Now that I’ve hit this a-week-between-conversations-with-Jonathan lull, and those weekly conversations are barely audible and mostly about making sure neither of us have lost limbs in transit lately (the DC metro is pretty much a war zone too), I’ll admit that the days are dragging. Which might also have something to do with the fact that I’ve developed my second official sinus infection of 2012. I’m surprised my face hasn’t exploded yet.
So maybe this sounds particularly silly at the moment (or maybe it’s just because I’ve been pouring DayQuil and NyQuil into a cocktail shaker and then serving over ice with a sleeping pill chaser), but I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to enjoy this time. Because, in what seems like forever but is realistically only a few months, whatever stability I’ve gained in my day-to-day life will be gone. In a few months, Jonathan will come home to Fort Campbell, and I will need to be there waiting for him, in a place I hardly know, with a home I’ve somehow obtained, and with much less fear than I’m feeling now. And with an apple pie. (That’s just an assumption about the pie. I’m new to this army wife thing.)
When Jonathan came home from his first tour, the fear and uncertainty I’m feeling now was much more heightened. I drove down to Fort Campbell for his welcome home ceremony, and I can now tell you with certainty that being alone in a car without consistent radio signal for 12 hours is not a fun thing to do when you’re nervous. We’d been “dating” for a while, but I sensed that this ceremony was important, and I felt…embarrassed. What if we break up, and for the rest of his life I’m just that bitch from his first tour who broke his heart?
The ceremony itself was something I’d clearly never experienced, and my only clues about what to expect came from bulletins on the Fort Campbell website that showed me where to drive when I got there, and included a lot of exclamation points! It’s a good thing I spent all my time beforehand worrying about navigating around the base without my GPS rather than worrying about how out of place I would feel, because I had plenty of time to be wildly uncomfortable during the three hours I waited with an air hangar full of extremely patriotic children who had all fabric painted welcome-home t-shirts and huge, glittery signs to show their support for their favorite returning soldiers. I took a complimentary hand-held American flag and went to find a place to vomit.
I passed some time by calling Jacki, who tried to calm me down by singing “America the Beautiful” while I hyperventilated into my Blackberry. Nobody was sure exactly from where or at what time the plane would be coming in, which I assumed was for the same reason the Order of the Phoenix kept leaking information about when they’d be transporting Harry, but never giving out the full details of the operation.
The gathering crowd of people in the air hangar was mostly comprised of families and wives with a gaggle of supporting friends. From what I could tell, I was the only person who had been stupid enough to come to this alone, and without a water bottle. After a while, a beautiful woman sat down next to me with her two children and her equally beautiful friend; they were both wearing custom-ordered t-shirts that boasted their high-ranking husbands’ names, and their hair looked perfect. The mother turned to me, smiling. She said hello, and asked which brigade my husband was in.
Brigade? Husband? WHAT LANGUAGE IS THIS WOMAN SPEAKING AND WHAT KIND OF CURLING IRON DOES SHE USE.
I explained to her that I was there for my boyfriend, and that I wasn’t sure which brigade he was in (if you had at any point doubted how little I understand about the military, you should feel disappointed for having so much faith in me). She could tell that I was nervous, so she asked if I knew the names of the other men on my husband’s team, and maybe she’d recognize them. I spouted off the few I could remember from conversations with my boyfriend, I reminded her, but none of them were familiar. She told me she was sure my husband appreciated I was there.
Sometimes when I go out to bars now, I tell guys who are hitting on me that I’m married. They almost never believe me, because in modern society you usually don’t assume that a girl who looks to be in her early 20s is married. This is the first major difference between real life and military life.
I stopped correcting the army wife who assumed Jonathan was my husband, and tried to control the nausea involved with not only being this far south of the Mason Dixon line, but also having suddenly acquired a marriage license. The woman was comforting, though. She couldn’t have been more than 30 years old, and she’d clearly done this before. Her daughter was two years old, and she waved off the concern that the toddler wouldn’t recognize her daddy, because that’s to be expected. She told me to stay with her, and when they announced that the planes were arriving, to jump up and run after her, and she’d make sure I got a good spot along the fence so I could see my husband deplane. I didn’t tell her I was worried I wouldn’t recognize him, because I didn’t want to seem like a bad wife.
Thanks to the perfect-hair army wife, who I literally had to sprint after when the deplaning announcement came, I ended up with a front row spot, resting my camera on the fence between the hangar and the runway so that I could take pictures without shaking. The plane door opened. People started cheering. Screaming. Sobbing. Not even my junior year majors-only acting workshop prepared me for the amount of emotion going on around me. People were jumping up and down, pushing their way to the front, and I searched every face to see if I recognized one, but everybody had the same haircut, so every man who stepped off that plane looked exactly like Jonathan.
Until Jonathan stepped off the plane.
It’s hard for me to decide whether that day feels like it just happened last week, and I’m still that tiny, shaking girl, or like it was 10 years ago, and I’ve grown past the nerves. The time confusion might also be from that NyQuil cocktail I mentioned earlier.
By the time Jonathan’s next welcome home ceremony arrives, I’ll have much more to worry about than finding Jonathan’s buzz cut in a sea of other buzz cuts, or any of the dozen anxieties I mulled over during my 12-hour drive to Fort Campbell. (Although, honestly, finding my way around the base is still in my top five concerns. I’m very bad with directions.) When Jonathan’s next welcome home ceremony arrives, he’ll be coming home to more than a nervous girlfriend waving a tiny flag who may or may not have been vomiting 30 minutes ago. Jonathan’s next welcome home ceremony, in a way, will be my welcome home ceremony too.
Luckily I just found out they’ve opened a Trader Joe’s in Nashville, so the transition should be easy.