I’m sitting here after a moderately full day of training and other work-related things, having eaten a large dinner complete with a dessert treat of ice cream and tea. In an effort to spur the NaNo brain back into action, I’ve got The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions currently playing on the old iTunes soundtrack and I’m slowly reading through the 15K words I’ve got down so far. It suddenly occurs to me that in six days I’m further ahead this year than I was all month last year. And that, of course, got me thinking about last November.
Exactly one year ago, I had returned with Rob from our trip to New Jersey. The last image playing in my mind was loading my sister Jenn in her wheelchair into the van, and noticing her wide smile, both mischievous and sardonic in that mix that only she could pull off.
The strange thought passed through my mind that this would be the last time I saw her like this, but I squashed it. It was too melodramatic. It didn’t bear thinking about. Surely I had left and come back before, many times in fact, and whatever miracles were worked in my absence would continue to take place. I would come home mid-tour and we would laugh and joke and she would miraculously be healed and we would all go to see the latest epic superhero movie at the multiplex and sing Bon Jovi songs, and I would continue to NOT tell her that really I loved Bon Jovi for his early albums, but I didn’t mind listening to the newer ones in the car on the way to the movies.
So that evening of November 8 I was mostly focused on not being late to the airport. I was wearing a new suit, casual enough to travel in, but smart enough to make a good first impression. I had Rob drop me off way too early because I hate going through security and I hate long goodbyes, and I keep telling myself that I don’t mind waiting in airports because I can get some reading done, none of which is true.
I arrived in Kuwait about midnight of the 9th of November, and was picked up by the guy I was replacing who treated me to a litany of everything he hated about (my new, his old) unit. I remember thinking, wow, this guy sure is angry at the world. And then I just started to ignore him, because I couldn’t think yet about where I was going while I was still so caught up in what I had just left.
That week, as I struggled to adjust to the time, I stayed up way too late, texting with my sisters. They told me what was going on back home, and what they were telling me wasn’t good, no matter how much I tried not to read between the lines.
At work I was surrounded by people I didn’t know yet, whom I thought of telling what was going on, and then just decided I didn’t want the hassle of strangers’ condolences. I would talk to my sisters and they would be my lifeline through the nights that were too short to contain everything we were going through. Once again, I thought to myself, what am I doing so far away when I should be with my family?
And then I wasn’t so far away anymore. My sister told me that it was time to come home, and I told her the information for the Red Cross message. That Friday, exactly one week after I boarded the plane to come to Kuwait, I boarded a plane to head home to say goodbye.
And someday I’ll be able to put those two weeks into words. But what I was left with was the feeling, as my sister Jenn quickly lost the strength to even smile that wonderful, sarcastic, annoying, toothy grin, that I was glad I had come home before I left, that I was grateful for every dollar I ever spent on a plane ticket home, even if it were only for a four-day, for every hour I’ve driven to make it home, so that we had said plenty of hellos and goodbyes—enough so that I have so many good ones tucked away to pull out and leaf through when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed by that last, final farewell.
This week in the Book Club we’re reading my sister Jenn’s book, Johanna. The two of us were writing our first novels at the time of its drafting, and we had a friendly bet. Whoever finished first would take the other out to a movie. She ended up finishing first, and we went out to see…I forget. Lord of the Rings? X-Men? Spidey? One of those…
I’ll probably write some more about my sister in the future. There were just too many things packed into too few years not to. Don’t be surprised if you come across her in one of my stories, or if she pops up in something my other sisters write. Because that’s what we do, and that’s who we are. We miss you, Jenn, and it still feels to me like I’m going to fly home and drive up for Thanksgiving, and you’re still going to be there, maybe with the latest Rick Riordan novel that I might have to borrow for a hot minute, or re-read Cornelia Funke’s trilogy. I’m looking forward to going home.
And, now that I’ve written almost a thousand words NOT on my novel, I’m going to sign off, maybe be productive, maybe listen to a little Bon Jovi. You never know.