“Homecoming” by Amanda Egloff

I was coming home from a four-month deployment aboard the USS Enterprise. Despite the cold steel, ever present funky smells of jet fuel and human bodies, I felt comfortable and at home with my people aboard the ship.  I was flying directly off the ship, from the coast of Virginia and back to Florida, where I was stationed with my squadron. I wasn’t particularly excited to go back to Florida, a place I hadn’t come from. I was unmarried, had no boyfriend and no friends outside of work. I was the only girl in my shop, and I didn’t want to be a tag along to the guys.

My friends were my cohorts, but most had wives and kids; some luckily had family nearby. After the homecoming, I stood alone by my possessions and waited for my ride, a friend of a friend, to fetch me. She arrived with a big smile, but unsure of what to say.  I was grateful to have a person here for me. We got into her car. I was worried that I smelled like the boat, so I rolled down a window. Instead of trying to make conversation, she filled the time steering and just scanning through the radio stations. Neither of us made a decision about what to listen to. We uncomfortably suffered the radio scanning sounds for a solid fifteen minutes of: country, rock, country, NPR, country, easy listening. Eventually we arrived at my place.

The apartment was dim in the afternoon light, colorless, with the curtains shut and blinds closed. My stuff was still there, in neat pristine order, but less inviting than I remembered. The air smelled stale. It was dusty. I had left a box of chocolates on my counter for my future self — this wasn’t my first rodeo. I placed the box on the coffee table. I could see by the light in the fish tank that it hadn’t been properly cleaned for some time, but all the fish had survived thanks to the fish feeder. I thanked my ride for picking me up and taking me home. I asked if I could buy her dinner as thanks. I awkwardly smiled. She politely declined, because it was Valentine’s Day. She and her boyfriend had big plans. I’d forgotten it was February. I must have lost track of time on the boat. The calendar by the front door said November with a Post-It note attached reminding me to pick up the dry cleaning before I left for the boat. Did I pick it up? I couldn’t remember.

I stood around, disoriented.  Should I take off my boots? I hadn’t forgotten how to take off my uniform, but I didn’t know whether I should. I looked at the clock. Was it right? I couldn’t remember if I had left before or after Daylight Savings. The clock on the oven was blinking zeros; must have lost power one of those days I was away. Crappy dated appliance with one front burner that didn’t work. I scanned the 600 square feet of my life. I had electricity, a washer and dryer, and a TV with DVD player. So, I had something to do, but did I have something to eat?

The condiments in the fridge looked sad when I saw them. Red and yellow, but no real color in the fluorescent light. They were probably expired, I thought, but no one throws out ketchup and mustard. The Brita pitcher was empty. Could water evaporate in the fridge? The freezer was no more inviting: half-full ice trays, half-empty frozen bag of vegetables. Did I think at some point that I would finish off a bag of frozen peas and carrots and maybe some Tater Tots covered in an Antarctic-like frost? Crap, I remembered, I missed Christmas.

I stared at my DVD collection. I decided to sit down in my uniform onto my gray-brown, scratchy couch. I noticed that the coffee table book about Paris had an unbroken spine, still not looked at. I set the remote control next to the box of candy and noticed the dust that formed around the outline of where the remote control used to sit. I put it back down. I picked up my box of chocolates and just thought about which one to eat while I looked at a blank television screen.

Amanda Egloff is a retired United States Navy Nurse, also prior enlisted Aviation Rescue Swimmer. She deployed aboard the USS Enterprise with HS-11 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. She is currently a UCSF PhD Nursing student studying human and systems error in healthcare.