Matt is home. I picked him up from the Atlanta airport early on a Thursday morning, many weeks ago now.
I meant to write this post sooner. I meant to write it just after Matt arrived, during the week I stayed at a nondescript highway hotel while he went through the requisite “redeployment” paperwork at Fort Stewart.
I wanted to write about a specific moment, actually—the one where I stood among a group of military wives, girlfriends and mothers at the airport Arrivals gate. The moment that came after the long, early-morning drive from Savannah in the pouring rain. The one that included peering over heads and around ‘welcome home’ signs for hours filled with jittery excitement. The moment when I finally recognized Matt’s face atop a uniformed body. That, right there. That was a wonderful moment, one that I’ll always remember. Matt emerged from the top of the escalator wearing his fatigues, looking fatigued, and I shimmied under a dividing rope to attack him with a hug.
I’m so happy he’s home.
In the weeks since, however, I haven’t written a word. Well, that’s a lie. I’ve written a lot. The first draft of my book was due March 31, and until then I didn’t have a moment for anything else. I was buried in work. So buried that at times I hardly remembered to eat or sleep. So buried, in fact, that I couldn't join Matt for his first full week back with his family in New Orleans. Instead, I worked alone in New York.
This consequent, sudden separation came with mixed feelings on both sides. As a result, I’ve been struggling with a host of questions. Namely: How do I balance career with relationship? Where do I draw the line, and what does it mean when I do? They are big, complicated questions, ones to which I’m not sure I’ll ever have the answer.
In any case, I submitted the first draft of my book manuscript to my editor before the deadline and before Matt came back to New York. Then, as soon as he got here, we hopped on a plane and spent a week in the Caribbean with my mother and my brother and their respective significant others. In St. Barth’s, a small, ritzy French island near the Dutch Antilles, we swam in the cerulean-hued ocean, read on the beach and drank barrels of wine. We avoided the Internet, the phone, and our collision course with reality.
But one thing is very real: Matt is home. He is no longer a disembodied voice on the other end of the phone as I walk through Manhattan’s Union Square on weekday afternoons. He’s no longer little notes stuck into packages or e-mails sent in the middle of my night. He’s real, whole, here. It’s pretty fantastic. And kind of overwhelming.
Matt and I are now sharing my tiny studio in Brooklyn until we figure out what comes next. He takes up drawers in the dresser, and hangers in the closet. He talks in his sleep and hogs the left side of the bed. He eats chocolate crème drops and turkey sandwiches drenched in hot mustard. He smells like shaving cream and Gillette deodorant. Just like before.
I’ve been reading literature on the “readjustment” period after a deployment – the tenuous months when boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives and children must get used to each other again. During this time, I’ve learned, some have to let go of the absence and fear of a deployment; others the responsibility of command. I remind myself often: We all have to reorganize our concept of normal. Matt’s return is strange and scary, sparkling and joyous all at once.
One night before we went on vacation – the first night that we were both in New York, together but without plans – I decided to cook. It was the first time I cooked a full meal in my kitchen in months. Living alone, it just never seemed worth the effort. But as the sun set over the pear tree just beginning to blossom in the back yard, I pulled out my sauté pan and cutting board. I roasted sweet potatoes and, later, asparagus with a touch of butter. I sautéed chicken breasts and reduced a sauce with mushrooms and marsala. The execution wasn’t flawless. I set off the fire alarm and spilled flour all over the room. I even slipped on the kitchen floor, landing with a resounding thump on my hip, which sported a bruise in a neon shade of blue for over a week. But the food on our plates tasted damn good. And it came punctuated with laughter.
We are here, now, together. I’m ready for this kind of change.