We often think of a call in the middle of the night as an awful thing. Thoughts of a car accident, a hospitalization or a death immediately come to mind. But for more than 20 months of the last three years, calls in the middle of the night were routine for me. Calls from the exotic reaches of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq would come in at all hours of the day and night.
On the other end of the phone, thousands of miles away, I sometimes heard the excitement of receiving a care package full of Slim Jims and energy drinks or an envelope full of pictures that made him think of home.
Other times, I heard the stressed soldier who was fatigued from not sleeping for five days, driving a thousand miles in a day and only having one meal during that day (a cold, gross MRE).
Other days, I heard a man upset from having received word of a wounded or killed comrade or having seen the children of a war torn nation, who were not as fortunate as he was to grow up in peace. But what I always heard was my husband, a wonderful man who just happens to be a United States Marine.
Our relationship is not like that of most married couples in their 20s, but it is very similar to most military marriages.
During his three deployments, all we had were weekly or bi-weekly phone calls and lots and lots of letters. My mom always says that the reason so many World War Two marriages lasted so long was that they really got to know each other through letters—I think she’s on to something. Those letters have often taken months to reach us, but they were so wonderful when received. There is something about the written word that I have always loved—it is so much more intimate and permanent than the spoken word.
Shawn and I have every letter, e-mail and card that we sent to each other from his deployments. Even when Shawn is home, we still write letters and small notes to each other that we leave on lunch boxes, coat pockets and cars. Maybe some day we will be like Ronald and Nancy Reagan in “I love you, Ronnie” and publish our letters, but more likely, we will just keep them in a safe place and take them out occasionally for a good laugh or a good romantic sigh.
Shawn has shown me that life is so much fuller if you have someone to share it with, even if you are separated by thousands of miles. The sound of his voice or the sight of his letter writing chicken scratches, though, made me feel in many ways that I was right there with him.
I would rather have him home any day of the week, but we are so lucky to have the memories of great conversation and a collection of great letters from the beginning of a wonderful life together.