Her smile is the kind of thing you’d like to place on a bucket list right between skydiving and dipping toes in the Pacific Ocean.
It’s a smile that some people spend a whole life looking for, the kind of smile that never signs its name the same way twice. Sometimes as Happiness. Other days as Joy. The kind of smile that makes people wonder and wish to ask, “Excuse me, Miss, what department store in New York City sells that contagious grin of yours? Do they carry it in XXL?”
Her Bucket List Smile, the kind that holds the secrets of a Good Life within their glossy curves, is wider than I’ve seen it in weeks as she maneuvers the chopsticks in her hand and says it out loud, “He’s coming home.”
He’s Coming Home.
She’s a walking testimony to that very word and what it means when the green in your husband’s eyes matches the camoflage he folds beside his bunk bed at night.
A reminder that Love suits us up in Armor and makes us brave enough to hold another in their absence. To hold another together. To hold on tight even when it hurts. To hold faith even when you have none. To hold steadfast even when it sucks the color from your face and the feeling from your fingers.
A Reminder That, if this life were absolutely perfect, we’d lay in bed all day with the one we loved so true. We’d never talk about leaving. We’d touch fingers to lips with the mere mention of “apart.” We’d gawk at distance. We’d giggle at Niklas Zennström and whisper behind his back, “The man invented Skype? That’s a thing we’ll never need.”
In a life that’s just plain perfect, we’d pull out dictionaries and drag our fingers through the G’s til we got to “Go” and “Going” and “Gone.” All & Only to rest our heads on the Shoulder that God Made to Be Our Second Pillow and say, “Well that’s a silly thing. Who’d ever think to “go” away? We’ve got all we need right here. “Gone” sounds like a horrid thing.”
But, even with a bucket list smile, she’s felt the going. The Gone for Far Too Long. The way it feels to have no courage to say the word “home” some days, only whispering it into the soft of the night by the glow of a computer screen as she Skypes Her Soldier and Prays Him Home.
He’s Coming Home.
Wearing boots with foreign soil wedged within their grooves. Coming back from a land we’ve spent ten years watching on the news. Tying Yellow Ribbons to Oak Trees After 5pm Broadcasts. He’ll be wearing a backpack on his shoulder though he’ll surely drop it to the floor when he reaches the airport gate and sees that smile. That Bucket List Smile.
He’s Coming Home.
Home. The word drops off her tongue bolder than its ever been before. On a day like today she’ll use that word one thousand times. Home. Home. Home. She’ll synchronize it with the raindrops dripping from the awning. Home. Home. Home. She’ll let it be her lullaby as the train rolls into Grand Central Station. Home. Home. Home.
And suddenly I’ve adopted seven thousand goosebumps, sprawled upon my knees and forearms, because I can only, only, only imagine the way it feels for an army wife to to know her soldier, her fighter, her partner… is coming home. To let him out from her heart, a sacred place to keep a soldier until he shows up at Gate 17, wraps his tired arms around her and buries his face in her lavender-scented hair.
She’ll drop all the armor when he drops his bag. She’ll forget all the words the second she seems him, like a language she no longer needs. She’ll leave the nouns and verbs of Missing Him scattered across the short-haired carpeting of airport flooring. Perhaps she’ll be speechless. Perhaps all she’ll have is the Bucket List smile. Perhaps she’ll utter a word through muffled sobs. Home. Home. Home.