“I’m being deployed.” The words slipped softly off of his lips as they pierced my ears. I felt weak. My heart was pounding in my chest as I swallowed the lump in my throat trying to hold back tears. I didn’t know what to say. We sat there in silence for a while processing what this meant.
Caleb and I met on October 18, 2011, my freshman year of college and his junior year of college. We quickly became friends and started dating in April of 2012. I knew he was in ROTC, but I was clueless as to what his career would be after college. I had no idea how the Army worked. But, I soon found out he would be leaving Pennsylvania and heading up to New York for his first duty station. Our goodbyes were tough. I stayed behind to finish school, but knew he was only 5 hours away and could visit anytime.
Our relationship progressed and on May 17, 2014, Caleb got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. (The entire proposal story is very romantic). I said yes, and our year of long distance FaceTiming and wedding planning continued. May 23, 2015, finally arrived and I married that amazing soul.
Married life was great. We were settling into our new apartment right on Lake Ontario, exploring the quaint little village we would be calling home for the next few years, and making plans for upcoming holidays. I always knew deployment was a possibility, but you never think it’s going to happen to you. During those first few weeks of marriage, Caleb mentioned a list was coming out with the names of everyone who would be deploying soon. Surely he wouldn’t be on that list. We just got married. It wouldn’t be fair. But, I’ve learned quickly nothing is fair in the Army.
“I’m being deployed.” Those words cut through my heart like a serrated knife. I just stared at him wide-eyed in disbelief. I could tell he wanted me to say something, but I couldn’t find the words. Silence.
Then it happened. My mom called me and I told her the news. She asked me if I was okay and the tears I had been keeping in started streaming down my face and I couldn’t control it. I wasn’t okay.
We were told mid-August. Then we were told a specific date in August. Then another date. And another date. I was beginning to think maybe he wouldn’t go because they couldn’t make up their minds. But, August 26th was the day that stuck. We only had a little bit of time left when we found out August 26th was the official date, so we booked a trip to Lake Placid on our last weekend together.
Our time at Lake Placid was full of hiking, fishing, kayaking, shopping and enjoying each other’s company. I savored every moment we had together.
August 25th arrived. That night, Caleb and I were laying in bed talking about the wonderful summer we had. I remember telling myself I wouldn’t cry because I didn’t want to make him sad, but I couldn’t help it. The tears came rolling down my cheeks knowing this was the last night I would have Caleb here to warm up my feet when they got cold at night and brush back my hair to gently kiss my lips goodnight.
I hardly slept that night waking up every hour making sure he was still right next to me. I wanted so desperately to slow down time, but, the dreaded morning came and all too quickly we were on our way to post. We sat in the car for a while unable to figure out the words to say to each other. Time was slipping through my fingers and I couldn’t get any of it back.
Then he looked at me, “It’s time for me to go.” I took in a huge gulp of air and bit my lip knowing I was about to burst into tears. We stepped out of the car and I put a smile on my face and told him we needed to take a selfie before he left. I was trying to avoid the inevitable.
This was it. I couldn’t do anything to stop him from getting on that plane. My smile quickly faded and I started sobbing as he held me close saying he loved me and he would see me soon. I muttered the words, “I love you,” through my sobs with my face burrowed into chest not wanting to let go… but I had to.
He walked me over to the car and opened the door for me. I could see him fighting back his tears as he whispered, “I love you,” one more time. I held onto his hand as he started to turn around trying to bring him back to me, but our fingers slipped apart and he took the very breath from my lungs as I watched him walk away.
My dad drove me home that day and all I could do was look out the window and think about how different my life was going to be these next 9 months.
Home. I didn’t want to be there. Decorations from Caleb’s early birthday celebration were still up, Adobe, my dog, was there to greet me at the door and my parents were there to help me ease into the adjustment of Caleb being gone. Yet, my house didn’t feel like home. It felt empty. I wept in the hallway knowing this was the way it was going to be for a while.
The first night was rough. I opened our closet and stared at the clothes that wouldn’t be touched. I sprayed his cologne in in the bathroom and closed my eyes pretending he was standing right in front of me. Everyone told me it would get better and I’d fall into my own routine, but I couldn’t imagine it getting any easier. My mom slept on Caleb’s side of the bed that night so I wouldn’t feel alone, but it wasn’t the same. He wasn’t there. I cried myself to sleep and kept my phone on the loudest setting just in case Caleb was able to tell me he arrived safely.
The next few days felt the same. My appetite was non-existent and I cried when something reminded me of Caleb. Which, let’s be honest, everything reminded me of him. I hated going into our bedroom. I avoided it all day and dreaded going to bed. Did I really have 9 more months of this?
When my parents left, the depression settled in even more. I was alone. Crying myself to sleep and sitting on the couch all day became routine. Cereal and bagels were the majority of what I ate. I had no motivation to cook, clean or even get ready for the day. What was the point?
Part of me felt bad for feeling this way. Caleb was over 6,000 miles away in a foreign land full of danger. I was safe while he was putting his life on the line for us every day. Yet, I never heard him complain. I decided I couldn’t live like this for 9 months. I needed to do something.
I met a few friends up here whose husbands were also deployed. We clung to each other and started getting together several times a week. It certainly helped pass the time, but even then, time seemed to be standing still.
Our FaceTime dates were few and far between for the first few months. Caleb was constantly working and exhausted by the end of the day. But, somehow he would always find the time for me. I found solace in creating care packages for him. I would send one at least once a month full of goodies, letters and some of my favorite photos from our time together before he left.
I started falling into my own routine of paying the bills, doing laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, occasionally cooking a healthy meal and hanging out with friends. But, as the holiday’s approached, the depression started to take a stronger hold of me. Caleb was missing all of it. Our birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day and Easter. It was supposed to be special and we were supposed to begin new traditions. I didn’t decorate our place. It felt wrong celebrating these holidays while he was away from family.
Months went by and I kept the same routine of dreading bedtime, having Netflix marathons, drinking wine, cleaning the house and occasionally making a healthy meal. There were a lot of good days and a lot of bad days. My good days were always with my friends. We would talk for hours about our husbands and somehow, we would always feel better afterward.
Time was still moving at a snail’s pace, but I was doing well. Then it happened. I hit the deployment wall that so many military spouses know all too well. I still had well over 100 days left before I would see Caleb. I ran right into that wall. This deployment was never going to end. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. I was tired of doing things by myself. I was tired of taking the trash out, loading the dishwasher in silence, eating by myself and looking over at the empty side of the bed. Hitting that wall took a toll on me and I didn’t think I’d ever get past it. And I didn’t get past it until April.
April was an exciting month for me. The weather was beginning to warm up (30 degrees is warm up here), and I only had a month until Caleb came home. The first day of April I decorated the house for his homecoming. Early? Yes, but I couldn’t help it. I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew this deployment was going to end. The week before he came home felt like I had lived through those 9 months all over again, but the day arrived. I woke up extremely early on May 13th. I showered, did my hair and makeup, ate a few bites of breakfast and waited until it was acceptable for me to leave for Caleb’s homecoming ceremony.
I sat in the bleachers staring at the clock. Only an hour left until I would see my husband IN PERSON! My sweet friend, Nicole, met me there about 30 minutes before the ceremony started to take photos of our reunion and I am forever grateful for that.
The time ticked slowly, but finally, 12:05pm hit and those doors swung open to showcase all of those brave soldiers returning home. The crowd erupted into cheers as they marched in! I spotted Caleb right away. I could hardly breathe! There he was. 9 long months and he was finally home. 261 days later.
The ceremony was brief, thank goodness, and they were dismissed. I started walking towards him as my hands were shaking. Our eyes met from across the room and that’s when I started running. I ran right into his arms and he picked me up and told me he had missed me so much. Our embrace and first kiss made those last 261 days seem like a dream. I had forgotten all of those lonely nights in that moment. My husband was finally home and I was safe in his arms once again.
A big thank you to Nicole Regan Photography for these photos!