He laid there quietly as the sounds started to make sense.
The whir of the ceiling fan.
The droop of the tap in the ensuite.
It was when he heard the soft rhythmic breathing behind him that he fully woke but still he didn’t move. He laid there listening to the calming sound of her breathing and let himself be wrapped in the serenity that it had always given him.
This happened every time. The middle of the night waking only happened on his last night before he had to leave. It was such a part of the routine that he would have felt unbalanced if he slept through the entire night.
Before he began the slow process of turning to face her without waking her, he already knew what he’d see: the streetlight through the window would give him just enough light to see her face; her dark brown hair would look black in the half light; the lines of worry that had been steadily growing on her face over the past few days would be relaxed by sleep. Softly, gently he turned to her. She was as she always was. The peaceful look on her face seemed to impart peace and he felt himself relax.
He took a deep breath as a small smile brushed his lips. As he exhaled, his body relaxed and he found a comfortable position on his side that would allow him to look at her, to see her.
She was beautiful. He didn’t need bright light to see her beauty, it glowed from within her…probably because that was where it started. On the heels of thoughts about’ how lucky he was’ came the ‘I don’t deserve her’ thoughts.
Sadly, this too was part of the routine.
How can I keep her happy? She deserves a husband that can be beside her all the time. I have no idea why she stays.
He took another deep breath. This deep breath wasn’t peaceful. It didn’t help him to relax into the pillow. This deep breath was more like the breath one takes before going into battle. After all, that’s exactly what it was.
With every deployment he had to convince himself that she’d be there for him to come home to, that she’d think he was worth waiting for. With every deployment, his confidence seemed to diminish. He squeezed his eyes shut, and with incredible effort was able to stop his breathing from becoming raspy enough to wake her. A few more deep breaths and he was able to open his eyes and look at her again.
With the same wish he made every last night with her, that some part of her sleeping brain would hear him, he spoke to her with an honesty he could never duplicate if she were awake:
“I love you. I love you more than anyone I’ve ever known and I love you more than I’ve ever known I could love. I hate leaving your side, leaving you alone. This wasn’t the life I wanted when I asked you to be my wife. I wanted you to be there to have my back because I knew you would every single time like nobody else could. And I wanted to be here to have your back every single time you needed me to because you deserve that. I hate leaving, I hate hearing people tell me how brave and wonderful I am because the only person in the world that I want to hear those words from is you and I’m walking away from you.
We talk about duty, about how we owe it to this or that. How do I tell people, how do I tell you, that I feel like I’m abandoning my first duty, my duty as a husband, every time I go. How do I do it? I don’t. I can’t. It’s not how it’s done.
I want to tell you these words when you’re awake. I want to tell you how much it kills me to leave you, how my heart breaks a little with each step. I want to but I can’t because you already have enough on your plate. How could I burden you with more?
And even as I say those words, I wonder if there’s a part of you that needs to hear them. I wish I had the courage to take a chance and say them but I don’t. The risk of saying words that burden you more is too great and so I stay quiet. I stay quiet and I wonder if we can survive one more deployment, one more period of being apart.
I know I seem cold before I leave and I’m sorry, love. I don’t know how I could leave at all if I didn’t start putting on my game face before the time comes. I know you understand but I also know that it hurts you. I know you feel the emotional distance I create.
I almost wish you’d find someone else and go with them. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about getting a knock on the door, about hearing that I didn’t make it back. That’s part of why I put the distance there. In some stupid way, I hope that if this is my last tour that it’ll be easier for you to move on. It’s stupid. So stupid and I’m sorry.
I wish I was strong enough to tell you how incredible you are, how wonderful you are. I wish I was one of those guys that could express emotions clearly. But I can’t. When I try to talk to you about how I feel about you, about being over there, about my fears or my love I get tongue tied and feel like a fool. And I feel like if I give in and let those emotions out, I’ll never be able to bottle them up the way I need to so I can get through the tour without going crazy.
And so I talk to you now. Every last night before I leave I talk to you and hope that some part of your brain is hearing me and making it a part of your thinking. Every last night I hope you are actually awake and hearing me. Every last night I hope more than anything that I’ll get one more night with you at the end of the tour. I love you. I love you more than anything.”
As he turned his head away and sank into his pillow, a tear slowly traced it’s way down her cheek.