One year, ten months, and two weeks.
That is how long I have been away from home. Deployed. Overseas. It felt like an eternity.
But now I am on my way from the airport. Finally. Oh, how I cannot wait to hold my wife again.
And meet our little boy.
Ben was born about eight months after I left. We did not even know Becky was pregnant when I was shipping out.
With a bouquet of flowers in hand, I knock on the door. I have the key, but this is our routine. It has been since I deployed for the first time. I would knock, and Becky would come running. She would throw her hands around my neck and cover me with kisses. It was much better than walking in and looking around the house for her. Sometimes, she would be wearing something extra sexy, and we would end up in the bedroom before I could say a single word. Our greeting routine is a part of the reason why I love coming back home so much.
I wait. There is no answer. No squealing from behind the door. I check the time and then turn around to see if maybe she ran out to the store. While I am about half an hour early, her white Beetle is parked right in front of our home.
I knock again.
"It's open!" I hear from somewhere inside the house.
For a moment, I hesitate, but then I place my hand on the doorknob and twist it to the right.
"Is she throwing me a 'Welcome back!' party?" I wonder, trying to remember if I ever told Becky I hated those.
I enter, holding my breath, waiting for a bunch of people to jump from behind the couches and yell: "Surprise!" but that does not happen. The living room is rearranged. The coffee table is gone, and the couches are pushed against the walls. "Looks good—more room. Spacious," I think to myself and nod. Although, I do wonder where I will be able to put my feet up when we are watching a movie, now that the table is gone. Some toys and blankets are scattered on and around the couches. "It adds life to the place. Pizzazz, maybe," I muse, unsure of whether I am using the word "pizzazz" correctly.
"Becky?" I call out after a few moments of looking around the house.
"I'm coming," she answers from upstairs.
My mind starts racing. "What does she have on?" I try to guess, and a smile creeps onto my face. Lifting my head, I look at my wife walking down the stairs.
Her wavy, long, blond hair is up in a bun. And not in a proper one like the ones of ice skaters or gymnasts. While most of her hair is sitting on top of her head, it looks like a few strands have escaped the hair tie prison and are now hanging loosely from all sides. Becky pushes her lower lid slightly forward and blows, hoping to get a few hairs out of her eyes.
She is wearing one of my plain white sweatshirts. "Oh, she really must have missed me," I think, and begin to feel a little warmer inside. Becky is also wearing a pair of black sweatpants. I scratch my chin and look at my watch. 10:00am. She cannot just be waking up. Plus, she knew I was coming. She never missed my arrival before.
My gaze travels to what she is holding in her hands.
"Meet Daddy," Becky says, interrupting my assessment of her.
As I return to reality, I see a baby. Actually, the baby is all I see. It is so close to my face. It smells of baby powder and... poop. Ewww.
"It's OK. You can hold him. Don't worry. He used to be much smaller when he first got here," Becky says and chuckles.
Trying to free my hands for the baby, I hand the flowers to Becky, but she cocks her head and motions towards the couch. No: "These are gorgeous!" No: "Thank you!" No kiss. I almost toss the bouquet onto the couch and grab the baby that starts wailing the moment I pull it closer to me.
"How do people know who the baby resembles?" I wonder, looking at the non-defined jaw of my son.
I poke his tiny nose, and he stops screaming. I decide to move my arms from left to right and back in hopes that he falls asleep, and Becky and I can have some privacy.
"Awesome. You're a natural. You've got this!" Becky says and turns towards the stairs.
She turns around with one foot on the first step. I think I see a sassy glimmer in her eyes.
"I'm going to shower real quick, and then I will show you how to change his diaper. Now that you're back, that's going to be your task," she announces and climbs the stairs without waiting for any sort of a reply.
While the TV takes a moment to boot up, I take my shoes off and look for a place to put my feet up. No luck. So I spread out on the couch with the baby in one hand and the remote in the other. A cartoon channel comes on, and I roll my eyes. Today's cartoons are nothing compared to the ones I grew up with. Becky always agreed with that. It makes me wonder why she was watching them with our child, turning his brain into mush.
Becky... I realize that I still did not hug or kiss my wife. And I have been home for over half an hour. Hearing the water in the shower stop, I smile to myself. She is nice and clean, ready to put on something fancy for us to go out and get breakfast.
To my surprise, Becky comes down wearing an over-sized T-shirt and a grey pair of sweats. Her hair is still dripping.
The baby begins to make noise. He must have sensed that Mommy was near. I always perk up when Becky is nearby. Like father, like son.
But Becky does not grab Ben, she leaves him in my arms and motions me to follow her upstairs. I cannot help but blush.
Upstairs, our bedroom is barely recognizable. Where our chest of drawers used to be, now, there is a changing station. A crib stands in the middle of the room. I want to ask Becky where I can find my socks now, but I decide against it. Socks are not a day one discussion.
I lay the baby, who is now kicking and screaming, down on the table and take a step back to give Becky more room to work with.
"Oh, no. I've been doing this by myself for far too long. Now, it's your time to learn," Becky says, folding her hands.
"Do you want to go out to breakfast after this, or do you just want to Netflix and chill?" I ask and wink.
"I had some oatmeal already. I was hoping to take a nap as you take care of Ben. I was up all night," Becky says as she points first towards the baby wipes and then towards the baby oil.
After changing the diaper, I am delegated downstairs, and Becky stays in the bedroom to take a nap.
Downstairs, on the sofa, I look at my son's hazel eyes.
How things change... I gained a son but lost a wife...