could just cry. So I did.

Somehow I hadn't thought I wanted to come to this whole goodbye thing. I thought I'd kiss him goodbye at our doorstep, on our terms, and he'd drive to an armory and they'd bus him to base. No count-down. No politicians. No other families in the same predicament as me.

This was the classic band-aid dilemma. Rip it off quickly? Tear it slowly, little hair by little hair?

That thing I'd dreaded so long had come.

And then, as I strode away, I heard a song: sunk deep in my National Guard hoodie three sizes too big with a bleach stain on the sleeve, my phone rang with Joan Sebastian. Juan.

"I didn't mean to send you away," he said apologetically. "I thought we were supposed to say goodbye right then and line up. I guess you are allowed to come walk us out to the plane and all that."

Put the band-aid back on and try to rip it off again. Slower this time. I returned to the too-bright hangar with puffy eyes. His were wet, too, though. Rare.

I just couldn't stop touching him as we walked out into the darkness of the runway. My fingers on his hand, on his face, wanting to press my face against his, just hungry. I know what it's like to say goodbye for a long time.... just not quite like this. Not when I need him so much, love him so much. Share so much with him, have so much to lose.

And then, one final kiss, and he melts into a crowd of uniforms climbing the stairs up to the plane. A text message. He's sitting over the wing. He can see my phone's light in the crowd. He waves his pen-lamp, and I feel a jolt of love. Such a small thing. The last sight of him.

We stand there in the freezing cold -- I wore flip-flops, dummy that I am -- and listened to wives sniffle and, worst of all, a steady wail from some of the children old enough to know what they were getting into.

Next to me, a very young woman with a baby 21 days old. Her parents or her in-laws were late to the send off; they left their house at 2:30 and got there late, got lost on base, arrived to see a plane with darkened windows and a crowd full of sad faces.

We each felt our own private grief, each yearning for a little more time with one particular man. Like a crowd funeral. With hundreds of different caskets. So private, and yet so public. A feeling I'll likely never be able to share with very many people that I know.

To my right, the young mom whimpered for an hour straight, devastated.

To my left, a pack of Army moms laughing and telling inappropriate jokes and gossiping about who'd been kicked out for the DUI and planning a Biggest Loser party that night.

They made me happy, just standing next to them. Lifted my heart. It was a defining moment.

Yeah, it was sad, sad as hell, something I sure don't want to spend hundreds flying down to Mississippi to repeat.

But I have a choice, don't I? I don't have a pack of Army wives just yet -- again, he's in a totally different company than he was just a month ago. Just when I was getting to know people, build my support system.

But I cannot be that young wife with the baby at my feet, stuffing my hand into my mouth and sucking at it in desperate sadness. Now can I?

I have to laugh. Find funny people. Distract myself from sadness. Stay safe and sane. Right?

In the cold we waited, like I was saying. What was the hold-up? The Governor's wife was determined to shake every soldier's hand. That's nice, honey. Why don't you buy us a Starbucks and let us go home? But that's what the higher ups do. They make speeches and send us to war and keep us waiting on a dark runway.

And then the sun started to come up. The plane started to taxi away from and then toward us, then speed up to zoom past. And just before it left the ground, when I was feeling so damned alone, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and it was a familiar face. In a uniform. That came just to see Juan, just to support me at that hard, hard time. His friend Joyner, whose wife has been through this before and who has been so helpful. He hugged me and watched the plane fly into the rising sun and disappear. He walked me back toward my car, past the port-a-potties, and said he hoped I had a good day, that he had to get to work. That if I needed anything . . . that he'd 'cut my grass' . . . that all I had to do was call.

In the Tahoe, I turned up the Van Morrison. Put on "Crazy Love", the one to which we'd walked down the aisle, and I swear I felt every note. And I realized I've never listened to that song before, not really. It really seemed to fit, the whole 'thousand miles' and 'when I come home'.

And I drove around aimlessly, like you do in college after a gut-kicking break-up. Fell asleep on a quiet street near downtown. Woke up and went to a meeting with a BSU professor. Then went to an afternoon conference on multiculturalism in the schools. Got stared at a lot. I'm sure I've looked shittier, but not in public, not in a professional capacity.

Met my mom for dinner at a psuedo-New-Mexican eatery (we were a tad disappointed). SO glad I didn't have to take Che along for all this. Had to change his poopy diaper on the floor of the bathroom because God forbid they have a changing table or a counter of any sort.

It felt good to have her. Motherhood feels like a wonderful new start for us. It felt wonderful to have someone to come home with that night. A full belly. Exhaustion.

A phone call in the middle of the night from an ex-student who wanted to talk. I can only hope he was drunk. Sheesh.

Little sleep and start all over again.

Now, a week later, (sorry for the novel), it's sinking in again, but in a different way. 390 days to go.

How will I get through missing him so much?

I will. Because I have to.

Yep, that's the thing. I have to. So I will.


  1. Melinda- I pray that you find a support group to help comfort you and get you through this year. Thank you for your guest post.

    Jenny- I pray that you too find comfort in your ring of support. You offer yourself so freely to others. Let us be there for you when you find yourself scared for your brother.

    To both of you ladies and your loved ones- thank you for your and their sacrifice so I and my loved ones can have our freedoms. You all are an inspiration to me.

  2. Melinda-

    I can't count the number of times in my marriage and my time being a mother that I've thought of you army wives. That I've on a bad day, put myself in your shoes and imagined that it could be worse. Or when irritated with my husband, I've felt grateful that his irritating self is here and not on foreign land. I sobbed through an Oprah show where she had a baby shower for 100 expectent army wives who would welcome their kids without their father at home. You women are just as strong and brave as your husbands and I emphathize so greatly the struggle you all face.

    390 days.

    My wish to you is that it goes quickly, and that each day as his return get's closer it get's easier than the last.

    Jenny- this post, and you knowing the perspective this story would bring for yourself and others epitimizes the greatness your friendship has brought me. xoxo

  3. I don't read your blog as often as I should... but, this post scared the crap out of me - made me cry like I haven't in a while - and really made me feel what she was feeling. Tim is in the Navy Reserves... I dread the letter that may one day come in the mail for us. So, thank you for posting Melissa's story... I really appreciated it.