38: Strength in Numbers

38: Strength in Numbers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Strength in Numbers

In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends.

~John Churton Collins

It was dark and cold at four o’clock that October morning. The dim orange streetlights illuminated my husband as he stood at the end of our driveway. Headlights entered the cul-de-sac, then turned broadside to our house. Jason heaved his sea bag into the trunk and climbed into the passenger seat. His gaze turned towards the house and the window where he knew I was standing, and then the door shut. The engine revved, and those red taillights slipped around the curve and beyond my sight. He was gone.

I was two months pregnant and my husband was being deployed. His ship was leaving in a matter of hours on a trans-Pacific tour that would take God-knows-how-long. The Navy claimed it would be four months. Other wives laughed at that. “The Navy tells time about as well as my five-year-old,” one woman said, rolling her eyes.

I wasn’t laughing. For the first time in my life, I would have to handle everything on my own. My husband was going to be on the other side of world, in harm’s way. He might very well miss the birth of our child. My parents were a thousand miles away in California. I had a house to myself — well, myself and the two cats. I was all grown up and scared witless.

I also had my pride. I didn’t want anyone to know how vulnerable I felt. I didn’t have a driver’s license, but I didn’t let that slow me down. I had the post office, grocery store, and a bus stop all within half a mile of my house.

“I can do this,” I said out loud, staring out into the dark morning. I had to do it. I had no choice. I had to prove to everyone — and to myself — that I could survive on my own.

I didn’t go back to bed. I dozed in a chair and then paced the house, and at six in the morning I kept a very unusual appointment. I walked across the cul-de-sac to my girlfriend Stephanie’s house.

Stephanie and another neighbor, Joy, had approached me in my front yard a few weeks before. Stephanie was president of the military spouse group and Joy was parliamentarian, and they encouraged me to join the group before the deployment. I was very shy; I had lived there for eight months and hadn’t made any friends yet. There was nothing shy about these two women.

“Come on! We can introduce you to everyone,” Stephanie said. They proceeded to do just that.

That particular morning, Stephanie had the duty of standing on the pier and being interviewed by local news crews as the last sailors boarded the ship. She asked me stay in her home while her kids slept, and to help the oldest get ready for school.

I turned on the television and sat back to try and calm my nervous stomach. Flipping between news channels, I saw Stephanie again and again, standing there on the pier with her wind-tousled hair. The heavy gray ship loomed behind her. My husband was in there. Was he thinking of me right now? When would I see him again? I pressed my hands against the nub of my belly and felt the tears well up in my eyes. No, I had to stop thinking like that. I didn’t want her kids to see me upset.

Stephanie’s son awoke and I helped him get dressed and ready, all the while eyeing the television in the background. Eight o’clock arrived, almost time for the school bus. We walked just outside the front door. Across the cul-de-sac, our other friend Joy emerged with her son.

The two boys met on the sidewalk and headed towards the bus stop. Joy waved me over to meet in the street.

“I’m going to do some shopping in town tomorrow. Want to come?”

I balked. “Are you sure it’s not any trouble? I mean, I can walk to the grocery store easily enough.…”

She gave me a look. “You don’t need to be doing that. It’s going to rain. It’s always raining here. You walk and get all wet and you get sick, what good’s that going to do for you and the baby? Come on now. I’ll even pick you up in your driveway.”

“I’m only two houses away! I can walk that far.”

“Well, you don’t need to. That’s what I’m saying. I’ll be ready at 8:30.”

I headed back inside, abashed but grateful. Stephanie returned from the media blitz a short time later.

“It was cold out there!” she said, shuddering as she took off her coat. I turned the television to a kid’s show for her toddler.

“It looked it,” I said. “Listen, I’m going to head on home…”

“When’s your next doctor’s appointment?” she interrupted.

“Um, about two weeks, I think.”

“Call me later and let me know. I didn’t write it down on my schedule.”

“Stephanie, you don’t have to take me just because you did last month. I can walk to the bus stop and go from there.”

She gave me the same look Joy had given me earlier. “In the rain?”

“I’m not going to melt! Honest!”

“Well, I can’t promise I can take you, but I want to try. I have to find a babysitter.”

I was getting exasperated by that point. “Listen. I don’t want to be a bother, okay? That’s the last thing I want. I was trying to get that through to Joy earlier, too.”

Stephanie let out a heavy sigh. “You’re not a bother. You have to remember, we’ve all done this before. We know what deployments are like and how it is to be pregnant or all alone with little ones when the men are gone. It’s hard. It’s hard just on a duty day, let alone a deployment. You don’t have to go through it alone. You have girlfriends to help.” Her voice creaked with emotions she had withheld during her series of interviews.

They knew. They all saw through my fragile facade and understood the vulnerability within. I thought that being grown-up and dealing with this deployment meant mucking through on my own. Chin up, no tears. They knew I wasn’t going to ask for help.

So, they just made the choice for me. And I knew the mature response, the only thing I could say in return.

“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll give you a call later, but please remember if it’s a hassle for you I can find a way to get there on my own.”

“I know you can,” she said, smiling. “But hopefully that won’t be necessary.”

I went back to my house. I shut the door and locked it. One of my cats lifted his head and yawned. I slipped off my shoes, sucking in a breath as I saw them all by themselves on the mat. Jason’s shoes were gone. He was gone. Everything was my responsibility now — household, cats, bills, lawn, me, baby.

I could do it all on my own. I knew that I could. But Joy and Stephanie had made me realize that with my friends to help me along, I didn’t have to.

~Beth Cato

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