15 days after Part 2…
Doc Brown, I need you!
The place looked so different than it did a couple weeks ago. Because it was only 5 o’clock in the morning the airport was considerably quiet. It was no longer bright and exciting but dim and depressing. The temperature outside was the same as last time but I shivered. The one thing that remained the same was my stomach turning. It hadn't slipped past me that people were staring again. They quickly figured out what was going on. A soldier in a desert combat uniform arriving at the airport with duffle bags and a girl, whose face had been drained of color, just beg for attention. People watched us like we were some kind of carnival act. “Oh, I wonder when she’ll break down?” seemed to be the question in everyone’s eyes. Sick looks of pity and amusement made it next to impossible for me to keep my emotions under control.
We both knew that the clock is ticking. There won’t be any long goodbyes or last minute bonding. G.I. Joe sat his stuff down in the middle of the seating area so he could go to the bathroom. I sat down on the floor pulling my knees up to my chest and resting my chin there. I figured that maybe holding myself physically together would help hold myself emotionally together. G.I. Joe’s bag was sitting next to me and I focused my attention on it. Inside there were four envelopes addressed to me. He wanted me to wait until I go home to read them but in the car I begged him to let me have one early. Sitting alone with the bag I couldn't bring myself to open it. Those letters won’t make it any easier. Nothing could.
G.I. Joe emerged from the bathroom with the same sick look on his face that I feel. We both knew it was time.
Here is where the line between memory and fantasy blur. I would like to be able to say the rest of our time at the airport went something like this…
Taking a deep breath in, I grabbed G.I. Joe’s hands and he picked me up off the floor. We walked confidently together to the growing security line. He pulled me close and kissed me one last time. I straightened his collar and whispered in his ear, “Give ‘em hell, Soldier.” Then I turned and walked away proudly with all the grace and composure of a General’s wife.
Unfortunately, that’s not a story I can tell. The real thing went like this…
The second G.I. Joe said he should be getting in the security line I started shaking harder. I had spent the past two weeks convincing myself this moment would never come but it hit me like a ton of bricks. When we got in line I suddenly wanted to escape. I wanted to run away from everything: the people, the airplanes and the goodbyes. G.I. Joe gave me one last hug and kiss and I broke down. My lips were quivering too much to do more than mumble the expected “I love you.” I seized this opportunity to turn and walk away, sobbing with every step.
Turning my back on G.I. Joe at that point was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I don’t know if he looked back at me but I know I didn’t. Tears propelled me to the exit. I was crying loudly but people still went on about their plans. The world continued to turn even though mine seemed to stop. I think I wanted it to stop. One thought that repeated in my head was “What if that was the last time I ever see my best friend?” That’s not a thought any newlywed should ever have to entertain. If only I could freeze time so that I never had to leave that airport alone.
* * *
A couple hours later I found my way home. Part of me didn't want to go home without G.I. Joe but the part that won out was the need for my own comfortable surroundings. The house that greeted me was anything but comfortable. It gave me a feeling that made my skin crawl, a feeling that only a Flux capacitor could cure. G.I. Joe was just here. It felt like only seconds ago. The hallway light was on, just like he left it. For a couple minutes all I could do was stand in the doorway. My whole body ached to travel back in time. Just four short hours ago G.I. Joe was in this house. Finally I made myself walk up stairs. The lamp by the bed was on, which drew attention to the orange drink sitting beneath it. Late last night we went to the store to get Slurpees and he wanted this orange energy drink. It smelled disgusting and he couldn’t even make it through half of it. The television glowed on the episode menu of Friends Season Nine, disc one. It was the last thing we watched together. In the middle of the floor was a bamboo tray. It was empty because we finished the fruit, cheese and chocolate that had been on it. Walking into the bathroom I tripped over the empty box of his new electric razor. He had left it right in the middle of the floor.
These things made me feel so incredibly connected to G.I. Joe that it took months for me to move them. I watched that DVD about a thousand times before I finally took it out. I learned to step over and around the razor box. The tray in the bedroom floor was used to hold many scrap booking and card making supplies while I crafted special tokens of affection to mail to Iraq. At first I hated the feeling that he was just here. I got the craziest urge to run backwards really fast to see if the world would spin in reverse and bring my husband back. Eventually I got used to it, like a cold draft in an old house. The feeling was so strong it was like a whole being on its own. Before I knew it the feeling changed. It wasn’t that I had just missed seeing G.I. Joe, it was that he was never really there.
More than nine months would have to pass before he set foot in that house again.