Hiking helped pass the summer during the Iraq deployment and by August, my boyfriend and I were planning for two weeks of leave.
Read Our Story from the beginning.
By some fortunate coincidence, the R&R for K’s husband and my boyfriend overlapped by a week. K and I were ecstatically happy over this. It meant that neither of us would be without the support of the other for two full weeks. It meant that each of us would be spared the longing and envy that would come from knowing the other was spending those two weeks in the blissful arms of their significant other while one of us sat in a loneliness intensified by that very knowledge.
We also got to fully enjoy the planning and the excitement leading up to leave instead of trying to temper it to spare the other’s feelings, We knew, too, that we would be mopping up our broken pieces together once they were gone again. Even better, we could plan something for all of us during that overlapping week. For once, things seem to be working out perfectly.
Joe was due home in the middle of August and K spent the first half of the month frantically preparing. I was so excited for her when she left for the airport and I was busy enough preparing for – and worrying about – the imminent arrival of my own love that I didn’t dwell on it. I could just be happy.
I focused on cleaning my apartment – and myself – from top to bottom. I counted and recounted the days until my period was due. (Never very regular, I had narrowed it down: it could come before, during or after T’s leave.)
I wondered whether I’d recognize him when he walked out of the terminal. I have a terrible memory for faces and didn’t have many pictures of him. I hadn’t seen him in six months. What if he’d changed? What if there were other soldiers in uniform on that flight? At that point, I felt they would all look alike to me.
What if I didn’t feel the same way about him once I saw him again? Our communication for the last eight months had consisted of a disembodied voice on the end of a phone line and sometimes misunderstood emails. Sure, we were competently compatible via email, but what if we weren’t in person?
By the eve of my boyfriend’s arrival, I was a wreck. I knew he was in route, but I didn’t know exactly when he’d be landing in the States or when I’d need to go pick him up. I was waiting on yet another phone call and it was making me into a certified wall climber.
Having been there already, K knew some of the palpitating anticipation I was feeling and insisted that I spend the evening at her house grilling, eating and sitting around the fire with her family. I resisted, insisting that they needed time together, but K told me that they were already perfectly reconnected. If it weren’t for his going back, she told me, it would almost be like he’d never left.
I took profound relief from this and applied it happily to my own worried circumstances. Surely T and I would pick up where we’d left off as well. True, K and Joe had been together for years while T and I had only been dating for ten months (eight of which he’d been gone for), but we’d worked at staying connected. Right?
I hadn’t been to K’s house since Joe had been home. When I arrived, he was walking around the backyard in shorts and a t-shirt, carrying a spatula. Seeing him sent another wave of relief over me so strong I had to fight back tears. It was the same old Joe. He greeted me with a grin and a bear hug. Haircut a bit sharper, skin a little darker, face almost imperceptibly more weathered, but still teasing his kids, groping his wife in the kitchen and tossing her an, “I love you, baby,” àpropos of nothing.
Yep. That was Joe.
Sitting around the fire pit later that evening, still glancing at my Siamese-cell phone every three seconds, I shared some of my fears about not recognizing T at the airport. K tried to ease my worry by telling me about her reunion with Joe.
When she got to the airport, she said, there was a sign asking folks to wait for arrivals downstairs and to stay clear of the terminal area upstairs. Despite the sign, there were plenty of people milling around upstairs. K felt a pang of envy, thinking that if anyone had a reason to wait upstairs, it was her. (I agreed.) Reluctantly, she compiled with the sign, and waited diligently at the bottom of the escalator.
Soon travellers began pouring out of the doors and making their way down the escalators. K didn’t have to look long for Joe. He appeared at the top of the stairs and spotted her almost instantly. Circumventing the statues on the escalator, he dropped his bag at the top of the stationary stairs and bounded down them, two at a time, until he reached her. Picking her up in a cinematic hug, he spun her around, while she hissed, “Put me down, put me down!” in his ear.
I laughed, but my heart melted at this story; so romantic. I couldn’t wait for my turn. I longed to feel T’s eager arms around me; to breathe him in and touch him again; to see his bright smile. I imagined the sympathetic looks of others as they watched a soldier reunite with a loved one. This moment would make up for every minute pain over the last long months. Easily.
Toward the end of the night, I got my long-anticipated phone call. T was on the other end of the line. He sounded weary but excited. He told me he would be landing at the jetport at one o’clock tomorrow afternoon.
I went home to wait.