My husband arrived home unexpectedly on a Wednesday evening in September, coming straight to the tub where I had just lifted our two year old out of the bath into a fluffy blue towel. He had left that morning for a one-day business trip to Dallas, leaving on the red-eye. I had not expected him to return until later that night.
He took our daughter from my arms. She snuggled close to his chest, marking his white shirt with her still damp curls. His eyes met mine, and he said softly, “I got the call today.” Handing our towel-wrapped treasure back to me, he left the room abruptly. I realized the moisture in his eyes was not the by-product of his daughter's dripping ringlets.
We had known the call would come without knowing when. How can you spend your whole life preparing for a call and not be ready when it comes? He would leave in just four days with his Army Reserve unit to serve in the Middle East for an undetermined length of time. Desert Shield had become reality in our house. It would be a Desert Storm before he came home again.
We had three days to re-invent normalcy. He turned over a newly opened business to a very recent hire. He sandwiched packing between trips to the military unit for shots. He signed whatever legal documents were necessary in the event he was gravely wounded or I was left to carry on alone.
He made lists; I shopped. How do you transport a Louisiana life to an arid and alien landscape? Fans for the heat. Tony Cachere’s to make rations palatable. Community Coffee to start the day in a civilized manner. A battery operated radio to drown out the silence of separation or perhaps the noise of war.
He was single-minded in his preparation. A mantle of invisibility settled over him. Not that he was invisible to his family, but that we were nearly invisible to him.
He began backing out of our lives. He walked away from the growing camaraderie with a college-aged son, the all-important senior year of his second born son, the sweet closeness of being with his daddy’s girl and a fun year with a spunky toddler. He would miss LSU football, Christmas morning, our annual Easter Brunch, our anniversary and every birthday. He didn’t allow the things he loved of home to distract him from the mission at hand.
He worried for our safety, cautioning us about phone calls and strangers asking about his whereabouts. He didn’t have time to fix the broken pool filter, the leaking faucet or the washing machine—all of which broke that week as if they too protested the coming upheaval in our lives. He asked me not to cry—saying it would make it harder for him—so I stopped.
When it came, the call to serve was his singular focus. He did not deny the value or importance of his family, his home, his business, his church or his civic responsibilities. Rather the pieces of his life he had most valued gave way to the singular commitment he had made.
His response to the call was a lifetime in the making. At the age of eighteen, he had made a commitment to defend his country. It was the biggest way he could think of to provide for his family. He was willing to risk everything to ensure a safe homeland for his wife and children. He would no more deny his commitment than denounce his family name. He was, and is, a man of honor and steadfast purpose.
On this Veteran’s Day I honor my husband more than he will ever know. He exemplifies for me the many men and women who, like him, give their all.