I was trying not to watch the time. I had deliberately put my phone on the table three feet from my bed. Far enough away that it took a little effort to repeatedly check the time on it but close enough that I could answer it before it completed its first ring. But I knew it was late. The kind of late where nothing is on the TV except infomercials. I had read half of a five-hundred page novel. I had washed my face, washed it again, and then washed my hair because I needed to do something with the time. I couldn’t sleep and the reason really was dumb to me. I grabbed my phone and typed a quick email:
“I know you’re okay. I really do know that. But call when you can or send an email if you can’t call. I’ll be checking my phone in a little bit.
I love you.”
And I felt so stupid – because I know how this works. But I had a feeling in my chest that made it just a little bit harder to breathe. That feeling that could defy the migraine medication that had absorbed into my system hours earlier that should have knocked me out cold. That feeling that would go away as soon as I heard his voice or saw his email.
And I felt so stupid for feeling that and at the same time I felt stupid for feeling stupid. I know that this happens. I know that we all get those uneasy moments where something doesn’t feel right. I had gotten them twice when he was in Iraq and I didn’t truly breathe again until after I heard his voice. I did not know until after the deployment that those two moments were times that presented a difficulty for him. And that didn’t make the feeling any better. True both of those times he had walked away – but what he walked away from made me cringe. The only two things I know about his first deployment – the only two things that I have ever heard him talk about. Only one that he still talks about from time to time. The other that he has never spoken of since the first time.
But tonight I couldn’t breathe. At least it felt that way – to have to work to take a breath, to force yourself to remember to exhale. Too often I caught myself holding the air in my chest – lost in a thought, focusing on the heavy weight pressing against my throat and then I would almost choke as I pushed the air back out.
I tried to reassure myself of how well I know the process – how everything happens if something happens. Reviewing the procedures in my head – timelines, time-differences, protocol. I knew I was having a crazy moment for doing that – maybe from sleep-deprivation. I knew he was okay because none of this had happened. I knew he was okay because he just had to be okay. I knew he was okay because I just did. I knew it…
But I really didn’t. How much time had passed?
I grabbed my phone and clicked on the envelope. Deep breath in.
“Connecting … Checking for mail … [Gasp] Loading 1 message”
“I’m okay. Busy. I love you. Get some sleep.”
I could breathe.
That night, my mind went to a place that we never want it to go but that we all go to. Fear. Every time it has hit me in different ways – once like a hard, violent punch to the gut. Coming on suddenly, knocking my legs out from under me, forcing me to crumble. Another time it was a nagging feeling that stayed with me for two days – it didn’t hinder my activity, didn’t stay in the forefront of my thought, but remained with me in everything. Something that felt like a rock in your shoe that doesn’t quite distort your movement, but makes each step just slightly uncomfortable.
This was not like either of those. This was not quite panic but not so little-noticed. I was having a battle within my own mind between two very different unknowns – the unknown of safety and the unknown of harm. And there was nothing that could end that battle but those words – simple, uncomplicated sentences. “I’m okay. I love you.”
There are few words that are better to hear and see than those words at this time in my life. “I’m okay.”
“Get some sleep.”
I could breathe.
I rolled over, hugged his pillow and fell asleep with the phone in my hands.