Sometimes you don’t know just how terrified you were until after the fear has passed.
A week ago today, elections were held in Afghanistan. While voting in America barely causes a hiccup of disruption in people’s lives, in the Middle East it bodes almost certain violence. I knew T and his unit would be involved in the elections, but I didn’t know in what capacity.
So, in the week prior to the big day, T was busy attending planning meetings and trainings, and I was left with the unknown and an imagination that was running rampant.
For a while now, I’ve felt like this deployment is finally catching up with me. I’ve been anxious and depressed, but at a functioning level. And by functioning I mean, most mornings I wake up and lie in bed willing myself to move. After a while – usually when the idiocy of the morning shows blathering from my radio become less bearable than the thought of getting up – I drag myself out of bed. I get to work a half hour later than I should, but I do my job and I do it fairly well. I come home. I take care of my pets. I do my chores like a good girl.
So, two weeks ago, when the anxiety ramped itself up to the point where I felt like a compressed spring and my hair-trigger anger reached new heights, I assumed it was because I’ve been doing this for ten months now. Since I still have a couple of months left to go, I settled in to wait out my insanity.
The week progressed. I went to work. I talked to T on the phone. I went grocery shopping. I got T’s birthday package together.
On Thursday, I made arrangements to stay with my dad on Saturday so my mother could attend a cousin’s baby shower in Massachusetts.
On Friday at 11 o’clock at night, I read myself an online bedtime story with this title: “Rocket hits Kabul as Afghans prepare to vote in parliamentary elections”. My stomach turned over and my heart raced as I read the article.
It was upsetting, but I talked myself down. After all, T is nowhere near Kabul. I said a prayer and I went to bed. I even slept okay, as far as deployment sleep goes.
Just in case, though, I decided I’d better get up early. I didn’t want to still be in bed should I receive any surprise and unwelcome visitors the next morning. And by “visitors” I mean, “casualty notification officer”.
I’m not trying to be morbid or dramatic. I was scared. And when you’re scared, these are the things that run through your mind.
I prayed again that morning. As a recovering Catholic, I’m pretty lost, spiritually, but I’m searching. I read aloud from the Psalm 91 book. Then I went about my day. I prayed again. And I waited for my phone call from T.
At one point, I saw on Facebook that one of the other wives in the unit had communicated with her husband earlier that day. That meant there was no blackout at least. I felt a little better. And by “I felt a little better” I mean, “I ran to the bathroom and pissed out of my asshole”.
Something I did more than once that day.
Around two in the afternoon, my husband called. I think I was more angry than relieved as I picked up the phone. It was like when your child runs out into the middle of the road and has a near miss with traffic: you want to hug him close, but instead you smack him upside the head for scaring the ever-living crap out of you. (Literally.)
“How’d it go today?” I said, as if I were asking whether he’d had a good day at the office.
“Good,” he said, descriptively. Then he chuckled and proceeded to tell me about his day which had included a mission cut short for apparently amusing reasons (I did not see the humor), as well as a couple of patrols.
“Okay,” I told him. And then I cried.
The relief came slowly. I realized, as the tears rolled down my face and the snot dangled from my nose in unattractive strands of goo, just how much fear I’d been carrying and why.
So I’m a little slow sometimes. It’s called “denial”, which is synonymous with “survival”. It’s also a good way to prepare yourself for an early coronary and add to your collection of gray hair.
I tried to hide the fact that I was crying, as I always do, but T knew anyway, as he always does. I’m not entirely sure he knew why I was crying, but he knew that I was.
When we got off the phone, I ran to the bathroom again.
I spent the rest of the day on auto-pilot. I was exhausted. Dead woman walking. A shell of my former self. But I was functioning.
I went to my parents’ house and played Scrabble with my dad. I cooked us turkey cutlets and roasted potatoes with snap peas and I played hostess when some cousins dropped by unexpectedly to deliver some furniture for my mom. I chatted about the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I had made and about the Strut Your Mutt fundraiser the previous weekend.
And I marveled at how different my life is from everyone else’s right now.
Or is it? I know that day my mother was worried she’d be late to the baby shower. My brother was stressed over whether he’d get all of his errands done before Monday rolled around again. My father fretted that my mother didn’t know the furniture was there.
I also know those aren’t their deepest worries. Almost everyone has a “deep down” that they bury as they go about their surface lives – a mother diagnosed with cancer, a dog that just died, a failing marriage.
So why do deployment worries feel so different, so alienating? Is it because I keep everything inside? Last Saturday, I wasn’t just afraid for T. I was afraid for me. I was afraid my life would end. But I didn’t tell anybody until afterwards. Not even T.
Or is it because so few people can relate? Many people know what it’s like to have a relative with cancer or to lose a pet, but few know what it is like to have a loved one in a war zone. They don’t know about the constant fear, the feelings of helplessness, the loneliness, the guilt, the rollercoaster.
Sometimes I feel worlds apart from the very world I’m living in. There are days when I feel like an extra on the movie set of my own life. I watch other people go about their lives in a very real way.
Me, I’m in a state of suspended animation. But I’m thinking and feeling and learning about things of which I would never have otherwise known. Part of me wants to keep this greater awareness, this larger perspective.
And part of me that wants nothing more than to go back worrying when I’m late for an appointment and fighting over when the dishes get done.