If you want to read the beginning of this story, Floating to the Ground, check out (in this order, on previous posts): Prelude, Measure 1, Measure 2, and Measure 3.
Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you Measure 4:
Today was the day.
That’s how it hit me. Finality. Norman was scheduled to leave at 4:00 p.m. Since this was his departure for The Assignment, he was allowed to have immediate family and up to five close friends attend The Ceremony of Service. His buddies came and talked to him before I got there; I was an hour late because my boss wouldn’t let me off in time. It worked out though; it gave us more alone time before he had to leave. The Ceremony of Service…what can I say? When people leave for The Assignment, Confed. 7 likes to show off, I mean, showcase “the dedication, honor, and loyalty” of their citizens who are about to deploy. Since it is not a typical day-to-day military travel situation, it is gets celebrated. There’s music, a large party, fireworks for night departures or fly-bys for day departures. Usually at least one dignitary from the Confederation attends The Ceremony of Service as well (The Minister of Service or The Commander of The Confederation). I guess this is all supposed to generate public support for the government and their mandatory military service. I wasn’t feeling celebratory or supportive.
I wore tan heels with Norman’s favorite dress: a sleeveless, dark green short gown with a hemline above my knees—I wanted to look good for him, and I also wore it to trick myself into feeling better; if I looked good, then I felt good, at least a little. The band played in the background: trumpet, trombone, percussion, and flute. First, they played “Anthem of Confederation Seven.” When I was a girl I loved that song; it always reminded me of summer picnics in the park with my family. Now it felt like a funeral dirge, regardless of its tempo. It was the sardonic reminder that Norman was owned; his life was on a short countdown to being held hostage.
Fortunately, the songs changed to popular tunes—it was a welcome distraction from the façade of ceremony inflicted upon us.
“Are you nervous, Norman?” We were exactly forty minutes from take-off. I could hear other couples around us having similar conversations. I wondered how long each had been together, how many were married, and how many had the same reaction as us when they found out the service was now two years, instead of one.
“I don’t think nervous is the word. I’m angry, but I’m doing what I know to do. I smile when they need me to, say ‘Yes, Sir’ or ‘Yes, Ma’am’ when I’m expected to. How are you doing?”
“I guess I feel kind of the same way. I can’t believe that you’re leaving today. I don’t want this time we’ve had together to end. I want to be your wife; I want you to be my husband; I want us to live with privacy, with real security, with true happiness, not what Confed. 7 says will make us happy. I’m not excited that you’re leaving; I love you. But I don’t want you to talk about how to…change this.”
At that, the music changed to, of all things, a slow love song. This didn’t help, but Norman went with it and lightened the mood a little bit by grabbing my hands and bringing me in for a dance twirl. I started laughing because I wasn’t expecting it; it was like a moment of freedom. I love that about Norman. He’s thoughtful and caring, and at just the right time, he’s spontaneous, sometimes playful.
When the song was over we kissed; he held me there until the loudspeaker blared, “Five minute warning for pre-departure boarding.” That immediately extinguished the mood. I looked at Norman and started wiping the tears that were coming against my will. “Two years,” escaped my lips before I even realized I wasn’t just thinking that to myself.” Shannon and Linda, Norman’s mom and sister, cut in and started hugging Norman and telling him how much they loved him and would miss him. Shannon apologized for both of them, for just jumping in between us. I felt a little pushed away by them, but I know them; I know they didn’t mean it. With about a minute and a half before he had to walk to the plane, Norman escaped from them, took my hands in his, looked me in the eyes and said, “I love you. I will be back,” and then he kissed me one more time. I couldn’t stop crying, no matter how much assurance he offered me. He was leaving.
“I love you so much, Norman. I already miss you. Contact me as soon as you arrive.”
“I will.” Jon, his buddy also on The Assignment, was suddenly shaking Norman’s shoulder saying, “Come on. We have to go!” They had already given the final call, but we were so distracted that neither of us heard it. The after call hadn’t been given yet, but Jon didn’t want Norman to get in trouble before he even got on the plane.
“It’s time” were the last words Norman said to me before getting on that plane. I didn’t want to let go. And just like when we first knew we loved each other, all we could do was look into each other’s eyes, love with outstretched souls, and temporarily live there in that moment as he walked away. As soon as we had to look away, I ran. I ran through the crowd of people until I could find a somewhat secluded place to wait for the plane to take off.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please show your allegiance and happiness for the good of our servicemen and women as the plane prepares for take-off.” At that we were expected to wave to the plane as it taxied down the runway till take off, while the band played another round of “Anthem of Confederation Seven.” For four long minutes, I stood up, clapped, cheered, and waved; then I wiped away more tears as I walked away. ~Marcia