Welcome to Sunday Stories, hosted by The Annoyed Army Wife. If you haven’t seen her fabulous blog yet, please go check it out! While you’re there, link up and share a story of your own.
T went to Fort Dix in early January of 2006 for two months training on his upcoming deployment to Iraq. In March, his unit was granted five days of leave before going overseas. T and I opted to spent that time in New York City.
Read Our Story from the beginning.
My friend K and I decided to drive down to Fort Dix together. We would pick up T, and her husband Joe, and head north again. K and Joe would drop T and me off in New York. Simple, right?
It’s about a seven hour drive from where we are to Fort Dix. The boys were scheduled to be released sometime late afternoon, probably between three and five. We wanted to give ourselves plenty of time since we didn’t want to waste one precious second with our men. We decided to leave at seven a.m. sharp on Thursday morning.
We watched the weather anxiously that week and with New England reliability, a storm hovered on the horizon. Snow was due on Thursday afternoon. Of course.
7 a.m. K picks me up at my apartment and we jump on the highway heading south. The sky is gray, but so far, no snow. In our excitement we are chatting nonstop, but this, at least, is normal.
8:30 a.m. We are on 495S in Massachusetts and this demon of a road has begun to work its black magic. Traffic is at a dead stop. Why? It’s not even snowing yet. We sit and fidget and watch idiots pass us in the breakdown lane.
9:00 a.m. In the last half hour, we’ve moved about a quarter of a mile. The sky is getting heavier, but still no snow. I pull out the atlas to see if I can find an alternate route. This is laughable since my sense of direction is horrendous. I can’t find my way out of a paper bag. But it gives me something to do.
10:00 a.m. We pass a minor accident – the apparent cause of the giant delay – and start moving again.
10:30 a.m. The first flakes start to fall. Traffic slows down and visibility gets worse.
The snow stayed with us all the way into New York, crippling our progress. As soon as we hit the outskirts of the city it turned to rain. From there it was much easier…but by the time were navigating our way through Fort Dix it was 5 p.m. and the boys had been free for about three hours.
So much for our big plan.
Still, I couldn’t complain. By the time another couple of hours had passed, T and I were checked into our hotel in NYC and were snuggled up and cozy. K and Joe still had another five hours on the road. (Although, if memory serves, I believe they ended up finding a hotel that night was well. It would sure beat driving back in the snow!)
By the next morning, T and I were rested and ready for our Big Apple adventure.
Actually, to tell the truth, we didn’t do too many of the biggies. We didn’t go to the Statue of Liberty, we didn’t visit Ground Zero, we didn’t go to the Empire State Building or see a play on Broadway or eat bagels and lox.
We did go to the wax museum.
And we did go to FAO Schwartz and Bloomingdale’s.
And we did go to the Central Park Zoo.
But mostly we did a lot of looking around and adding to our “when we come back” list.
On our last night in the city, we hit Little Italy with one of the other officers and his wife. I wanted so much to go to Little Italy. My family is Italian. I was dying to try the food.
Unfortunately, I had a serious case of anxiety that night.
It is rather difficult to enjoy yourself when you have to drop your boyfriend off for war the next day and you don’t know when you’ll see him again.
I was sick to my stomach. I dragged myself through Little Italy trying not to ruin everyone else’s fun. I ended up ordering chicken soup. I ate half of it and could have cried into my bowl. I was in Little Italy eating chicken soup.
Life can be so cruel.
The next day we took the train to Secaucus where K and Joe picked us up again. The four of us made the trip back into Fort Dix, cracking surface jokes but clinging to each other and to these last few minutes.
As it turned out, we had more than a few minutes left together. T and Joe checked in and discovered that leave had been extended until 11 p.m. Of course we wanted to spend that time together…but where?
We drove around the dark, dreary and largely closed down base until we finally found an open bowling alley. Beer, pizza and the smell of feet. What a touching way to spend those last minutes.
One thing I have learned over the last five years is that military good-byes – despite what they show you in Hollywood – are rarely romantic. You learn to say good-bye at home because, more likely than not, once the time comes to part, you are either stuck in line at security or your spouse is late for his flight or some other ridiculous thing is happening.
I’ve gotten to the point now where I’ll drop T at the terminal and drive away. It’s just easier that way. And I can do it in my jammies.
We did manage to have a few laughs, though, and we even bowled a few strings. Round about 10:30 p.m, we headed back over to the barracks.
K parked the minivan and we all got out into the dark and bitterly cold parking lot. K and Joe were on one side of the vehicle and T and I were on the other, each trying to say a few last words in private.
T and I hugged each other as if we would never let go. We said a million “I love yous”. It was the only time I’ve ever seen tears in my now-husband’s eyes.
For the second time – but not the last – I watched T walk away from me.
Once the boys disappeared into the building, there wasn’t anything left for K and I to do but get back in the van and drive home. So we did.
Seven hours and five McDonald’s diet Cokes later (way, way better than coffee when you’re on the road), I was back at my apartment. It was six in the morning. Exhausted and emotionally worn out, I got undressed and crawled into bed. I slept until two o’clock the next afternoon.
I wished I could sleep for the next twelve months.