I had big plans for my trip to southern California, the biggest being to bring my boy’s clothes to a friend’s mom to make into a memorial quilt. I was going to tour Camp Pendleton where my boys have spent half their lives as military kids and see some of my closest friends, one of whom is ditching me for a three-year tour in Austrailia. It was going to be sad and hard, and I was sure to be miserable the entire time. But even the best-laid plans don’t always come to fruition.
It started at home, pulling out keepsake boxes and dredging through 18 years of memories in search of Noah’s baby clothes. What I found instead was our life. Every love note the hubby has ever written. Letters from Iraq. Every Mother’s Day card. Every Valentine’s Card. Photo albums full of our life together and lives before the kids were even born. Among the memories was Noah’s baby box for which I was completely unprepared. It held every memory of his tiny life. His cap from the hospital. His identification bracelet. The outfit and socks he wore home. His first tooth. His first hair cut. The cast from when he broke his leg in a bounce house when he was 18 months old and I thought he was “fine.” His first picture outfit. His tiny little Drew Bledsoe jersey he wore for his first Halloween–all musty from years in the box.
I opened Gav’s box and found much of the same. His little cap. The tiny t-shirt from the Naval Hospital at Campe Pendleton that said, “Property of the United States Navy.” His bracelet. His first Red Sox outfit. And a picture of the moment he met his brother for the first time. And like a wall of water rushing through a broken dam, the tears came crashing through and my heart broke into a million pieces, again. To imagine that we will have to endure the rest of our lives without Noah makes life feel like climbing Everest. Everyday. And with that, my plans for my trip to Pendleton unraveled. There would be no taking Noah’s clothes because if it was this hard to open boxes from years gone by, I knew I was not ready to face any recent memory of what we’ve lost. Those boxes will stay tucked away until we are damn good and ready. When I got on the road a couple of days later, I prayed. Hard.
Please let me get through this weekend. Lift my heart and help me remember the good times we had there. Let me enjoy the fellowship of my friends. Please help me find relief from this new life–just for a little while.
I met up with my friend Amanda as planned and we toured the base. We visited our first house where Noah was an infant and another home that we brought Gavin home from the hospital. We laughed as I remembered how Noah used to bang on the window upstairs as a toddler, screaming at the kids across the street at the playground when he was supposed to be sleeping. We reminisced about how the Marines in light armored vehicles would wave at the boys from the stop light outside our window as they ate breakfast. Or how Noah used to fall asleep in his peanut butter sandwich squares because he refused to take a nap. The lake where we took the boys to feed the ducks was still peaceful and everything still stops for evening Colors. I still love it there. And I am still so blessed to have Amanda by my side. I guess some things never change.
That night I checked into the hotel with Rachel and her kids, where we both ignored the fact that she’s going away. We spent the next day at the beach where I used to watch my kids play in the surf for hours. Some of her other friends joined us, all low key, all very nice–I’d expect nothing less from Rachel’s crew, considering she is as picky as I am. I managed to avoid talking about Noah, instead focusing on trying to make conversation like a normal person. But I’m not normal and it felt forced. If anything, it was a good practice for when I rejoin the real world someday.
It wasn’t until the next morning in the parking lot of the hotel that it hit me that I was going to have to say goodbye to Rachel–a longer farewell than usual. I hate goodbyes. Marine Corps life affords you the opportunity to meet people along the way and share the journey as we all gallivant all over the world. But the hardest part is the “until next time” moments. I see a trip down under in my future.
I wrapped up the trip by visiting with more old friends, surrounded by support. On the drive home, I cried hysterically on the phone to Tiff, not fully letting go until after I was on the road. Southern California was our old life, where we started our Marine Corps family and where we soaked in every precious moment of life at the beach. As the sun came up on the rolling hills of Northern California and I headed back to my remaining boys, it felt different–like I was closing another chapter on the life I knew before Noah left us. He wouldn’t be waiting, pretending not to care that I had been gone. No coy smile. No rare, genuine hug or his nonchalant, “hey, ma.” Instead, I came home to my two men surrounding me in the safety net of their arms again. Being apart from them was hard. Visiting our old life without them was hard. Noah’s absence is an ache that will never go away. But coming home to them. Well, that’s the like the light of a new day.
In the end, I’m glad I went. There were moments where I did enjoy myself and my mind was flooded with all of the wonderful things about our life there. I’m grateful and sad all at the same time because to remember the good is also to remember what is gone. The life that lies ahead will be full of joy. I believe that in my heart. And it must be true because people keep saying that I will find joy again someday. Today is not that day. But I do rest easy knowing that I have Gavin and the hubby to see me through, one day at a time.