After many long months, my husband is back sitting next to me at the dinner table and in the car on a drive to Dunkin Donuts. The bathroom smells like shaving cream, and there is camo in the laundry. Several times I’ve had people ask what it’s like now that he’s home. I say that I’m able to breathe again.
A relationship ebbs and flows each day like breaths. I have spent twelve years learning what makes this man tick, and he me. We “get” each other. We have patterns and rhythms in our life together. We speak in shorthand.
“Did I tell about that one thing?”
“Also, I’m done. Just done.”
So a long separation is like holding your breath, except you don’t realize you’re doing it. You know something is off. Despite communication via the miracle of text messages and the occasional video call, your chest burns. There are pictures, packages, emails, and a hundred different ways to feel loved and connected, but you go to bed with a choking sensation. So many things get lost in the shuffle with time differences, bad wi-fi connection, and pure exhaustion. It builds with each day, and those last few days before he finally comes home feel like you’ll never breathe again.
He steps off a bus and kisses you for the first time in four months, and it’s like that first gasp the moment you break the top of the water after you dive deeper than you meant. It’s such a wonderful relief it hurts.
Now you have to figure out how to breathe again.
After you hold your breath a long time you’re keenly aware of it. Every inhale and exhale is distracting because it requires conscious thought. I find myself simultaneously joyous and frustrated because having him home again is the way it should be, but it bothers me to have to think about it. In the military they call it “reintegration.” Such a technical word for such a complicated process.
I have to make room for him to help me again. I have to buy coffee creamer. I have to leave space for him on my calendar. I have to wash PTs and coffee mugs. My go-to recipes don’t make enough for all of us. He is here to hold the baby, to distract the kids while I cook, to take the trash out, and to squash spiders, but I have to remember to let him. A million tiny things have to change back, and you can’t fix them all at once. You have to take them as they come.
So that’s where I am: breathing until I don’t have to think about it and we have settled into a new normal. Grateful to have a second set of hands to help with the kids, handle chores, and hold me when I’m sad, tired, or frustrated. Grateful to wash camo and PTs.
Grateful to breathe easier for a bit.