For 31 months we were on an island. The island of running a recruiting station. (To clarify, the husband ran it, not me. But let’s be real. The level of separation–of not being one of the guys/girls–carries over into my life as well, even if I don’t want it to.)
Seven months into our tour, we lost our first-born son in a horrible accident. We shut nearly everyone who was local out of our lives while we figured out how to balance the demands of recruiting with the loss of our son and parenting our warrior son. I have a new appreciation for the sentiment of “isolation” on independent duty. Were it not for the small cluster of women I met, one who lost a child, one about to become a mother, and one of the hardest working Marines I know, I would have had no one local.
I got used to it. I welcomed the quiet so that I could spend time with God–so I could process. I’m an introvert and I’d just been through the worst experience of my life. I honestly don’t know how I would have handled being surrounded by loved ones and supporters–at my house, at my job, among Noah’s friends. It was easier to accept that love from people from a distance and online, on my terms and in my time. I kept everyone at a distance except for a handful of people, my “band of merry bitches,” as I lovingly refer to them. And though I chose to live that way in part by necessity and in part because I just couldn’t handle anyone else’s feelings about losing Noah or their stories about how our loss affected their family, it was lonely. Late 2014 to summer 2017 was by far the loneliest season of my life.
So you would assume that returning to our community of friends and family would be easy. Finally, I have my shopping buddies and dinner dates. I can text someone to go for a walk on a random Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. There’s talk of Friday supper club and road trips galore. I get to see my other nieces and nephews grow. We are home, or the closest thing to it in the Marine Corps. It appears on the outside that we have all we could need. But with all of this love comes new emotions to deal with, emotions that have caught me completely off guard.
Kids. Other people’s kids have grown. Gav is the only one still growing. Noah is just gone. And that still sucks. Seeing that time has passed is hard. In some ways, our family stopped on June 21, 2015. Our family is not the same family. Our kids are not the same kids. It’s an alternate universe that everyone else stayed in, and we took an off ramp to our other reality. Now, our worlds are crashing together, and it is overwhelming.
Siblings. My heart aches every time Gavin is the oldest kid in the room because nature tells me that should be Noah. My heart aches every time we are around siblings because Gavin no longer has a sibling to share things with. Watching siblings is hard–the laughter, the bro code, the fighting, all constant reminders of what is not the same for Gavin. There is no more Frick and Frack. Just Gavin. I often sit back and wonder if their parents know just how good they have it, how much I envy their perfect, messy lives.
Normalcy. People’s lives are normal. Friends are concerned are about normal things. They vent about the average stuff. So do I, for cover. Marriage, family, jobs, high school schedules, etc. For me, normal is hard and I don’t want it to be. Why can’t I just be normal, too?
Memories. Every corner of this area reminds me of my boys. Plural. This can be both good and bad. Gavin is sharing memories about his brother I never knew. This can also be both good and bad. On the one hand, we are all glad to be home, but on the other, we are all keenly aware of who isn’t here to share it with us.
Anxiety. My anxiety about Gavin’s level of okayness his senior year is through the roof. People often ask first about is his knee (which is recovering as scheduled, by the way). That’s the least of my worries. I worry about whose car he will get into. Do I know them? Are they good drivers? Can he handle the ice and snow and unfamiliar roads? Will he get depressed and turn inward? Will people he once knew treat him oddly because they haven’t seen him? I’m constantly worried about Gav’s next steps, and I want to shield him from everything bad that could happen. But I know I can’t.
Social pressure. People want me to be okay. People want to see me. I want to reconnect with people. All awesome things. But over the past two years, I’ve been very selective about how much social I can handle. On the one hand, I’m grateful for the invitations. On the other, they create anxiety because now I’m more easily overwhelmed. Trust me; I don’t say “yes” unless I’m in a good place, so please don’t stop asking. But understand that I’m not always ready to hang out. And when I do, and I think I’ll be fine, some random “normal” conversation will derail a perfectly good feeling and remind me of something horrible. I don’t think it’s an expectation that I’m okay all the time, but I do think it’s shocking and awkward when I’m not. I hate it. It’s a game I can’t win, but I’ll just keep playing until I figure it out.
The bottom line is that I’m so happy to be home. We all are. But it’s not the homecoming I was expecting. For months, I was telling Dan how nervous I was to re-engage because I wasn’t sure how I would handle it. It turns out, I know myself pretty well, and as expected, I’m a hot flippin’ mess. I don’t think these feelings are going away anytime soon. So, what do I do when I’m struggling? I remember two very important things:
- It’s okay that I’m not okay.
- I don’t owe anyone an explanation for my crazy.
This shit is hard. And I love and appreciate all of you for your love and kindness as we have settled back in. I was not expecting it to be so challenging, but I also had no illusions that it would be easy. I’m just over here, doing my thing, trying to figure out how to live in the real world again. And I sure am glad to have all of you.
I wish you were here to tell me to lighten up. I wish you were here to tell Gavin that it’s okay to have fun. I wish I could feel your presence today because it was a hard day without you. I miss your face. I miss your laugh. I miss the arguing. Watch over your brother, your dad, and me. Remind us every day that it’s okay to be happy, that it’s okay to keep moving forward. Remind us that you are still in our hearts.