The sun was setting and I drove away with my heart thumping, hoping that reality would hit only after I left the base. It was a long drive to Raleigh and a longer night alone in a rink-a-dink hotel, wondering if each second was the moment his plane was taking off. Part of me felt I should be running along side the plane as fast as I could until I fell on my face in the dirt with one arm outstretched as his plane lifted into the sky. The other part of me just wanted to sit perfectly still, and never speak again, as if denying a voice to grief would deny its sovereignty.
I haven't cared to share the events of that day with anyone--I think I needed to get more of the behind me. You just really don't want to be on a military installation the day of a deployment if you don't have to be. Just watch the happy homecomings on TV. Trust me.
Everyone has their own way of saying good-bye.
I saw a father walking with his arm around his teenage son, knowing he was probably telling him to do good in school and listen to his mother or that he was the man of the house for now and needed to step up. The son was not crying, but nodding his head as if he understood what his dad has been telling him on a different level today. "Yeah, dad. I understand. I will take care of the lawn and make sure we lock the doors at night. I will take care of Mom, little Joe, and the baby."
Small children played near the busses. Although initially I wanted to be with my husband until the very last moment possible, when I saw them running around, oblivious to the seperation they were about to experience, I suddenly was glad I wouldn't be there. I'm not sure I could bear to see their tears, their mom's trying to soothe their cries through her own tears as the busses drove away. Sigh. My heart still aches when I think of what I saw that day.
The beginning of our good-bye didn't involve any words. It was just us, alone in bed a day or so before he left. I was in his arms and quietly weeping while he held me close. Nothing was said. We knew.
It seemed only seconds passed before we were sitting on a picnic bench adjacent to a little pond at Ft. Bragg. I felt the almost ghostly echos of many goodbyes that had taken place there in all the years before we stood there. There we were, standing in the shadows of 82nd Airborne paratroopers from times long gone, whispering prayers and words of love and encouragement that belong only to us. It saddened me to know they also stood here with a wife or sweetheart saying they'd be back and either did not or else came back a different man. At the same time, I felt a quiet strength wash over me with the gentle peace of knowing that it was simply our turn.