I recently found myself in a conversation with someone at a cocktail party in San Francisco. The topic of my husband came up when the person to whom I was speaking asked where he was that evening. "Well," I began, as I figured she expected me to say he's just running late, "He's in Afghanistan."
She raised both eyebrows. "Where?" "He's in the Army, deployed for a year to Afghanistan." As we bantered back and forth about my husband, his deployment, and the war, this person asked a reasonable question, one that I'm asked all the time: "How often do you get to talk to him?" "It depends, he calls or e-mails when he can, usually every few days," I replied. "Oh, well then, that's not too bad. At least you're able to talk to him." I smiled and nodded. "Yeah, it's not too bad," I replied.
I wondered if it would still be "not too bad" if it were her husband, not mine? He's not, after all, on the Riviera, he's in combat.
One might think I'd be used to deployments. My husband is recently into his sixth. I consider myself to be pretty tough: I am, after all, an Army wife during a time of war. My husband's deployment is a reality I've had to accept. It doesn't come without heartache and worry, and it is ridden with patience and hope.
I think of the courage it takes for the members of our military to leave their families, deployment after deployment, year after year, well aware of the possibility that they might not return; that is extraordinary. The majority of people I come across who learn that my husband is deployed innocently proclaim, "I don't know how you do it. I could never be that strong."
I have to be strong. But my strength is nothing compared to that of my husband. After all, he's the one who has missed his son's first birthday, first steps, and first words, not to mention countless other holidays and celebrations. He doesn't get weekends off and he never complains – at least out loud.
The day before my husband left to join his unit at Ft. Lewis, from where he would soon deploy, he asked me to film him with our baby boy. "Let's get me reading to him," he suggested, trading me the camera for the baby. I aimed the video camera at them and as my husband adjusted the scene in a manner so precise, I caught a glimpse of what he must be like at work. I watched through the lens as our son smiled at the book, content on his dad's lap, not at all aware of everything the camera was capturing. "I want him to know my voice," my husband explained, "Just in case."
At the end of that day, I had scenes of my husband detailing how dump trucks work, diagramming how to build towers with LEGOs, and clips of him wishing our child a good morning, good afternoon, and good night. The sense of urgency my husband displayed around obtaining enough footage of himself with and for the baby was as heartwarming as it was heartbreaking. His departure for this deployment was indeed different than his previous ones. As a new parent, goodbye takes on a different meaning.
When I say the word "dad" to our son, his face lights up and he waddles over to the video camera. I then turn the camera on and let him watch the various scenes that his dad recorded for him. He subsequently claps and tries to grab the screen; he knows his dad. I try not to think about the what-ifs. In life, there are always what-ifs. However, when your spouse goes off to war, the what-ifs seem a bit more tangible.
At the end of each day, I appreciate the people who show their support to the military. I also appreciate people's questions because questions show curiosity about the reality of the state of our country – a country at war.
It is OK when people don't say the "right thing" to me. I've grown to accept the quirkier remarks; they're usually from people who cannot begin to identify with what my reality happens to be. I am looking forward to the day when our final troops return home once and for all.
It will undoubtedly be nice to have my son see his dad in person and not just on the video camera; to have my husband by my side at future cocktail parties; to have our country at peace, and our troops, safely home.
Georgie Hanlin is an elementary school teacher in San Francisco. Her husband is with the 2nd Infantry Division's Stryker Brigade.