As the plane descended, I was struck by how green everything looked. Just a week ago, flying over the desert of Iraq, the only color was brown sand. The green below didn’t look real. As the plane began to taxi to the terminal, I again noticed the differences of home. The runway concrete wasn’t cracked or full of potholes. The grass was freshly mowed. The plane lurched to a stop at the terminal, and seat belts clicked open. I began to sweat and my heart raced.
I was afraid to get off the plane.
America will start coming home from a deployment soon. This deployment was unlike any I’d experience in the military. In response to COVID, we’d deployed to our homes, rather than to Iraq or Afghanistan. Like a deployment, our daily routines of work, school, and activities were replaced with routines at home. We got new jobs as teachers, chefs, guidance counselors, and fitness instructors, while often continuing to work but from a new office.
Like a deployment, we had moments of anger and despair as well as happiness and laughing. There were countless hours of sheer boredom. Some people worked out a lot while others put on the pounds. Our uniforms were masks and we learned to know, just by feel, a 6 foot distance. Slowly, over time, we adapted to our deployed surroundings.
Redeployment begins this Fall as many people start coming home. Unlike military deployments, coming home will actually mean leaving home. The drive to the office, the walk to school — these things that were once so routine we barley noticed — will now be new and unfamiliar.
Today I stand at the threshold of the plane and wonder if I can step off.
I watch other people for signs about how to feel about all of this. I’m questioning why I feel different. Some passengers are dashing for the door, eager for things to get back to normal. Others hesitate, unsure about normal and not yet ready to go home. I find myself judging both those who sprint or those who freeze.
The weight of the first step is heavy. For many, this will be the hardest single step they’ve ever taken. Deciding to come home is a choice. It is one that must be made by each individual. Some people might take years to choose. Others will step easily back into life. A few might never return, remaining trapped in a deployment they cannot leave.
As I steady my breathing and slow my racing heart, the challenges of my past fortify me in the present. I’ve stood here before, wavering in face the obstacles thrown at me in life, work, or school. Recently, just deciding whether to get a haircut made me pause.
The plane has brought me home from home a COVID deployment, but I am not back yet. With one more steadying breath, I make the choice and step off the plane. I am coming home, one step at a time.