My Husband Is Finally Home From Iraq
After a year's deployment, I can't believe the ordeal is over.
We decided to tell them he was coming home just the day before his return from California, when we were more certain of the details, and could assure them he would spend a long summer vacation with them. After that break, he will start a Navy staff job in the D.C. area, driving to work every morning and pulling up to the house every evening. The domestic dullness I've long craved is imminent.
More servicemembers in camouflage stepped through the double doors, blinking in the bright light of the terminal. The greeters cheered and clapped. Soldiers, sailors, and Marines navigated the gauntlet of outstretched hands, some reaching back eagerly, most nodding politely and smiling, a few staring straight ahead, acknowledging no one. They carried little, and they all looked exhausted. "Thank you for your service," the greeters called out over and over. But it never sounded rote; it was impossibly original and real each time. It was as if they had a secret which re-energized them each time they shared it.
I've thought a lot this past year about the idea of service. I have a better understanding of what it entails—not just in the military, but in any field that demands similar sacrifice and devotion. I'm still not sure where the obligation of service ends. I'm not even sure if thinking of service as an obligation negates the authenticity of that service. Clearly, the greeters set out to serve their country each time they met these flights, vowing that no veteran will return to the United States unappreciated. If they consider it an obligation, it is one they fulfill joyfully, which is more than I can say for how I feel about our family's commitment to the military on most days.
My eyes were still on the double doors. Scott walked through, and I heard myself gasp. He looked exactly the same as he does in the photos hanging throughout our house, but this time, he was smiling back at me. I ran to him. I was still crying, still thinking: We made it. We survived this. I heard applause as we embraced. I don't know how long we stood there, but when we pulled apart and made our way toward the exit, dozens of greeters reached toward Scott. He tried to shake every hand and return every hug.
"Thank you for your service," one woman said, but I didn't look up. "Thank you for your service," I heard again, insistently, the same voice. I searched her out in the crowd. She had close-cropped gray hair and was so small that she barely peeked out among the others in the group. When I found her, she was already looking into my eyes. I realized she was actually talking to me, and not to my husband. I appreciated the sentiment, but I didn't know what to say. She disappeared into the throng. I held Scott's hand tightly, and we kept walking.
Alison Buckholtz is the author of Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War (Tarcher/Penguin 2009), which will be released in paperback this spring with a new afterword and reader's guide.
Illustration by Nina Frenkel. Photograph courtesy of Alison Buckholtz.