At the very least, no one wants to drive home from work everyday and scan the parking lot for an official looking dark blue or black car. No one wants to spend seven months of outside-of-work time watching nothing but all the major news channels trying to figure out “where in the world is my husband?”
But that’s exactly what I did.
Even after all this time, I find it very difficult to drive by the apartment complex where we used to live. The place I would go home to every night for 7 months, scanning the parking lot for that official looking car. That place where I literally froze when one of my neighbors would knock on my door.
We always tell people that our first year of marriage was the “easiest” (please note sarcasm) because he was gone for 7 months of it. It was far from easy. First, I didn’t know his deployment was “only going to be for 7 months” until I received the word from him about six months into his trip that he would be home “soon”. Secondly, he was gone for my birthday and every major Holiday from September to April. And, it was so hard not knowing where he was, how he was doing or if I would see him again –
Fortunately, at certain points in the deployment, I did receive emails and a few phone calls. But they were very few. I received letters as well, but the information like “I’m ok” was so out-dated by the time I got them. But, they were dated and at least I knew that as of the writing of that letter, he was OK.
I am also fortunate to have had the experience of realizing what I didn’t quite understand when I took the After School Director job at the local Catholic school. When I interviewed, I didn’t fully understand WHY I felt so strongly that I needed to be at that school – a feeling so strong that I told the Principal I would accept whatever job she had for me because I just knew I had to be there.
On September 20th, I realized WHY I had felt the need to be at THAT school. Because on that day, once everyone found out that I had just sent my husband off to war, everyone in that school as well as all the parents and the community added my husband (and all the other Marines) to their prayer list. The staff became my extended family and two people, Trish and Nina, took it upon themselves to make sure I wasn’t alone. I got “adopted” into their families – going to their home for dinner, going to their kids after school events, even going on vacation to the beach with them during New Years.
They made sure I wasn’t alone. They made sure I was kept busy because keeping busy while your husband is off to war makes the time go by faster.
The emotions of that day and that time are still so very real and in some ways, still so very raw.
Everyone’s lives were changed that day.
I learned the true meaning of being a Military spouse and I have a great respect and a special place in my heart for military spouses. Especially those who sent a husband off to war and although he returned, he was not the same man. I wasn’t a mom yet when Jack went to war but he did not return home being the same man I married either.
He came home from the war, but the war was still with him. He was jumpy and easily startled by loud noises.
In April of 2001, every single one of the members of the 3/6 Battalion returned home. Life does not just return back to normal after a spouse has been off to war for seven months. It takes time and patience. We were just getting used to being married to each other when 9/11 happened and when he returned home, we had to start all over again. War made our relationship stronger – it gave us a different perspective.
Everyday, I have reminders of that day. Reminders of things that would never be in my life had I, too, become a widow of the war.
Everyday in our home, that we bought in 2004.
Everyday we have with our first son, born in 2005
Everyday we have with our 2nd son, born in 2006
Every wedding anniversary we have celebrated since May 5, 2001.
Every day is a reminder of THAT day, 13 years ago. But the Anniversary is the time we take to pause in our day, to share our story. Time may erase the details from my memory but the heart does not erase the feelings, the emotion. Even as I write what I remember, the tears fill my eyes – the emotion is as real as it was that day. The heart doesn’t forget.
In October of 2003, he retired from the USMC. His retirement ceremony was the same week the Battalion was getting ready to go back to war. He was home with me, but yet “his guys” were leaving. Emotionally, that was a really hard week.
I feel it is important for those of us who remember where we were that day to share our stories. It is only in the sharing of the stories that we will never forget. We honor those who fought, those who signed up to fight and those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom by remembering.
Historical Note: In November of 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom began. The 3/6 Battalion of the USMC was the first to go into Afghanistan and overtake the airport in Kandahar as a forward base for the Marines and later, the US Army. They were stationed on the USS Bataan.