WHEN I PICTURE IT happening, I envision myself as a 1960s housewife. I’m wearing a Betty Draper-style dress and an apron instead of the more likely yoga pants and t-shirt. My hair and makeup are done and I’m vacuuming or maybe rolling out a pie crust. I’m home. It’s daytime and two men in khakis come to my door and hand me a note that says my husband has been killed in action. Then they leave. And I’m alone.
The first time my husband deployed, I drove home from the airfield, laid myself down on the living room floor, called my mom and asked, “Can I die from this?” When I imagine what it would feel like for me to actually lose him, I almost can’t breathe.
He is in Afghanistan now and I think about the reality of his dangerous job 100 times a day. I daydream outrageous scenarios all the time, like winning Best New Artist at the Country Music Awards. But losing my husband, or a friend, is an actual possibility. According to the DOD report, as of 17 Janurary, 4,421 service members have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 1,864 in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan).
When it actually happens, they say, someone will come to your house so quickly that you won’t have time to worry. What if I’m at work? They’ll come to your work. What if I’m at the grocery store? They’ll wait at your house. What if I’m sleeping and I can’t hear them? They knock loud.
Four days after my husband left this time, I was awoken by my cell phone ringing sometime around midnight.
“Hello Mrs. deBoer. I’m calling to inform you that…”
An officer at my husband’s command told me that there was a serious injury on my husband’s team and then, I swear to God, the longest thirty seconds of my life passed before he said “your husband was not hurt.”
He told me that there was nothing I could do yet, except spread the word that only one person was injured and he was alive in serious condition. He told me the wounded sailor’s name and said I could call back if I needed anything.
I got out of bed and sat on the living room floor and cried.
My husband is on a team of 18 men. I have met about half of them during this training cycle, and I don’t know any of them well.
I met the now injured sailor once when my husband and I drove him to the airfield the day he deployed. There was no major sendoff, it was just us, at 10pm dropping two guys off in a parking lot on a big military base. One grabbed his bags, shook my husband’s hand, and walked away.
The other grabbed his bags, shook my husband’s hand, and looked at me and said, “Can you be my…” and I gave him a hug, and patted his back, and said, “Please be safe.” And he is now recovering from a traumatic brain injury. He has a wife, and a baby, and they lived in my neighborhood.
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