All my family (including the dog) left yesterday for fun at the cottage. I needed to stay behind because, well, part of running our own business means we don't often get to leave town together for any extended period of time. (I remember that from my childhood, when my parents ran their art gallery. We took very few family vacations, and when we did they were crazy whirlwind events where we crammed in as many Eastern states and museums as possible.)
It's very quiet here. It's especially strange not to have the dog in the house. At least last year when I had to stay behind Chipper greeted me at the door in a frenzy of joy every day and gave me a sense of routine. It occurred to me at work that if I didn't bother to go home at the end of the day it didn't matter and no one would know or care. That's weird. And I didn't realize how many habits the dog had shaped in me until he wasn't underfoot. When I was cleaning out the fridge I could leave an open garbage bag on the floor, and I can run out the door for a moment without worrying the dog may get out if I'm not careful. It sounds silly, I'm sure, but it's a peculiar level of freedom I'm not used to.
I had high hopes for both writing and violin making during all this uninterrupted free time, but I've fallen into a lot of cleaning instead. The house has gotten completely away from me lately, and to straighten up a room and have it stay that way is sort of exciting. (Because I am old and my idea of exciting is very sad.) Being in my house right now reminds me of a time when I visited a friend who had no kids and I watched her put her keys on a table and it struck me that in her world, those keys would still be there when she went back later. No little hands were rearranging random items as part of some endless game that threatened her sanity as a byproduct. I marveled that I ever lived in such a world and never appreciated it. But now I straighten up a room and when I walk through it the next day it's still clean. Trippy.
Something I was not expecting to do was relive memories of Ian's deployments. But while I was cleaning up a couple of rooms downstairs tonight I was listening to the radio and Terry Gross did an interview on Fresh Air with a writer named Angela Ricketts who has a memoir out about her experiences at home with three kids during her husband's deployments. She lived through eight of them. Eight. I only had to get through two and that was plenty.
I could relate to so much of that interview. At one point she said when the kids were small she at least had the sense that they would be spared some of the memories and difficulties of their dad being away, but that during the last deployment her son was in sixth grade. I burst into tears. Aden just finished sixth grade. It's not hard to imagine how upsetting a deployment would have been for her last year.
I wondered as I listened to Ms Ricketts if some people would think she was whiny for admitting to her end of the struggle. It happens. When my essays about dealing with my husband's deployment were published on Babble (both the one where he was in Iraq and the one where he came home) and then reprinted elsewhere, I got comments from people who were disgusted by the fact that I was complaining while my husband was at war. One of the hard parts of being the spouse back on the home front is that nothing can compete with war in terms of stress and sacrifice, so no matter how difficult a time you are having you feel petty for admitting any of it is wearing you down.
But it is hard. And I haven't had to think about it in such detail in a long time. It's left me feeling even lonelier here in the house without even the dog to cuddle.
The one thing that differed greatly between my experience and hers (besides the overwhelming number of deployments she had to deal with) was that she had the company of other families in the same position. I didn't have that, and it sounds as if it could have helped. Ian's first deployment involved his joining a unit in Texas, and all the family support groups were down there. I didn't know anyone else in my community going through what I was going through, and all my family was out of state. I was so painfully alone back then. Alone, yet drowning in small kids so never by myself.
A few years ago I complied the emails Ian and I sent to each other during that deployment into a book. I even went to the trouble of hiring someone to help me write a non-fiction proposal to see about getting it published. But after literally over 100 rejections to my novel I didn't have the energy to figure out how to get non-fiction rejected, too, and it never went anywhere. I suspect a better approach would be to use the emails to write a regular memoir, because I think I could write a good one.
But after listening to Ms Ricketts I don't know if I could take the emotional toll. She was very brave to choose to examine and relive such complicated times. Just remembering how many nights I tried to cry quietly enough not to wake the baby back then has me feeling a little on the brink.
Not a day goes by that I don't think about how much harder things were during the deployments. And not a day goes by that I don't appreciate all that I have now that they are over. There are plenty of reminders, and on some level those experiences are never far away, but I haven't tapped into the raw feelings associated with them in a long time. Not having anyone here to hug is proving to be the most visceral reminder of all.