Category: Me and Keith

What Happened on October 8, 2011

A Big Move

Tuesday evening, I went out for a much-needed dinner and margarita with a close girlfriend. When I came home and walked in the front door, the living room was completely empty. My stomach instantly twisted into a knot.

Keith had simply moved all of the furniture while I was out because we were having the carpets professionally cleaned the next day. But walking into that empty living room brought back memories of how my last two homes had looked just before we moved—stark, bare, and void of all the love we had put into them. It was a preview of what the house will look like eight months from now, when we walk out of it for the last time.

For those of you who don’t yet know, we have some big news—next summer, we’ll be moving to the Los Angeles area for one year while Keith completes a fellowship at the Rand Arroyo Center in Santa Monica. The following summer, we’ll pack up our lives once again and head to our nation’s capital, where Keith will spend the next three years working at the Pentagon.

I know I use the word “bittersweet” quite a bit on this blog, but that’s just what these next two moves will be for us—bittersweet. On the one hand, we are moving to incredibly awesome places that we both love and know well. Keith is from LA and we’ve visited it tons of times, and we also fell in love with DC when he was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia for a year. Also, though Colorado Springs is gorgeous and I’ve made some great friends here whom I will miss dearly, it’s no secret that I’ve been hankering to get back to big-city living (and to the beach). And, I am beyond thrilled that we’ll be a relatively short drive from New York once we’re in DC, so we’ll no longer have to miss family functions or go long stretches without seeing family and friends.

Despite all of those wonderful things, this move will be different from the last few. This time, we have our twins, and our house is not just another house. This is where we took the twins home from the hospital for the first time. This is the living room where they took their first tentative steps. There is the spot in front of the fireplace where each morning they find—and gleefully knock down—a new Mega Bloks tower that Keith built for them the night before. Here is the corner Nate likes to sneak off to with his precious board books. And down in the basement is the playroom, which houses the wall on which Matthew decided to create his latest crayon masterpiece.

In other words, this was our twins’ first home, and leaving it will not be easy. But we know they’ll be excited to have new homes to explore and make new memories in.

Matt and Nate’s first home!

Then there are the logistics of the move. Moving is a lot of work under any circumstances, and moving with young children is even harder. Packing, moving, unpacking, packing, and moving again within a year—all with young children—is downright scary. It is definitely just another aspect of Army life, though. Nearly every other Army spouse to whom I’ve complained has just shrugged her shoulders and said something like, “Oh, yeah, one of those yearlong moves,” as if it’s as routine as a trip to the grocery store. And I guess in the Army, it is.

Some of the wives have told me they didn’t bother unpacking most of their stuff during the short moves. Others said they sucked it up and unpacked every single thing and hung every picture. I think we’re going to do something in the middle. We’ll keep some of our things stored in boxes (like most of our winter clothes—yay!) and unpack the things we use often (like all of the boys’ toys). We’ll certainly decorate to make our next place feel like home, despite how short of a time we’ll live there. The stuff that stays packed, as well as some furniture, may have to go to a storage unit, as we’ll likely have to downsize for the year in pricey LA.

The other bittersweet part of it—for Keith, mostly, but also partially for me—is that these next two assignments will take Keith to his 20th year in the Army, when he can retire. That means he currently has what could be his last job in the “real” Army—meaning in an actual combat arms unit and not in a specialized gig like the Pentagon. After spending more than 15 years in the “real” Army, that will surely be difficult for him to stomach. As for me, I’m not going to lie—it will be nice to say goodbye to field time and deployments and potentially long hours. But it is also weird to think I will no longer see him in his ACUs (the traditional camouflage uniform). Because the sense of pride you feel when your husband or wife walks through the door in his or her uniform, and when you see his or her combat boots next to the front door, can only be understood by other military spouses.

In any case, this move is going to be a great adventure for all of us, and I am so proud of Keith for being selected for this competitive fellowship. He will be doing great things for the Army and working on things he is passionate about. And, with three Purple Hearts received during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he has certainly done his part. He can feel proud of everything he has done—and will continue to do—to help make this country a safer place for all of us. I know I do!

Honoring Heroes

October 8 marked the one-year anniversary of that horrible day when Keith got shot in Afghanistan. One year since we lost two great Americans, U.S. Army captains Josh Lawrence and Drew Russell. One year since our lives changed profoundly.

We didn’t do anything special on Monday. The twins, who were only 3 ½ months old when it happened and are now rambunctious nearly-16-month-olds, were getting over a stomach bug, which Keith had caught from them. So, we just hung out at home together. We spoke to Josh’s wife and Drew’s parents, who have now become like family to us, on the phone. We talked a lot about Drew and Josh, trying for the millionth time not to ask, “Why?” And we took a moment to thank God for letting us have this otherwise ordinary day together.

On July 4, 2011, Keith held each of our sleeping two-week-old boys for what we thought would be the last time for seven months, when he could get home for R&R. Neither of us voiced our underlying fears. It was such a bittersweet time: the overwhelming love and joy that came with being new parents, coupled with the deep sadness and anxiety about having to be separated. I have no idea how Keith held it together when he got on that plane. I have no idea how any service member holds it together when they leave their families. Their strength astounds me.

4:30 AM on July 4, 2011: Moments before Keith left for Afghanistan

The next three months were a blur for both of us. We were both sleep-deprived; he from the rigors of deployment and me from taking care of two newborns. It sucked, and it was hard, but it seemed to be going by fairly quickly.

And then October 8 happened, and everything changed. On this very day last year, Keith was lying in a hospital bed in Landstuhl, Germany. I was at my parents’ house in New York with the babies, wanting desperately to see my husband. Then Keith was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

On October 15, the babies and I traveled to Walter Reed and saw Keith for the first time in over three months. The tiny newborns Keith had left were now smiling, bouncing infants with unique personalities. It was an overwhelming moment: We were full of relief and happiness, but also sadness and anger at what had brought us back together so soon.

Our bittersweet reunion—that’s Keith’s sister, Pat!

Keith spent the next three weeks at Walter Reed. It was a humbling experience for both of us. Keith’s injuries were in no way minor: he’d had several surgeries, was in a great deal of pain, and had a long recovery ahead of him. But he was by far one of the healthiest patients in the hospital. His neighbors were double and triple amputees. I’d help Keith slowly hobble down the hallway with his walker, and they’d zoom by us on their prosthetic limbs, strong and smiling and determined. I met some of their wives, whose incredible optimism and sunny dispositions inspired me. I still feel amazed at having been in the presence of such heroes. They are some of America’s greatest.

We headed back home to Colorado on November 9. We spent the next several months bonding as a family; Keith getting to know his boys again. He had endless doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. Sometimes he’d talk about what happened, and sometimes he didn’t want to. I’d listen and try to help him work through his feelings. Sometimes he’d do the same for me. When he showed me his blood-spattered wallet, and the sandwich bag containing the babies’ little socks and bib that he was carrying in his left pocket for good luck when the bullet tore through his leg, it really hit me how close we’d come to losing him.

One year later, Keith has come a long way in his healing and acceptance of what happened. Physically, he still does not have all of the nerve function back in his leg, and we don’t yet know if he ever will. It frustrates him that he can’t run as fast as he used to, and that he still can’t do certain exercises. But I think the fact that he holds himself to the same standards of physical fitness as his peers is commendable.

His emotional healing has been a lot harder. He misses Drew and Josh. He still wonders why they were lost and he was not. He still sometimes struggles with survivor’s guilt. But as the saying goes, “Don’t put a question mark where God has put a period.” That’s easier said than done.

What Keith doesn’t realize, but I can say for sure, is this:  Every day, Keith honors Drew and Josh’s sacrifice by being the best father, husband, and soldier I know. We’ll never know for sure why he’s been given more time on this Earth, but we sure are not going to waste a single moment of it. We will dedicate ourselves to helping others, and to helping make this world a better place. It is amazing how tragedies like these can give you a much-needed dose of perspective, and a much deeper appreciation for your friends and loved ones.

Help us honor Captain Josh Lawrence and Captain Drew Russell, who made the ultimate sacrifice to help protect us and our great nation, by being the best person you can be.