Saturday, July 14, 2007

a consistent but temporary absence from the World

With but five days remaining on my current deployment, I have restarted taking stock of my life. My situation. My status, if you will. This is a habitual practice.

I have great experience with leaving the World behind for months and months and months at a time. Perhaps it is a survival mechanism, perhaps it is apathy, perhaps it is just something we're trained to do, but when I'm gone... I'm gone. The World doesn't really cease to exist, but it certainly becomes less important. Less poignant. Less today, and less real. To think and to worry and to wonder is suicidal -- we realize that doing so will change nothing. The changes occur without us, and we are disarmed and disconnected.

Four days after 9/11, I was on an airplane to the Middle East. Two days after my arrival, I disappeared. Now, I don't mean disappeared in some special The Unit kind of way. I mean disappeared because the tiny bubble I would inhabit for the next seven months was as utterly disconnected from the World as you can imagine.

My World collapsed and became intensely focused. On such falsely sexy things as mission objectives and survival and the team and my unit and just making it to the end of the det. These things replace others. Like reading the paper. Watching TV. Grabbing a drink at Happy Hour. Running in the park. Sleeping In. Squeezing daughters. Kissing wives and girlfriends.

Anyway. I missed the breaking news alerts. I missed the candle light vigils. I missed the little flags in car windows. I missed the stories of heroism and survival. I missed the heart-swelling. I missed the Toby Keith songs. I missed the tributes and the memorials and the tears and the hugs and the overwhelming, palpable pride in being American.

That sucked. I came home, and everything was normal. Or normal-ish. To that end, today I fervently watch re-runs of History Channel documentaries on the Twin Towers, much the same way my father used to watch anything that had anything to do with Vietnam, but for different reasons. I was the first in line at United 93. I crank up Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue every time I hear it.

Yet the History Channel didn't produce a documentary on my daughter's first steps. No one made a film about my then-wife's struggles to manage a family and a home and a career in my absence. Toby Keith didn't sing a song about Dad going to work at Pelican Bay State Prison. I can't get any of those things back. I was gone. None of these things happened -- not for me.

And here I am yet again, nearing the conclusion of what is my 17th deployment in 14 years of service. Of course, there was no cataclysmic world event that prefaced my trip this time... but I am nonetheless soon to rejoin the World, and I can only imagine what has happened in my absence.

My daughter will be taller. She will have big-people teeth where before there were vacancies. She will be blonder and smarter and more sweetly precocious than she was when I left.

S will be gone. She was gone before I deployed, but only in the ephemeral sense -- her fresh ghost still haunted my house and my room and my things and my thoughts and my heart, but I left with her as the driving force in my life. I will have returned to find her absence as the driving force in my life.

My best friend will be wearing business casual every day of the week. He retired from the Navy a month ago, and I didn't attend his ceremony.

My house will have changed. People I have never met and (likely never will) will be living in it. My home is now Scott's couch.

My office will have changed. There will be people there I've never met, and friends I'll miss will have left.

All of these changes occurred without my influence. Or presence. Inversely, as much as I say the World disappears, I suppose its really me that disappears. What other changes occurred?

It is always perversely difficult to return; that first step down the jetway is charged with excitement and anticipation and fear. When I finally breathe Baltimore air just outside baggage claim, I will again be confronted with the World.

Hope I can manage.


jess said...

Hopefully those of us who have come to know a little of you through your writing will be helpful or useful in this transition... We're at least good for free beers :) Be safe.

startingtoday said...

I don't know you. I've only known you through this blog. As silly as it sounds, since I'm not REAL, and I don't know you, I still hope you make it home safe and have as smooth of a transition as possible. My thoughts are with you!

Alex said...

When my boyfriend got back from six months in Iraq, I walked on air all the way to the airport. I wore a tight shirt and a skirt, even though I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of woman. I even grabbed an American flag from the hands of a stuffed animal, so I'd have something to wave. All of this was unlike me, but I was caught up in the excitement of seeing him again. There was nothing like being swept up in his arms at the airport. We were in love. I was relieved. He was alive. We were part of history.

And then followed three months of painfully trying (and failing) to get to know each other again, culminating in a not-so-graceful (but how could he be after whatever it was that he'd been though) email dumping. And so, my advice (like you need it) is to be patient with yourself. Be patient with your friends. Be kind to yourself, and be honest with your friends. You are right to realize that coming home is (almost) as hard as being gone, but I'm not trying to freak you out (you've already been there, I think. You know.). My thoughts are with you and your daughter. Safe travels all the way home, no matter how long that takes.

Mood Indigo said...

I think the only thing I can offer is to thank you for your service, and welcome you home.

gn said...

You may have missed the breaking news alerts, the prayer services, the community gatherings on Main Street following Sept. 11, but you were part of those headlines, those prayers -- albeit it in a different way. That is amazing.

Good luck! And I echo Jess' comment re: free beer. :)

mm said...

Stay positive and try not to live in your head to much. I hope the transition goes smoothly.

~Justin said...

Thank you, all.

And don't think for a MOMENT that I won't be hitting you up for dem beers.

When I do make it home, of course.

Lisa said...

Of course you can manage. Everything will be different in some ways, but you will settle in and it will be much the same. If you need help in the form of therapy - and I mean the professional kind - seek it out. Too many of our troops don't, and don't realize the impact war has on them.