Dave and I had been friends for more than six years before we finally saw what all of our family and friends had seen all along; we were a great fit as a couple. Having consoled and supported each other through numerous failed relationships, we were happy to have finally settled into happily-married life. Now, with Mason, we were looking forward to happily-married-family-life.
On November 4, 2003 Dave got “the call.” Dave is a longtime member of the California Army National Guard, and he was being deployed to Iraq. I don’t remember another time that I felt such a horrible mix of emotions, all at the same time I was feeling as proud as I had ever felt. You see, my family had a very long line of military service, all the way back to my great grandfather, so I was extremely proud of Dave to serve our country. When it came right down to it, it was clear that Dave would go to Iraq, I would stay home and take care of Mason, and we would find a way to get through this very difficult time.
The first five months of the eighteen month deployment were stateside for training. Mason and I stayed in California while Dave trained in the cold, snowy conditions at Ft. Lewis, Washington. While we were adjusting to the separation that was only going to grow farther apart, I kept trying to come up with some kind of thing we could do to help count down the days to what we hoped would be Dave’s safe return home. I knew I would send lots of cards and letters but there had to be something more we could do to make this fun, meaningful and give Dave some way to gauge how soon he could return to his new family in California. Some families make a paper chain with each link representing a day, and then decorating with the completed chain for the welcome home. Others mark “Xs” on the squares on the calendar to see the days go by. I just wanted something more interactive, something we could do together.
Standing in line at the post office to buy postage stamps, I saw them; Postcards of the fifty United States stamps. This is perfect I thought to myself. There are fifty states and just about that many weeks in a year. One postcard mailed on the same day each week will arrive on a regular basis, giving Dave something to look forward to. With a personal, loving note from me on one side, and a reminder of each state back home that he is in Iraq representing and protecting, this was my answer.
When Dave received the first card, Alabama, I had written about how I would love to visit Alabama with him when he returned home. I referenced something “little known” about the state and reminded him he only had forty-nine more weeks to go. The next week he found Alaska, then Arkansas, and Arizona after that. On every card I wrote about something we could do or see when we would visit that state, and then there was a reminder about how appreciative we as Americans are, in every state, for every one of our men and women serving to keep us safe back home.
I can’t recall exactly when, but not long after the alphabetical pattern had become clear, I received an e-mail that simply read, “Waiting on Wyoming. I love you. Love Dave.” It worked! Dave was looking forward to mail call and looking for his next postcard. I was sending other cards and letters, but it was the postcards of the United States that were decorating the fabric of the inside of his tent. While other families were marking off days on a calendar, Dave was marking off states with a black marker on a small map. On that map was a very clear focal point, a big red heart circling the state of Wyoming with the words “waiting on Wyoming” written in small letters.
On February 1, 2005, Dave and his unit were frantically packing and preparing for the long trip home. Nobody was thinking about mail and was far less concerned about letters, and more concerned with getting all the details signed off so they could process out of Iraq and back into America. As Dave hurried to take care of his administrative business, he slipped away to the mail tent. He found his last bundle of mail he would receive in Iraq and through several other pieces of mail, he found it, like a bright spot of sunshine, the colorful little card reading, in big letters across the front, “WYOMING.” With a big smile and a sense of pride, he put the card in his pocket and finished his work.
More than a year later, while unpacking a box he had shipped home, he came across the rubber-banded bundle of postcards. He pulled them out and shared with me what they meant to him. He told me that not only did he enjoy the game, but more importantly, he felt the sense of pride and responsibility that a Soldier feels with regard to protecting our Country. He said he just couldn’t come home without Wyoming. Knowing he had all fifty of his states, he was ready to return home to his happily-married-family-life.