The reality of deployment and reintegration for the one left behind
After surviving eight deployments, ranging from six to fifteen months each, I’ve grown familiar with the not-so-peachy reality of welcoming my fella back into our home—a home that feels far more like mine than ours. The first month of a deployment and the last month are the longest. The days pass agonizingly slowly, especially in that last week. The date and time of arrival changes many times for each redeployment, causing me in those final days to check my phone like an obsessed gambler checking his bets. But deployments do come to an eventual end.
This deployment that felt like it would never end is, in fact, ending. We spend the days leading up to the return of our warrior cleaning the house, filling the fridge and pantry with his favorite foods (what the hell kind of cereal does he like, again?), getting our hair and nails done, that oh-so-painful Brazilian wax is almost a must for the homecoming. Having our pubes torn from our lady bits is a rite of passage that marks the end of deployment. We spend hours cleaning and organizing the garage to erase the disaster his sacred garage became. We obsess over what to wear. Of course there’s always that one lady who everyone knows is buck naked under her trench coat. Something sexy but demure and patriotic is a safe bet. Some of us lose weight during deployment and others pack on the pounds. During one extra-stressful deployment, I gained a solid twenty pounds. I had to buy new jeans and forgot to remove that pesky size sticker from the leg. My leg advertised my weight gain for all: “12, 12, 12.” Luckily a sympathetic soul pointed out my error moments before my husband’s return.
Isn’t all of this romantic? No, it isn’t. But somehow we romanticize redeployment, or “reintegration,” the sanitized buzzword coined by the military. A big word that does not capture the spectrum of extreme emotions experienced in the upcoming weeks and months. A year has passed. People change. It’s similar to being reunited with a long lost bestie, only to realize that person is not exactly as remembered. Our soldier has missed a chunk of life on this side. While we struggle to stay connected, the truth is that picking up where we left off is futile. He will feel in ways like a stranger. A stranger or guest who never leaves and takes up half of the bed. A stranger who might be critical of the way a son’s hair has grown long or how we ignored soccer practice or changed the brand of toothpaste. As an added bonus, this stranger will want to grab boobs at will during the folding of his mountain of rancid deployment laundry.
Those things described above happen somewhere after the “Magical Three Days.” In most cases those first 72 hours after redeployment are bliss. Everyone is on their best behavior and life is perfect with a new guest in the home. But our masks of perfection do eventually slip. A tantrum on someone’s part is inevitable within the first week. And that tantrum is a welcome and cathartic relief. It signals the beginning of a new battle rhythm. Another new normal.
I’ve saved the best for last. It’s that moment. That moment before the explosion of boots come marching into the auditorium and stomachs lurch while scanning the sea of digi-camo for the familiar shape of husband’s head. Height and head shape are the two distinguishers in a crowd of camouflage. We stand shaking through the ten minute ceremony and the obligatory singing of the national anthem and the Army song. Those last minutes are a blur of deployment memories racing by as if it had been the blink of one day instead of a year. The ups, the downs, the long days, and the friendships that take a new place in the pecking order after deployment. Tears will roll. Waterproof mascara and Kleenex to catch the snot are essentials. Suddenly the miserable-seeming challenge has meaning and was worth it, for this feeling and this moment.
The first hug is never awkward, though we worry it might be. That hug, those arms, that familiar scent of him beneath the smell of war, it all feels like . . . home. He made it home. Somewhere in that hug in the back of my mind I always faintly hear Axl Rose belting out “Welcome to the Jungle” and I am reminded to soak up that moment. Because the real rollercoaster lies ahead.
Photo Credit: Angela Ricketts
Angela Ricketts is ESME’s Veterans’ Assistance/Military Families Resource Guide and the author of the memoir No Man’s War: Irreverent Confessions of an Infantry Wife. Daughter and wife of career infantrymen, she has a master’s degree in social psychology. You can follow her on Twitter at @angricketts and Facebook at Angie Ricketts.
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