To outsiders, the last two weeks of deployment ought to be happy, easy, simple weeks of anticipation. Those days are never simple. Here is what the last weeks of a year-long deployment really look like:
Saturday, Nov. 17:
The boys wake me up saying, "Mom! Mom! It's just two weeks until Dad comes home!"
All I can think is that nine days of school vacation, Thanksgiving, and two birthdays stand between us and homecoming. And that seems like an eternity, not "two weeks." I don't want to do another weekend without my husband, much less a nine-day vacation.
Sunday, Nov. 18:
Owen walks in while I'm Skyping with Dustin. My son hears me say, "How do you want me to wear my hair when you come home: Up, down, blonde, brown?"
"That is so weird," Owen says. "I'm mean, that's like really weird, Mom. Why don't you ask him what he wants to eat, not how you'll wear your hair."
On the computer screen, Dustin is laughing.
Monday, Nov. 19:
I should be ecstatic. Dustin is coming home in less than two weeks. But suddenly I feel like I can't do one more day without him. My friend Amber asks if the end of deployment feels like needing to use the bathroom: The closer you get to the restroom, the harder it is to hold on.
Tuesday, Nov. 20:
I'm shopping at the grocery store for Thanksgiving dinner. I had to drag myself there. I don't want to celebrate Thanksgiving. I want to speed right through the holiday and two upcoming birthdays, and get right to Dustin's homecoming.
But wait: This deployment began with Dustin missing Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2011. We've had a whole year of holidays and birthdays without him. What's one more?
Sunday, Nov. 25:
I want to rally for Owen's 10th birthday.
I'm in bed by 8 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 26:
Dustin calls me. He is back in the United States, but he has to check out of his command in Norfolk. It's one of the first times I've heard his voice intimately through a phone held to my ear (rather than a grainy, flickering computer screen) in more than a year. I become completely unglued.
"I can't do this anymore," I cry. "I don't think I can make it one more week."
"You're doing great," Dustin says. "We're almost to the end. It's less than a week now."
"I'm so tired," I tell him, and I'm crying so hard, he can barely understand me. "I just want you home. I'm done. Please come home right now."
Wednesday, Nov. 28:
And sometimes, that realization hits even before the homecoming date. Dustin would be home in three days, but already I was asking myself, "How did I do it?" This is the emotional equivalent of not making it to the bathroom in time.
I begin to worry I can't make it through the next few days.
On the phone, Dustin tells me, "I'm almost there. Just hold on a little longer."
Thursday, Nov. 29:
Dustin will be home in 48 hours! I leap out of bed and whistle as I pack the kids' lunches. Nothing -- no birthdays, no holidays, no school vacation -- stands between us and homecoming now. I don't even have to endure another lonely weekend.
Friday, Nov. 30:
People ask military wives, "How do you do it?" and we don't always have an answer. Is there any other choice than to just "do it"? No, there is no (good) alternative. So we carry on, drag ourselves through the grocery store, and smile when people say, "Wow, just four more months!" or "Are you so excited that he'll be home soon?" (By soon, do you mean, "Eight weeks, 22 hours and 15 minutes?" Then, yes.)
It's only later that we look back and say, "How did I do that? How did I manage?"
Even now, I can't concentrate at work. The kids are wound up like tomorrow is Christmas. Even the dog seems full of anxious energy.
There is lots to do. Over the year, I've taken over everything from Dustin's side of the bed to his closet and dresser drawers. It's time to move back to my own side. Also, it's time to get my hair cut and paint my nails.
Tomorrow -- tomorrow -- Dustin will be home.