He called me, barely past midnight on Saturday night, morning for him, in his office. He was leaving: setting away messages, cleaning his desk, putting the last presents for boys in his bag. It seemed impossible, too early; but no, he told me, 72 hours before your travel date is right on time.
Okay, then, I thought, adding and subtracting in my head, travel times and processing and possibilities. Tuesday night, maybe, surely no later than Wednesday. Plans: he could come to the cross country meet, but should shower, nap first; he'd want to take the boys to school Thursday. He called from Al Alli two days later -- Monday night -- with a cryptic message, "alpha alpha one nine six one twenty twenty," I was supposed to know this was flight number, flight time.
I expected him, tracked his progress across the country, picked up the boys saying, "Daddy's getting on the airplane now, in Texas!" we told Everett's teachers what was for dinner: flat iron steak, roasted yellow cauliflower, maybe cheesey bread, yes, cheesey bread. I would make it with garlic, I thought; I tried to get the boys home.
Home, home, home again, and when it was almost time to start the dishes, the dinner, I saw him on Facebook. Germany, for 12 hours, he said. Counting, adding German time to oceanic crossings and subtracting from Atlanta, Dallas Fort Worth, military wrenches, thrown in works. Thursday.
Thursday morning came without confirmation, flight times, no code this time but the unspoken one. If I don't call you, perhaps I am near. Is it a surprise homecoming he wants, or airport fanfare and hugs? Does he wish to sneak away first, to devise within himself courage for the re-entry? If I were a private eye, I would call airlines, seek manifest information, I would sound officious and make the far-away agent, a woman, stumble over her words as she hurried to type his name into her keyboard. Instead, I rush laundry into the dryer, hurry around the house thinking critically, through his eyes, of my livingspace.
When soldiers are completing paperwork for a homecoming, temporary or less so, they must meet with a chaplain, watch PowerPoint slide shows explaining what it is to re-enter their families' lives. They are reminded to be patient and not expect too much, intimacy, authority over children, ecstasy of welcome. They are told not to do what sounds horrible, coming out of the recorded tutorial or the mouth of a man of the cloth, you'd think it obvious, like so much else in these tutorials, soldierly reminders. "It must have happened at least once," Jonathan always says. Once, twice, a million times.
I wonder in the dim Thursday before-sunrise light, watching clouds in grey watercolor smudged, with thick round brush, with thumbprint, across the grey-blue sky, if the re-entry presentation included reminders to call, to let us know. I wake again, and the sun has lit the paint smudges on fire, hot-pink embers, singing! Rejoicing! In my heart it is quiet and hot and expectant and choking. I wake the boys, one by one, I point out the burning clouds, now flaming whitely, almost too much for our eyes. We watch, we talk about what, who, might come this day.
And still, there are dishes and chickens pooping and boys who will wear pajamas on pajama day (too foolish, says Everett, and I want to tip my hat at him, the statement is so Victorian), and we gather together ourselves and our things, we scurry into the car my parents have loaned us, left in the driveway before I saw the first cloudpaint. We buckle seats in, we drive, one schoolboy in pajamas, one not.
He will come home while I am picking the boys up later that afternoon, hitching a ride with a friend; he will be bearing gifts; he will heed some of the PowerPoint warnings and not others; we will go to the beach, we will feel waves crash over us, we will find seashells, we will watch leopard sharks swim overhead in a tunnel; we will shout and cry and laugh and wrestle and I will sit in a small chair as I hear Truman's teacher and speech therapist confirm, he's smart, so smart, he rages, he does indeed seem like a child with Asperger's.
It will be too short and too long, it will be wonderful and terrible, it will destroy us all, it will fix everything. I will wish I could re-write the re-entry documentation; I will know it would be utterly useless. A five-year-old, shouting silently into the storm, crying that he loves you, hugging with all his might, hitting his forehead against the motel bed, bang, bang, bang. Welcome home.