I remember Josh’s first deployment like it was yesterday.
It had been an absolutely crazy year for us. We were living in our very first apartment learning to be grown-ups, learning to be parents, and learning how to live together. I was working in my first non-food service job and had recently been promoted to Property Manager. Aubrey was two and finding a good daycare had been a nightmare. Then she got sick, really sick, and for the first time ever my Momma Bear instincts had led me to argue with a doctor for treatment. Josh got orders to his first boat, and he was so excited to finally get to do his job! Things were finally working out.
Then one day a plus sign popped up on a little white stick, and shortly thereafter we found out Josh would be deploying sooner than we thought. We got married in the shortest, silliest ceremony ever and had basically a day to fill out all the necessary paperwork to make me a Navy wife.
And then the day came.
And then he was gone.
We woke up before the sun, bundled Aubrey into her car seat, and made the drive to the base. The short drive to the lower base parking lot seemed both very long and much too quick. The road seemed to stretch forever placing a distance between us, but before I knew it we were parking. We sat in silence for a while. It seemed easier than trying to talk.
Eventually he had to go, and we hugged each other tighter than ever before. I thought my job was to be stoic so I held in my tears as best I could while he told me he loved me and would write when he could. He mumbled a good-bye to a still sleeping Aubrey, and as he walked away I saw his shoulders hitch with emotion.
I sat in that parking lot for what seemed like ages … first to watch him go as far as I could see him, then to calm my tears, and finally to calm Aubrey’s because in my grief I had done the only thing I knew to do which was to grab her out of her seat and hug and love on her for a few minutes.
By the time I got home, I thought I had it all together. I had a plan. There was work to be done. I could keep busy. I could DO THIS! I fed and dressed Aubrey and dropped her at daycare. I dressed for work and opened my office. I stared a huge stack of paperwork and then dove in head first.
I can almost see the thought bubble over my head … “I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.”
The door to my office opened, and one of my residents walked in.
“Hi! You’re Jodi, right? My husband, Jon, is on the boat with your husband, and he told me this was you guys’ first patrol. He said I should come and check on you today. Are you okay?”
When I am sad, really really sad, a heartfelt “are you okay?” is always my undoing. I was strong by myself that morning, but once she acknowledged my pain, the tears flowed like a damn river. I sobbed to this stranger of all my fears and uncertainties for a good half hour. It was cathartic to let it all out and comforting to know I wasn’t alone. She shared her own first deployment story, and I felt better just knowing I wasn’t the first wife to ugly cry in public.
As the days stretched into weeks and months, there were many more tears and a few angry rants at God and Big Navy for taking my man from me, but I made it through. As Navy wives do, I sought and found my coping mechanisms and made friends with the women who were doing the same, and we all made it through together. My memories of our first Homecoming are just as vivid and much happier, but I’ll share those another day.
I woke up today thinking of deployment. It has gotten easier over the years. I have an amazing support network of friends who know just what I’m going through, and I don’t need to find coping mechanisms anymore because they are as firmly rooted in me as is my name or my address. And I have responsibilities now that that first-deployment version of myself couldn’t have begun to imagine. Three kids, a home, volunteer work that I am dedicated to … those things sustain me.
But the too-many-deployments-to-count version of me will always remember that first time. That first sadness and first heartbreak. The days of tears and sadness. That younger self who didn’t know what to expect from each deployment day, who was scared and uncertain and sometimes felt so alone.
But that first-timer made it to the end. There was a Homecoming. The apartment was still standing, and the work got done. The kids (I was very much showing by the time he returned) were both healthy and happy when Daddy came home, and mingled with the happiness of his return was a pride in having made it. I had NO IDEA at the trials that lay ahead of me, of us. No idea of future fights with doctors, patrols extended and extended and extended, and tears in parking lots and offices and sometimes alone on my pillow. But somehow I knew I could do it, and that it would all be okay and that it was all very much worth it.
And too-many-patrols-to-count later, I can honestly say, “Boy, was she right!”