43: I Love You More

43: I Love You More

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

I Love You More

Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.

~George Eliot

It was one of those days in Kansas when the cool morning air tricked us into jeans and long sleeves for our 11 a.m. arrival at the Battalion parking lot. Now the hot sun beat down on us. Families popped their trunks and sat in the back of their vehicles with their soldiers, dreading the moment when they would announce it was time to go. I remember praying that every moment would last forever, at the same time I was praying that we could just get it all over with. We watched as our three-year-old daughter and eighteen-month-old son played with the other children. We had prepared with snacks and games, knowing that this is how deployment day works. Hurry up and wait.

It was 3 p.m. when a soldier came to our van. “Hey man, it’s time for formation.” The words stung. My husband turned to me like it was just another day, “Okay, let’s go.” We loaded the kids into the double stroller and walked toward the motor pool in silence. We stopped at the top of the hill as other families walked toward the bus. This is where we would stop.

It was our fourth deployment so I knew the routine. This time I would stand on the hill. We would say our goodbyes here and I would watch him walk away.

This was it. My husband turned to me and said, “I’ll call you when we get to each airport to let you know we are safe, just like I always do. Okay?” His words were strong and certain. Until that moment I was strong and certain too, but the heart can only take so much before it breaks.

I wrapped my arms around him, burying my face into his stiff camouflage top. I took a long deep breath, attempting to memorize the smell of his cologne. It would be a year before I smelled it again. I felt the hot tears rolling down my face.

The kids sat in the stroller oblivious to what was going on around them. It was time for him to say goodbye to them. I rubbed my face in his top to wipe away the tears and turned to the kids. “It’s time to say goodbye to Daddy,” I said in the happiest voice I could muster.

My husband knelt down to the kids and told them how much he loved them and to be good to their mommy while he was gone. They cheerfully replied, “Okay Daddy, love you,” and opened their arms for a hug. I could see that he didn’t want to let them go. He stayed there, kneeling on the ground with his arms around our kids and whispered into their ears. I could hear them laughing. This is the moment I would remind them of when they started to notice he wasn’t coming home. When they realized what it felt like to miss someone.

As my husband started to stand up I could feel myself taking a few steps back. I didn’t want it to be my turn. I didn’t want to say goodbye. He smiled at me and opened his arms: “Come here, babe.” I walked toward him, taking a long, deep breath, attempting not to cry. But as his arms wrapped around me again I began to sob.

“Please don’t go. Let’s turn around and flee the country. They’ll never find you,” I begged.

He laughed. “You know that’s not how this works. You can do this. We’ll talk as much as we can. I’ll be home before you know it.”

I squeezed him tighter, knowing that he was wrong. This year would feel like a lifetime. It would be a year of worry, of missed holidays, of children’s milestones that he could never get back.

“I love you. I love you so much it hurts.”

“I love you more,” he said softly.

I loosened my grip on him and looked up at his face. We kissed and again I did everything I could to burn this moment into my brain. I knew on the hard days I would need to close my eyes and remember this feeling.

My husband grabbed his large green military bag and threw it over his shoulder. “I love you guys. I’ll talk to you soon. Be good for Mommy.”

“We love you, Daddy,” I said, now standing by the stroller. He smiled, turned away and began walking down the hill to the bus.

“Please don’t go!” my head screamed, but we stood there, silent, watching him walk away. As he got near the bus he turned one last time and waved to us. I could see the pain on his face. The pain he tried to never show, the pain that proved he knew how difficult this year would be. The three of us waved back and then in the sea of camo and tears, he was gone.

Two of my friends and their children walked over to us as we stood there on the hill. Our three families watched until the bus drove our soldiers away. We would get through the hardest days of that year with each other and the memories of those hugs, kisses and I love you more’s.

~Katelynn Stream

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