Yellow Ribbons and Quiet Fears

A common question I get as a military wife is how I "do it," in regards to handling my husband's deployment to a combat zone. Although there isn't really a good answer to this question, I think I can offer some perspective to those who don't have experience as a military spouse. The first thing I want you to do is imagine your stove.

Have you ever left your house only to ask yourself if you remembered to turn off the stove? You made breakfast that morning and though you've never forgotten before, you can't quite conjure the memory of turning it off. Your heart quickens as you consider your options, but you don't turn the car around because you've gone too far. Instead you continue on your journey with the persistent worry lingering in your mind the entire time. Try as you might to reassure yourself, you can't seem to concentrate on anything because of the quiet alarm warning that something might be horribly wrong. You go about your day, trying to forget about it, but it stubbornly remains embedded in your thoughts like a splinter. What if? What if you return and your home has burned to the ground?

Since my husband left for Afghanistan the world hasn't stopped turning. I carry on much as I do when he's home. Laundry gets done, meals are cooked, birthdays and holidays are celebrated and appointments are kept. We email, exchange letters and occasionally I get to hear his voice. From the outside looking in I might appear to be almost unaffected by his absence. However, there is always a vague sensation that something is not quite right and that nagging unease follows me in the weeks and months that he is gone. Knocks on the front door become nightmares, the silence of a quiet phone deafening. In those rare, dark moments I find myself carrying the weight of a grief I haven't known. What if? What if he never comes home?

Where deployments are concerned, the blessing of time is in its passing. Gradually what seemed overwhelming becomes bearable, then almost normal. Even loneliness, that inevitable part of a military marriage, can be ignored when you've grown accustomed to it. It still shows itself from time to time, in the quiet of an evening or the emptiness of a chair at the dinner table, but it doesn't linger for long anymore. That quiet alarm may never cease, but as I tie a yellow ribbon to the tree in the front yard it doesn't seem so loud.