By Sydney Smith
(“Reintegration” is a term used in the military for the period of adjustment for both family and servicemember upon return home)
Every morning since he’s been home, I wake up to the sound in my kitchen of a spoon clanking around a mug. My husband is stirring creamer in my coffee before he brings it to me in bed, soon followed by a kiss and my son smiling in his arms.
But at first it didn’t feel quite like my husband, rather a stranger (a very kind stranger) living in my house trying to make my life easier. It was as if the Lord had finally reached down from above and given me the third arm I so needed.
My days used to begin slowly, snuggling in bed with my son, feeding him a toaster waffle with peanut butter smeared on it, sitting on the floor watching him play as the sun lit up his wispy blonde hair. I’d often skip breakfast to avoid the mess and sip on coffee with too much creamer in it. I’d stay in my pajamas until I felt the need to step into the fresh air, or run an errand, or meet a friend for lunch. Each moment was my own.
These new mornings were what I had only dreamed of for 258 days, but when they became my new reality and I learned that new beginnings to my days led to new kinds of days, I began to crave my old life and my old ways. I was guilty to feel it at the time, but now that I am on the other side of reintegration, I want to share the journey it took for my husband and I to find each other again.
The night he came home to us was precious. It was one of those moments I wish I could place forever in a snow globe to relive again and again… the line of white buses approaching in the distance, watching as hundreds of boots accumulated on the other side, wondering which boots were his, wondering how I’d find him in the sea of clean cuts and camouflage, wondering if my lips would remember what to do and if my arms would know how to hold him.
He had already spotted us, the girl in the yellow striped dress and in her arms, his little boy who was a little baby nine months ago. When we embraced, the feeling I remember most was relief. Relief that I was whole again, we were one again, it was over, and I no longer had to do it alone. I didn’t have to be strong anymore. He was finally, finally home and I could breathe. In that moment, I thought every struggle had evaporated and my normal life would finally resume; but it wasn’t quite that simple. While it was absolutely wonderful to have my husband home, I was not prepared for the period of adjustment that walked in the door when he did.
On our way home from the welcome home ceremony, I rode shotgun in my own car for the first time in nine months. We picked up Cane’s for a late dinner. We moved our sleeping son from his carseat to his crib, and we had fried chicken and red wine on the floor of our living room. We enjoyed sharing conversation while looking into each other’s eyes, but it was awkward in some ways–an awkwardness that no husband and wife should or is ever prepared to feel again–like the anticipation of a first kiss, a first date, or your wedding night.
I thought the newness of it all was just a small hurdle, like catching up with an old friend…awkward only for a few moments until it would soon feel as though he left just yesterday. But now that I look back on it, it was more like climbing a tall mountain. It was like two strangers who had met before but didn’t know where. They had to learn one another’s subtle quirks again, working together to fill in the gaps until it all came back.