A Hard Day’s Even-Harder Night

Tony & Me

Taken by our BN FRSA shortly before the "Last Hugs" order was given.

Hurry up and wait.  That is pretty much how Tony and I spent yesterday. We’d known pretty much since we arrived here at Fort Stewart that he would deploy this summer. We got the official word on Tuesday and we found out the official times of departure at Wednesday’s morning formation. But before I get to that, a bit about us…

Tony and I met online through a role-playing game/chat room about 9 years ago. Other relationships (mine was a marriage gone bad) and my unwillingness to attempt another emotional commitment drove us apart. We ended badly and lost touch with one another. The night of September 4, 2009 changed all of that. Once again, I was hanging out in a chat room, doing a bit of role-playing, and in comes a character name that I recognized but thought, “Nah…can’t be”. After almost causing him to leave because I was coldly formal to the “guest”, I finally realized who my guest really was. We spent the next 12 hours online talking about our lives since we had parted ways, discussing why we had parted, and dropping unveiled hints about possibly getting back together. Our decision to not talk on the phone until we both felt ready lasted about 6 hours before I emailed him my number. Once we talked, that was that. I went to see him while he was stationed at Fort Polk, LA on a spur of the moment trip the second weekend of October and by the end of the year, we were married.

I had always considered myself agnostic. The night Tony walked back into my life changed all of that. We both firmly believe that was not just chance. He had meant to click on an ESPN link and clicked the chat site’s link instead. I remembered – literally at the last minute – who the character name belonged to and apologized for being in “room controller” mode rather than “chatter” mode. Our talk that night was as if we had simply picked up where we left off about 8 years ago. When we met face to face, the feelings of contentment and happiness were overwhelming, but not at all surprising. I’ve been married twice before. Both times, I had doubts and second thoughts not only in the days before the weddings, but as I was getting dressed or smiling with my bridesmaids while the photographer snapped picture after picture. But hey – couldn’t back out now! That only happens in Hollywood, right? With Tony,  not a single doubt.  Not once. Ever. Tony was ending his first marriage, which was – by all accounts – a living hell. His friends and co-workers were concerned for him when he announced he was already seeing someone, and were even more shocked when he came back from Christmas leave a married man. None of them have doubts now, although if some are still harboring a bit of doubt, it’s totally understandable and I don’t blame them for that. Tony was pretty fragile, emotionally, and he had some good friends standing by him when he needed them. God…Fate…whatever divine intervention…decided that both of us had gone through enough relationship hell in our lives and decided to put us together. We’ve never looked back. The past 6 months have truly been the happiest in our lives.

I knew when I married him that he was considering making the Army his career. He is a combat medic and has been deployed to Iraq twice. When it was time for him to re-enlist, he told me that he wanted to go to a post where he’d have a higher chance of being deployed not because he loves going to war, but because a deployment allows him to do the job for which he trained. Sure, he is still a medic when he’s at home. When at Fort Polk, Tony was a medic in his Brigade’s aid station – basically a walk-in clinic starting with sick call starting at 0545. He felt like he was losing his skills. Here at Fort Stewart, he’s attached to a field artillery unit. He’s been able to renew his basic EMT certification, he’s dusted off his trauma skills, and he feels ready to go.

Me – that’s a different story. I’ve been an ICU RN for 26 years. I’m outspoken, hot-tempered, stubborn, and have a very strong sense of right vs. wrong with little gray in between. Maybe I was a lawyer in a past life…Anyway, my main adjustment has been not speaking my mind whenever I perceived some sort of injustice in Tony’s day-to-day work. I dislike folks who strut their rank as if it gives them some sort of God-like status. If they can back that strut with skill, fine; if not, stow it before I get angry. Remind me to tell you about how Tony had to drag me out of  Brigade before I bit off the head of a Staff Sgt….Needless to say, adjusting to Army life has been an adventure, and not always a pleasant one.

We spent the day of his departure running last-minute errands and watching TV before doing the last of his packing. Most of his gear was already in the truck. We went up to Savannah for awhile, had lunch up there, and basically tried to not think that we only had a few hours before he would be leaving for a year’s deployment.  After returning home, we watched TV, made sure he had everything packed, and I silently counted hours and minutes. I felt like I was irritating him because I kept fussing over him, touching him…but he never said either way and I really didn’t want to ask.

Finally, at 2235, the words I was dreading were spoken by him: “C’mon, hon, it’s time to go.”

Our next door neighbor pulled out ahead of us, duffel bags in their truck. We waved at each other as we got into our vehicles and headed off toward the 4th IBCT complex. I managed, sort of, to not cry on the drive in to work. While he was getting his weapon issued, I was putting colored tape around his duffel bags and medic’s bag. I didn’t try to hold back the tears then. We went through about 3 formations and he got put on baggage detail to load up the trucks when they came for everyone’s duffel bags and what not. Kimberly Walker wandered around taking pictures…I think Traci Wheeler did, too. Caryn, our absolutely wonderful FRG leader, was there to support everyone as well.

When the order came to “get your last hugs, HHB, the buses are coming!” I thought I would lose it. I was determined that he would see me smiling when he got on that bus so that would be his memory of his leaving. I know my eyes were filled with tears, but I smiled anyway, hugged him so tight, kissed him a few last times, and reluctantly let him go back to his formation. I watched him get on that bus, stood where he could see me through his window, and stayed until his bus turned the corner a block or so down to go to the gym where they’d be sequestered until it was time to leave for his flight. I was ok, sort of, until Traci asked me if I was ok and I dissolved into tears.

I know this is his job, but a year is a long, long time to be away from him. Now I wait for him to let me know that he’s arrived safely. Let the countdown to July, 2011 begin.

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