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I don’t get out much these days with two small children at home, but recently I saw a preview for Clint Eastwood’s new movie American Sniper. Specifically, the part where Taya Kyle, played by Sienna Miller, is on the phone with her husband while he is taking fire hit me right in the gut. I am not sure if I will see the whole movie. Just watching the trailer left me teary-eyed and with a knot in my stomach.
That's because the same thing happened to me.
I met my husband in my native Germany, where he was stationed with the Army at the time. We quickly and completely fell in love.
We married and moved back to the States when he left active duty to go and pursue his own education. It was hard moving across the globe to start a brand new life, supporting ourselves and doing it on our own.
Two years later, while we were practically still newlyweds, he had to go and serve a tour of duty with the National Guard in Iraq, leaving me and our Great Dane mix Zoe behind.
About three months into his deployment, I woke up one morning with a feeling of dread. On the surface, everything seemed normal enough. Zoe, the big lump, was lying next to me on the comforter. She blinked her eyes at me groggily and yawned a Great Dane yawn.
I scratched Zoe’s belly while trying to push away that feeling. I felt physically ill, so much so that I decided to call in sick to work. There was only one thing on my mind: I had to call him!
My husband had gotten himself an Iraqi cell phone that I could call with an international calling card. That was a huge bonus since I got to speak with him nearly every day unless he was out on a mission. Often, though, the reception on his end was so poor that it would take a few tries to get the call to go through. That particular morning was especially bad.
I dialed and dialed but only got the Arabic no-service message over and over again. Morning had turned to early afternoon by then and the string of numbers — first the calling card’s 800-number, then my PIN, then the international phone number — was long etched into my memory, dialing and dialing. My anxiety had reached new and previously unexplored heights by then as I imagined the terrible things that may have happened.
Suddenly, just like that, the call went through and he answered. He was jovial. I told him about the terrible feeling I had, that I stayed home just to talk to him and how I was starting to freak out a little. He was on his way across base to get some dinner. As the minutes passed, the knot in my stomach started to release.
I was mid-sentence in some story I was telling him, perhaps about how anxiety-prone Zoe had chewed a new hole in the drywall recently, when I heard him shout, “FUCK, GET DOWN!”
There was a lot of static and then the connection dropped. I yelled into the receiver for him several times, trying to will the call to come back to life. When I was absolutely certain that he was not on the other end anymore, I immediately started to dial back, hands shaking.
Tears were flowing. I was alone, save for Zoe who made sympathetic whining sounds as a mechanical Arabic voice told me the call could not go through. I was sure that somewhere, thousands of miles from home, my husband lay dead. I grabbed Zoe in fists of fur and sobbed into her neck.
My world stood still. My purgatory was a dial tone followed by no connection, and the whining of a dog who didn't know how to help.
It was probably an hour later that my phone rang and I heard the sweetest voice I know: “Hey baby, are you okay?”
It turns out his base had been attacked with 10 Katyusha rockets that night and many other nights, I was told. To him this was normal, though he regretted I had to hear it. To me it was earth-shattering. I knew he was in danger when he went on missions but somehow I had — foolishly — carved out a safe place for him in my mind when I knew he was on base.
I got to hold him in my arms a few months later when he came home for R&R. Zoe was so excited to see him that she peed a little. I may or may not have, I won’t tell.
It is now a decade later and together we have made it through post-deployment hardship, financial pressures, my being sick with cancer and, more recently, the birth of our two beautiful children.
I will never know whether my intuition had anything to do with him remaining unharmed. Maybe our being on the phone delayed his steps and kept him far enough from the place of impact. I don’t know, but I have learned to trust my instincts.