Absence, Day One
It occurred to me yesterday, as I threw lumps of wet laundry into the dryer and swept the floors and wiped out the refrigerator and organized the pantry and collected Tom's bottles of shaving creams & balms and put clean sheets on the bed and poured out that half bottle of turned wine, that I still handle the first day of absence as I did fifteen years ago.
There is no current deployment, only a training, so I'm far from feeling sorry for myself or Tom. But I am thinking about how and why, immediately after leaving the airport, I begin zeroing the scales, scrubbing my daily life new. It's as if I need to see that this is absence and a shift in independence, this is solo parenting and writing only when I can slash out the time (even now, I type this between scooping waffles onto the iron for Mae, which she's just told me she doesn't really want... thanks, Mae). I usually buy something small, something Tom wouldn't want but I would, something that doesn't cost much but says here, a present. See día de los muertos wreath above, now clinging to my door.
But what else is new? I'm independent and comfortable with solitude in general. I have no "plan" for balancing parenthood and work. I wing it and some days are more fruitful than others. (I do have a poem appearing in We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart and Humor, based on the "advice" I've received on comforting children during deployment.) I just miss Tom when he's gone... even though he finds solitude boring and is, in so many ways, my opposite. There have been times when I've recognized the look on my cat's face as she stared at our dog, incredulous at the dog's leaping enthusiasm and need to engage. I sometimes use the same expression when I see Tom. His love of social situations (parties, gatherings, picnics, military functions, collaborations) is confusing at best. My ideal Friday night includes my home library, wine, a closed door, cats, and very little talking.
My old poem "Deployment: Day One" resurfaced the other day when, surprisingly, my mom asked if I could send her a copy. She wanted to give it to the barista at the Starbucks she frequents; this woman's spouse is currently deployed and, although she said she doesn't write poetry, she wanted to read something that made her, and this absence, feel recognized.
I have no idea if she'll read it, or like it, or feel what she needs to feel. But here's the poem, from my third chapbook, Quick Draw: Poems from a Soldier's Wife.
Deployment, Day One
Find the six words he wrote
on a yellow post-it:
I love you. See you soon.
Tape this to the kitchen wallpaper.
In each room
collect his most visible belongings,
the blue mountain company hat,
green plaid jacket,
a flathead screwdriver
and his keys to your car
on the dining room table.
His sewing kit,
a maroon fleece patted with dog hair
and some heavy gloves
on the sofa,
coins on top of the TV,
a silver water bottle
with his battalion logo half-scratched off.
The Swiss Army knife
he got from a real Swiss officer,
the expensive and flavorless chapstick,
crumpled between the toaster
and a bunch of green bananas.
Pour out the rest of his coffee creamer,
put the half-eaten ham sandwich
and his Chinese leftovers
down the garbage disposal in batches.
Switch the laundry.
Two issues of Popular Mechanics behind the toilet
and three different books about the same war
on the windowsill
of the guest bathroom.
Take down both your towels
at the same time to wash.
Blast his toothbrush with the hair dryer
before sealing it in a plastic bag
with his razor,
shaving cream and Castile soap.
Place these under the sink,
away from dust.
The mug with two sips of tea left
on his nightstand,
an empty water glass.
Move your own stack of books
to his nightstand,
put your pillow on his side of the bed
and his on yours.
Dishes in the dishwasher.
Towels in the hamper.
Place everything small enough to fit
inside the wooden box
with his name carved into it.
Its lid should close completely.
Hang his jackets in the back
of the coat closet upstairs,
return the screwdriver to the garage.
Switch the laundry.
Answer one pressing email,
replace the pen by the phone,
slip his books back onto his bookcase,
the only unalphabetized shelves.
Use the rest of the all-purpose cleaner
on doorknobs, countertops,
the garbage can lid, refrigerator handle,
stovetop, sinks, the wine cart.
Rinse the bottle and recycle.
Sweep and vacuum around the dog.
From your desk,
staring straight ahead,
notice a beer bottle
that’s rolled underneath the armchair
in the living room.
pushing back from your desk,
standing and walking
from one room to the other
in his slippers,
lifting the couch and setting it
on a temporary angle
while you retrieve the bottle,
two nickels and a penny.