There is a popular belief in military-spouse culture that things are always the hardest as soon as our loved one leaves for deployment. And maybe this is true for my fellow military wives. I certainly heard my own Navy-wife mom mention the phenomenon: as soon as Dad left for deployment, the air conditioning would fail, a car would breakdown, the washer would overflow, and things generally would go downhill from then on, until the halfway point of the deployment, when suddenly the “light at the end of the tunnel” that is homecoming would make all the following months and domestic mishaps more bearable.

But this old adage has never been true for me. Things are always the hardest right before my husband comes home.

My experience isn’t entirely unfounded, even if it is unusual in military-wife circles. Think about running on a treadmill. I can run for 20 minutes without looking at my watch. I’ll listen to music on my iPhone and watch the television hanging from the wall at the gym. But as soon as those first 20 minutes have past and I’m staring at the last 10 minutes of my workout, I suddenly cannot go on.

At precisely 21 minutes, I want to get off the treadmill, and I start to wonder, “How did I just run for 20 minutes anyway? Am I crazy? I want to get off right now!” At 25 minutes, I’m telling myself I’ll never run again. And by 28 minutes, I’m watching the seconds tick down and wondering if it really matters if I stop at 29 minutes instead of 30. How many more calories will I really burn in one minute anyway?

Or think of being on a car trip and needing to use the restroom. Your bladder is never as full as when you’ve pulled off the road and the rest stop is in sight. It’s at that moment when you think you’re probably not going to make it.

Or waiting for Christmas when you’re a kid: December 1st through the 20th are easy enough, with very little anticipation. But the last five days before Christmas seem as if they are filled with 34 hours, not 24.

This is what waiting for my husband to come home from a military deployment or assignment is like. In the beginning, I’m head down and barreling through the weeks and months without giving it much thought. What’s the point of breaking down? How can I not keep it together? And thinking about the reality is far too much. So I don’t.

But as soon as Dustin’s homecoming is within reach, I come unraveled. It’s as if all the anxiety and stress of the months and weeks before suddenly overflow because I know that relief is in sight. Or, more precisely, I know that I can break down because I don’t have much further to go.

Welcome to my last month.

We are now so close to Dustin returning home for good, after nearly five years of being away, and although I’ve mostly kept it together for all of that time, this past month, I came unglued. And I don’t mean “unglued” like disorganized or overly excited. I mean “unglued” like lying in bed and thinking, How have I possibly done this for five years, and how will I do it for one more month?

First, I had the flu — not just the flu people often say they have, but actual Influenza A, diagnosed with lobotomy-by-q-tip. I was sick for 10 days, passed it to the children, and then I only got better in time for our oldest son to get his braces off and have his wisdom teeth removed. Soon after that, the furnace broke. And the worst part about that was the fact that I needed a furnace in April at all. Then I got an ear infection.

None of those things are true catastrophes. None of them warrant mental breakdowns. In fact, I could have handled all of these things six months ago. I’ve handled much worse during my husband’s deployments (in 2012, the basement flooded with sewage, for instance). But because my husband will be home in less than two weeks, I laid on the floor and cried like I could not possibly be in this situation for another day, never mind two weeks.

Where was all the gumption and motivation from the previous years? Where was the belief that I can and have handled many things during my time as a military wife? Where was the restraint preventing me from calling my husband and telling him he has to retire RIGHT NOW and come home?

It was like I was in minute 25 on the treadmill or pulling into the rest stop with my hand on the door handle, ready to leap out of the car and run to the bathroom.

I don’t have any advice about this. I have no words of wisdom. Except, sometimes the old adages don’t apply. Unless it’s this one: Things often get worse before they get better.


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