There are these words that in everyday life are just another word. But at some point, in any life, but especially military life, the word homecoming becomes a loaded term.
Homecomings are filled with anticipation, excitement, and anyone being truly honest will admit that a heaping piling of stress comes along for the ride as well. It doesn’t matter if it was a short tour at sea, a long training mission or the dreaded D word. Homecomings are a time when you get to see people milling about, all dreaming of the same moment: seeing their loved one step off of whatever conveyance got them there.
It’s been a few years since my husband came home, but we haven’t lacked extended times apart despite a lack of deployments. But there is always something about him coming home. Something tangible in the air and palpable in the house. He will be coming home.
Things have not been perfect. Far from it. And in the years since his return it’s hard not to look back at the moment he stepped off the bus, back on the same land as me, closer than we had been in however many months, and feel a sense of sadness. That moment. The second I stood and saw his sunglasses, the only thing that distinguished him any longer from his fellow Marines, all of them tan and dirty and exhausted, is a moment of pure, innocent joy.
That moment doesn’t worry about the stress to come. It doesn’t think ahead to readjusting to life, to any of the troubles that so much time apart can cause. It is a moment that is beyond anything that might taint it. It is a moment where you have all that time ahead and all that time before, and none of it matters, because for that one moment your only thought is, “He is home.”
Everything after that feels like fast forward. It is not as romantic as one might think to have your spouse suddenly home from a deployment without warning. Is it amazing? Yes. Is it a relief? Yes. But after the tears and excitement comes real life, and a real life that lacked that time to plan for him to be home, mentally, physically, and emotionally. That can add up to a lot of arguments when he is also having a hard time adjusting, though admittedly, he had more time than I had to plan for his arrival.
But regardless of the months that were coming, the ones we still have to go before being “normal” again, or the months that lead up to it, that one shining, pure, perfect moment is frozen in my mind. I actually have a picture of it. I stood there, camera in hand, snapping pictures before even fully realizing that it was him.
I turned to my friend and fellow spouse and said, “There he is!” But simply remained in place. It hadn’t occurred to me that the strange barrier we had all formed along the edge of the parking lot was not some invisible line we were not to pass. She shoved my shoulder and shouted, “Well!? Run to him!”
And the second my feet left the ground, our life was back on fast forward. A heaping pile of emotions, stress, raw nerves from war, raw nerves from time spent apart, angry and happy and frustrated and relieved, all flooding through us all at once, so that sometimes WE didn’t even really know why we were crying or fighting or laughing. Sometimes those all happened at once too.
But, for one second, the one I miraculously caught on film, we just were. We were just two people in a sea of people. I was just me, standing there, relieved to see him in a way I haven’t since felt. My heart wanting to burst from sheer relief at knowing it was real. For one second, before all that was to come and after all that went before, my only thought was, “He is home.”