I let myself get sucked into a Lifetime movie tonight. I knew when I started watching it probably wasn’t the best idea, yet I watched it anyway. It was the typical Lifetime movie, complete with marginal acting, cheesy music, and plenty of crying women and children. But there were a few scenes that hit a little too close to home and got my mind wandering. And these days, this month, a wandering mind doesn’t end so well.
As I watched the woman on the screen get that awful knock on the door, I could feel the punch in my own gut. I’ll never forget the way it felt that morning. I’ve tried to block so much of it out, even going to the lengths of having my brother-in-law disable the doorbell in my new home because it triggers me. But tonight I feel like I need to revisit it.
For the most part, it was a normal average morning. My son woke up at his normal time and we headed downstairs in our jammies to make some breakfast, as usual. I was extra tired that morning because I hadn’t slept well the night before. I had spoken to my husband around 8 or 9 in the evening, before he left out on his mission, and then played around on the internet trying to get sleepy. A storm had been brewing and was making me a bit nervous, as we’d had some bad storms in the weeks prior including one that brought a tornado a little too close to our neighborhood for my liking. I finally managed to get to bed, only to be awoken by the storm.
The wind was crazy as it always was in our location at the top of hill leading down to the Plains. The rain was beating on the windows and I could hear our flag, which I had forgotten to take down prior to the storm, beating against the stone column and the gutters outside. It was very repetitive, very loud, and very annoying. I tried to ignore it, tried to go back to sleep, but it was persistent. Looking back, I have to wonder what exactly that was…the timing correlated to the timing of what was going down, unbeknownst to me, with my husband…
Anyway, around 3 or 4 in the morning I finally dragged myself out of bed and angrily went downstairs, outside in the rain, and took down the flag. That moment continues to haunt me…I took down the flag. The flag…
Needless to say, after all that I didn’t get any quality sleep and was pretty groggy while making my little man’s breakfast. I was expecting to hear from my husband sometime that morning; when we had last spoke he was assuming he’d be back fairly routinely and had given me a time frame when he would most likely be able to call me. I was carrying my cell phone around so I wouldn’t miss his call; I always hated to miss any call.
After breakfast, I got my son dressed for the day and set him up with some toys to play with. I stayed in my jammies because I had some cleaning I wanted to get out of the way that morning. I had a wooden safety gate I needed to install at the bottom of the stairs, and some other deep cleaning I wanted to get done. My little man all set up on his blanket with some toys nearby so I could multi-task playing and cleaning, I put Friends in the DVD player for some background noise and got to work.
I think it was around 8:30 or so when the doorbell rang. I can’t even explain the initial reaction to that doorbell. It’s like I knew immediately… no one would be coming to my house unannounced so early on a Saturday morning. My brain blocked out the initial gut reaction and rationalized with myself. It must be my neighbor, she likes to stop by sometimes and see us, or bring us food, or just chat. Yeah, it’s her. Has to be. Yet, I stalled before I headed to the door.
Our door had a glass insert that I kept covered by a curtain at night and pulled open during the day to let the sunlight in. I hadn’t yet opened it that morning, so I couldn’t see who it was until I reached the door. Crossing my arms over my chest because I didn’t have a bra on, I peeked around the curtain and my world stopped. Blue uniforms. Somber faces. This can’t be real. I’m dreaming. No way. Uh uh. No.
This is where things get blurry. I know I shook my head. I dropped the curtain back and ignored the door. If I didn’t open it, it wasn’t so. No. I just wasn’t going to do it. I walked over to my son, still happily playing and squealing over his jungle toy his Daddy bought and sent through the mail for his half-birthday, and picked him up. I held him close and breathed in his scent. Deeply. Held it. And sat in that moment for as long as I could.
I knew when I moved, my life would change forever.
Somehow, I became aware of my hands shaking. My legs trembling. My head buzzing and an increasingly loud roaring in my ears. I don’t know how long I stood there before I made my legs, heavy as stone, move toward the door. It felt like a year, it felt like a second. But with shaking hands, trembling so hard I fumbled against the locks and had to try twice to turn the knob, I opened the door. At first, just a crack. And then all the way.
As I looked the General in the eye, I knew. Yet it felt so surreal, like I was watching myself in a movie that just had to be ending soon. It’s an out-of-body experience that is next to impossible to describe to someone who has not been through it.
Without speaking I stepped back, as if warding off their incoming words. There were three of them; the General, the Commander, and the Chaplain. They all held the same somber, saddened, and sympathetic expression, but my eyes were drawn to my husband’s Commander, M. I’d never met him before that day, and had no idea that he and his wife would become such important people in my life.
They spoke; one of them said my name, someone asked if they could come in, and someone began to recite the words every military spouse hopes they never hear. “Ma’am, it is with deep regret…”
My legs buckled underneath me and I remember hearing someone saying “No. No, no, no… no.” When I caught the M’s eye, I realized that it was me. I felt weak and I remember hearing myself say, “Someone has to take him…my son, I’m going to drop him…” M took my innocent little boy for me and held onto him gently as tears formed in his eyes. The Chaplain began to usher me toward the couch as the General gestured for me to take a seat. As I was walking, or floating, or whatever it was, toward my dreaded seat, I remember saying, “He’s just hurt, right? Please just tell me he’s hurt, just hurt that’s all, right?” Pleadingly, firmly, increasingly demanding…as if trying to convince him that was what he was going to tell me.
We took our seats, the General on the love seat to my left, the Chaplain on the couch next to me on my right, and M standing in front of me to the right holding my son. Friends was still on the TV directly in front of me. I remember laughing at some point at the complete absurdity of hearing the “I’ll be there for youuuu” theme song while getting the worst news of my life. Morbidly, awfully, funny. And then it all began. “Ma’am, I regret to inform you…”
I just zoned out from there, watching the man reading the script he was required to read from his little paper…then handing me the official letter that I held in shaking hands as if it were on fire. I only remember bits and pieces of the moments going forward: people coming in and out of the front door, my son sticking his fingers up M’s nose, the Chaplain asking me if I wanted a tissue (at which I was perplexed because I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t anything). I remember at one point catching M’s eye and he looked at me, intensely as if to get past my fog and actually reach me in there somewhere, and said, “It doesn’t feel real, does it?” I also distinctly remember keeping my arms very tightly crossed over my chest because I was acutely aware of the fact that I didn’t have a bra on and I was still in my jammies. At one point, out of nowhere, I remember apologizing for the mess in the house and my appearance, to which M, who must have realized exactly what I meant, reassured me quietly that no one noticed anything and it was alright.
It was all such a blur, and so much of it still is. With tears streaming down my face, I am surprised that I am even remembering this much of that morning. But I am glad I am. Nearly a year later, it is time to face the things I have been avoiding and hiding from for so long. And it is starting now, with this moment. That moment. THE moment.
Damn you Lifetime Movie Network. But thank you. I’ll still watch your cheesy movies, but next time I’ll start my bottle of wine *before* the movie, not after.