I started thinking about what I would write in this blog post just a couple of hours before my husband returned from his yearlong deployment. I wasn’t sure what my topic was but then I had an epiphany. I had just completed all the typical rituals a spouse does when her husband returns: shower, color my gray hair, shave my Euro-legs and armpits — you get the idea.
We were geographically separated before the deployment and will be until June. I took a week off work and rented a beach house a few minutes away from the military base where he is stationed in North Carolina. I considered myself lucky because I didn’t have to scramble to clean the house before he came home. Although I did get several hints that our house should probably get cleaned before he came to visit us in Virginia from my mother and multiple friends. My daily mantra “don’t sweat the small stuff” was quickly thrown to the wayside.
I had a list prepared: clean my house, reserve the beach house, pack all the suitcases and supplies for the week, make arrangements for someone to check on our cats and blood-sucking hamster, communicate with the schools, put new tires on his truck, get an oil change and drive to North Carolina with two kids and two dogs. Cleaning the house was at the top of the list but it quickly got pushed to the side.
He finally arrived at his unit around 2 a.m. Heated tents were available for all the families. Baggies of Military OneSource materials were distributed and coffee and snacks were on hand. We sat with the parents of a naval liaison officer. They had driven down from Indiana and we conversed until the bus arrived. The wind was howling and it was pouring down rain.
By the time he stepped off the bus with his fellow Marines, my hair was a rat’s nest and my makeup was quickly heading south. The kids and I were shivering, but a big hug from Daddy was the world’s best remedy. I breathed a sigh of relief — it was such a blessing to finally have him home!
Tonight I asked my crusty gunner what he was thinking about as he was on the flight home, and this is what he said: “I was wondering how things had changed and what the first week we were together would be like. I was thinking about what had changed around the house and if you had rearranged the kitchen and managed to get time off work. I also wasn’t sure you were getting the information you needed to be at the reunion because the unit wasn’t communicating well with you. I knew there was a plan, but not how well it would be executed.”
I asked him if he cared about what I looked like. “I never worried about what you looked like,” he said. “I just wanted to be home with my family and I wasn’t sweating a lot of the small things. I was thinking about Allistair (our son who has autism) and if he understood that I wasn’t going away again.
“I was concerned about adjusting my mannerisms and changing gears,” he added. “Family conversations and deployed Marine conversations are very different. I was also hoping that you would appreciate the kind of shape I was in because I was doing a lot of physical training in Iraq.” (I did!)
I asked if he thought spouses go overboard with homecoming rituals. “Everyone is grateful that spouses go the extra mile to make you feel welcome,” he said. “There’s not much we can do to make it more special. We can’t stop by the flower shop. We’re traveling and standing in lines for 48 hours.”
He also said he appreciated the opportunity for some quality time with the family. “Having the beach house was special and I was grateful we weren’t doing too much and we were making time for us above everything else. We had extra challenges because we were geographically separated. It was nice to get the down time to decompress at the beach before I got home because if I was at the house I would want to take care of all the ‘honey do’ items. We had time to get caught up and get reacquainted.”
On the topic of intimacy, “We’ve been married for 21 years, we’re not newlyweds and it’s not our first deployment,” he said. “Some Marines over there went through some rough times with their spouses, but we didn’t. Intimacy was something we didn’t have while I was gone; neither one of us had it, so it was nice to have the beach house and have some decompression time on neutral ground without the having the stress of home-ownership issues.”
So there you have it. All our rituals are very much appreciated and spending quality special time together is important. My husband isn’t an enigma. He’s very much like every other servicemember.