+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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