I entered the waiting room, pushing her bright red stroller as she grasped her Daddy Doll. Stopping behind the red line, I noticed him. He sat, straight up, in his chair. A handsome, confident face laced with kindness. A high and tight haircut. Strong arms that occasionally reached up to adjust his baseball cap. A toned torso that seemed relaxed and also ready. And that was it. No legs. His wife, tough and vigilant sat next to him, holding his hand.
What if that were Richard?
The question came into my head so quickly, I hardly had time to process it when I glanced up at the TV screen. The words floated across the bottom:
Two killed and 20 injured in separate Iraq attacks.
My stomach fell to the floor, my heart stopped beating. I couldn’t breathe, and my hands curled into desperate fists.
Please God. Let him call this afternoon. Don’t let that be him.
The phone rang in the middle of lunch. My stomach lurched, heart started beating again. I could breathe and my body relaxed.
Thank you, Jesus.
They weren’t at work, they weren’t out banging down doors. The soldiers were supposed to be in a safe place, a place that was supposed to protect them. But, in a moment, two of them were gone. I prayed it wasn’t Richard, and later felt guilty. Someone had to be behind those words, letters. Two persons had to be the reason that chaplains knocked on the doors of two spouses this week, telling them their Soldier was not coming home. Twenty families were told that their Soldiers were badly injured. I prayed it wasn’t Richard. It wasn’t. So, it had to be someone else.
I can proudly say that we are staying brave, that we are moving forward in this life confidently, happily. But it’s such a different happy. A forced, strong happy. For him, my Soldier. For her, my daughter. For me. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I am fine–I’m great. But moments like that, seeing the man who gave his legs for my freedom, reading that two people died and 20 more men and women lost limbs, sustained injuries. And you don’t know if those numbers include your husband. You wait. You either hear the doorbell ring, or you get his phone call. You can only wait.
This is by far the scariest and most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. And only a military spouse can understand fully what it means to live a day at a time. Each day, each night, praying that the doorbell doesn’t ring.
I’m sorry, ma’m. He’s not coming home.
He’s in a hospital….
What do you do? What do you say? How do you stay strong when fate takes a fatal stab at your soul? You can’t plan for that.
I cannot prevent it. I cannot hold my arms about him to protect him from harm. All I can do is pray. That is simultaneously the most comforting and most frustrating thought.
God, I ask you to hold your mantle of protection around all of our deployed men and women. Be with the families left behind. Keep the doorbells from ringing, stop the numbers from climbing. Bring our Soldiers home safely. Soon. And protect my husband. Please keep him safe. Keep them all safe.