The first decade of our military marriage brought four household moves. The fourth was our first across country. We’d rolled up carpet in Havelock, North Carolina and rolled it out in Barstow, California. At both ends of every move, I am a trash truck’s worst nightmare and a thrift store’s best friend (or vice versa). Having always moved ourselves, it was especially important that we traveled light because we had three children, a dog, a bird, and a tarantula.
Before our move, friends shared the comedies and tragedies of their own moving experiences. Once in our new home, I felt good about how well everything had gone. Except for the fully packed 26-foot truck breaking down in 123-degree (F) heat six miles out of Barstow and the tarantula having died, it was truly the great adventure. I snicker to think I can still remember that truck’s license plate number, having followed my husband in our Firebird for 2,554 miles.
The emotional upheaval I’d heard so much about had left me relatively unscathed until I went to organize our bedroom closet. What followed left me exhausted and renewed. On the back of old invoices, I scribbled to my husband the moments I’d relived that afternoon.
We have history. We have boxes and bags, cartons and more boxes. Documents and statements. Cancelled checks and paid bills. Tattered dust-rags that used to be our first set of towels.
These boxes are full of tears, smiles, decisions, and accomplishments. When did it all happen? Where have I been? All I wanted to do was straighten up and throw out a few things, but instead I find myself perusing our past and making room for our future. Surrounded by pieces of strapping tape, and beneath these box-labels are so many reasons to say, “I’m sorry”, “I can’t believe we did that!” and “You’re the greatest guy I’ve ever known.” Here are so many reasons to celebrate, endeavor, and hold you closer.
These aren’t just statements of accounts paid-in-full. These are life receipts that don’t read of the prices really paid: the gauntlet of professionals before our daughter was diagnosed with Hyperactivity Disorder; things pawned to keep the car from being repossessed; the “flu” that turned out to be our “uh-oh” baby.
There are so many letters from too many deployments. Millions of words, some I only now read for the first time. How did I miss it when you wrote “I can’t imagine not having you in my life. You are my fantasy and my reality.” Was I that preoccupied with school conferences and the busted water heater?
Look at this, honey. Paper covered in glitter, string hanging from it, tiny clothes’ pins hanging from that. The kids were four and five. They made jewelry from nothing and laid it on our pillows to surprise us. Here are some Mother’s Day cards Hallmark could never best. They’d pressed so hard with the crayon you can just imagine their little tongues sticking out the sides of their mouths, genuinely concentrating on the next carefully chosen word. “I lov you mor thin all my toys.” Where are those little people now?
We still have these tickets to our first Marine Corps ball at Cherry Point. I stepped on my gown early in the evening. You said I looked stunning so the rip didn’t matter. It was cold in that decorated airplane hangar. You set aside your dislike of dancing and warmed me during a slow song. We had friends, a night out, and it almost lasted forever.
These hundreds of photographs are proof that our guilt over not spending enough time with the kids was silly. Here’s Amelia at two, sneaking into the fridge for more cheese slices. This one is blurry because we were all laughing so hard at the milk coming out of my nose. Here’s our four-year-old Therese singing the Marine Corps Hymn for her turn at saying grace over dinner. That night you said you’d have given anything for a video camera, but you know you can still hear her when you close your eyes. Here’s one I haven’t thought about in some time, your promotion to Staff Sergeant. Eight months pregnant, my belly got in the way of my pinning on your chevron. In my nervousness, it snapped out of my hand and landed on the collar of the guy next to you who was being promoted to Sergeant. This one is from our road trip to Wichita in 1990. While there, your squadron called you off leave before you had even checked in from your year in Okinawa because Kuwait had been invaded. Once home, you packed your gear and, because of delays, we said good-bye for the last time eight days in a row. On the way back from Wichita we played the alphabet game and I almost pulled over in shock when, for the letter “P”, our five-year-old Abram said “preposterous”. A fitting choice, given the circumstances of the trip home.
These pictures, papers, pieces and parts — it all makes me sit slowly and breathe deep. I had no idea what I was getting into when I married you and it’s a good thing. Who knew “in sickness” meant all three children having chicken pox and you feverish from anthrax shots? Or that “for poorer” meant the Marine Corps underpaying us entire paychecks several pay periods in a row?
I don’t regret saying “I do”. I regret not saying it to you more often. Amid what I mistook for the mere rubble of our lives together, I commit to what I thought I already had, and this time a little more specifically — to you, to us, to our children, to fewer trips to Target and more after-dinner walks.
I’ll go ahead and throw out a few things. I’ll repack and put the boxes away but more gently, with care. I never knew what we had was so precious, so fragile. From now on I’ll heed the words “This End Up”.