The jet will be folding up its landing gear any second, and specks of American soil will sprinkle onto the ground below.
He's leaving the country. We just hugged goodbye this morning. It's hard to reconcile. It's all I can think about.
Fate or chance, everything slowly trickled into a pool that became filled to the brim this week. A story that I've wanted to write can finally be written tonight. It's a story with many scenes but only a few acts so far. In a few months' time, the script will get thicker, and the story, sweeter.
Scene One opens a couple summers ago. I was visiting my mom in Oregon. There was a phone call from my brother. I remember having to walk outside onto her porch, and fight hot tears that clouded my view of the mountains. There was fright, and there was pure anger. He was joining the National Guard. I knew it would take him farther away than any school he attended. My mom and I cried together.
Later on, he is deployed. He goes to Afghanistan, and the weepy goodbyes are said. He writes a few emails, calls a time or two. He mentions his roommate. First grouped in with everyone else in green, this roommate starts to seem more knowable as Andy's comments and stories come in. Then, I decided to join their friends on Facebook, mainly so I could browse through all the pictures because we hadn't had any from Andy. I click a few keys and flip through the photos posted. I pick the names I know...there was the one I had met at Andy's deployment, a couple others mentioned in an anecdote here and there. And there was his roommate, Sky.
Scene Two finds Sky and I talking. Not often, not long-many times a hello, a comparison of the weather between Illinois and Afghanistan, etc. I feel disappointed that my brother isn't online to talk to, but I ask Sky to tell him hi. He says he will. Somewhere along the way, this turns into a longer conversation. Maybe he is bored, and I tell myself I will humor him. He's in a foreign country, and probably doesn't get a chance to talk to everyone at home every day. I specifically remember this talk; by the late afternoon, I realize we had talked for four hours. I also realize that I haven't been humoring him in the least-he was great to talk to, he is very smart, and he is so funny that I find myself laughing loudly at a computer screen.
Scene Three is where things shifted into something unexpected. I knew he was on leave, and was glad he was at least away from anything war related for a couple of weeks. We chatted here and there like we had before. We exchanged favorite videos on YouTube to watch and laugh about. I began to think of Sky as not just a person on the other side of Andy's wall. He started seeming like a guy that I would really want to know.
The conversations started to get longer. Emails were sent back and forth. We joked about going to see each other while he was home. And in the midst of this, the joking turned into planning as the talks stretched further into the early morning hours. I debated back and forth as to if I would drive there. What if he was nothing like he was in our talks? What if he didn't like me? Worse, what if I liked him and had to say goodbye after a single weekend?
Scene Four is set in Flora, Illinois. There is a couple hour drive on roads I hadn't taken before, making me feel very independent and slightly nervous. My palms were wet from picturing the meeting. So many things had gone through my mind. I jokingly told him I would shake his hand when I got there. He told me that I better give him a hug. Thinking about hugging him made my heart feel a little funny.
In all unlikeliness, I pulled onto his street in that small town, and called him when I couldn't find a house number. I head his voice for the first time. It made me more nervous, despite how friendly he sounded. I parked on the street and walked towards his mother's house where I saw his silhouette in the porch light film. We hugged before I knew what had happened.
A few blocks away were the pool tables that he had talked about playing. We each got a drink, and stayed near a corner table. The music was very loud in spite of the handful of people there. Someone yelled out a demand for a country song.
He rubbed chalk onto the pool stick. He leaned over the table, spreading out his fingers, nodding towards the pocket he was aiming for, and looking like he was concentrating. I started to become aware of his looks, now that we were out of the moonlight and into a slightly brighter bar. He was gorgeous. I looked away as much as I could. He brushed past me a few times, and his hands stayed close to mine when he showed me how to play. All I could think about was kissing him.
We talked and joked. Everyone we met seemed to know him. They told him hello and asked him when he was leaving. I heard "Afghanistan" too many times. But on the way out, we walked past a few people standing outside the door smoking. Someone called, "Hi, Sky! Hi, Sky's girlfriend!" I don't think he heard them say it. I pretended I hadn't either, but I thought about the sound of it. I liked it a bit too much.
And later that evening, we did kiss. It was electrifying but unbelievably comforting at the same time. It felt perfect. The rest of the weekend was spent hand in hand. The last day was spent with his mom, step dad, and brother. They didn't seem to notice that they hadn't met me before. "This is Smith's sister," seemed to be all the explanation they needed, and they couldn't have been sweeter. I'd playfully put my ring onto his finger, and he surprised me when he said, "You know you're never getting this back, right?" The next morning, he pulled out his name tag from his green backpack and handed it to me. He still is wearing that ring, and it's going to Afghanistan with him. I'm still carrying that tag with me every day to work, tucked into the pocket of my dress pants. While the sun was still out, he propped up a couple wooden crates and set his camera on a timer, running back up the porch steps to sit next to me. Those pictures have become my favorite photographs in the world.
Saying goodbye was hard. We'd talked about so many things while we were there. He debated on how he would tell my brother. We talked about the future. Plans flew by without time to think, but it seemed perfectly normal to me. I stood by my car when we kissed goodbye, and I cried on the way home. I hoped with all my heart it wouldn't be a few days that he would forget when he got back to Afghanistan, or something he would brush off as unimportant.
Scene Five is in Flora once again. Last night was his final night of leave. All day at work, I'd daydreamed about going to see him one more time. When I got home, we talked about it a few minutes. When I was finally sure he wouldn't mind, I flew out of the house and sped down the interstate. There was a little pool playing at the scene of our 'first date'. More questions about when he was leaving. And then, when asked where he'd be when he got back, the answer: "Champaign".
We spent most of the evening with his family, once again not seeming fazed by the unannounced visit. His step dad cooked pancakes, and Sky and his brother yelled silly answers at the Jeopardy game on tv. When everyone else went to bed, it was decided I could stay there until the early morning when I would have to drive home for work. The living room was dim and the house was quiet. We laid back on the couch, building upon plans from those couple nights before. I couldn't sleep, especially knowing that the time with him would have to hold me until the summer. I loved looking up at his peaceful face, his closed eyes. He told me he didn't want to fall asleep either. Finally around 4:30am, I gathered up my purse and the shirt I'd asked for to have while he was away. He insisted on walking me outside to say goodbye. We replayed what had happened on Sunday-the car, my tears, his reassurance, the promises, the plans. But I had walked out onto his porch that morning different than the last time. I was his girlfriend-something that felt like it had taken ages to happen because I'd wanted it so badly. He had told me he loved me. I had told him without hesitation, the words having been held back before. Everything felt right, except for knowing I wouldn't feel his arms around me for months.
Today he woke up hugging me and letting me go. He's been from airport to airport and has several days left before he's be back in the desert. He's emailed as much as he can, but I know the emails will get less frequent as he gets closer, and as he gets back into the world he knows there. Still, there is some sort of comfort knowing that far away or not, he's my boyfriend. He loves me.
People have told me over and over how quickly four months will go by. But they don't have someone they care about on the other side of the world, in a place that is fighting against them being there. There are two boys now that I'll be thinking about in that sandy, mountainous place. I want them both back home, and it's hard to not be impatient.
But this new reason for impatience is bittersweet. I hate that the man I want to hang out with on a Saturday night is going to be sleeping on a little bed in a crowded room in another country. I hate that he's not here wearing the shirt that he gave me. I don't know if absence really does make love get any stronger, because I can't possibly imagine wanting him here more than what I do now. Maybe, though, it makes it harder to take things for granted. Every single email I get from him makes for a heart-stopping moment. And every time I think about snuggling into him, about the things he says, about the looks he give, I remember how precious it all was this week. It will be all the more amazing, then, the next time I see him. We'll both be coming home.