Deployment: the word that pierces the hearts of Marine Corps wives and girlfriends everywhere. For a girl raised in a liberal family in the San Diego suburbs, the thought never crossed my mind that one day I would date a Marine, let alone stand by one during a seven month deployment to Iraq. Through the months of loneliness and, sometimes, utter terror, one thing that stayed with me above all the other things was the polar opposite experiences of the day that he left and the day I saw him walking out of the darkness for the first time in months. Now it is clear to me that I believe in the power of human experiences and how one (or two) experiences can change who you are and how you see yourself.
I can still relive these two experiences with vivid detail; I can tell you how it smelled the night he left and exactly how his mother looked on the night he came home. The images are burned into my thoughts forever. The morning he left was, in one word, agonizing. The barracks were silent and solemn, everyone was quietly crying to themselves. The moment he came up to me and said “Kenz, I have to go now,” my heart froze and my body went numb. My body reacted far faster than my brain did; it took me a good month to realize he was actually gone. My life was never the same after that day. I had to realize that curling up with his sweatshirt (that still smelled like him) was not going to get me through this (although it helped tremendously at times).
What did help me get through it, and sometimes made it worse, was thinking about the homecoming. If I thought that the day he left was a powerful experience, it was nothing, absolutely nothing, to the night he came home. The barracks that day were the exact opposite of seven months before, people were laughing and talking. Parents of best friends were meeting for the first time, traveling from everywhere for the chance to know their son, grandson, husband, or friend was home safe. Thinking of that day, even this very moment, makes my eyes well with tears. Nothing during the whole deployment, not even the day that I got to see him on a webcam from Iraq, makes me feel how I did that night.
When he walked out of the darkness of a long paved pathway (Corona in hand!) I knew that this experience would change my life. I knew after that, that just one moment can make you realize how strong you are. Waiting for seven months for a single moment is not easy, but that moment is etched in memory forever. Oh, and the moment I got to hug him? Well, that was magic.
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