There’s something wrong with my husband, Nathan. I feel like I know what it may be but I don’t really know for sure. He hasn’t been himself since he’s returned from his deployment. He seems happier, healthier, and adjusting very well to being home. But I just can’t shake the feeling that that he’s not the same man who left over a year ago.
From the very first night of his return, something felt off about it. As a military spouse, you never know when your significant other will return. You are given a time frame and it can change at any time. When I heard the door open and slam shut, I thought I was going to be robbed until I heard his familiar voice booming through the house.
Honey, I’m home
The sound of his voice made my heart accelerate into overdrive. I shrieked with joy, jumping into his arms, and planting a kiss on his lips. Despite my excitement, my body recognized that something was wrong. When you’ve been with someone for as long Nathan and I have been together, you learn the way they kiss, the feel of their hands. This kiss was clumsy like when you kissed someone for the first time. It felt foreign and unsure, not the way a husband kisses his wife after being away. But what stuck out in my head was that it felt so…wrong.
Maybe I’d forgotten how it felt. Maybe it was simply a bad kiss. I made every excuse to quell my anxiety but the feeling remained in the back of my head even as the night went on.
“What happened? How come you are home early??
“I volunteered for some medical research program and they sent me back home after finishing up the tests.”
“What kind of medical research?”
“Can’t talk about it but I’m okay, just tired from flying half way across the world. Is dinner going to be ready soon?”
“I only made a chicken salad for myself since I didn’t know you were coming home. What do you want? I’ll make anything you like”.
“I’ll just have some of your salad.”
“Really? You never eat salad. I’m surprised you didn’t start yelling about not winning friends with salad.”
“Oh, the doctor said I should have more greens in my diet.”
“Since when have you ever listened to a doctor?”
“I just wanna eat.”
It was weird to see him actually enjoying a salad and drinking wine. My husband has never had wine with me. He’s always been a rum and Coke or beer kind of guy. I didn’t make a fuss about it since we didn’t have any beer or cola. He was pretty quiet the rest of the night but admittedly, I was the one chatting non-stop about what he’d missed while he was gone. It wasn’t anything crazy exciting or world shattering but it felt wonderful to see my husband’s face again across the dinner table.
After we finished dinner, I pulled him upstairs into the bedroom for dessert. All the excitement, anticipation, and passion I felt dissipated the moment we kissed again. My body and my heart were screaming that this wasn’t right. The touch of his hands didn’t feel right. These weren’t the hands of a man that worked in construction and fixed cars for fun. These certainly weren’t the hands of the man that repaired helicopters. They were too smooth, too perfect. They felt violating.
Day after day, Nathan and I settled into our life together yet each and everyday, he did something that wasn’t within his character. He spent the entire week watching Netflix while the 69’ Chevy Nova sat under a tarp in the driveway. He had seemed so excited about fixing it before he left but now it seems as if he doesn’t even remember its there. Nathan hated television and sitting around all day. The man I fell in love with would have been working on the car from sunrise to sunset. It was small things like these that kept me wondering what had happened to my husband.
Despite these actions being out of character, Nathan seemed really happy. He offered to help me in the kitchen which is a place he never visited unless he was getting beer out of the refrigerator. The man could rebuild an engine with glue, scissors, and duct tape but unless it was microwavable, the man was useless in the kitchen. Yet here he was making bacon and omelets with me like he’d been doing it forever.
The weirdness in the bedroom didn’t change. With every touch and kiss, my body trembled and recoiled away. It was a struggle to pretend to be into it and Nathan didn’t seem to notice that it wasn’t as enjoyable for me as it was for him. How could he not notice that our sex was different? Why didn’t he notice how uncomfortable I felt? At the end of the week, I faked having my period to get out of sex.
I agonized trying to figure out where I’d gone wrong. Why did I feel so repulsed? Why didn’t he feel the same to me? What happened to him? What the fuck happened to me? What was wrong with me?
Nathan was out getting coffee and bagels, when the doorbell rang and a pair of men in uniform stood at my doorstep. The solemn expressions on their faces told me that this wasn’t going to be a pleasant visit. They introduced themselves and asked if I was Nathan’s wife. I told them yes and they asked if they could come inside. I told them Nathan wasn’t in but they could wait for him in the living room. I knew something was strange when their stony expressions turned to confusion.
“Ma’am, The Secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deep regret that your husband was killed in action in Iraq on April 14th, 2013. The Secretary extends his deepest sympathy to your and your family in your tragic loss.”
The uniformed men sat in silence allowing me time to process the news. I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding and then I laughed. It wasn’t because it was funny. This was too serious of a mistake to find humorous. I laughed because I was in shock. I’d just mistakenly experienced the worst possible news that the spouse of a solider could ever receive. Imagine if Nathan hadn’t been home from deployment, I probably would have died on the spot.
“I’m sorry guys but my husband isn’t dead. He went out for coffee and bagels ten minutes ago. He should be walking through that door any minute now.”
The uniformed men exchanged looks and expressed their deepest sympathy for my loss. Once again, I told them that Nathan was coming home in a few minutes and that they would see they made a huge mistake. The seconds felt like hours as we sat in awkward silence awaiting the arrival of my husband. These men probably thought I had lost my mind or something. But then the front door opened and Nathan walked in carrying two coffees in a tray and a bag from the supermarket.
“Gentlemen, this is my husband, Nathan. As you can clearly see, he is alive and well. You guys need to figure out what happened here. This cannot happen again. You have no idea the kind of damage you can do telling people their loved ones are dead when they aren’t.”
“Excuse me, honey. I need to talk to these gentlemen outside.”
Nathan and the two uniformed men walked out the front door and shut it behind them. I ran up the stairs and opened the window to listen in on their conversation. The uniformed men were flabbergasted. They insisted that their superiors had given them a casualty report that had confirmed it was him that had been killed in action. Nathan told them to lower their voices making it difficult to hear them speak. I could only make out a few words but I was sure that I heard the word “Pentagon” mentioned.
After a few more whispers, the men came back into the house and Nathan called me down. I stood atop the stairway leading to the front door and the two uniformed men apologized for the mistake and swore that they would make sure it would never happen again. They said good bye to Nathan and apologized for the disturbance. Nathan shut the door behind them when they left.
“I’m so sorry about this babe. They made a huge mistake.”
“How could anyone fuck up that badly especially on something as serious as this?”
“I don’t know honey, I don’t know. But I’m alive and I’m here with you. I’m going to have to make a few phone calls but for now let’s forget this happened.”
Nathan stepped outside and when he came in told me that the situation was going to be fixed. We never talked about it again after that but I never forgot about it.
As time goes on I realize that with every kiss we share, it’s starting not to feel as strange anymore. My body still trembles during our love making. It’s saying that this isn’t right but it’s starting to feel like the new normal as I push the thoughts away from my mind and lose myself in the passion.
The words of the uniformed men: “your husband was killed in action in Iraq on April 14th, 2013”, still echo in my mind. I find myself turning to Nathan and watching him. The smile on his face doesn’t seem right, the way he says certain words doesn’t sound right, and when he looks into my eyes, I just don’t feel right.