SHE REMEMBERED THAT vexatious night very well. Her husband would be a soldier forever, and that night she knew he had made a decision that would drastically change the course of their lives. He was strong, brave, and always stared fear dead in the face—but why again? Why, with their feet dug into the gorgeous Santa Barbara ground and their roots planted, would he want to relocate?
They sat together in a thick quiet under the humming kitchen lights with the heaviness of his decision weighing down on them, awaiting what they had not planned to come: moving, leaving their home, and—even worse—being apart again for up to twelve months.
* * *
SADIE HAD ALWAYS been the wife of Sergeant First Class Samuel Wright. It sounded remarkable and respectful, but now as she sat folding laundry on the living room couch while the TV kept her company it seemed to weigh even heavier on her. Her eyes were full of fear—so full they had been overflowing for weeks now, maybe even longer. It had been months since she had a break from breaking down. Her tired eyes were always wide open, dilated, as if waiting for some light to help them close, some good news to help them rest. The fear she felt wasn’t only her own. She carried the fear of her two small boys as well.
As an army wife there had always been a fear for her husband’s safety; that was a given. This motherly protectiveness was a heavy feeling, though, and left her face blank. She walked a different path than her husband, yet similar in nature. Samuel was surrounded by sandstorms and hot winds with missions to fulfill and army jargon filling his ears. Sadie’s path took her through strung-out toys, dirty clothes, and bills to pay. She wore badges of a different honor, yet still distinct. The bloodstains on her clothes were rarely her own. Sadie hardly ever had a clean shirt on—markings of runny noses, ketchup and flying food particles were the insignia she wore daily. Even though her two young boys ran around causing a riot, it seemed she was alone in this day-to-day business with a heavy soul and a particular unspoken fear weighing her down even more.
The cooking and cleaning never ended. Once she did one, it was time again to do the other and the cycle would repeat. Her eldest son, Gavin, was a great help with his little brother Grayson. The boys, seven and three, played well together and she was grateful for that. Even though she was in a new place, a new home, a new state, her life had a way of picking up again. There were still errands to run and things to figure out. Gavin would be starting school soon and she felt like there were all these big decisions she was making alone. All she could do most days was make sure her boys were fed and the house was stocked with the necessary items for their home to function.
And smiling. Everyone smiling at least once a day was a bonus.
Walking out of the grocery store one day with a fussing toddler kicking and screaming about who knows what and a seven-year-old complaining about not getting a toy he wanted, Sadie couldn’t handle it anymore. After unloading the cart and getting the boys in the car, she found solace on a small bench near the parking lot. She sat down and quietly cried. With her hands on her knees and her head hanging down she waited for the moment to pass then thought back again to that night.
* * *
THEY HAD FOUGHT, and they rarely fought. Sam was passionate about being a soldier. That passion came across as anger as he tried to explain the situation “over there” to his wife using only the details he was allowed to share. They needed him.
With the official military documents sitting on the table in front of them he said, “War presents a conundrum. We want to be safe, but we don’t want to lose lives for it. Is there another way to find it, to find security and freedom? Really, I ask you. Is there?”
“I don’t have the answers, honey!” Sadie was confused and frustrated, which frustrated Sam. He couldn’t make her see; he couldn’t make her understand the importance of his duty, his calling, or his desire to answer it. He was close to retirement but they needed him. There was so much he couldn’t tell her due to confidentiality, which made it even harder. Then again, even if he could really divulge all the information about what they needed him for and where they wanted him to go, he knew his wife would lie down in front of a tank before letting him leave.
Sadie cried and tried to calm down. “I try to understand and put myself in your shoes while you’re away, out there putting your life on the line literally every day. But do you know how hard it is for me when you’re gone? I know it sounds horrible and selfish! I don’t only worry constantly, but everything that I do, every chore, every errand I have to run I feel heavy doing it. I thought the last time was the last time!” The frustration was back. “It’s too tiring and hard on me doing all of this alone. I didn’t sign up to be a single mother! And I’m sorry honey, but that’s how my life feels when you’re gone.” Sadie forced her mouth to close before any more words fell out.
“But, Sadie, you did sign up for this. You knew who I was when you married me. And we talked about this before we even had Gavin.”
“I know, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me,” she sobbed. “You knew who I was, too, Sam. I feel like I lose such big parts of me, like I get so consumed with worry that I have no time to let go and just be who I am. I can’t let my guard down for a second because those two boys look to me for everything. I don’t want our life to be put on hold anymore. I don’t want to cry all the time or feel pathetic or have people look at me as if I’m some sort of pity case or heroine. I don’t want to be either of those things.” Sadie wiped her nose on her sleeve.
“Oh, Sadie.” Sam’s voice had a soothing tone.
“I just…I really thought that the last time was the last time.” She looked ahead while repeating herself, her gaze semi-blurred from swollen eyelids.
Sam had moved his chair closer to her. “You’re not pathetic; you don’t know how amazing you are. You’re so strong and beautiful and genuine and I wouldn’t want you to be or feel any different.”
“I need to be reminded of that. I guess it’s hard for me to remember when I’m at this alone.”
“I know. I get that.” He sat up in his chair, grabbing her soft hands, wet from wiping her tears. “Honey, I thought that last time was the end, too. Sometimes things happen that we can’t control. The world changes.”
“The world will continue to change. You can’t always be the one to save it.” Sadie wouldn’t look him in the eyes.
“Babe. I need you to trust me. They need me for something I can’t really talk about, something big.”
“Which makes it even worse!” Sadie sat back in her chair, trying to compose herself.
“I know. But this is something so much bigger than you or me. Things are nuts out there!” He pointed. At what, he wasn’t sure. The kitchen became quiet again as the two silently argued with each other in their own minds, somehow knowing what the other would say had they brought up more arguments to support their stance.
Sadie stared at the floor, dull under the florescent kitchen light, realizing that it needed to be cleaned again. She would get started on that tomorrow.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” she finally dared ask him.
After a short, deep sigh he relaxed into the back of his chair and looked at his wife. “Yes. I love my country.”
“Do you love your country more than you love your family?” She felt horrible even asking this question, but it weighed heavily on her heart; she needed to hear his answer.
“No.” No anger or frustration could be found anywhere in his reply. “I love my country because of my family. I will serve my country to make it a better place for the family that I love.” He sighed again. The decision seemed to weigh down the entire house, their whole existence. They had always been a military family, but this felt different for some unexplainable reason.
With the kids tucked into bed and his wife by his side, Sergeant First Class Wright signed the papers that night. Taking on this assignment would move his family from the picturesque surroundings of Santa Barbara to the lonely plains of Kansas. It was another fight that Sadie simply couldn’t have, but it made more sense to stay together while Sam was training at the base there. The exact timeframe was unknown. He said something about up to three years, but Sadie couldn’t listen to anything else. When it came down to it, she did trust her husband. It made sense to move. Decisions like this made them who they were; this decision to redeploy shaped them and put them into a mold that was difficult for Sadie to admit she fit into anymore. She was an army wife.
* * *
She never did get to that dirty kitchen floor.