The roller coaster has begun. The deployment, still in its infancy, is gradually sinking in. Sometimes I feel like my husband is simply on routine travel, and he’ll walk through that door any day with a bag full of dirty laundry and homecoming presents for the kids. But deep down I know it’s different this time. I feel it in both the conspicuous presence and absence of what makes our family of four complete.
Present is the bar of soap in the shower that no longer dwindles each day. Should I toss it before it leaves a permanent scar on my shower ledge or save it because it’s one of the last things he touched?
Present is the itchy case of poison ivy snaking down my back that my husband generously shared with me before he left. I can’t complain too much though because that poison ivy is a direct result of the hours of yard work I didn’t have to do.
Present is the stack of unread magazines sitting on his nightstand. They continue to arrive in the mail, not knowing that the subscriber isn’t here to read them (and his wife isn’t particularly interested in improving her golf swing).
Present is the tube of toothpaste squeezed from the middle. Yes, we have our own designated toothpaste. I squeeze from the end. He squeezes from the middle. (Do you know how much marital discord can be avoided simply by buying an extra tube of toothpaste?) He must have forgotten to pack his because whenever I open my medicine cabinet, the first thing I see is his toothpaste squeezed from the middle.
Present are the coupons for his razors and shaving cream that will expire long before he returns.
Present is his car in the driveway. Each time I return home after running errands, I see that car and immediately think, “What a surprise, hubby’s home!” I need a second for my brain to catch up and realize that no, he didn’t surprise me by coming home from work early. He’s nowhere near being able to come home.
The presence of these things is manageable. The soap and the toothpaste can be moved out of sight. The magazines and coupons can be trashed. The poison ivy will heal, and the car can be moved to give the impression of usage. But it’s the conspicuous absences I struggle with the most.
Absent are the dirty socks hiding under the coffee table. Instead of reminding my husband where the hamper is, I’m reminding myself that I’d much rather deal with the minor annoyance of discovering dirty laundry in strange places than not seeing his laundry in the hamper at all.
Absent are the snores disturbing my sleep. I told myself to look forward to not having a freight train in bed with me, but the silence is far more deafening than the snoring ever was.
Absent are the frantic morning searches for car keys, coffee mugs, boots, wallet, whatever necessary item my husband needs as he walks out the door for work. I almost miss that my name is no longer coupled with, “Honey, where’s my…?”
Absent is a second hand in the popcorn bowl as I watch our favorite television shows without him on the couch beside me. Television isn’t as entertaining without my husband critiquing the reality of “24” scenarios and mocking my emotional involvement with the “American Idol” contestants.
Absent are the wrinkled uniforms, crumpled in the corner of the bedroom after a hard day of work, waiting for their turn in the ironing queue.
Absent is the anticipation of our back door sliding open in the evening as I finish cooking dinner and the subsequent squeals as the kids rush to greet their daddy.
I know it won’t be long before these presences and absences are commonplace and won’t be so startling. But for now, I’m trying my best to smile at the presence of those conspicuous things that remind me of my husband and fill the gaps in the absence of those conspicuous things I don’t want to forget.
Other than that, I’m trying my best not to think about the most conspicuous absence of all: his presence.
This post is my latest column at Blue Star Families.