It was a normal sight to the untrained eye. A girl driving down the road on a rainy Wednesday. Cars waiting with me for red lights to change probably never gave me a second thought. I was just another red sports car with a “1/2 my heart is in Iraq” bumper sticker trying to get somewhere in a hurry. This car ride was far from normal though. I was on my way to the airport to pick up G.I. Joe for R&R. The last time we stood in the same place was three months ago when we said goodbye.
The patrons of International Airport greeted me differently than my fellow commuters. Instead of being just another face I was “the girl.” I was “the girl with the flip-flops on in forty degree weather.” I was “the girl wearing the camouflage skirt.” What I stood out the most for them was the fact that I was “the girl with the big welcome home sign.” Even though he’d only been gone for a few months I still made my soldier the greatest sign in the history of all signs. It said “Welcome Home G.I. Joe” and had glittery fireworks and tank stickers all over it.
Planes are never on time, much less early. I had to wait for G.I. Joe once again. My first stop in the airport was a newsstand for a bottle of Coke. Stomachs do funny things to people when adrenaline and nerves start working that hard so a Coke was my last hope if I didn’t want to throw up all over G.I. Joe. The man behind the counter spotted my sign. He asked who the lucky "Joe" was and I told him our story. A tear in his eye made me notice his rough face. No doubt he had seen action back in his day. When you’re married to a military man you can spot any former service member a mile away. He told me to be sure and bring G.I Joe over after he got off the plane so he could have a free soda. One simple act of kindness calmed my nerves for the next hour.
As I wandered around the terminal a woman approached me. She saw my sign and said that she was waiting for her son to come back with G.I. Joe. I sat down with her and her son’s fiancé. The mother was happy to chatter to the strangers around us about who we were and why we were all at the airport. Listening to her talk I learned that the fiancé actually lived with her. I never caught their names because in my mind it was of no consequence. When I relive the story in my head they are just “mother and fiancé.” Fiancé looked to be in her 90th week of pregnancy so it was a good thing their soldier was coming home at that point. I love observing people’s relationships and this pair made an interesting distraction from the clock. While the mother talked and I pretended to listen I was trying to figure something out: did they truly like each other and feel comfortable around one another, or we’re they just comfortable with the fact that they each despised the other woman? I think it’s the latter.
Suddenly I began to get antsy. Maybe it was the flood of people coming out of Gate B that snapped me out of my calm daze and made me remember why I came to the airport to begin with. Ba-boom! Ba-boom! Ba-boom! My heart started beating so loudly my cheeks warmed with embarrassment. I wondered if anyone else heard it? Looking at the clock I realized I had only ten minutes before G.I. Joe's plane was to land. In hopes that those minutes wouldn’t drag on for days I forced my mind on the conversation before me. This very “interesting” woman had sat down with our group. To convey the amount of class she had all I need to do is tell you where she was going. She was on her way to appear on Judge Judy because someone was suing her for destroying their property and for assault. This had to be the most cliché thing I’d ever seen. Just her telling the story of why she was being sued got her so worked up people were beginning to move away from our seating area. Ten minutes of her ranting flew by. Glancing hopefully out the window, away from the drama, I could see G.I. Joe's plane pulling up to the gate.
This was it. This embrace would have to be enough to carry me through the next nine months. A businessman walks toward me. He didn’t make eye contact until I yelled, “Excuse me! Were you on the flight from Atlanta?” Smiling, and putting together the soldiers on the plane and the girl with the sign, he said, “Yes. He’s coming.” BA-BOOM! BA-BOOM! BA-BOOM! My heart started to pound louder than ever and I started to cry. I looked up and saw G.I. Joe walking towards me and beaming with pride. He covered the distance between us in the blink of an eye. We blocked everyone behind him from leaving the gate because we didn’t want to let go of each other.
After moments of hugging, kissing, and a zillion “I love you’s” we left the airport hand in hand.