Life Without Him

It’s taken me awhile to write about Colton being gone. Not because I’m particularly emotional or because it’s especially difficult to write about. Wait, no, I take that back - it is difficult to write about, but not for the reasons I would have expected. It’s hard because I think for most people deployment is an extremely multifaceted issue. For the range of emotions, experiences, and feelings that exist in a time when being understood is so important, it’s extraordinarily easy to be misunderstood. I find myself stuttering over each word I type, wondering if it will be perceived the way I intend it to be. It’s a lengthy process, to say the least. But here I am, finally taking the time to sit down and write. And breathe. I’ve brewed a pot of coffee and promised myself I won’t leave my office until this post is complete. If for no other reason than the fact that I’ll regret having never written down how I feel today. Not just the happy days, and not just the sad. I want to remember the gritty in-between days when I forget to feel anything. Even those days are important to this story we’re living.

You should know that this experience is only my own. I cannot even begin to generalize life during war for anyone else. There are too many differences between branches of service, jobs within those branches, regions within each country, and dynamics of life at home for any one person’s experience to be like another. So let it be known that this will only ever be my account. And I hope, I desperately hope, you won’t assume it’s true for anyone else. There are couples who have traveled through five and six and seven and ten deployments over this past decade of war who have drastically different perspectives than I do. I’ve seen women with toddlers in diapers, babies on the hip, and children in the womb (yes, all three!), who, with a strength that is truly unfathomable to me, are able to kiss their husbands goodbye with smiles on their faces. This is something I will never understand.

For me it’s an ache. And it comes in waves. Colton and I can go weeks, even months, living on the excitement of life together again. Dreaming of the day when our weekends will once more be filled with mornings slept in, French pressed coffee at home, afternoon naps in each other’s arms, and late night bottles of wine. Talking of the adventures we’ll have when the weekends are truly ours again.

But eventually, and without any warning, the wave crashes and we find ourselves so desperately yearning for any ounce of closeness. What I wouldn’t give to touch his cheek, to kiss his lips, to see him smile. What I wouldn’t give to turn to my left and find him already looking at me.

There are times that are harder than others. Like when he has to ask three times whether or not I’m still on the other side of the phone. And when he realizes the tears streaming down my face are preventing words from leaving my mouth, he’s suddenly overcome with sorrow and at a loss for words as well. It’s ironic, isn’t it? That for weeks we’ll wait to hear one another’s voice, yet when we’re finally afforded a phone call we are physically incapable of speaking.

What then, am I supposed to say when he calls from a satellite phone in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night in Afghanistan, asking how to write a letter to a 21-year-old widow in Illinois?

It's surreal for me to think that one of these boys is not coming home. That one of these bags won't be returning on the back of its owner...

And all of this makes me wonder where the 14-year-old boy I fell in love with so many years ago went. How did we get here? Me here and him one million miles away in a land torn by war and violence and corruption and despair?

What has come as the most delightful and unexpected surprise during this entire journey has been an overwhelming sense of peace. It’s a peace that truly surpasses all understanding. And I know, beyond all shadow of a doubt, that it’s because of an incredible network of individuals who are keeping Colton and I in their thoughts and prayers. I feel as though for this season they are doing what I cannot. While I know my prayers are equally as effective, they seem different. My thoughts are simple and my prayers are childlike, almost visceral. I find myself begging God to keep him safe, to dry his tears, to make him laugh. While their prayers are my backbone, my prayers are my air.

And I know that he’ll come back different. I know he won’t be the same Colton I left on that California base three months ago. He’ll come back aged and scarred and weary and different. But he’ll be back, and we’ll be together as we fall to sleep each night.

I’m crying now, but these tears remind me our lives are rich – our experiences deep. I miss him. I miss being so deeply known by him. I miss the ease of life with him, of not having to explain things (particularly, myself), and of that simple little ordinary life we share. Right now life seems extraordinary. And eventful. I think we’re going to welcome a long bit of time without much excitement.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, M.