The first time my husband deployed, I was 25. I had a new born baby, and I can still remember how I felt as I drove home from dropping him off in the middle of the night with that tiny baby girl in the back seat. When I say tiny, I mean all of 6 lbs 9 oz of tiny. She was a peanut. (It's hard to remember just how tiny that really was until 4 1/2 years later when I had a 8 lb 4 oz baby girl and thought SHE was tiny! But I digress.) I can still see the buses lined up at the drop-off zone. I can still vividly see the hundreds of soldiers with their full A-bags and perfectly packed ruck-sacks standing around, waiting for the word to load the buses. I did not want to see them actually load them. It was a kiss-and-go farewell. I held myself together relatively well - well, as well as a young wife and new mother can when saying goodbye to her husband of 2 years at the brink of a 1 year deployment while living in a foreign country. I refused to look him straight in the eyes. I knew if I did, I would lose all composure. Then I lost it anyway. I watched him open the back door of the car. I watched him lean over the infant car seat and kiss our baby girl goodbye. That was all it took. I was done. We hugged one last time, and he was off. He grabbed his heavy Army bags and slowly wandered off towards the others. I quickly jumped behind the wheel of our VW Passat and fumbled with my keys until I finally found the ignition and drove off to our quiet German home, less than 10 minutes away. I sobbed the entire trip. I'm not strong enough for this, I thought.
Four and a half years later, I strangely found myself in the same boat... except this time I was 30, I was actually in the U.S., and the newborn baby girl was the youngest of 3 kids instead of the one and only. We were a family of 5, and we all loaded in the minivan and drove my husband of now 7 years to his drop-off point for another kiss-and-go farewell. This time it was in broad daylight, and I lost my composure again as I watched him hug and kiss all 3 kids goodbye. I refused to let them see me cry, but I sobbed all the way home. I can do this, I kept telling myself.
Fast forward 2 1/2 years, and I was in a different boat entirely... sort of. There was no newborn baby. The kids were 7, 5, and 2. My heart hurt for them as they said goodbye to their dad for what was the seven-year-old's third time and second time for the other two. It was broad daylight again, and this time it was not kiss-and-go. We stayed. We mingled with other Army families who were dreading the final moment of farewell. Everyone attempted to put on a happy face as they nibbled their cookies and sipped their juice, but the elephant in the room was the fact that all the soldiers were leaving for 9 months, and some of them may not return. Nine months. Piece of cake. The other deployments were a whole year, so 9 months should be nothing, right? Right... I had to get out of there. I gave my husband "the look" and we headed outside. Apparently kiss-and-go is the way to do it. We all gathered around the van, gave our hugs and kisses, and said goodbye. Then he headed back inside, and we drove away. I didn't even cry. I've got this, I said.
For a while I wondered what on earth was wrong with me. How could I possibly say goodbye to my husband of almost 10 years and not even shed a tear? Didn't I love him anymore?! Was I so heartless?! What was wrong with me?? Sure, I got a little choked up the first night when I walked up the stairs alone and stared at the empty bed. I missed him terribly when we hit our 10-year wedding anniversary 2 months later and he was not there. I missed him something fierce when the kids and I embarked on our extended summer vacation, and he was not there to look at the star-filled sky over the ocean, or when he missed my birthday, or when I was feeling completely exhausted by day 5. But I never really cried. Finally, it hit me. I guess there really is nothing wrong with me afterall. I'm just... seasoned.