Deployment Miracles

While my sanity teetered too close to the edge of landing myself in a padded room, my saving grace were two strangers. It’s wondrous how many tiny choices had to lead them straight to me, it’s almost like they were sent …  


Snow had begun to frost the tips of the branches and blanket the ground in Virginia Beach. A whopping 630 miles away from the comfort of home and family. It had only been six months since I said goodbye to my husband aboard the Dwight D. Eisenhower in his shop with 10 sets of looming eyes, all sailors who had partook in the same sad ritual with their own loved ones. It would be nine and a half months before I would feel Matt’s embrace and somehow, managed to hold it together in front of his peers. It would be the second deployment we both lived through in our own ways, this one for me would be ineradicable.

Peppermint, hot coca and gingerbread danced through November’s crip air. Thanksgiving had passed for another year and was instantly replaced by the general public a-buzz with holiday cheer. As I’d hand out Country Fried Steak and Chicken Dumplings, rosy red cheeked kids proudly announced Santa was coming! “He’s gunna bring me a ….” Their excitement brought on waves of nausea. Matt wouldn’t be home this year and because of work, traveling to see family was out of the question. Plus, I felt an awful lot like Scrooge, without a doubt good ol’ St. Nick would pass over his stop at my house.

During those six months everything and anything that could break or go missing, did. I got locked out of my house three times, spent $300 to re-chip a new set of car keys and spent numerous hours wasting time at an auto-shop waiting for my car to be fixed—dead battery a couple times, power steering pump, new tires.

The air conditioner shorted out during the summer more than a few times and when the seasons changed to winter, the heater broke. For two days and nights I wore Matt’s heavy coat to fight off winer’s frosty bite. And on top of all that, it wasn’t irregular to come home to something chewed to pieces. My wonderful husband had thought a new puppy made for the best pre-deployment gift …

This series of unfortunate events was expected with seasoned military wives. A military addendum to Newton’s law. A whole year could pass while your husband was home with no incidents. The moment he left all bets were off.

In between fixing the garbage disposal and working shifts as a waitress, time passed with new hobbies and self-made busy work. A Pinterest DIY master (and failure), baked good goddess extrondaire and the conquerer of eating holiday, birthday and anniversary meals alone, made up my deployment resume.

Wasted time was of no concern because there was nothing else to do or anyone waiting for me to do something. I stopped keeping track of it, merely going through the days and weeks based off shifts at the restaurant. If I was working a double, it was probably the weekend. If it felt like Hell, it was defiantly a Sunday.

Friends from home asked all the wrong questions while complaining they hadn’t see their boo in two days and coworkers thought it was appropriate to inquire about Matt’s faithfulness. Eventually phone calls ceased, old friendships felt foreign and the only form of communication I could tolerate was with Matt through email. The obsessive need to refresh my inbox was maddening. Loneliness felt permanent and the silence at home was deafening.

Not to mention the guilt ate me alive. Matt was the one suffering leagues away without the comfort of his own bed.

When did I become such a wuss?

____

It was the first week of December when I was pulling a closer at the restaurant. An hour left before the doors were locked for the night, a couple wandered in looking for a late dinner. The two would easily fade into a sea of people, nothing striking would draw attention to their features. A typical couple, tall man with thick black frames and a shorter woman who knew her way around a curling iron.

I brought out their food and sequentially asked them if they needed anything else.

“My wife and I are about to pray. Is there anything we can add to the list, for you?”

After almost a decade in the service industry this wasn’t the first time I had been asked. Typically I’d give a smile and say “no thanks.” Religion made me uncomfortable because I wasn’t scriptural nor brought up in church. Wouldn’t God know I wasn’t a regular on Sundays, so what business would I have asking for prayers?

“Actually,” I squeaked out, “please.”

“Can you ask for my husband to come home? I think I’m at my breaking point,” I said with an apprehensive laugh, my attempt to fight off brimming tears and embarrass myself.

The strangers extended out their hands and I grabbed ahold of them and bowed my head, no internal inhibitions talking me out of it.

_____

A week had passed since my intimate moment with the devout couple. The memory had all ready began to fade, and I was back at work serving a 4-top when my phone buzzed deep inside my apron pocket.An abnormally long number with symbols caused an abrupt sprint from my table to the back of the restaurant.

“Matt!?” I shrilled.

“Hey babe, can you talk or are you at work?”

“No, no, I can talk, I can talk. What’s up? Are you okay? I miss you!” I said in one breath.

“Miss you too, but I have some news and I wanted to be the first one to tell you.” He said with a long pause. “Have you heard any of the rumors?”

Another pause and I held my breath, afraid if I sucked in any more air this moment would deflate.

“We’re coming home in two weeks. There’s a problem with the flight deck and it needs to be repaired.”

In the same moment my manager came out of the break room, eyeing me, “Shannon get off your …”

“MATT’S COMING HOME! HE’S COMING HOME!” I screamed jumping up and down.

_____

Christmas would come that year after all and it was wrapped with the answered prayers from a faceless, nameless couple. Chalk it up to coincidence if you must, it might’ve happened regardless. I mulled over the chance phenomena until it was left semi-tasteless and decided some of the best things in life are better left unsaid.

Maybe Angels

“I swear, I swear they’re out there, I swear, maybe angels, maybe angels” — Sheryl Crow

A iridescent hue illuminated an unknown yet familiar figure. I aimlessly floated behind the shape throughout the small house—no bigger than a small cottage with two bedrooms and silent creaky wooden floors. The corners of my vision were clouded with a bright misty residue, and the faceless shape still hadn’t voiced why I was here. 

With so many unanswered questions still looming in my dreamy haze, my feet continued to follow hers, one step at a time, until she stopped … 

________________________________________________________

Eight weeks after my husband and I began our new adventure in a small, dusty, cow littered town in Texas, the pieces to our happy ending began to crumble. The euphoric feeling of his separation with the Navy began to fade, the grass wasn’t greener on the other side and he was drowning in depression. Our marriage was in trouble.

After spending six years in the Navy with two deployments and 2,190 days on mandatory duty under his belt, a decision to be honorably discharged was made. Matt wanted to switch careers and go to school to become an EMT/Firefighter. Training began at the end of August, the calendar had just been flipped to April and we had finished unpacking the last of our boxes from Virginia.

The first three weeks were filled with hope. New job, new beginnings and a sense of wonder as to what will happen next. Matt spent countless hours filling out applications, but not one interview, email response or phone call came. I was spending every waking moment picking up serving shifts, working as long and as hard as I could to keep our joint bank account afloat. Between my exhaustion, his depression and his slipping sense of self purpose, the light at the end of the tunnel grew dimmer as days past.

Life became unbearable as the weeks turned into months. Time was running out to secure our financial situation and it was only going to get worse. At the end of summer, college classes would begin and I would be forced to limit my hours at work, which was our only source of income. Matt felt the pressure and began applying to janitorial positions, another blow to his after military dream and ego. The hours we spent together were tarnished by bickering, cold shoulders and tense moments of silence that could be sliced with a butter knife. Sadly, I began stashing a little bit of tip money in a box hidden behind clothes on a white painted wire rack in our closet, preparing for the worst.

After three years of marriage and five dating, this was how it would end with an ironic twist. Matt separated to focus on his family, he didn’t want to spend his whole career on a ticking time clock plagued with goodbyes. Finding another career felt promising and a step in the right direction to a normal lifestyle. Except living out this new adventure outside of the Navy was about to tear us apart forever, not just separate us for several months while he deployed.

Unfamiliar with the phrase “give it to God,” one night I threw caution to the wind and dropped to my knees to pray. A notion both foreign and slightly uncomfortable. Growing up my parents never brought us to church or put the fear of God in us, but my mother did practice a vague sense of spirituality to help cope through life’s ups an downs.

“Maybe our angels are those we’ve loved and lost, they look after us from above.”

Not sure where I needed to start, I began shakily with silent whispers and eyes squeezed shut. “Dear God, I know I don’t chant to you often, but please don’t think of me as hypocritical.” The pressure between my eyebrows started to sting, self doubt creeping in, but instead of throwing in the towel, my head buried deeper into the comforter, and I focused on my plea. “Give me the patience and strength needed to see this through, help my husband find peace and for the love of all things, a job. Amen.”

After the Sandman worked his magic, an intense and lucid dream took over my subconscious. A familiar figure appeared and led me through an unfamiliar house, following from behind we wove around the living room and down dimly lit claustrophobic hallways. The figure had broad shoulders, silver hair rolled up in soft curls and salmon-tinted octagon shaped glasses that drooped low on her dainty nose.

“Nannie?” I called out. Silence.

A white haze fogged my peripheral as she continued to guide me through the house. The figure didn’t turn until we entered a room that was filled with organized clutter, items neatly stacked against all four walls and a rocking chair silhouetted with bleached sunshine. As she shifted, my suspicion of her familiarity was answered.

Nannie was my great grandmother who had died when I was 12-years-old.  She was a strong, independent woman who survived the Great Depression, didn’t crumble after her husband died long before her and willingly raised grandchildren at an elder age. Though her gaze was loving and smile was warm, you didn’t mess with Nannie—she was a no nonsense woman.

All the air felt like it had left the room when I finally saw her face. I had spent years wishing to see her one last time and rejoiced when my Mom would bring her up in conversation, commenting on our similarities and loving how proud that made me feel to be compared to a female who played an important role in my own mother’s life.

Silence still draped our unexpected reunion and though she didn’t ask for me to start spilling the beans, all the stress and anxiety came flooding out of my mouth in one long breathless ramble. Nannie listened and rocked back and forth with the precession of a crashing wave, which had the same calming affect as listening to the ocean. A faint smile lifted her cheeks and her gaze never wavered.

Finally, my words fell silent and I stood quiet reciprocating her smile. We stayed that way for a long while before at last, her lips parted and she said one simple sentence, “ you’re going to be just fine.”  Her words struck me like tranquil lightening. I welcomed the quiet that followed, feeling comfort in the silence, instead of trying to fill it.

Tears threatened to spill from my eyelids when I woke up the next morning, they weren’t filled with sadness but instead, newfound confidence. For the first time in months, calm reverberated throughout my whole body. Getting out of bed that day didn’t feel daunting or impossible, it felt optimistic. Nannie and the dream carried me through the next few days and of course, she was right. I was going to be just fine.

On the third morning since she had come to me in my dream, Matt got a job.

Maybe angels do exist.