Chris has returned home after.
It’s been a long six months. Although eased by a brief, but wonderful holiday to Dubai two months ago, the time apart has been challenging and a very steep, unrelenting learning curve, I think for both of us. This is our first real deployment situation, and certainly the longest away, and with the least contact. I knew the basic principal of entering into a military relationship; my father was an engineer in the RAF for much of my childhood, and I have worked for families who bore the weight of loved ones in dangerous places. I knew to a degree what to expect, and I knew the emotions I would have to encounter, but in these situations you can only really be relatively prepared at best.
We’d encountered the dreaded deployment separation before, of course. In the year and seven months we’ve been together, the Navy life has steadily but certainly been letting itself in by the back door. At first it was days, a weekend perhaps without contact. Deployment whisked him to European shores in not so far flung countries like France and Belgium. I knew he was close (relatively speaking) and I knew he was safe, and more often than not, we remained in regular contact. The build up was a blessing. In many ways, it was like wading into the realities of a military relationship. Eventually though, you hit the deep end.
At that point, you either start swimming, or, well, you know the rest.
From day one I knew this was a strong partnership and not in the hazy daisy new romance way. As people we connected honestly. I didn’t set aside his faults and he didn’t ignore mine – we knew these differences, acknowledged them and found ways to circumnavigate them. It seemed only natural. Just a bases we both happened to work from, and made simple by the fact we enjoyed our better aspects so much. So, I knew we had it in us to beat this too. However, naturally I suppose, doubts and fears crept in, mostly about myself and the lifestyle that comes with the Navy.
Questions started small and grew unwildly the closer we came to saying goodbye. I never once pondered if I should be with him, but I queried a lot how I was going to cope. Either our relationship was about to prove itself, or it wasn’t, and I was acutely aware of that. Mostly I worried I would get some important issue horribly wrong. What if I couldn’t support him in the way he needed? What if I let my own head and needs get in the way? What if I got angry at him even though it wasn’t his fault? ‘What if’ ‘what if’ ‘what if’. It felt traitorous to doubt our relationship so unnecessarily, yet unhealthy and unhelpful to box them up somewhere in my head and hope they went away.
Even I (and trust me I had some incredible skill) couldn’t have foreseen half of the problems with only being in touch with your other half 10% of the time at best. I thought I had prepared myself for most things. When that floodgate opened it poured in all kinds of crazy waters.
Letters. What do you do with their post? I had been given permission to open some things, but not others. They could be important, but confidential. A company or bank might need information. Okay, well, that’s simple enough, but will the bank accept information from me, the unmarried partner? No idea. Hadn’t even considered it. And that’s not even the beginning.
I became a PA and base point for Chris from every family member. I didn’t mind; I like his family. They need information about insurance policies and bank details and car documents, and on and on. I’m fairly organised. I could win awards in keeping folders filled and filed with relevant information in relevant places. I have a system nagdabbit! But 99% of the time I was faffing and searching for bits of random info I didn’t even know existed.
Then there is the prominent and predictable lonely aspect.
It. Sucks. My. Writer’s. Behind.
This is not a regular type of lonely. I know what that is, and I know a quick phone call or a whole lot of chocolate and reading will cure it somewhat. This is nothing and no one will do, kind of lonely. For the first week or so I was acutely aware of the not-there-ness of him. There was a space which hovered wherever I went, where I knew in any other life in any other time he would be there, but he wasn’t. Nights were lonely, days were lonely, people came and went, and always this lack is with you. It’s like the sea has stolen his being, but left you with the moments when he would not speak – just a quiet presence always with you, but just beyond sight. There is no way to really express that to someone who does not know; I tried. Much of the time I hid away more than I should have. And the questions were always with me.
Still I anticipated our reunion with excitement. I pictured many a romantic and emotional scene, which played out and offered comfort when things started to turn dark. How long would I hold him and not let go? We would kiss and dance, and lament the sufferings of our separation in poetic words and heartfelt speeches. Perhaps our celebration would be wild and spontaneous. We might whip away to some private spot in the country, with floral bedspreads and handmade soap, and not leave our quiet solitude for days. Perhaps I would meet him at the train station and the flurry of travelers would gaze at the weeping pair in the middle of the arrivals area. There was many an unrealistic expectation. I knew it was all a coping mechanism, something my heart played on loop to appease my head, but there was some real hope in it.
What we would say and how and why. These were important to me. I just hoped somewhere in all that distance the line hadn’t broken between us, and I needed words to show me it hadn’t.
So when the moment came this afternoon, I was excited, but I was anxious.
The key turned in the lock; I approached the door to great him, and our hellos were gleeful. After dragging in three heavy bags, he didn’t even remove his coat to embrace me, and there we stood for a few silent moments in each others arms, in our home, for the first time in half-a-year. Instead of beating faster, my heart rate evened out.
We said two sentences each:
“I missed you.”
“I missed you so much”
“I’m glad you’re home”
“I missed you”
There was no romantic fanfare, no sobbing with glee or whirling around the room. No poetry or dancing or lamenting, or hiding away in a secret place. Just fifteen words between us, and in that everything that needed to be said, and everything that needed to be felt.
After that we slipped back into us; we fell into relaxed conversation about work, and odd facts and bad movies. Nothing had changed in who we were, nothing had turned to chaos. There was no more given or taken. Just us, and who we are.
And Chris is home, and so too am I.