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.
On March 6th of 2006, in a cold, damp parking lot, my then-boyfriend and I said our last good-byes before he shipped overseas to Iraq for a year-long deployment. We had no way of knowing that three years later, on that very day, we would stand before God and say our vows to each other. We only knew that we had a long, winding road ahead of us.
Read Our Story from the beginning.
Within a few days of our good-bye in the Fort Dix parking lot, T had arrived in Kuwait. His unit would be there for a few weeks while they adjusted to climate and time changes and did some more training. T was busy, but I did get a few emails and even a couple of brief phone calls.
Our worlds began to diverge. I was at home, working the same two jobs in the same New England spring and seeing the same people I always did. T was living 25 people to a tent – most of whom I’d never met before – in a place that I’d probably never see, doing things I’d probably never do.
For instance, I don’t expect to ever have to saddle up in an Army vehicle and drive down field to move Bedouins and their camel herds off of the firing range before target practice.
T did his best to fill me in, but he had other things to attend to besides describing his surroundings to his girlfriend. I understood that and I was proud of his commitment to his job and his men…but I resented it. Fiercely, at times.
Too soon, T’s unit moved from the relative safety of Kuwait and into Iraq. Two of the platoons went to a FOB in the south and T’s platoon went to Bagdad International Airport (BIAP). All three platoons would be running convoy escort.
In convoy escort, Humvees are spaced at intervals between other unarmed vehicles – often supply trucks – to protect them from insurgents and other dangers. The missions were usually conducted after curfew, but in Bagdad T’s platoon ran missions almost every night and, as platoon leader, he went on a lot of them.
Still, there were advantages to being on BIAP (pronounced “bi-op”). It was the largest base in theatre and, according to T, was like a small city. There were “luxuries”, such as a Burger King, a KFC and, of course, the MWR tents. There was a pool and a barber shop (both of which took fire in the time T was there) and plenty of PXes.
Which is why when I asked the question, “what can I send you?”, the answer was almost always, “nothing.” I resented feeling useless.
We started to settle into a routine of sorts. I would carry my phone everywhere and T would call me when he could, which was almost every day. Some people will tell you not to get into a pattern like that with your soldier so that if a time comes when you don’t hear from him regularly, you won’t panic. I didn’t care. I was going to talk to him as often as I could and I was panicked half the time anyway.
In those days, Iraq was all over the place. I didn’t have TV and I wouldn’t read the newspaper, but it was kind of hard to open up msn.com and not see casualty figures splashed all over the place. I guess I could have changed my Internet Explorer default page, but part of me felt an obligation to know what was going on “over there”. I knew how skewed the media could make things sound but I didn’t know how else to learn about things.
Time dragged on and in early May I flew to Chicago on business. My company organizes trade shows and I was needed on site, so packed my bags and hopped a plane with a few coworkers. I had never been to Chicago before and was looking forward to seeing a new city.
On the first day of the show, I arrived at the convention center early to get set up. I was feeling business-sophisticated in my suit and heels, with my clipboard in one hand and a radio in the other. It made it hard to carry my cell phone, too, but I put it on vibrate and slipped it into my pocket as we gathered in the show office for the pre-show pep talk.
As our CEO broke the news about some partnership thing, I felt my phone vibrate. Of course. Why wouldn’t it ring when I couldn’t answer it? I eased it out of my pocket and snuck a peek. The screen didn’t show the garbled number that indicated a call from T. It was K.
That’s weird, I thought. She knows I’m in Chicago.
As soon as the meeting broke and folks scattered on the wind, I called her back.
“Hey,” I said. “Sorry I couldn’t answer. I was in a meeting. What’s up?”
“I’m sorry. I know you’re working, but I had to call you,” K said. She was crying. “N’s husband was killed yesterday.”
All the blood left my face and for a second the room swayed.
Two men from one of the southern-based platoons had been killed in an IED explosion and a third one injured. I didn’t know any of the men personally, but I did know the wife of one of the fallen soldiers. She had been acting as our FRG leader for the past several months and we had come to love and admire her.
It didn’t seem possible.
But it was.
I hung up the phone and walked out to the lobby. There were throngs of people bustling through the registration area, picking up programs and coming to look at and buy food. Their heels clicked on the polished floor. Their voices and laughter echoed through the hall. They walked by me, bumped into me and kept on going.
I had never felt so alone in my entire life.
A couple of hours later T called.
“Are you okay?” he asked. Two of his fellow soldiers had died and he was asking me if I was okay.
“I’m okay as long as you’re okay,” I managed to say through my tears.
I didn’t know how any of us would be able to bear the sadness. Or how we were going to get through the next ten months with this new, heightened fear. I didn’t see how life could go on at all.
But it does.
And we did.
What I didn’t know then was, we do what we have to do.
Because there are certain things we can’t change.
Because acceptance is more divine than defeat.