As I watched football Monday night, I saw the various "thank you" messages to veterans. Once the game was over, ESPN did a short special on soldiers and showed some "homecomings." Just 2 1/2 months ago, I was anticipating a homecoming. My husband recently came home from a year deployment.
All of those feelings overwhelmed me for a moment. I imagine it's a defense mechanism, but it's almost like you forget what it feels like until something triggers those memories. I don't know how, but you are able to put away past feelings of being helpless, anguish, fear, terrible loneliness, depression, anxiety and every other negative emotion.
The feeling of doom is palpable as the date nears that your loved one will leave. You try your hardest to harden your heart, put on your game face and keep putting one foot in front of the other. When the day comes, a metal gate slams down over your defenses leaving you vulnerable.
You grasp at every moment before they leave. You find yourself holding their hand while you lay in bed, feeling like you can't say "I love you" enough, holding on a little longer for each hug and trying to breath them in with every kiss. It's never enough. There's never enough time and it slips away so quickly.
When my children were very little, I tried to hold all 3 of them after we would say goodbye. This time we all held each other. This time I shed many more tears than any other deployment.
Watching the news literally made me feel ill. When a plane similar to the one my husband went on for missions, crashed and a video surfaced on YouTube, my oldest son came to me choking back tears and I told him that wasn't going to happen with his father on a plane. Those were the hardest words to ever come out of my mouth.
I sat in the parking lot and cried during my son's football banquet. I did the same after my daughter's softball team won their championship game.
On Thanksgiving, I made a full dinner and we ate it quietly, alone. Christmas was the same.
After all these years being part of the military and this recent deployment, I realized something. I realized that I have wounds and scars that will never completely heal. While my husband is now home and I can't wait to redo the holidays with him in my presence, I will never forget the year we struggled without him. I'd like to, but it's impossible.
There are two military bases here and only a small percentage live on base. The rest of us are in the cities surrounding those bases. For me, it was nice to be involved in the little things Destin has to offer.
It wasn't just the community involvement that kept me going, it was also my neighbors.
When my lawn got a little long, they mowed it. It wasn't because it became an eyesore but because they wanted to do something they thought was little — but it wasn't little to me. When I asked for my neighbor who works at home depot to help me bring home a tree, he did more than that and Home Depot donated a tree to my family — not just any tree, but one of the biggest and most beautiful trees on their lot.
Then an employee took the time to make little Christmas wreathes for me to take home. And when my 14-year-old lab went downhill, my neighbors helped me get her into my vehicle so I could go do the saddest thing I've ever done and have her put to sleep. Those were things I had a hard time doing without my husband and they made them a little bit easier.
I didn't want to keep going, but those kindnesses made it impossible to stop. More importantly, it kept my children going and they are the true heroes. Those little people are resilient and strong, and I can only hope that means great things for our future.
Amanda Rockwell is a Destin resident.