A Soldier’s Wife
by Kristie Lorette
All I feel is numb. I do not feel pain. I do not feel sad. I do not feel anything. Is that a problem? Probably not, but I do wish I could feel something. Thoughts run through my mind about when we met, about the baby, about our marriage, about our life. Feelings, however, seem to be completely absent. The twenty-one gun salute commences and still tears do not run down my face. The flag is removed from his closed coffin, not open because of the damage caused by the roadside bomb, folded and brought to me. A soldier who looks young enough to be my younger brother hands me the flag, stands at attention, and salutes me before briskly turning to the right and marching away. Still, no emotion comes over me.
It all started two summers ago when I was twenty-two. I was working in a Starbucks near Camp Blanding as a barista when he walked in with two of his fellow soldiers. I didn’t notice him right away. As a matter of fact, I did not notice him at all until he spoke to me.
He said, “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this a regular American coffee, none of that fancy stuff?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at his southern accent as well as the question. Who comes to Starbucks and orders a regular American coffee? Apparently this guy.
I sarcastically answer in my own southern drawl, “There’s nuttin’ fancy about it,” and turn around on my heels to grab the non-fat milk required for the group of teenage girls behind him who are apparently being weight conscious. Damn Cosmo Teen and its preconceived notion of the body type that teenage girls should have today. As I prepare their order, I can feel his bright green eyes burning a hole in the back of my head. When I whip around to give him a dirty look, he is gone. I can see him pass by the window in front of me with his buddies and I can’t help but wonder if I will ever see him again.
The answer to my question comes a few days later when he shows up in civilian clothes and orders a cup of coffee and a muffin. When he steps up to my counter to retrieve his drink he says, “Can you take a break and have a cup of coffee with me?”
I don’t say a word. I simply take off my apron, grab my own cup of coffee, and come around from behind the counter . Our eyes do not move from each other as we each take a chair at a small two-person table on the outside patio.
“Are you from here?” he asks me.
“Born and raised, unfortunately,” I respond. “It’s a really small town and I would do anything to get the hell outta here,” I continue.
“It can’t be any worse than where I’m from in Beaumont, South Carolina.”
I just smirk and then it happens. From this point on we are inseparable. He is on a six-month training assignment at Camp Blanding before he is scheduled to transfer to Ft. Bragg.
It turned into the best six months of my life.
Two weeks before he is ready to transfer to Ft. Bragg, we decide to head to one of our favorite spots in St. Augustine, the Conch House. Known for its fabulous view and yummy food, we sip our cocktails while we peruse the menu we now know by heart. It seems business as usual by the time our dessert arrives and we dive into it. Then I notice it.
It hung from a ribbon tied to the handle of my spoon. It wasn’t big and pretentious but it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
He went down on one knee and the entire restaurant cheered as he said, “These have been the best six months of my life. I love you and I want you to share the best of the next 70 years of my life with me too. Will you be my wife?”
Then, I cried.
Now, I don’t cry.
It was a small wedding. His parents flew in from South Carolina and my parents let us have the ceremony in their backyard. Cousins, brothers and sisters, aunt and uncles, and a few friends were present. The preacher of my church that I had gone to since I was born performed the ceremony and the local florist made a bouquet of red and white gerberas tied with a cobalt blue ribbon for me to carry down the aisle. There was no bouquet toss, cake cutting ceremony, or garter toss, not even a honeymoon to follow the ceremony. The most important thing was the exchange of vows and the exchange of gold wedding bands.
His band is now on a chain around my neck.
About one month after we married and moved into base housing at Ft. Bragg I caught a wicked case of the flu. He was off on training missions day and night and I was busy trying to make a warm and cozy home out of the shoebox house with white washed walls and the no frills atmosphere base housing has to offer. We couldn’t complain though because it was rent-free and all we could afford at the time.
I had my head in the toilet yacking up my breakfast when I heard the doorbell ring. Wiping my mouth with a piece of tissue, I pulled hard on the door handle of the front door. It seemed stuck as if it was painted shut. I looked through the window to the right of the door, motioning to the red-headed and big haired lady standing outside my front door with a cake plate in her hand.
“Just a sec,” I say. “The door seems to be stuck.”
“No prob. Should I give it a kick?” she asks.
With a terrible cracking and screeching noise, the door slammed open from my pulling efforts and I almost landed on my butt.
“Hello, darling,” the big-haired lady says. “You look like crap. Are you all right?”
“Just a touch of the flu,” I say. “It seems to be going around.”
“Flu-schmu,” she responds. “You look preggers. I can tell just by lookin’ ata woman. I don’t need no stinkin’ test to tell me. I have five of my own, ya’ know. My name is Peggy by the way. I live right across the street and I saw ya’ll movin’ in yesterday. Thought you might like to take a break and have a cup ‘o joe and some cake with me so we can chat.”
At this, she lifted the cover of the cake plate and revealed a round cake with bright pink frosting. Just the smell sent my stomach in a whirl and I barely made it to the bathroom before heaving what was left of my breakfast into the institutional white toilet.
The next day I find myself in the PX standing in front of pregnancy tests lined up like a rainbow in front of me.
While we were newly married and had been having lots of newlywed sex, it somehow had never occurred to me that I might get pregnant.
I guess there is only one way to find out. I have to pick out one of these tests and pray to the Almighty that I fail it like no other test I have ever taken before. Me, a mother? I don’t think I am mother material. How will Richard feel about this? We haven’t even gotten around to discussing whether or not we want to have kids. I’m not even sure that I like kids all that much. While all of the tests start to become a big blur in front of my face, I see a blob that must be my hand reach up and grab the closest one to me on the shelf.
One week later without a word to my husband, I am sitting in a clinic filling out paperwork when the nurse calls my name.
“Mrs. Bella, right this way please.”
I sit in a cold plastic chair so the nurse can take my blood pressure and get some information from me.
“Call me Rita. Mrs. Bella is my husband’s mother,” I hear myself say.
“OK, Rita. Is your husband here? Will he be driving you home today after the procedure?”
I don’t respond.
“OK then, dear. The doctor will be with you in just a moment. Sit tight.”
Then, I cried. Now, I just sit here tearless and emotionless.
Just over a year after we were married, Richard came home with a sullen look on his face. I am sitting in the living room on our Salvation Army couch that I reupholstered with my own two hands. A wooden coffee table from Goodwill and two end tables from a “bulk trash day” find sit in front and on either sides of the couch. The TV remote is in my hand as I flip from news station to news station covering the war in Iraq. It seems to be getting worse instead of better, but I am a soldier’s wife now and I’m not allowed to speak my mind about how I do not support this war. I can only talk about supporting our troops both here and overseas fighting the war.
Somehow, like getting pregnant, it never crossed my mind that someday my husband may be sent off to fight this war.
Rich soon explains his sullen facial expression as he tells me that his unit is shipping out next week. Fear grips my entire body and tears begin to run down my face as my husband takes me in his arms and my body begins to heave into great big crying jags. Then I feel, have emotions, and cry. Now I just sit here motionless.
When Rich leaves, I find myself glued to the TV night and day. The remote control has become a part of my body as one new show ends and I flip the channel to another station covering the war in Iraq. Roadside bombings, suicide bombers, the hunt for Osama bin Laden become who I am. No letters come in the mail. The phone does not bring Rich’s voice on the other end of the line. My emails to him go unanswered for weeks at a time. Is this really the life I signed up for being a soldier’s wife? I guess it is, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
I drag myself through the next six months, barely taking showers, getting dressed or leaving the house. After what seems like an eternity, it is only two weeks before Rich is scheduled to return home for a six month break before returning to Iraq for a second tour. My body starts to feel again as I take a shower and get ready to pick my husband up from the airfield. His plane lands in two hours and I have a lot of work to do to make myself look presentable, even attractive again, since I haven’t done anything to keep myself up in the last six months of my depression.
While I am applying mascara the doorbell rings. It’s probably Peg, I think to myself as I wipe off my hand on a towel so I can grip and turn the doorknob. What is not there is Peg. What is there are two uniformed men and a priest holding a bible.
“Mrs. Richard Eric Bella?” one of the uniformed men asks.
“Yes, but if you’re looking for my husband, he isn’t here yet. He is due to arrive in about an hour or so. Can I leave a message for him?”
“No, ma’am. We’re not looking for your husband, ma’am. We’re looking for you. May we come in?”
“Sure,” I say as I step aside and gesture with my hand for them to enter. “What can I do for you?”
You see, I’m too new of a soldier’s wife to know why these men are here. I have no idea what they are about to tell me will erase my emotions forever, will take me to the point where I started this story – emotionless, stone-faced and numb.
“We’re sorry, ma’am, but your husband, Sergeant Richard Eric Bella, was killed last week in a roadside bombing in Iraq. His unit came under fire while trying to clear a camel blocking the road into town. When your husband was trying to pick up one of the wounded men in his unit and return to the Hum-V they were driving, he stepped on a buried bomb. Both men were killed instantly. We’re very sorry for your loss ma’am. Father Picolo is here to help you in your time of need.”
I don’t remember anything after that. Somehow though when those men left my home they took my emotions and feelings with them and I never got them back.
Now I sit at the graveside, staring at my husband’s coffin with a folded American flag in my hand. Mourners surround me and whisper condolences in my ear as they drop a flower on top of the coffin. I do not move. I do not feel. I do not cry. I do not do anything. I just sit regretting that I ever allowed myself to love someone so much that I have now been robbed of my emotions. Now I just sit and regret giving up a child that was a piece of him and a piece of me. At least if I had his child there would be a little piece of him left behind for me to remember him and love him, a little piece of him to live on.
Instead, I just sit here, numb.
Kristie Lorette has 14 years of experience working in marketing and copywriting for various types of industries including the real estate, mortgage, financial services, non-profit, and event planning industries. After earning her Bachelor of Science in multinational business and marketing from Florida State University , Kristie was recruited by Merrill Lynch to work as a mortgage and credit specialist in the South Florida area. Kristie then went on to earn her Master in Business Administration from Nova Southeastern University in 2001. Kristie is a full-time copywriter, working with a variety of industries for small, medium, and large size companies.