My husband and I had finished up running errands and were headed home. Driving in our CRV, down a road we traveled every day, I watched as a few helicopters flew overhead.
My husband and I had been watching re-runs of the show “Brothers and Sisters” and the evening before we had watched the episode where Justin, the youngest brother, tells his mother, that even after all the pain and trauma he experienced in war, he wants to go back. So, as the helicopters flew overhead, I absently commented, “Wouldn’t it be weird to live in a place where helicopters flying over your head mean war. Can you imagine being in such a place?”
And then, “So, I found out while I was on travel, that someone from the waterfront has to fill an IA billet to Afghanistan. Apparently, I’m that someone.”
Life slowed to a crawl as we passed the elementary school, we passed each time we drove to or from our house. My brain tried to grasp what he was saying. I was making small talk about a fictional character on a TV show… not real life.
This can’t be happening.
How? Why? When? Why? You? Why? Though a thousand questions were circling around in my head, I don’t remember asking one of them. I remember turning back toward the window and watching the juxtaposition of the helicopters flying over the elementary school on a perfect spring day, thinking life as I know it is over.
I spent most of my days during that deployment vacillating between not wanting to leave the house and not wanting to return. I didn’t want to leave because, what if someone from the Navy needed to get in touch with me and I wasn’t home. And I didn’t want to return because, what if the black government vehicle was sitting in my driveway awaiting my return.
As the deployment dragged on, I found I was forcing myself to leave the house for the sake of my own sanity and my young children’s, yet I could only stay out a few hours, any more than a few and I was terrified to drive home. I remember pulling onto our street and pausing where the blacktop meets the dirt, the place where I didn’t have a clear view of the whole driveway and praying that only my mom’s car was parked there. If her car was there, I could move forward up the driveway, if not I paused again and braced myself for spending more time alone with 2 small children, in very large house, that reminded me of the large void deployment put in my life.
It was a really dark year. A year, which I naively thought, would be my darkest. In a lot of ways, it was; I got up at zero dark thirty to have some quiet time to myself. I went to bed late in the night because I was awaiting a call or an email from my husband as he started his day on the other side of the world. I was afraid all the time.
The darkest part of this year was the unknown.
Wondering everyday if my husband was in harm’s way and bracing myself for the news that I would have to meet him at a Naval Hospital somewhere. I wasn’t afraid of death; death is a darkness that has an end. It’s a done deal, but the physical and mental trauma of war are things you have to learn to live with, and I didn’t know if I had the strength to do that.
The song, “Grenade,” by Bruno Mars was popular that year and every single time it came on the radio, what can only be described as a mixture of fear and rage came bubbling up out of me and I mashed the button for a new radio station immediately.
I thought, “How could someone go on singing about catching grenades for a loved one when my loved one might actually be catching a grenade for me and everyone else in the US.” Stupid “love song.” That song spoke only pain to me. At the end of the day I didn’t want my husband to catch a grenade or anything else for me; I just wanted him home, whole, in one piece.
April 3, 2013: I awoke to an email informing the family members of my husband’s Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Farah province in western Afghanistan that there had been an explosion near one of the places the PRT was engaged in meetings with local Afghan leaders. The email went on to explain that though the explosion was near them, it was not targeting them, and thus they were not “involved.”
Several hours later I received a phone from my husband. He assured me he was safe and sound.
Call it fear, call it suspicion, call it intuition, I knew his words were untrue. He didn’t sound okay. His voice conveyed that his thoughts were elsewhere and that he was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear.
The truth is my husband was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That vehicle born IED (VBIED) was detonated in the provincial government complex where my husband conducted a number of meetings. In fact, I learned later they’d been there earlier that week. The VBIED was detonated close enough to where my husband and his teammates were on patrol that the force of the explosion jolted him.
My thoughts from that car ride on the sunny day in April almost exactly a year prior had come full circle. How? Why? When? Why? You? Why?
My life as I knew it was over.
Fear had become the only constant during that year. If only fear had the ability to ward off or soften the blow of reality. That explosion is the literal bomb that changed the course of our relationship and the picture of what I thought our life should look like.
I didn’t see it coming. Any of it: the deployment, the explosion, or the impact the whole experience would have on my life for years.
Yet, today, seven years from the day that life changed for both us in unimaginable ways, I can honestly say, Happy Alive Day. I’m so glad you’re here.
*photo credit HMC Josh Ives