Shortly after my last post, the computer finally informed me that HE was en route. Theoretically leaving our house at the same time that he left Atlanta, we got in the car, fought rush-hour traffic (going in the good direction, but nonetheless, traffic), parked the car in the hourly lot, and herded ourselves into the airport to the nearest arrival screen.
His plane was already here! It was not yet assigned to a gate.
I tried to get in a line to talk to an airline rep, but she announced that this was not a line to talk to her. Talk to the hand, folks.
We went upstairs to ticketing. The line was enormous. People were anxious and frustrated because a HUGE storm was heading this way, and they wanted to escape before getting stuck here. I can sympathize.
I left the kids in line and went over to the board again. A gate had been posted: seventeen. I pulled the kids out of line, and we went in that direction. I talked to the security man, and he told me that to get to the gate, I'd need a gate pass from that really long ticket line. But then he pointed to the hallway where the passengers would all come out, and suggested we just wait there (oh, you mean that spot right there with all those people standing and waiting?).
Checking the board, I saw that the plane was still not at the gate, so we walked just a bit down from that entry hallway to the big windows where, as luck would have it, we could see Gates 15, 17 and 19. There was a plane docked at 19, and another plane approaching. We watched it park - at 15. We waited.
Then Peter had to go to the bathroom, so I hauled everybody about 50 yards to the nearest one. When we got out, the boys who waited outside were hopping around: It's here!
We got to the hallway and joined the crowd. Passengers were just beginning to stream off. Lots of soldiers. I watched a young Private being greeted by his parents and some teen aged girls: sisters, I assumed. One girl took a picture, and the mom was crying. I was crying.
More people came off. No Bill. The kids started getting antsy. They moved farther and farther into the hallway to try to get that first glimpse. Still no Bill. I started to worry about what would happen if he wasn't on the flight. I didn't think I could face my kids' disappointment. Or mine.
Finally, there he was. I saw him before the kids did. Our eyes met, and he smiled.. "He's coming!" I told the kids who strained hard to see him over all these tall people who didn't seem to understand that whatever their errand or destination or business was, it was not nearly as important as this business of ours, this reunion, this welcome home.
And then they saw him, and swarmed him. I stayed to the side with Mary, out of the way, watching, crying. Finally, some of the other people noticed our group, and recognized the significance of this soldier's arrival. "Well, this is a Merry Christmas," said one woman to my husband.
Mary squirmed in my arms, and I let her down to run to her Daddy. He lifted her and turned to me, wading his way with the weight of clinging, crying children. And then a welcoming kiss.
He's home. What a marvelous Christmas this is.
I started to take a picture right after we met, but a woman passing by kindly offered to take one of all of us.
It took a while to get his bags, but we made it out to the van, loaded up and then headed for the McDonalds close to where Fritz was to play laser tag. Welcome home, hon, let's dine in style! But it was getting late. Fritz barely had time to scarf down his food before I walked him over for his 8 pm start time, and it was 830 before we neared home with the snow beginning to fall.
When the little ones were asleep, and the older boy reclining on the sofa waiting for his roommate to return, we were finally alone. Of course, the clothes came off. I put down the Mom hat. Discarded the Strong Woman cloak. Laid aside the shield of Fortitude and the breastplate of Perseverance. Then the many layers of garments: Single Parent, Bill Payer, Sole Decision Maker, Lone Disciplinarian, One Who Never Sleeps, One Who Never Cries, Happy Face, Comforter, Good Fortune Teller.
Eventually I was left with just a few skimpy undergarments: Feminine, Emotional, Sensitive, Vulnerable with a sheer, frilly robe of Wife covering them. What then?
Many times, I have cried. At the airport, it was joy and relief. Other times, it was worry or exhaustion or frustration peeking out like a too long slip. This, though, was an emotional release. In my husband's arms, the trial was over. I am no longer alone. I can be strong, or not. I have a choice, whereas only a few hours earlier, I had to be strong no matter what.
He is home. My heart is at peace.