It hit me sometime around lunch on Friday. My husband was on his way home. He wasn’t deployed anymore. He was enroute. He’d be home in mere days. That instant held butterflies which made their way from my stomach to my chest, and then slowly turned to waves of anxiety.
You kind of expect it, but nobody warns you how intense the last two days of a deployment are. There are waves of extreme emotions and you are struggling to ride them gracefully. Moments of pure elation and excitement are shortly followed by moments of anxious waiting, nervously listening for any noise from your phone, looking at the clock. One minute I was dancing around the living room, running from task to task because I was filled with so much happy energy and then I’d find myself standing still, staring at a socket in the wall. I don’t really have a good yardstick to measure it against, but I told my dear friend that I was fairly certain this is what it felt like to be on drugs.
I had a list to keep me busy that weekend. Things like vacuum, clean the oven, file paperwork, work on Harry’s birthday video, grocery shop. About a third of the items on my list were crossed off. I’d get into these frenzies where I’d have to do something, cross something off the list, scrub the bathroom, clean out the refrigerator. And then I’d be mentally drained and need to just sit on the couch with a mindless program and zone out.
I had no appetite. Harry and I ate an embarrassing amount of Greek food takeout and peanut butter & jelly yogurt. I couldn’t think far enough ahead to cook anything in time for dinner. I didn’t want dinner. I drank so much water because my throat was so dry.
But while the emotional turmoil was happening, there was a weird sense of calm underlying everything. One minute I’d be bouncing down the stairs, vacuuming each one, the next I’d be on the couch with Harry and Despicable Me playing in the background, but through it all, I felt oddly calm. Like I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the idea that my husband was coming home. Like it was any other weekend. I saw each emotional swing as an outsider, watching it with fascination. People were asking me if I was excited or nervous or happy or whatever, and though I was all of those, I was also relaxed. It had been almost five months on my own, making a new routine, doing everything by myself. My days were meticulously the same, and these last few days were not much different.
I did find, however, the second it was quiet, that calmness threatened to leave. We listened to a lot of Dean Martin and Imagine Dragons and Jack Johnson. Despicable Me was on in the background, usually with no one watching it. I needed noise to quiet the noise in my brain.
The morning of the homecoming, I woke up excited, but calm. Harry and I went for a run to calm my jitters, but it felt normal. The two of us running through the Mississippi fog. I put him down for a nap and took a shower. All the while, filming our every move like a documentarian. I think I needed to do that. Whether I’ll ever put it together in a homecoming video or not, I don’t know. But I needed to look at the day as an outsider. That was my way of keeping the energy that comes from excitement, nerves, and elation at bay.
We went to the maintenance building after Harry’s nap and I brought my arsenal: small plastic toy animals, snacks, water, a book, my camera, my second lens, my phone, diapers. I didn’t need any of it. Harry was content chasing balloons and crawling up and down the three steps to the stage. Those three steps were just dangerous enough to keep my mind alert, but small enough for me to take everything in and let my emotions roll over me.
We went outside and shortly after, the four planes flew overhead. I felt the tears coming as I pointed out Papa’s plane to Harry. It seemed like an eternity before they landed, rounded the corner, and taxied over to us. Then it was even longer until the people started exiting.
I saw him right away. I recognized his walk before I could see his face. I could tell the moment he spotted us. His walk became one with a purpose. Quicker and straighter. As he got closer, the emotions welled up inside of me and overtook everything else. That first hug, with a running start, was one of the best moments of my life. Maybe even better than our first kiss. It was the crescendo to four and a half long months of waiting. It was perfect.
And then we walked away, holding hands.