was crumpled up and left to dry (not) in a heap on the towel rack. Thinking perhaps I had forgotten to put it away, I picked it up only to find that my hair towel (yes, I selfishly need a towel just for the tresses) was extremely damp, if not downright wet. I looked around, realized that only one bath towel was hanging on the back of the door, and instantly knew that Peter had used my hair towel instead of getting the clean bath towels from the laundry room.
I started the shower and began to mumble under my breath about the use of my towel. How hard is it to just go get another towel? Then a rather sad thought popped into my head: two weeks from now he will 'over there'. My towels will be neat and orderly every day, or at least as I left them. No damp towels on the floor, no extra piles of laundry where they shouldn't be and a nightstand with nothing on it but a lamp. No wallet, no creds, no keys or any piles of loose change. I started to tear up until I realized, on one level, that I asked for this scenario.
Eight years ago this August, we moved back to this very neighborhood from Venezuela. Due to the needs of the service, Peter took position on a protective detail. Caitlin was not even four and Kelsey was 4.5 months when we returned to the States and he began the job. We had heard that there was a bit of travel, and the schedule was a slightly topsy-turvy. Nothing prepared me for what took place.
The minute home leave ended, the crazy schedule commenced, as did the travel. Peter went from days to nights every two weeks and had a midnight shift every 12 weeks. Interspersed into this chaos was trip after trip after trip. As you can imagine, very few were domestic. The tally at the eventual end of the tour in 2005 came to 48 countries, some of them several times. We were not able to plan anything, including vacations or Kelsey's baptism. The only guaranteed time off came when one of us had serious medical issues to deal with, such as Kelsey's cranio-facial reconstruction in June of 2003. Despite the travel and odd hours, no one blinked an eye when Peter requested the family time. More importantly, not having taken a sick day in ages meant more than enough time saved up for both the surgery and an appropriate recovery time. The sick leave policy is nothing if not extremely generous.
That being said, the travel was so random and frequent that we really became quite independent of each other. I can't tell you how many times Peter called home to tell me that he would not only be leaving, but had to be on a flight that left in a short time. This scenario meant that he magically needed to pack (he usually never completely unpacked) and get to the airport, as wheels up (not check-in) was exactly 5 hours away. After 2 years of this (and more and more unaccompanied tours began popping up), I uttered the unthinkable, "It would really just be easier if he left for one solid block of time." I was not bitter, but had simply come to realize that it would likely be less stressful if the travel came in large, prescheduled blocks rather than frequent last-minute trips here and there. Little did I know how great the need would still be 6 years later.
Now lest the above description of our years from 2002-2005 sound like a rant, rest assured, it's not. While it was not an ideal schedule for a young family, we learned to work around it. We made the most of our time together, and Peter was able to attend a few events without question that would normally require time off. We didn't rely on each other as much, and I learned that what didn't leave me exhausted, just made me stronger. I managed to build a good support and social network and had a babysitter who could help out at the drop of a hat. It wasn't the easiest time of our lives, but definitely taught us much about what we could or could not handle...like this upcoming year.
Yet we are now 9 days out from his departure and I am already weepy over bath towels. Silly, really, as we have so much available to us that years ago was unfathomable. We will be able to call, Skype and email, technological capabilities that eluded most in this career for decades. I know where he will be and how long he will stay there. I know he gets three R&Rs and those will be solid chunks of family time. I know I have friends and family (thanks in advance, Dad!) near and far who have already begun to offer support in anticipation of me not being able to do it all myself. Yes, I can, but I have learned that there isn't any shame in knowing when one truly needs help.
I also have friends who will be going through the same thing at the same time and completely understand our unique situation. I'm not the only one who is going to be a single parent this year, and I am comforted by the notion that at least this was a choice for our family.
And that crumpled towel? Yeah, I'll miss it..not the wet, crumpled heap, but what it represents...