When I told Lauren I was going to go on a final tour before retiring, I’d expected her to be disappointed. What I had not expected was the rage and anger that she exhibited. Before I’d talked to her about it, I’d had a conversation with my Commanding Officer and had agreed to go overseas but in more of a leadership role versus an active role on the missions. This group was deploying for longer than six months, I didn’t want to prepare for a mission that I would walk away from when my time was done. I mean, I could have spent my six months behind a desk at Little Creek but who the hell wants to do that? I’m not a sit behind a desk guy. I’d already been worried about what I was going to do when I officially retired, so I didn’t want to be put out to pasture just yet.
She didn’t let me tell her any of this. Instead, she began yelling at me for my decision to go overseas without consulting her. She went on about how she wanted to start our family, and I was making that impossible. I tried to remind her that the doctor said it could take a while to conceive. I don’t advise ever reminding a woman of that fact as it only served to make her angrier. I learned a long time ago to pick my battles, it was advice that one of her brothers, not sure which one, gave me. Politely reminding me that Lauren had a long memory and she would hold a grudge – if I didn’t want her to be mad for an extended period of time, I should just let her win every now and then. To date, that advice had served me well. However, right now, I chucked that out the window and stood in the middle of an all-out war. For the record, I’m losing right now.
Lauren was so angry that she immediately took to sleeping in our guest room. Ok, it was kind of her to let me sleep in our ridiculously comfortable bed. But it’s a lonely place without her. After two nights alone, I asked her to come back to our bed, but she told me ‘no.’ Of course, after I went back to the base and signed up for a new two-year stint and informed her that I wouldn’t be back for eighteen months now instead of the original six months – she’ll never come back to our bed.
Yeah, okay, I signed up for the additional two years because I was angry and hurt and wanted to fight back. I’m not entirely sure I was sane or sober when I made the decision to do it. Unfortunately, my name is signed on the contract now and I can’t back out. When I came home from the base after re-upping, she was in the kitchen starting to cook dinner. She was actually cooking for both of us which was progress. The previous few days she had eaten on her own and left me to fend for myself. I wasn’t mad, I knew she had to work out her emotions.
I was smart enough to stay on the other side of the kitchen island since she had a knife in her hand. While she cut vegetables and worked on dinner, I sat on a stool and started talking. I casually mentioned that I had consented to add two more years to my career and would have a full deployment with the team. I was trying to keep the inflection low in my voice and not to make a big to-do about it, hoping she wouldn’t have an explosive reaction. It didn’t work.
As the words left my mouth, the action of the knife stopped. It then clattered on the countertop, and Lauren turned to face me. She said nothing, just stared at me. But I knew that look. Without a word, she turned and exited the kitchen and walked upstairs. I waited for the bedroom door to slam, but it didn’t, it just clicked closed. I hung my head and realized that my fate had been sealed. Quite ironic, I guess.
I moved to the other side of the island to finish up dinner. She had things on the stove and in the oven, I didn’t want them to burn. Honestly, I wasn’t in the mood to eat, and I knew Lauren wouldn’t come back down. So, I made her a plate and wrapped it in foil so she could reheat it later. The rest, I put in the refrigerator. Then I grabbed my keys and headed out to a local bar.
~ * ~
I pulled into the parking lot of a favorite bar near where we train at Little Creek. It looks like a hole in the wall, that’s why most members of the military liked it – in a tourist area, this bar is never visited by tourists. There aren’t many cars in the parking lot, which doesn’t surprise me. The current SEAL training group isn’t allowed off base during their three-week initiation course. Several of the ships that are based out of Little Creek are actually out on tours right now. So, there aren’t a lot of folks around. NAS Oceana is close, but the pilots have their own bar they like to hang out in.
As I step out of my truck and start to walk toward the entrance, I begin to second guess my decision to come out drinking. I should have stayed home and tried to find a way to talk to Lauren. Instead, I’m here to escape and drown my feelings and will ultimately still feel like shit when I wake up tomorrow. Through the glass front door, I notice my commanding officer sitting at the bar. Before he was my CO, Sterling Cordray was a fellow member of SEAL Team Eight and someone I could call a friend. Things are just different when a friend gets promoted over you, the dynamics of the relationship change. However, tonight, I’m in need of someone to talk to, and Sterling can fit that description.
Sterling Cordray was about my height and build but had several years on me in age. He also had several years on me in military experience. He’d been in the Navy for twenty-three years and had plenty of mission stories to share. Some were easy, some weren’t. He had at least a half-dozen stories where he’d barely made it back in one piece. That was why he was a confirmed bachelor. He didn’t want to leave someone at home to worry about whether he’d be back or not. He figured the woman would never sign up for him to come back as half a man, either, so he wasn’t about to risk it. His job was too dangerous, he didn’t need the distraction. Besides, he joked that he was married to the Navy and if he had a woman outside of the base she’d be nothing more than a mistress, and he’d be cheating on his ‘wife.’
I used to laugh when he would tell those stories to the newbies on the Team. Always felt a tinge of sadness for the man who would go home alone and had no one to share his stories with. However, right now, with what I was going through with Lauren, I had to say it wasn’t that crazy.
I make my way to the bar to take the stool next to Sterling. He turns to look at me, his eyes go wide as if he can’t believe I’m sitting there. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t Commander Evans gracing us with his presence this evening. Wife kick you out tonight?” He lifted his glass and took a drink. I know he was trying to be funny but, unfortunately, he was hitting a little too close to home for me. However, he had no idea that it was a painful subject because I’d not shared with anyone what was happening at home.”
“Yeah, sort of. I re-upped today and broke the news to my wife when I got home. You could say she’s not happy.” I raised my hand and gestured for the bartender. When he made his way to me, I ordered a beer and shot. Might as well kill the pain quickly.
Sterling turned his body toward me, “I got the notice you re-upped for two years. What’s that all about? A month ago you were looking forward to retiring, why the change of heart?”
“Yeah, well all the stuff I was looking forward to doing when I retired is walking away. I have no desire to be retired, sitting in the house all day and ranting at the neighborhood kids for playing in my yard. Might as well work while I can.” The bartender set my shot in front of me, I downed it immediately. I then chased it with a long pull from the beer bottle. The ice-cold liquid went down way too easy. I don’t drink very often, and this is why. It tastes too good, I know I’ll have a hard time stopping, especially in my current frame of mind.
“Lauren isn’t happy with your decisions, is she?” Sterling was asking out of concern, there was no judgment in his voice.
“No, she’s not. She thinks I don’t want to start our family and that I don’t care about our marriage. Which is not the case, but she won’t listen to what I have to say. Hell, I didn’t even have an opportunity to tell her that we’d made arrangements for me to not go on missions.” I took another long pull from my beer, almost draining it this time. “She just got angry and moved out of our bedroom and took extra hours at work, anything to avoid me.”
“You could have stayed stateside, you realize that, right?”
I nod, “I’d have been miserable, if she’d look at it clearly, she’d know that. Her happiness would be at the expense of mine, that’s not fair to either of us. I’d end up resenting her, and I don’t think she’s thought that far ahead. She just wanted me here so we could start our family. I think she’s got baby fever.”
“You think it’s fixable?” I could see that Sterling was just giving me the opportunity to unload and I appreciated that. I needed the outlet, and he realized that. This was the mark of not only an excellent commanding officer but also of a good friend.
“No, I think we’re done. Especially when I told her tonight that I’d re-upped. She left the kitchen and went right up to her room and shut the door. She didn’t slam it, just closed it. I want to fix it, but I don’t think she does.”
“I’m sorry, Chris. That’s rough. I hope she comes around and the two of you can at least talk before you ship out. You need to have a clear head when you’re in theatre.”
I nodded and said nothing else. I pointed my bottle at the bartender, signaling my desire for another drink.
~ * ~
I had a few more beers before making the five-minute drive back to the house. I had purchased a piece of property in Sandbridge when I first moved to the area. Back then, the land was expensive but not nearly the cost they go for these days. When Lauren and I got married, we lived in her condo while we worked up the plans for our dream home. The piece of property wasn’t on the beach but across the street from it. Building the house up and situating it the right way on the property, would at least, give us ocean views. I didn’t want to worry about the beach erosion and the heavy winds from the storms. I figured we’d let the houses on the beach front take the brunt for us.
As I pulled into the driveway, I noticed all of the lights were off. Then again, it was almost midnight so I wouldn’t anticipate Lauren to be awake. She’s been going to work earlier than usual these last two weeks. The two weeks, I should point out, since I told her that I was shipping out for six months.
I walked into the house, trying to stay as quiet as possible. I locked the door behind me and made my way up the stairs. Instead of going into the master bedroom, I stood next to the entrance to the room where Lauren was sleeping. She had been sleeping each night with the door shut, something we never did in our master bedroom. I suspected she did this to keep me from coming into her room, or to keep her from coming to me. I put my hand on the doorknob and slowly turned it, at least she wasn’t locking it.
I slowly pushed the door open, seeing her lying on her side, facing away from the door. Her breathing was even, I could tell she was asleep. I leaned against the doorway, crossing my arms over my chest and just watched her sleep. Sure, it might sound crazy, but I’ve missed seeing my wife. Yeah, I know, I’m going to deploy and be away for six months so I won’t see her. But while there’d be the distance between us, we still email and facetime and I see her. The problem is that right now I’m in the same house she’s in and I don’t see her. That’s painful.
I whisper softly, “I miss you, I love you, and I need you. Please come back to me, Lauren.”
I wait a minute or two with the hope that she might have heard me. When she doesn’t move, and her even breathing continues, I quietly pull the door shut and head to the room where I’m sleeping. I don’t like calling it my room and I can’t call it ‘our’ room since she’s not there. I know it’ll be a restless night.