May 3, 2011 ~ I drove two blocks from the house and reached down to pat my left hip, as I have done every time I’ve left my house for the past seven years. I fully expected to feel my cell phone clipped to the waist of my jeans. When I realized that what I felt was simply the waist of my jeans and no cell phone, I immediately broke into a cold sweat. That overwhelming feeling of panic set in and I nearly stopped breathing. “WHERE IS MY CELL PHONE?” I screamed.
I was already late for my appointment but I was not driving one inch further from the house without my phone. My son was deployed and there was no way I was taking a chance on missing a call. He wasn’t supposed to be calling, I just wanted to be ready if he did call.
There is nothing worse than coming in the house to find a message on your answering machine that confirms you have missed the scarce and infrequent call from your “deployed to a war zone” child. That only had to happen once for me to rethink the way I was going to handle the situation. I couldn’t control much about the war, but I was certainly going to control the few and far between phone calls I received.
Prior to my son’s first deployment, my cell phone plan was strictly for emergencies. I had a plan with a whopping 30 minutes a month. It was just enough to be able to call my husband if I had a flat tire. Half the time I didn’t know where the phone was and it always seemed to have a low battery, not to mention the fact that I couldn’t remember the phone number because I simply never used it.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was going to be forced to leave my house at some point during the deployment and I quickly realized that the cell phone was my ticket to freedom. First I got a better phone, and a plan with plenty of minutes. Then I found a way to keep that phone attached to me at all times. I purchased a case with a clip which allowed me to keep that phone on my waist 24/7.
My son was instructed that he should always call my cell phone first, and I did mean MY cell phone. Not his dad’s phone, or the home phone, but MY cell phone. I knew it was selfish to control the phone calls, but I was the one to give birth to the boy, after all. Labor pains buy privileges in a home where I am the only female.
The way I had things set up, the only time I could possibly miss a call was if I was singing too loudly in the shower and that wasn’t likely to happen. I kept the phone on a little stand just a couple of inches outside the shower door during the only ten minutes of the day that I couldn’t keep it attached to my hip.
Phone calls came once or twice a month during the first deployment. I wrote to him every day via Motomail, but I always seemed to have a running list in my head of the things I just had to tell him. Cute things about the dog or something funny one of his little brothers had said or done were always at the top of my list. When his call came in, I was always so excited to hear his voice that more times than not, my mind would go blank and I could never remember any the things I had to tell him until after the phone call had ended.
With our son being in a totally different world, not to mention a totally different time zone, many of his calls came in the middle of the night. The last thing I did before turning out the light each night was make sure that I had my cell phoneAND the home phone right next to my bed. In fact, I just pulled them right into the bed with me if it had been awhile since we had gotten a call. I had the volume set to the loudest possible ring and the battery was always charged.
My son always seemed surprised to find we were asleep. I could hear his voice pulling me from the cozy confines of my comatose state with his question, “Are you asleep? Oh, sorry. I didn’t even think about what time it is at home.” I would try really hard to wake myself up so I would be able to comprehend what he was saying. Just about the time I woke up enough to actively participate in the conversation he was telling me he had to hop off the phone and get back to work. The next morning I sometimes wondered if I had dreamt the whole thing.
The thing that I found strangest about the phone calls during the first deployment was that they always made me cry when we hung up. I would literally hold my breath for weeks at a time, waiting on the next phone call and then, in an instant, the call was over. No matter how wonderful the call had been, I would find myself crying my eyes out. It took me awhile to understand this reaction but I finally figured out that it was simply knowing that it would now be another long and uncertain amount of time awaiting the next call. I needed something to look forward to, and for that moment, a phone call wasn’t in the near future. The realization that I had no control over when the phone calls would take place was tough to handle. With very few phone booths or cell towers in the desert, I was left with no choice but to wait for my son to return from his latest mission outside the wire.
With each deployment, I learned to be a little less dependent on the phone calls. I learned to share my son with others and in my mind, I relaxed my unwritten rules allowing others to receive his phone calls prior to his making one to me. I trained myself to be happy, not jealous, when he made a call to someone other than me, and I learned to let go just a little bit more than I had the time before.
It’s hard to break bad habits, but I’m taking baby steps and making progress. I sometimes allow my phone battery to wear down. When I’m in the shower, I leave the phone on the counter, all the way across the bathroom so it’s out of my reach, and just the other day, I drove fifteen minutes from my house before I realized that I did not have my cell phone with me. I immediately broke into a cold sweat. That overwhelming feeling of panic set in and I nearly stopped breathing. I started to scream, “WHERE IS MY CELL PHONE?” but then I remembered that my son wasn’t even deployed. I reasoned with myself, and even though the car was already in position to take the u-turn, I forced myself to keep moving forward.