Is there such a thing as a "bad" homecoming? Probably not, but sometimes they just don't go according to plan.
My husband returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan this summer. He didn't deploy with a Brigade, he deployed as the sole representative from his office. This meant that on homecoming day, there would be no watching him dismount from a bus along with hundreds of other soldiers, there would be no gymnasium pomp and circumstance, there would be no mass of red/white/blue and there would be no waiting with other military spouses who were giddy with excitement and anticipation. This homecoming would be a bit less traditional than others. But, it would be a homecoming, and in the end, that's what really matters.
I don't think I slept more than an hour the night before. I was ready hours before I was scheduled to make the hour and a half drive to the airport. I changed clothes at least five times. Sexy or subtle, casual or more formal, tousled or fixed? I'm generally pretty low-maintenance with respect to wardrobe, but trying to figure out what would best make my husband go, "aahhhh" when he first looked at me had me doubting my choices -- my multiple choices -- that day.
So, after some significant wardrobe changes, two separate makeup applications and many different glances in the mirror, I was off. My husband was coming home!
I talked to my husband about a day before he was due to arrive and he gave me a number to call, told me where I was to meet him and what time he was scheduled to arrive. I arrived at the airport and there was no clear indication of where I was to park to reach this so-called military terminal. I stopped and asked a TSA official where the military flights came in. Amazingly, he had no idea, neither did his co-worker. Although they had no information for me, they both congratulated me on this exciting day. I couldn't figure out where I was supposed to be, so I just parked the car and went inside.
Once inside, I found the information desk. They directed me where I needed to go. Meanwhile, I called the phone number my husband gave me to check on the status of his flight. After going through a series of prompts, which had absolutely nothing to do with my situation, I finally reached a person who seemed rather reluctant to give me the arrival time of a military flight. Understandable, I suppose, but then again, this was the number that the Army gave my husband to give to me.
Roll with it Andi, this is a good day!
I then checked with a little old lady manning a desk. Sweet, sweet lady. No, he wouldn't arrive at 5:10, he would arrive at 6:10. Okay, no problem. Disappointed, but at the same time, I knew I was less than two hours from seeing my husband. As 6:10 approached, I returned to the sweet old lady and inquired again. No, he wouldn't arrive at 6:10, he would arrive at 7:10. Wow, really disappointed now. Disappointed and hungry. As 7:10 approached, I checked with the sweet old lady yet again. This time I received some really bad news - it would be 9:10. Ugh!
I had grabbed a granola bar on the way out the door, but left it in the car. Restless and hungry, I went to the car, drove out of the parking lot and around the airport grounds. At the far end of the airport I saw some troops standing on the curb loading bags into cars, hugging their kids and wives, smiling from ear-to-ear. I saw a few tears too. I thought, "how wonderful, soon that will be me." Right about that time, my cell phone rang and it made my heart stop. Who would be calling me? As far as the world knew, my husband returned home two hours ago and they wouldn't dare interrupt a homecoming! I didn't recognize the number on the screen.
It was my husband.
Where are you?
Where are YOU?
Are you HERE?
HERE, as in at the airport?
I don't understand, the lady told me you wouldn't be here until 9:10... Where are you? I just drove past some soldiers at the far end, are you over there with them?
Okay, will loop around and see you in a minute. Welcome home. I love you.
Love you too, baby.
My excitement didn't allow me to think of what had just happened, or, as was the case, what hadn't happened.
After spending hours in the airport, and being told I had hours more to go, I had stepped outside and missed it all. When my husband came off the plane, nobody was there to greet him. I wasn't the first person he saw when his boots touched American soil. In fact, I wasn't the second or the third or the fourth.
I pulled up to the curb where my husband was waiting. It was incredible to see him of course, but it was also awkward. I might as well have said, "hey honey, take a cab home. Will see you when you get here." My husband's homecoming was not what I had planned.
Later, my husband and I decided that the "sweet old lady" must have looked at the military time of 19:10 and translated it into 9:10. Honest mistake, yes, but I wasn't amused. In fact, I wanted to go back and tell this lady to be more careful in the future because homecomings are pretty important events in the lives of military families.
We laugh about this now. My husband tells everyone that I picked him up at the curb. Sounds romantic..... Though we laugh, it was important for me to run to my husband when I saw him come through the gate (though after hearing airforcewife's story of tripping and falling when running to her husband, perhaps this was a good thing!). When my husband would return from NTC, and those trips were only a few weeks, the homecomings were indescribable. When he returned from a year in the Middle East, I'll never forget being there when he got off the plane, and seeing his face for the first time in months.
Of course, the most important thing was that my husband was safe and home, and in the end, that's what mattered most. I understand this. We were lucky, my husband not only came home to me, but he came home healthy and uninjured. I count my blessings for that. Having said that, I did hope for a different homecoming. I wanted to be there for him when he stepped off of the airplane. Unfortunately, with homecomings, you don't get a do-over.
What's your homecoming story?