Distracted throughout the day by professional responsibilities or the countless chores and obligations of parenthood, the spouses of deployed military personnel often do not feel the full ache of loneliness and separation from their loved ones until nighttime. They're exhausted, their home is dark and quiet, and they're preparing to sleep in a bed that, ever since the day their husband (or wife) went away, seems unbearably large and empty. In the spring of 2003, U.S. Army Reserve Captain Daniel Enz was sent to Iraq for a one-year tour of duty, leaving behind his wife Tammy and their young son and daughter in Illinois. Tammy Enz wrote the following in September 2003 after one particularly rough night without her husband. -- Andrew Carroll
My husband sleeps next to his M-16. Where my supple flesh used to be now lies a cold, hard, merciless thing. Its sharp metal barrel presses beside him in the dark while his fingers rest idly on its sinewy throat.
When the Iraqi night sky is broken by the exploding light of war, when his barracks shake from the distant pounding of mortars, he twitches in his sleep. He pulls his companion closer to him, and it gives him comfort.
A faulty street lamp spills intermittent light on my bed as the September rain pelts the bedroom window in rapid fire. The walls of the century-old house groan under the force of the driving wind, and I can hear the wooden stairs creak in ascension. My heart pounds, obscuring the night noises. My breaths stop as I strain to hear my babies breathing across the hallway. I reach across the mattress, fumbling to seek solace in the lifeless folds of cotton.
He's not here.
He says it's 120 degrees over there. The thought hardly warms me. With jagged breaths I get up and tread through the frigid darkness to hold my hand over the mouths of my children. I feel their breath on my palm--proof of life in their tiny bodies. I smooth their blankets. I go down the empty stairs to find something to comfort me.
He can't drink over there. I used to sip the bubbles off the top of his beer bottle when we sat together on the porch watching the children chase fireflies. That was a different time. Now I need something harder, something that cuts a little deeper. I don't sip, I slam a glass of whiskey, feeling it trace a lukewarm path inside me. I pace.
Through the window, the moonlight glints off the rain-soaked thorns in my rose garden. It's been neglected this year, and the thorns are choking off the tender new blossoms. I let it go; no soft hues, no raspberry fragrance, no time for frivolity. Beyond the roses, the plastic bat and ball lie abandoned on the sidewalk where I left them.
Earlier, I gritted my teeth as my five-year-old begged me to toss a ball with him. Muttering under my breath. I have too much to get done. I don't have time for this.
I tossed the ball into his glove. It rolled out and thudded to the ground. "Dammit. You're not trying!" He looked at his dirty, naked toes. I know my words stung him. Only the coldest and most heartless mother wouldn't drop to her knees and pull him close. I kicked the bat and walked away rubbing the hard lines in my forehead--those deep unrelenting creases that will remind me of this for life.
I squeeze my eyelids shut. I cannot bear what I have become.
I pass the dining room table as I make my way back to bed after a second shot. The neat stack of unpaid bills rests precariously close to the corner. I swipe them off to the floor.
I crawl into bed, dead tired but wide awake. The tangled sheets grab my ankles. I can't find any comfort. My hipbone juts out and pokes me through my taut skin. My knees grind into each other, bone on bone. Food has lost its taste. The round soft parts have dripped off my frame. I'm sharp, jutting, angular.
Maybe the phone will ring sometime in the predawn hours. He'll speak of his camp in the desert and call it home. He's been there less than a year. But through the static and the three-second delay in the conversation, he says home like he's always been there. That isn't home, I want to scream.
But neither is this. We were the smiling family in the photo on the wall. We were the ones who sanded and polished the old maple floors on our knees. We coated the walls in soft pastels. But now it is all gray and harsh and cold in this light. Like me.
Finally sleep approaches. I envision it all being over. He's back here. He's left that cruel weapon behind. It's me next to him on the pillow. At night he reaches out in his sleep. His fingers seek comfort in the darkness. Will he notice the difference?
When Daniel came back to the States in March 2004, Tammy discovered that her marriage was strengthened by the time they had spent apart. "We no longer took our days for granted," she wrote after his homecoming. Daniel returned to his civilian job as an engineer and remains in the Army Reserve.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal