YOU

When we first met, some 35 years ago, I was so pregnant with my first baby, I resembled an overstuffed couch. I'd forsaken style when I couldn't reach around my own belly to shave my legs, sporting enough hair to scrape clean a BBQ grill. You, having just sold a million dollar house, crossed our threshold like a runway-model, tall and confident, pivoting on heels resembling knitting needles. You warmly embraced me and I caught the subtle scent of an exotic perfume. The last fragrance I'd worn came from a flap ripped from a waiting-room magazine. “I'm so envious,” you whispered midst a cheek peck. “You look amazing.” I wanted to find fault in you, something ugly. Unfortunately, we had to get along. Our husbands were loyal friends having just returned from months serving on an aircraft carrier. I loved my husband enough to oblige. Besides, you cursed, gossiped, and fiercely loved your man, instantly winning me over. That afternoon, we sat in my kitchen with the government-issued paperwork before us. Form-DD193 was a mandatory document for married officers and signing it meant one of us would be present at notification time should the other's husband get killed-in-action. While the guys watched football in the den, you and I discussed a contract where we'd bear witness to the other's worst nightmare. Before signing, you took my hands in yours. “You need to understand something.” Your eyes were sharp and sincere. “If Ken dies, I'll know. I'll simply get his gun and pull the trigger.” I gasped. Then, you made me promise never to tell a sole. In utter shock, I nodded. After releasing my hands, you flamboyantly scratched your signature on DD193 and grinned as though you'd just sold me a duplex. That afternoon, we passed across bits of ourselves like poker chips. Enamored by your every word, something more than my baby swelled inside me. It was the seedling of our friendship. In time, you confided you couldn't have children. I simply had no words. The more I understood you, the more you both fascinated and troubled me. Killing myself wasn't an option because I was a mom, but what if I wasn't? Did my not wanting to take that eternal journey with Jimmy mean I loved him less than you loved Ken? Or did it mean I loved myself more than I loved Jimmy? At 23 years old, I hadn't a clue. In many waning hours, I imagined what I'd do if I got 'that' call. Would I physically restrain you? I'd have a small advantage over you in your stilettos, but I couldn't hang on to you like a chimp forever. I once asked if you even knew how to shoot a gun. “Don't need to know when the only target is in my own mouth.” While our husbands deployed to foreign lands over the years, you and I ran the gamut of emotions. I came to understand that you missed Ken more than I had room to miss Jimmy. You and I survived Thanksgivings and Christmases together without our husbands.You held my hand when I gave birth the second time and stayed with me until Jimmy returned. You were the catalyst for my return to grad school. After years of friendship, our husbands were being transferred to opposite American coasts. We spent our last Sunday together, laughing and relaxing on deck chairs, avoiding conversation about our impending separation, but it loomed large. The following morning, Jimmy left before dawn for his last two week deployment and I was exhausted but rendered wide awake. I distracted myself with moving preparations, avoiding thoughts of going months, perhaps even years, without seeing you. By mid-afternoon, fatigue hit me like a tranquilizer dart and I laid down with the boys for a delicious nap. The phone woke me and I answered but heard only dial-tone. Sometime later, my fuzzy brain registered the doorbell ringing. I slid from the bed and jogged down the stairs, not wanting the boys to be startled awake. I opened the door to find five or six officers in dress uniforms standing before me. For a second, I was confused until the pieces quickly fell into place. I had to go with them to tell you Ken was gone. “He's dead, isn't he?” I grabbed the door frame. I had prepared for this, certainly thought about it more than the average military wife. I stifled a sob; there would be time to cry later. I took a deep breath. I had to do this for you. “What about my boys? I can't leave them here alone.” “We can help you with your sons, madam.” The tallest of the men looked uneasy in his stiff jacket as he gestured towards an impeccable, uniformed woman I hadn't noticed. “Ms. Louise is a child psychologist. She'll stay as long as you need.” Dazedly reassured, I shifted focus. I would share your plan with these professionals. Hell with betrayal, I knew what was about to unfold and it terrified me. I closed my eyes and shook my head. I prayed I was still dreaming but when I opened my eyes the officers were still there. They slowly parted as if on cue. That was when I saw you.

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