I’m having trouble sleeping, even though Quinn is lying here next to me in bed. Normally his soft breathing and his little arm across me as he sleeps makes the nights without Ian here better, but not tonight. For some reason I’m having more trouble than usual quieting my fears enough to shut my eyes. Rather than ignore them tonight I feel like laying them out like change on a table, and sorting through them for a little while. Maybe listing them will make them look ordinary and dull and then I’ll sleep.
The obvious fear that everyone can understand is that I worry my husband will be killed in Iraq.
But since I live with that fear over an extended period, it grows and fractures and that particular fear gets broken down into parts. I fear the initial shock of the idea of soldiers coming to my door to tell me. If I let my mind linger there too long I wonder if I would be polite and let them in, or in such denial and distress that I bar the door and hide inside. I don’t want to think about the funeral I’d have to be responsible for. I recoil at the thought of what it would do to my kids.
But there are other fears about what could happen to Ian that scare me about as much. I worry about him becoming a different person because of this experience–a person who scares me or that I couldn’t live with anymore, I fear what would happen to him if he were responsible for the death of someone else, or if someone under his command were hurt or killed because of decisions he made or failed to make. What if the person who comes back to me from the war is someone who hates himself now? At what point do the unspoken vows to my children override the vows we made to each other at our wedding if his mental state makes him unsafe to our family?
I fear injuries that change everything. Brain damage that robs me of the man I loved but will continue to care for for the rest of my life. I fear missing limbs and destroyed skin and blindness. I fear PTSD.
I fear that decisions that I had to make on my own while he’s been gone will have been wrong. That he’ll be disappointed in me somehow, or that I’ve neglected important things that make his life harder when he comes home and he resents me for it. I fear that adjusting to this life after the war will be dull. I fear that after having so much responsibility and respect, that the drudgery of caring for small children will be frustrating and leave Ian feeling undervalued.
Okay, it feels good to lay those out. Fears always look larger when trapped inside my head, and now I can be more rational. Ian came back from the last deployment still the guy I knew. He still sounded like my same Ian last I talked to him, so I’m crossing my fingers that the next few weeks don’t throw any dangerous surprises his way. I don’t really think he’ll be disappointed in me for anything, but his opinion matters and I haven’t lived with him in what seems like forever so I don’t know if the husband in my imagination is accurate anymore, and it makes me uncertain.
The thing I remind myself about the fears of injury and death is that it’s not all that different from regular life. I’m haunted by stories I hear on the news from time to time about soldiers who return safely from Iraq or Afghanistan only to be killed in a car accident on the way home, or something similar. I remember very clearly a cold morning in February when I was still commuting 40 miles every day to violin making school hearing a news report of a man who had been killed in his car on I43. He was in between two trucks, and when the one in front of him stopped the one behind him didn’t and he was crushed. For some reason my first thought was that there was food in his refrigerator that he had expected to eat and never would. There were a million details of his life waiting for him at home and he would never go back there. None of us knows when our last day will be.
When Ian was deployed the first time and we had only six days to prepare, one of the things we had to do was sit down and go through all his important papers including his will. He skimmed it for me and said, “It says here if I die then everything goes to you….” etc. I didn’t pay too much attention until I heard the words, “And if you die while I’m gone….” and my jaw dropped because it had never crossed my mind that I could die while he was at war. All I could think was, “What do you mean if I die?! I can’t die! I have to take care of these kids!” But it was a good reality check. I could be driving along between two trucks and never get to eat that lunch waiting for me in my fridge.
So my circumstance may seem extreme to someone else just living a regular life, but it’s not that much different really. All of us are here temporarily and none of us knows how long we have. It’s important to connect with the people we care about as often as we are able and to appreciate the time we have and use it well.
A quote that occurs to me often is, “It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch.” It’s easy to focus on the fear. That’s primal. What takes courage is to get past that and to focus on the love. I can’t stop the fact that things will end, but the days I’m most proud of myself are the ones where I really stop and enjoy how glorious the love I have is. Even if it’s just for a moment, like when my kids are showing me a caterpillar and the pure delight on their faces makes any of the mundane things I’m preoccupied with most of the time disappear. I make a point every day to hold each of my kids and consciously appreciate how glad I am they are in the world. Even when they are driving me crazy.
Quinn is nuzzling up next to me. He’s able to pat around and find my arm to wrap around himself even in his sleep. I’m the luckiest person I know. I’m tired of fear. I’m tired period. I’m ready to close my laptop now. I think I’m okay to sleep.