An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary
Six minutes. We had my husband on the phone for six minutes. Long enough for our 4-year-old to tell him about the pet caterpillar she adopted and for our 3-year-old to answer a few questions about swim lessons. Before it was my turn, it was time for him to go. Slightly defeated, I heard myself pouting, “I didn’t even get to talk to you!” He offered a rushed, albeit sincere apology, and just as quickly, he was gone.
I stared at the phone in disbelief. How are we supposed to stay connected, when I feel anything but?
The next hour was spent soothing sobs from a little girl saying she wanted to see her father’s real face, not a picture on a screen, and a son wailing, “Not Mommy. I want Daddy!” As I fetched my daughter a Band-Aid to put over the heart she declared “broken into a million pieces,” I reminded myself that we just have to get through the next few weeks. While her heart breaks, mine hardens. This is our last underway before his deployment. After a year of the ins and outs, the ups and downs, I don’t feel much of anything, just the distance. My apathy quickly turned to guilt for the father at sea missing his babies, and sadness for the children who have just cried themselves to sleep.
After another week of mostly unanswered emails, he was able to call again. This time, the children were in bed, and it was my turn. I stood outside, alone on my cousin’s deck. After the obligatory “how are yous” and one or two lines about work and the children, the silence was deafening. The sounds of crickets chirping taunted me as I grasped for something to say, something to feel, something to connect us. I opted for, “we had to get a new garbage disposal.” He ran with “I had a cheeseburger for lunch.” After audible sighs on both ends and the “I miss yous,” we hung up.
I sat on the steps, watching the rain fall across the field on her farm. I thought about the field in Tallahassee, Fla., where we used to have late-night picnics. It was 2006. He was a young pilot in flight school and I was logging long hours as a scheduler on the campaign trail. We spent long nights drinking wine under the stars, sharing stories from our pasts and hopes for our future. We talked late into the night. We always did.
How did we go from long talks, fingers intertwined, to miles apart and discussing appliances?