March 27, 2014 by comhomflt
One last snuggle before getting up to face the day, one last morning of smelling coffee and hearing his shaver, one last “big-breakfast” cooked by Daddy, one last outfit tossed into the hamper, one last clean-up of the kitchen, and it was time to go. He loaded up his gear, sent the kids to the van, and hugged my mom. I grabbed my tea and a fresh box of tissues, and we were on our way. How strange it was to drive away from our little house knowing we would not drive up the street as a family until after the trees are already bare again and the window boxes hold only the frostbitten, withered remains of their summer glory. OS3 started crying, “I don’t want daddy to leave!” over and over. That is when it hit me: this experience would be in a class entirely by itself, not just some extended version of an AT.
That reality continued to permeate my thoughts as we reached the airport. I’ve said good-bye at the airport more times than I can count; separations for business trips have been a part of our lives since we met, and we can hardly keep track of my LT’s Navy travel anymore. If it’s not too early, I usually make the drop-off myself, giving my hubby one last curbside hug before heading home, my tears usually dried before I am back on the highway. Though most partings are this “business as usual” approach, we have also had our share of difficult partings, including the time he left for three weeks of duty a week after we suffered the loss of a little boy in a late miscarriage. None of those separations compared with the pain of this one.
I parked the van and walked back into the airport to meet up with my hubby, the kids, the tissues, and the bags. I couldn’t bring my tea in because that would never get past the TSA. The airport was slow, and surely someone wondered how a family of six could travel so lightly. The ticket agent was very kind, almost motherly, when my LT showed her his orders and asked for gate passes for the rest of us. I tried hard to “Keep it together, man!” while he checked his bags and we headed for security. A couple groups of college girls, apparently basketball players, chatted in line near us; and I wondered how they could go on with life as usual while ours was about to be turned upside down.
We arrived at the gate with about an hour left before boarding and settled in. I took a little walk, and I suddenly knew what it meant to have legs that felt like lead. The tissues were open already, and we used a few here and there. I gave the snack I had packed for myself to the kids, since I still didn’t feel like eating. Another sailor from the Navy base showed up to wait for the same flight, and I couldn’t hold the tears back when his wife asked how I was holding up. I was glad she was there, though. They wandered off alone then, and we asked someone near us to take one last family photo. My LT spent a few moments alone with each of the kids, and all too soon, it was time to line up for boarding.
There we were, a family of six with a stroller, crowding into the boarding space for one, with people jammed all around us. Did they guess what was happening, I wonder? For our part, we had to pretend they weren’t there, because there was no privacy for last hugs, for last kisses, for the quiet sobs that wrack your body as you try to remember each other’s touch and smell, for the tears that emptied half a value-sized box of Kleenex. It seemed like we were standing there forever, exposed, when, suddenly, the line moved and he was handing over his boarding pass. As we gave each other one final, quick kiss, OS3 collapsed, sobbing, on the floor right in front of the scanning booth. I scooped her up and we stumbled over to the nearest row of empty chairs.
The other sailor boarded, and his wife walked to the windows nearby, tissue in hand. Of the children, only our Seaman was smiling; the others were crying or calling for Daddy to come back. He texted us; he was in a window seat and could see us! We worked out a “secret code” – a big deal to a Hardy Boys reader, and he raised and lowered his window shade to “wave” to us. A few more minutes passed, and they secured the plane and backed out. We watched as it maneuvered to the runway and, finally, as it took off, getting smaller and smaller and carrying our favorite guy in the whole world farther away. When it was out of sight, we wives turned to each other with tears in our eyes, wished each other the best in our “new lives,” and went our separate ways. I gave hugs, gathered up our things, and introduced the kids to GI Daddy. The brisk winter air felt good on my throbbing head as we exited the airport and headed back to the van and my now cold tea. Deployment had begun, and if this parting was any indication, even our toughest AT will seem like kindergarten by comparison.