It’s dark when the alarms sound, an act that should be illegal on a Saturday. My eyes crack and flutter open and I groan and whine, some regarding the abrupt interruption of sleep, some in futile protests to his approaching departure. Unfortunately, with the Army there is no room for negotiation of time. After some thought, I reckon with this fact, and reluctantly I roll out of bed. Fumbling in his unlit bedroom, my fingers grope the oatmeal carpet until grazing a known texture. I carelessly pull on last night’s cotton dress, knot tangled hair atop my sleepy head and stumble down the hall toward the Holy, hissing pot of brewing coffee.
From the retreat of the kitchen’s solitude I hear the zip and velcro of his backpack as he feeds forgotten items into its pockets. In a separate room I stand with bare feet in the glaring fluorescent light, fixated on the linoleum below them, concentrating on each intentional dip and peak of the texture. Perhaps I think that staring intensely enough to burn holes in the synthetic tiles will somehow halt time…in my mind, I begin the silent mantras one relies on in such scenarios to discourage tears.
It could be worse. It’s only a month…be thankful. He could be: gone longer, further, to war.
But I claim this routine, this weak coffee and skim milk routine. This “good morning” routine, the tousled hair and first-thing kisses, the sunrise and groggy awakenings. These are my mornings. These are my expectations and my comforts [and my Home], and for the next 30 days, the undeserving desert will hold them hostage!? In this moment, I want to stash away pieces of him like a greedy child so they might be untouchable by The Army.
Sometimes I am truly ridiculous…and juvenile.
He gently pours black coffee into a stainless steel “reenlist” mug and hands it over the counter. My throat tightens. I turn away to open the refrigerator and remove a half-empty carton of milk. In pours my usual, generous amount and I stir until the contents of my cup reach the color of the khaki uniform t-shirts he wears most days. The tears are welling in my eyes despite all efforts to fight them away, and I curse myself for being a pitiful, flowery, feely, girl.
It’s 6:19am and time to go. He pulls the door shut behind us. It clicks in affirmation. The iron stairwell clangs with each descending step. The air is slightly warmer today, the apparent result of an unexpected front, and the morning breeze dances across my naked legs. I wish these elements would somehow distract me, but they can’t take my mind off of his leaving.
He loads his truck and I wait quietly on the curb. When he is finished, the circumference of his arms encircles me. This, he, is goodness. I wish that by some gift of fate, our morning might not end in parting. I wish that the next month might not be characterized by the deprivation of distance. I wish there was no war requiring this kind if preparation. I’m trying to be unusually together in this menial trial, and what I really wish is that tears were not slowly rolling down my cheeks. A sloppy sniffle reveals my unwilling surrender to upset. He embraces me again, asking sweetly that I not cry over this short trip. Something is whispered in reference to “the grand scheme”…his body is warm and sturdy, his t-shirt is soft on my skin…he smells like [why can’t I put my finger on it?]…in the pre-dawn darkness the earth is quiet. These are the memories that will thread together our first “good bye.” It seems that this is all a kind of training for me as well. One day he will leave for longer. He will go further. It will be war…
Welcome to the Army.
The sun rises over the hills as the exit numbers increase and I near my apartment. The day has taken shape. He presumably boards a plane westward bound, and I pull into my parking lot before eight.
I begin counting the days until November.