During deployments we have an abundant amount of time to romanticize the day we will arrive home. Will our loved ones be there? What will it feel like to hold them in our arms? It wasn’t until my fifth deployment that I allowed myself to build up fantasies of the perfect homecoming. The embrace of loved ones seemed as if it would overcome any hardship time could hand us. Finally, I was going to feel that embrace.
It was mid-February when I arrived home. On the bus ride, I could hear troops chatter; the anticipation was palpable. Our eyes were screening the dark horizon, hoping for any signs of familiarity. I purposefully busied myself with arranging the logistics of arrival to not allow myself to be overcome by visions of my welcoming bride. I needed the vision to become a reality.
In an effort to make the homecoming memorable, the command had orchestrated a grandiose entrance. We would march into the airplane hanger, like triumphant Spartan warriors returning from battle. Standing in formation, I looked down the rows of Marines: some Marines were straightening their uniforms, others were straining to get glimpses of loved ones in the distance, while some stood silently, knowing there was no one waiting for them.
We started marching into view, and the applause grew louder. We swelled with pride. Our chests rose higher, our heels drove harder, and we moved with a swagger. The glow of the lights illuminated the setting. I could see parents, spouses, children, and fellow Marines clapping and waving. The sight of all these people stirred me, and I responded to the cadence louder than before.
I scanned the room in desperate search of her. My eyes darted frantically until they found her. She was wearing her turquoise down jacket, the one with the small hole in the wrist from which feathers would escape. This was a jacket I knew well, from which feathers would escape. I often saw her trying to push the feathers back in, as if she were worried that someday all the feathers would be gone. As she stood there, searching for me in the formation, her hand picked at the feathers on her sleeve in a nervous fashion. Then her eyes found mine. She smiled, and her hand relaxed and fell to her side. I knew the embrace I had longed for was soon to come. It would be nothing I had imagined. It would be so much more.
Jeffry Eichler transferred in the fall of 2018 from San Diego Mesa College to UC Davis, where he is an environmental toxicology major with a planned graduation date of June 2021. He retired in 2016 from the Marine Corps. While in the Marine Corps he worked in various aviation maintenance roles as well as enlisted recruiting and officer selection positions.