The end of a deployment is one of the most joyous occasions for military spouses and families.
The excitement builds for days as the countdown reaches the single digits. Banners hang by the door, streamers decorate homes, posters are made, and flags are waved. Spouses and children don their Sunday best and anxiously search for the familiar face of their loved one in uniform.
This is the moment we on the home front have been anticipating since the moment they left. Tears of happiness and relief flow freely during that first embrace.
Our countdown went from double digits to single digits in a huge hurry. He called me on August 29th and in casual conversation, asked me what I thought about picking him up at the base terminal on September 5th. I went over to the calendar and it was then that it hit me. That was only a week away! In a flurry of emotion and disbelief, I responded in a similar fashion to a marriage proposal, “YES!”
I wasn’t expecting him home for another three and a half weeks and even that date was subject to change. By the end of the day on the 29th, his return home on Thursday turned into Friday, which turned into Wednesday. I hardly heard from him in the following days as he was busy out-processing and packing up his things. His return home became official on Tuesday, September 3rd when I received a phone call from a base official confirming that my husband boarded a plane that morning. I could just see him in his tan flight suit sitting on that cargo plane with a huge smile…
For me, reintegration commenced within hours of returning from the Frankfurt airport just five days after his return (my friend Kristin was visiting at the time of his homecoming). I became a slave to my washing machine as a mountain of dirty laundry materialized while he unpacked. I had a mild myocardial infarction as I paid the doubled grocery bill. I started cooking meals and went through cereal withdrawal. I slept restlessly, waking up every two hours to check my phone for a message or a missed call from him (okay, and to pee, I am after all pregnant), meanwhile his nonexistent circadian rhythm caused him to crash into a deep slumber complete with animal-like sounds unlike any sound I’d ever heard the man make (I think he was snoring?) the instant he hit the pillow. I had finally gotten used to living alone, and suddenly I had to learn how to live with someone else again.
Sharing is a concept I’ve always struggled with in my life, and I still do to this day. While he was gone, I had to do everything myself, but I had the luxury of doing it MY way. With him around again, I had to refresh my memory on the art of teamwork. He opened the rolladens (window shades) wrong in the morning and tried to move the one that broke while he was gone causing it to get stuck halfway. He didn’t load glasses and bowls in the dishwasher correctly and he put the items I prefer to hand wash in the dishwasher. I was relieved to relinquish some of my daily duties to my husband, but then again, I wasn’t. I found myself biting my tongue as I grew impatient with him for not knowing where we kept the trash bags. The routines I had grown accustomed to were turned upside down and I was losing the independence I gained while he was gone.
He made the comment that it was like he put his life on pause for a few months. Then one day, he hit play and fell right back into life as he knew it. While I do agree with his comment, it’s not entirely true. His sense of “home life” may have been on pause while he went off to fight a war, but mine was not. He went off to a different world to live by different rules and following nothing but his assigned mission. I developed coping methods with my new roles and responsibilities and I have a small mammalian growing in my belly. It was there when he left but it wasn’t noticeable and the reality of it was fuzzy for us both. That is no longer the case. During the past few months, we both faced challenges neither of us could really ever empathize with or fully comprehend. There were a lot of changes to reunite, readjust, reconnect, and reintegrate to when he came home.
Trivial as they may seem, this reintegration process is a breeding grounds for arguments. Instead of duking it out, we gave each other our full attention and let our words guides us. For months we had limited communication and having a face-to-face conversation with him was strange, but it was really no different than before he left. I didn’t necessarily want our previous “normal” life back, I just wanted a sense of normalcy with him. He’s the only person I want to sit on a park bench with and talk to for hours and hours and hours and he still is. I typically sprawl myself over our entire queen size bed with my Snoogle, but now I roll over and put my arm over him. He’s home, he’s safe, and I couldn’t be any more comforted by his snoring. We were finding normalcy again and it was perfect.
I didn’t expect the pieces to magically fall back into place, or for our life to pick up where it left off before he deployed. Expecting that is a precursor to failure. People will tell you about the happiest day of their life: their wedding day, the day they landed the big promotion, the day their babies were born. Everyone has a happiest day. His homecoming day falls right up there with the rest of my happiest.
Honestly, having him home again wasn’t as difficult to adjust to as I expected it to be. Fortunately for us, things did fall back into place without many bumps along the way and I attribute much of that to altering my expectations, opening our lines of communication, and allowing us time to adjust. The reintegration process is not an emotionless and scary transition, rather an opportunity to fall in love with my husband all over again.
This life isn’t always cookies and cupcakes, but sometimes it is. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.