It was finally the day. He was coming home from a year long deployment to Syria and Iraq. So naturally I vacuumed the house, wiped dusty baseboards, cleaned both cat boxes, swished the toilets, and corralled loose, scattered toys into baskets downstairs. I had flowers on the coffee table and new guest towels folded in thirds in the bathroom. I had recently ordered a box of vintage Waterford wine glasses, so I took off the stickers and hung them in the china cabinet. I was a grownup, damn it, and determined to look like I was pulling it off. Forget that just a few days prior I found hopelessly stale and hardened pieces of chocolate chip waffle under the couch, often spent depressed mornings sleeping in jeans under a pink, fluffy afghan, and that I got to the point that buying a whole new stove seemed vastly preferable to attempting to clean the dried gunk puddles around the gas burners. I was going to do this. It was going to be a happy day. I had patriotic mylar star balloons that read “Welcome Back!” and spent fifty dollars on a single layer, round chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting from the fancy bakery on 17th Street. I realized I needed to leave a bit more time for getting ready, more than my usual routine of topping braided, unwashed hair with a gray denim radar cap. So that morning I showered, curled just the ends of my hair, and wore smudgy, purple eyeliner. Prepared, organized women have time for eyeliner.
The kids were up early as usual. I was so focused on frantic, last minute cleaning that I didn’t technically feed them breakfast and felt a little guilty about it. I stepped around their board game on the floor and noticed my youngest was eating honey dijon potato chips from a wooden bowl. I reminded them to eat strong food, trying to remember if I still had a bag of organic cinnamon graham crackers in the console of the Jeep, as I circled the room gathering napkins and an armload of things that belonged elsewhere. My eight-year-old looked like she was ready for the floor show, dressed in a silver and black sequined shirt with only one transparent long sleeve, black tights under shorts, and a glittery stars and striped top hat. My youngest wore his red shirt that said “Remember Everyone Deployed” in large letters over a picture of a Blackhawk helicopter. Of course it was raining in Portland that morning. We donned our hoods, loaded the balloons in the car, and headed for the airport.