Until I watched people die on live television on the morning of 9/11, I'd have told you I knew exactly where my life was headed. I held my newborn, and my husband and I decided I would not return to teaching until we'd spent time together as a new family of three. In every way, the terrorists who brought death to our shores also changed our plans, despite the fact that I watched it unfold from the safety of a Florida living room.
We waited for the phone call I knew we'd soon get: My husband, an intelligence specialist and Navy Reservist, would be called to active duty. The phone rang as I watched the first tower fall, so many dreams and lives and futures falling with it. I prayed ours wouldn't be among them.
Until then, the Reserves were a monthly commitment, as far as I was concerned -- nothing more.
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My husband left before our son was old enough to sit upright. Thankfully, he was able to visit during those years, although he admits he doesn't remember much of that little baby who did so much growing up without him. His orders didn't end until two years later, after the birth of our second child.
During those years, our lives centered on the war on terror. After we sold our home and I moved to be close to family in Gainesville, Fla., I encountered a different sort of fight.
War on the homefront
During the first two years after the attacks on 9/11, Gainesville was not an entirely friendly place to live, particularly because the anti-war sentiment ran so strong and so intensely there. More than once, prayer ribbon magnets mysteriously vanished from my car. Once, two college students spit on my car from the next lane over at a stoplight, apparently in protest of the "Pray for our Troops" appeal I'd chalked onto the back window. Until the rain washed them away, I left both messages on my car.
On the other hand, more than one kind stranger asked me to thank my husband for his service, which more than made up for the occasional hatefulness.
As soon as my husband's orders ended, he moved us to Tampa, where he was hired as a government contractor and doing much the same work.
Tampa's where we stayed. With MacDill Air Force Base nearby, my husband, still in the Reserves and now a naval officer, spent most of his time helping the cause, if not always from home.
When our third child was baptized, her daddy held her in his Navy dress whites.
Home and dry
Our family has grown, as has the big picture. My husband's civilian and Navy orders frequently take him to dangerous places; for this reason, I'm still afraid of those phone calls.
My children have only ever known a life that centered on the war on terror. It may go by different monikers now, but the theme is the same. My husband's job changed forever, as did our family, even before the first tower fell. When we celebrate Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries depends largely on the needs of the Navy and the Department of Defense -- and that's all right. It's defined us as a family. In countless ways, it's made us less selfish, stronger and more appreciative.
And more than anything else, I never take a day together for granted.