The Day After
I don’t look at the clock. I already know what time it is. It’s the same time I woke up yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that and every day for the last eight months.
I flip on my back and stare at the ceiling. I try to pretend the bed next me isn’t empty, that I can hear his soft, even breathing and feel the weight of him pulling me in.
Today it doesn’t work. There’s nothing but a gaping hole where he should be.
I follow the cracks in the popcorn until they reach the wall and have nowhere left to go. I know where this is going. From the cracks, to the paint, to the grass, to the dishes to the laundry – stop!
But I don’t stop.
Yesterday was military spouse appreciation day. What a freakin joke – no, don’t be bitter.
But I am.
No one cut my grass. Weeds really. No one made me dinner. A box of Salisbury steaks and mac n’cheese wasn’t so hard. No one did the dishes for me. There weren’t that many, we ate on paper. Magic elves didn’t do the 14 loads of laundry piled in the hall. Magic elves make shoes; they don’t do laundry. And why would they anyways? You’re not special.
No, I’m not special. I’m no different from a thousand other single parents who struggle through the day.
Except I’m not single. Just separated by circumstance. He’s there – I’m here.
Circumstance or choice?
My husband isn’t deployed. Not this time, anyway. He’s not back in the sandbox, not breathing dust instead of air, not counting down the days until he’s home. It’s just “THE ECONOMY, STUPID.” I can picture Clinton saying it like it was yesterday. A hard laugh echoes in the room and startles me because it’s mine.
When the reassignment orders came, we put the house on the market. For a while we deluded ourselves into thinking it would sell. Three weeks out, we realized it wasn’t going to happen. In the end we did the thing we swore we would never do if we didn’t have to. He went. The kids and I stayed.
I try not to do it. I try not to let the What Ifs in. They come in anyway.
What if we had gotten the house on the market sooner? What if we had tried harder? What if we had saved more? What if we had been more responsible with credit when we were younger? What if we hadn’t given so much so easily to the kids? Spent a little less on Christmas and birthdays? What if I had been working instead of going to school? What if we had taken a leap of faith and just left? It’s just money, isn’t it? We should have found a way to make it work.
I bite my lips to stop the tears. I-will-not-cry. I have no right to cry.
He comes home on leave when he can. It’s not enough – but it’s so much more than so many have.
He can jump in the car and be here in seven hours. When the gas money is in the budget.
He’s not being shot at. Was it harder when he was deployed? The ache feels the same. The fear is less.
He’s alive. Yes, he is. And I’m sitting at the symphony but no matter how hard I try I can’t hear the music. I can’t feel it move me. He isn’t here.
You’ll be together again. But I just miss him.
I bite my lips harder. I whisper the numbers. The numbers that remind me to live for something more than my own misery.
I call them the Lost Numbers. But they’re not like the lotto numbers from the television show. These numbers are real. Their darkness reaches into your soul. They can’t do that on tv.
From 2005-2009, once every 36 hours, an American service member took their own life.
17% of the current active duty force is on antidepressants.
An estimated 35% of veterans have PTS or TBI.
2.2 million Americans have deployed since 9/11.
130,000-150,000 Veterans are homeless.
Next come the Unknown Numbers. The ones no one bothers to count.
Number of military spouse suicides – X.
Percent of military spouses on antidepressants – X.
Number of military spouses with their own special brand of PTS, that no one has a name for – X.
Number of deployments endured by all who love a soldier – X.
Number of broken military homes, when it was more than some could bear – X.
I know that I’ll get up and move through this day and the next one and the next. And eventually we will be a family again. But today, just for today, I think I’ll lie here and let myself be sad for one minute more.