+Tuesday, November 22, 2005+
Today is it - double digits! It's so hard to believe that we're so close to the end of this, that in 3 months (and 9 days) or less, Matt will be home, our lives will resume "as usual," and all this will be behind us...

As I was turning out the lights in the living room last night and getting ready for bed, I was suddenly struck with this feeling...It's been 6 months since my roommate moved out and I've been alone in the house, but it was like, last night it hit me for the first time how quiet the house is, how big it is for one person, how solitary I've been lately because it's how I want to be. It'll be weird to have Matt back. I still wake up some mornings and lay in bed questioning what my motivation to get out of bed that day is, yet I've become so accustomed to waking alone, it's hard to fathom the feelings I'll have when I no longer have to do it.

Now, toward the end, I go home every evening after work or class and watch TV, have a glass of wine, unwind. Miss Matt (it's a part of the daily routine). I wonder if this is totally pathetic, but on the other hand, I don't really care if it is. I've been social during this deployment, I've made new friends and strengthened old friendships, but now I don't want to do it anymore. Now I'm so close to seeing him I just want to wait. I've been so irascible for a while now - some of my friends have driven me to the point where I literally need a break from them. Sometimes I just let the phone ring (if I know it's not Matt). I pass my friends off on voicemail because I know if I talk to them I'll either tune out because I don't care or get obscenely upset because I care too much.

There's only one friend who I've been able to deal with lately; I think it's because her brother is in the army - on some level she knows what I'm going through and knows how to deal with my moods. She's the only one who doesn't throw a fit when I say, "To be honest, I kind of just feel like sitting by the phone and waiting for Matt to call tonight." Instead of screaming that I never go out and stomping her feet like a spoiled baby, she'll bring me dinner and keep me company for a while. She's the only one I haven't had to walk away from to avoid a dispute because she's the only one who hasn't pushed all my buttons. I don't know what to make of myself during this time - it's like the beginning of the deployment except instead of being sad and lonely, I'm just incredibly unpleasant and irritable. I just want to be left alone. Why is this?

Matt called last night and we talked more about our favorite subject - his homecoming. I told him I wished it were tomorrow that he was coming home. He laughed and said that I've been wishing it were tomorrow for nearly 11 months now, which is true. I've been praying since January 5 to wake up one day and have it miraculously be March 2006. I've been impatient the entire deployment, but now that we're so close, it's even worse. My impatience in the deployment is constantly affecting my mood day to day, but I'm going to keep on wishing his homecoming were tomorrow...one day soon the wish will come true :) Soon it will be tomorrow.

Anyway, I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving!! Say a prayer and a "thank-you" for the thousands of soldiers and their families who are spending the holidays apart this year. God bless our troops!

wishing matt was here @ 2:49 PM+

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+Wednesday, November 16, 2005+
Military wives are like kindred souls. Even when Matt returns home and gets his honorable discharge - when I'm no longer a "military" bride, but rather, just a bride - I'll still have a connection to this phenomenal group of people. Though I will never truly understand all it entails to hold the title of a military wife, what it means to "keep the homefires burning" is exclusive to knowing how a deployment feels, how it feels to go to sleep alone night after night after night, how it feels to load the responsibilities of another person onto your own plate, how it feels to wish away a year more vehemently than you've ever wished for anything, how it feels to get "the rage" over an insensitive friend or coworker complaining over the weekend absence of a boyfriend or husband (and then later feeling really bad about "the rage").

It's funny to me now to look back over the "stages" one goes through in a deployment - the concept of which I could not even understand when Matt first left, but now seem so obvious. I was an emotional wreck when Matt first left. We were standing outside the armory drinking coffee, freezing cold, holding each other, crying, angry, sad, scared. Cameramen from the local news stations and photojournalists from the local newspaper were soaking up as much tears as possible with their lenses. The very first stage of the deployment was denial - it started the day we received word that Matt's unit was under alert for deployment, it stuck around when we received orders and the deployment became official. It pretty much didn't go away till that freezing January morning when I was suddenly hit with the full force of all that this entailed. Matt was really going away. For a really long time.

The second stage - which overlapped with the first for about a month - was fear. Not your typical phobia fears, but a really awful wrenching fear, the fear of the unknown. This fear is transcendent. There's no despair like it. It leaves you feeling worrisome, distraught, and incredibly scared. I was tormented with questions like What will it be like over there? How often will I hear from him? What is life going to be like without him? What if he falls out of love with me? What if I fall out of love with him? What if he doesn't come back? The fear started to subside after I got my first phone call from him. He's still WITH me, just not physically, and it was hard to grasp that right away, but when I did, the fear abated quickly. I was still worried about his well-being, his safety, but it's not the same as that initial egregious fear.

The third stage: sadness and loneliness. And the incredible clarity of just how long this journey's going to be. Matt's orders were for 545 days - I didn't think I'd be exhaling till June 2006. For me, it happened that I woke up one morning and it crashed down on me (much like an Acme Anvil colliding on the head of an unsuspecting Looney Tune). Matt wasn't going to be home for 18 months. A YEAR AND A HALF. We'd been together for 2 years (it'll be 3 years on December 12!!) and for the most part, joined at the hip for that entire time. We'd moved in together after being together only 6 months, though he didn't propose till our 2 year anniversary, marriage was a frequent topic of conversation, and during that time, the longest we'd been apart was 2 weeks and that, at the time, seemed too long. Sure, we had leave to look forward to, but in the end, it's just the foreshadowing of another goodbye. It was hard for me to accept Matt's absence right away. Our dog would still get excited every time my roommate opened the garage door, thinking it was Matt. I'd still reach out for Matt in the middle of the night when I got cold, and it hurt like hell when I came up empty handed. You wake up one night, from a nightmare or what have you, and instead of curling up against the warm body next to you, you lie awake staring at the ceiling, crying, hurting, and realizing that this is your life for the next year give or take. Stage three is really depressing.

I was so inconsolable during these first three stages, it was really difficult for me to believe that there would be any that followed. It was when I still went to FRG meetings because misery loves company. Karen and Jennifer were among the first military wives I met through blogging, and they were at the point I currently find myself - their husbands were so close to coming home. They both constantly consoled me that things would be alright, that I would make it okay, that things would get better. It was tough to believe it at stage three, and now I find myself writing the same things to girls who email me about their husbands and boyfriends who have just deployed or are about to - I tell them things will be alright, that they'll make it okay, that things'll get better. Some of them seem skeptical sometimes and seem incapable of believing me despite my reassurance, but then I think of what I was like during the months prior to the deployment and the first few months of the deployment - skeptical just the same. I was so envious of Karen and Jennifer because their husbands were coming home "sooner," but in reality, they'd just left sooner. They still had to withstand everything I withstood and just because their husbands had deployed earlier didn't make them "luckier." I feel like such a different person now than I was at the beginning of the deployment. For Christy, whose husband just came home and Britt, whose husband will be home next month, I feel nothing but happiness. Making the transition from being in a deployment to becoming a deployment survivor is a HUGE accomplishment and it's so much easier for me to understand that now, it's easier for me to understand that everything Karen and Jennifer told me was true (you guys rock!).

As you could probably guess, stage four was acceptance. It's when you start to realize that dwelling on all the depressing aspects of a deployment isn't going to make the time go by any faster. Stage four is when you start taking advantage of the deployment - you use it to go back to school or to make new friends or to take on a new hobby, things you probably wouldn't have normally done otherwise. Stage four is when you start to learn new things about yourself and you start to grow as a person, when you're proud of becoming Mrs. Fix-It and how adept you've becoming at balancing responsibilities that at one time seemed overwhelming. It's also when you start to realize how maintaining a relationship from opposite ends of the world has only helped your love to flourish and grow and strengthen. It's challenging to never see each other, to find new ways to communicate and express your love, but from what I can tell, it's well worth it. Stage four is awesome (all things considered) - take it for all it's worth!

Now that we know Matt's deployment is going to be more like 14 months rather than 18, I've started to move into the stage of anticipation. Next Tuesday (the 22nd), my countdown will officially have moved into to the eagerly awaited double digits. I swear, I'm more emotional now than I was at the beginning of the deployment, and my visits to "la-la land" are much more frequent. It's not really irritating or aggravating, but rather hilarious how I forget to do the most mundane of things. I feel I've become completely bipolar - one minute I'll be laughing and happy, the next I'll be on the brink of tears, and the next, I'm ready to rip someone's head off over the simplest of comments. Really. I cry over On-Star commercials, it's that bad. LOL. I'm antsy and impatient and occasionally jump up and pace back and forth on whims, like my constant fidgeting will get Matt home to me sooner. It's like I expect everything to be in fast forward; I even start to roll my eyes and sigh with disdain when my friends' stories seem to drag on too long, like they're not getting to their point fast enough. On the plus side, I'm constantly motivated and looking for things to keep me busy. I honestly don't know whether I should call this stage "anticipation" or "impatience."

To the wives, fiances, and girlfriends out there whose soldiers have just left or are about to, it's a rollercoaster. I can pretty much guarantee that when it's all said and done with, you'll never look back on it with regret or wonder how things would've been different if he'd never deployed. The "what ifs" of a deployment are extremely irrelevant. Just keep your chins up and keep those homefires burning; you're already heroes.

wishing matt was here @ 4:32 PM+

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+Tuesday, November 08, 2005+
First and foremost, to my darling, the love of my life, my soldier, my best friend - HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I wish I could be celebrating it with you; there's so much we're missing together this year - my birthday, yours, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, 2 Valentine's Days - but we have our whole lives to spend making it up. I love you and in just about 3 and a half months, this separation will be over and we'll have our long overdue reunion! :)

There's really nothing new going on - I got to wish Matt a happy birthday last night even though it wasn't technically his birthday (not in the states anyway - it was over there). My best friend's birthday was on Saturday and we celebrated with a girls' night on the town...apparently I get along well with people born in the month of November!! Virgos and Scorpios like peas and carrots (if you believe in astrology). With no birthdays left to worry about until January, I've transferred my focus onto Christmas. I'm a last minute shopper, which is very detrimental because I'm also a girl who hates crowds. Can't stand 'em. So I've decided to step out of my normal routine and get all of my shopping out of the way before Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year, and you won't find me within 3 miles of a mall because I plan on already having my shopping done!!

This Christmas will be the first in 5 years I'll be spending with my entire family (my parents and my brothers are what I classify as my "entire family" - I don't mean distant relatives here). Also included in the clan this year will be both my brothers' wives, and one of my sister-in-law's parents, sister, and aunt. Enormous Christmas celebration. Minus Matt of course, which saddens me in a way I can't even describe. I'm spending Christmas this year with both my brothers - something I haven't done since I was 18 - but Matt is a part of the family now, too, and it just feels empty without him.

I was worried I might not even get to spend Christmas with my family this year at all. Everyone's congregating in Phoenix and my parents are driving down (my dad has this thing with having his own car wherever he goes), but I couldn't take as much time off work as I'd need to drive down with them - with the wedding and the honeymoon coming up next year, I can't afford to take any vacation time until then (save for a day or two for Matt's homecoming). I can't afford a plane ticket for the same reason I can't take vacation time - the wedding and the honeymoon. If I were to dip into the wedding savings even just a tiny bit, the wedding would suffer a huge blow because of it. I imagined celebrating Christmas with my mom and dad a week early and spending Christmas day alone with my pets. Thankfully this won't be the case - my mom and dad's early Christmas gift to me was a plane ticket to Phoenix so I don't have to take any time off work. I have to deal with the nightmare of flying during the holidays, but at least I don't have to spend Christmas alone.

With the egregious amount of people we'll be spending the holiday with (our Christmases are usually small and meager so 11 or so people is a pretty big amount for my family), we've decided simply to do a gift exchange instead of buying specific gifts for people. So I have to buy 10 gifts that can be useful to either a man or a woman, and I'm drawing a blank. Gift exchange gifts always end up seeming really corney, so I'm thinking a variation of 10 bottles of wine, hard liquor, etc. Who wouldn't appreciate a nice bottle of Bailey's for Christmas? I really don't have a clue what else would make a good unisex gift - I'm worse at gift exchange gifts than I am at picking things out for individuals. Any suggestions out there?

I also have to pick out things for Matt's parents and sister. This is proving to be a little easier this year than last - quite an anomaly, isn't it? Once you get to know a person better and discover their interests, it gets easier to buy a gift for them at Christmas. Go figure. LOL. Last year I did most of my shopping on the internet and our dog destroyed just about every package that passed over our fence. He's a harmless little border collie-beagle mix (I call him a "Beagle Collie") whose bark is worse than his bite, so upon hearing his "vicious" hound yelp, UPS men, FedEx men, and postmen alike, just toss packages over the fence, thus basically inviting the dog to tear them apart. Is it his fault that he thinks a flying cardboard box is a toy? Probably not. Matt had to console me for hours over my ripped up gifts, and I still gave them out, wrapped with a tag that said they were from the dog. The lesson learned here was that I should, in the future, have all packages shipped to my office.

Since the original gift I got for Matt's dad - an Oakland A's daily calendar - was, for the most part, destroyed, my back up gift was a pen. A PEN. I'm so mortified that I got my future father-in-law a freaking PEN - not one of the $150 ones, but a nice one nonetheless. I have to get him a better gift this year, and can't do much else other than laugh at myself for getting him a stupid pen last year. I think it's possible and very likely that fathers-in-law are the hardest group of people to buy gifts for. I'm thinking I might just put both their names on the gift I'm getting for Matt's mom - it's a hobby that they both enjoy, I think - but would that be a total cop out? Picking out that "perfect gift" is not my forte. I'm always looking for the easy way out with gifts - like gift certificates or 10 bottles of mediocre wine...I believe wish lists should be required.

I have a couple wedding planning updates, but work is piling up on my desk, so I think I'll save them for another post. There should be a disclaimer that goes along with little girl's fantasies about their dream weddings: "This will cost a lot of money" or "This will cause you so much stress, you might start to question your sanity" or "This will spark a fight between you and your mom that will prevent you from speaking to each other for a couple weeks." Nonetheless, there's always that underlying hint of total excitement in everything, but I'll update more on that later! :)

wishing matt was here @ 11:38 AM+

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+Wednesday, November 02, 2005+
"Homecoming" is the most beautiful word in the world. The feelings it emits inside me are wonderful; it's like music to my ears. A few of the wives I've befriended during this time have reached the point where their husbands are coming home; Christy will be seeing her husband in a matter of days, Brittany's hubby will home next month, and those are just to name a few. I'm so happy for them. I've been screaming with Christy for the last month in excitement, and it's made me realize just how close I really am to Matt's homecoming. Now is the time to bear down, to suck it up for a just a little while longer. It's like the sprint at the end of a long race, and the finish line is so close I almost feel as though I can reach out and touch it.

But not just yet....

I received the following message from Matt's commander a couple days ago, and the whole email is really nice, but one part in particular (I put it in bold font), resounded over and over in my head, and I've been carrying it with me ever since.

Greetings all family members,

It has been a long 10 months, away from friends, family and loved ones. We have seen and accomplished more than we ever thought possible and have grown together as a Company through it all. Time has gone by very quickly and now we are on the home stretch. Today we are starting to send equipment home, equipment which is not critical to the mission here in Afghanistan. The elections are being called a “significant accomplishment” and the winning elected officials will be announced next month. Our mission was to support the election process, we did this to the best of our abilities, and now we will watch the process of Afghanistan becoming a recognized and stable country which will develop an infrastructure for the people. We are not on easy street as of yet, the fall season is now in the air and the temperature is dropping. All of the ground elements we support around the southern area of operation will need supplies to carry them through the winter and it will be up to us to deliver the goods. We will be flying and maintaining our operations until we pass the flag to the next unit. We currently have been tasked to support the relief operations in northern Pakistan, this is again shows the flexibility of both the US Army and the National Guard to not only fight a war, but then in mid stream, turn and redirect mission support to humanitarian relief efforts within 12 hours. Once the order was given, we were in Pakistan flying food water and medical supplies to the hardest hit regions of the country. It is all part of the job description and we are proud to be a part of it. The 1SG and I would like to thank all of the people who came to show their support to not only the Company, but to the families and communities of the soldiers who lost there [sic] lives on Mustang 22. We still think of the good times we had and remember them for who they were. It is painful experience; however they were good men and did the job with honor and commitment. We will continue this fight, and will complete this mission to honor their memory and sacrifice to duty. Soldiers who are going on leave come back with news and information we all want to know. What has changed back home? Who did you see? What did you do? Everyone is anxious to know, and happy they are back in country with the rest of us, it is a bonding of friends. Keep the letters coming and the stay the course, we will be home soon.

They're starting to send equipment home. To a regular joe, that might not seem like much, but to me, it's huge: it's the beginning of the end. It's not my turn to breathe a sigh of relief yet, but in some ways it's so surreal to take into consideration just how close I really am to Matt coming home. I can remember so vividly how I felt on Day One, January 5, and it seems like aeons ago. At the beginning of a long, unwanted journey, the end seems really far away. I was rolling my eyes and writhing in agony and crying, "Really? Why?" And now, I can see that elusive end. I bought 2006 calendars for the office the other day, and it was like a small milemarker. It really is almost 2006. It really is only a few months till my baby will be home to me. This is it - the homestretch! Finally!!

wishing matt was here @ 11:48 AM+

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