The Midnight Thoughts of a Military Wife

Sometimes I look at my husband and I think about him dying. I really don't mean to think about such an awful thing but the thought finds its way into my mind a few times a week. I can be driving to the grocery store, just fiddling around with the radio station, when I pass a tree with a big yellow ribbon tied around the trunk---and I think about losing Justin. Or I will be watching the local news and I hear the newscaster announce that there has been another war casualty from Fort Bragg. And suddenly I'm very grateful that Justin is still in training and still a year away from deployment.

But usually when I think about my husband dying we will be lying next to each other in bed. He will be sleeping next to me and I will be awake listening to his deep slow breaths. He mutters softly to himself and I think he must be dreaming. Lost in some subconscious world where I cannot join him.

Sometimes in the middle of the night Justin will have a nightmare and he wakes up shaken and clammy. He turns to me and pulls me into his big arms and I try my best to soothe him. Yet I am the one who feels comforted as I am swallowed up by his two arms with my face nestled against his chest. His heartbeat sounds like a bass drum in my ear: beating in strong and steady steps, beating life through Justin's body. And this is when I think about losing him the most.

When Justin and I first started dating I
tried not to think about the possibility of him dying or of him even going to war. He was just an all-American boy with green eyes and a casual smile and I was just a girl trying not to fall in love with him. On one of our first dates we went to a small bakery to have lunch and we sat at our table for an hour reading the newspaper and talking about the articles we had passed between us. It felt like we were seventy years old and married for forty-five. My heart had found its home.

One night I asked Justin if he was afraid of dying and he told me no. The only thing that worried him, he said, was his mother. His death would break her heart and the thought of that broke his own. I wondered if he knew that my own heart would fall apart too if he died on some battlefield in some foreign land, but I didn't tell him this because our relationship was new and we weren't supposed to talk about things like soul mates or death. So instead I asked him about politics and traveling and books and even war. And I didn't say much about dying.

I forced myself to push away my nightmares about losing Justin because it wasn't like we were married. We weren't even engaged. We were just dating and having fun and I wanted to enjoy myself without thoughts of doom looming in my conscious. Besides, I would be heading to London in a few months to start graduate school and I would probably never see him again. Our relationship would be one of those old summer romances that faded away like lightning bugs in the winter.

But as the summer drew to a close I realized I wanted more time with Justin. Even more than I wanted a year in England. My mother scolded me for being so foolish as to defer graduate school for a boy---and sometimes I wondered if she was right and if I was making a mistake---but in the end I chose to follow my heart. I stayed behind in America to be with a boy. I stayed behind to marry a soldier whose uniform made my eyes well with pride and my heart tremble in fear. My worrying days had begun.

Sometimes I am the one who wakes up Justin in the middle of the night, crying into his thick shoulder. He asks me what is wrong and I mumble that I am so afraid of losing him. His arms tighten around me and Justin whispers softly that he will always come home to me---he makes this promise to me. I can think of no response except to cry harder and nod meekly.

"Don't you believe me?" he asks and even in the darkness I can tell that his eyes are filled with concern.

"Yes," I stammer but I am lying. I will always worry about him.

In a few minutes my exhausted husband falls asleep again and I curl up beside him. For now he is safe in our bed and I must be grateful. This is a gift. But still I lie in the blackness, staring into nothing, and thinking about my husband's destiny.