Thirty-six hours into waiting for a phone call that was now twelve hours late, I was sitting at my computer checking the internet for news of international plane crashes.
My heart leapt out of my chest when my cell phone screamed. It was 9:30 p.m.
“Hi baby,” my husband said. Relief rushed over me. Then confusion. Then anger.
This is the emotional rollercoaster that is deployment. You can feel nothing for weeks on end, then feel six or eight different emotions in a span of thirty seconds.
I either said, “Are you okay? Where are you?” or, “Where the hell have you been?” I honestly don’t remember.
“We just got into Atlanta,” T said. “I haven’t had a chance to charge my phone. I’m borrowing someone else’s.”
They got delayed coming out of Kuwait, he quickly explained, then flew to Oslo where the ash cloud forced them to reroute to Portugal. After a layover there, they finally flew into the States.
“We haven’t even checked into the USO,” he told me. “I’ll call you back once I know what’s going on.”
Wait! What?! I wanted to scream. But I knew that there were probably other soldiers that needed that phone, so I said good-bye and hung up.
Was this it? Would he finally get on a flight home tonight? As much as I longed to see my husband, I almost wanted to crawl into bed right then. I felt sick to my stomach from worrying and my head was throbbing. I didn’t think I could stay up for another several hours, and the prospect of driving to the airport at one in the morning was less than appealing.
This was not the reunion scene I had dreamed about for so many weeks.
I stared listlessly at the computer, glancing at the clock every few minutes. 9:45…10:15…10:45…
It was after 11:00 when the phone rang again.
“Hello,” I said angrily, as if this were his fault.
“Hi baby,” my husband said soothingly. Sometimes I hate it when he’s nice to me. It makes the contrast between us that much more glaring and my guilt that much heavier.
“I have good news and bad news,” he said.
“Well, the bad news is, my flight home was scheduled for 9:20 this evening. Unfortunately, we didn’t land until 9:30, so I missed it by ten minutes.”
“The good news is, they put me on a morning flight tomorrow and they extended my leave by 24 hours to make up for the lost time.”
“What time tomorrow?” I barely heard the last part.
“I leave here at 10:30 and will be arriving by 1:30.”
“That isn’t the morning!” I exploded. “That’s afternoon!” I knew then that I could have waited until any hour of the morning to see him. I just wanted to be with him again. Why was that so effing difficult? I felt tears pricking at the corners of my eyes.
“I might as well go into work tomorrow and save a vacation day,” I spat bitterly.
“Okay. If that’s what you want to do,” he said calmly.
If my last five days had been strained, T’s had been almost tortuous. Despite waiting in stifling heat – often over 100 degrees – he had neither showered, nor had a change of clothes. He and other soldiers had been crammed onto various busses and planes so that they had to sit shoulder to shoulder with their packs on their laps. He had not been able to lie down for the past three days, and had slept only sporadically.
Yet he was the one comforting me.
This is fairly typical of our relationship.
It will be better this way, he told me. They were putting him up in a hotel room for the night, so he could shower and get a few hours of sleep before seeing me. And, by extending his leave by 24 hours, we not only wouldn’t lose time, we’d actually gain about 10 “free” hours.
I couldn’t be glad about that yet. I felt ridiculously selfish, but I couldn’t get past the fact that he would be spending his first night in the States without me.
With a Herculean effort, I put aside as much of my disappointment as I could (which wasn’t much) and told him – truthfully – that I hoped he got some sleep. He said he’d call me tomorrow before he boarded.
Well, I’d waited this long…wait, hadn’t I heard that someplace before?
To be continued…