With the funerals over and the FRG temporarily disbanded, we still needed to find a way to endure the next nine months of the deployment.
Read Our Story from the beginning.
The months following the funerals were filled with dread and uncertainty. I had no idea what my boyfriend was going through: how trying to sleeping during the day for night missions was nearly impossible on a base as large as BIAP; how, with his platoon separated from the rest of his unit, he had to deal with unfamiliar and often incompetent leadership; how as ranking officer from his unit he was responsible for not only the physical safety, but the general well-being of fifty other guys.
I was new to the military. I didn’t know any of it and he certainly didn’t tell me much. When I asked what he needed me to send him, the answer was always, “Nothing.” They had it all on base. They had phones, internet connection, a huge PX and even fast food places. They had a chow hall, a swimming pool and a barber shop. They got their laundry done for them and T had his own digs.
Other than being out on the road every night, navigating through the IED-infested streets of Baghdad, it seemed like things should be pretty good for him.
Well, they weren’t. But I couldn’t see it. All I knew was that my boyfriend had email and phone access, but our communication was limited to one short phone call where he was constantly distracted by music, shouts and the delay of the international wire, and one email per day. (I didn’t have a computer, so my emails were all sent and received from work or from K’s house.) Instead of the starry-eyed start to a new relationship when we should’ve been inseparable, we were thousands of miles apart and we were constantly beset with the misunderstandings of a toneless email environment and the miscommunications born from two totally different sets of experiences.
Fearing that our relationship wasn’t growing as it should, I became more and more needy. I begged for more communication. Then, when I did get it, I reacted negatively, letting my feelings be hurt by every little nuance of an email. After one such misunderstanding I complained, “It’s hard enough for me to tell when you’re joking when I’m talking to you, never mind in email where tone is more difficult to express.” We didn’t have the luxury of history, so we didn’t know each other well enough to fill in the blanks.
Yet, somehow, this man never lost patience with me. Not then, anyway. Not while he was still deployed. He just continued to send more and more loving emails.
And there were some good moments. We joked and made each other laugh and sent increasingly steamy emails as leave approached. We developed some interesting ways to stay connected. But I still needed a way to cope with the tension and the gut-wrenching pangs of worry and the long, empty nights where I lay and wondered what it was really like where he was and why he couldn’t be with me. I needed an outlet.
Clearly, alcohol hadn’t worked for me.
So K and I turned to exercise. We pumped up our running program. We set goals for ourselves. And we began hiking.
Being in the woods was almost like meditation for me. The earthy smell breathed its way into my pores and flushed out the toxins of stress. The sound of tricking water melded with that of little peeping birds and tiny rustling creatures, making a subtle music of epic joy. It was creation. It was pure. And it was truly spiritual.
Hiking brought me closer to my boyfriend, even during his absence, in a way I didn’t anticipate. He is an avid hiker and has hiked about 75 of New England’s 100 highest mountains. I met him on a hike and we had plans to hike during his leave. Hiking became a bond between us.
So K and I hiked.
We hiked Cranberry Peak in May.
We laughed with Little K and Laurie Loo for the length of the trail.
We laughed at the summit as we posed for silly pictures to send to Iraq.
And we laughed when we got lost, thinking of the joy our men would take in teasing us.
For the record, we weren’t really lost. We knew exactly where we were and we knew where we needed to go. We just didn’t know how to get there. But I don’t see how we were to blame for poor trail maintenance. Even the warden couldn’t find the trail right away.
Yes. Yes, we had to call the warden to take us down. Not one of our finer moments.
(I love how in this picture Little K’s face so clearly shows that she’s thinking, You guys are idiots. And I’m stuck with you. Great.)
In early July we hiked East Osceola and Mount Osceola.
My boyfriend had hiked Mount Osceola several times and when he learned we were going he told me of his experiences. He had never seen the view from the top because it had always been raining or socked in the clouds. In fact, he wanted to hike the mountain again sometime for that very reason.
When K and I started out, it was a sunny summer day, without a cloud in the sky. I couldn’t wait to tell T that I had gotten to see a view he hadn’t.
But as we neared the summit, a fog rolled in, seemingly out of nowhere. The first drops began to fall as we came out of the woods and the rain continued for as long as we were on the top. I stood looking out at the white blanket obscuring the other mountaintops and thought about how it felt too big for a coincidence, even considering the weather of the Whites. It felt mystical. I got goose bumps on my arms and tears rolled down my face. I had never felt closer to my boy.
When we turned to go down the trail, the clouds broke. The rest of our hike was sunny.
Finally, in late July, we hiked Borestone Mountain.
For this hike, we travelled up Maine and spent the weekend with a fellow military spouse. We had a lovely time connecting with this friend who knew just what we were going through.
That was our last hike for a while. By August we were planning for two weeks of R&R with our men. K’s husband would be home in the middle of August and T would arrive a week later.
I couldn’t wait to finally see him again.