I was returning home from Iwakuni, Japan, where I had been working as an aviation maintenance supervisor. My six-month deployment had been mentally taxing and endlessly tedious. I’d like to say that after returning from this six-month deployment, I was feeling like I was coming back to where I belonged, and that my family, friends, peers, and veterans organizations would be there to welcome me with literal and figurative open arms.
But unfortunately that was not my story. Sitting on the plane, waiting to disembark, it felt as if time had stopped. Anxiously I sat looking out the window waiting to breathe the cool San Diego air. Exhausted from the grueling fifteen-hour plane trip, I was sore from head to toe, having been cramped up for hours. My legs throbbed from the boot bands that wrapped around my ankles tightly, tucking in the sharp cuffs of my camouflage trousers. My back ached from sleeping and leaning over the food tray. My eyes were bloodshot. I was tired, yet awake, and exhausted from the seventeen-hour time change.
Although it was ten o’clock at night, I saw families standing outside, impatiently waiting for us as they waved their signs with admiration and love for their Marines. Most of the troops had someone there and some place important to go. Not me. The spouse who I hoped would be there to support me wasn’t among the crowd. I was confused and hurt.
For the past six months, our marriage had been rocky. The burden of the household had fallen on my wife, and the separation had been stressful. She felt I was more attentive to the Marine Corps than to her. Our telephone calls were empty and loveless. There was no fighting or arguing, but only coldness.
We disembarked rapidly, with everyone filing into position, waiting for the formation that would bring us closer to our families. Here we were; we had made it home safely and as a unit that had left together. The moment came when we were dismissed. Families broke past the gates. Everyone was welcomed with hugs, kisses, tears of joy, tears of love, and the relief of knowing there was nothing left to worry about.
I stood and watched as the others grabbed their issued sea-bags, which were lined up neatly, waiting to be picked out one at a time like a bunch of grapes on a vine. I waited for all of my Marines to grab their stuff, and then I picked up my own gear and walked outside, not knowing how I was to get home. Luckily, I had friends who gladly picked me up and dropped me off. No lights were on, and the only one to greet me was my cat, who knew me instantly. Peeking into the bedroom I had once called my own, I saw my wife sleeping peacefully. The only thing I could do was go into the spare room and create a make-shift bed out of the neatly piled blankets and pillows that my wife had left there for me. There I lay, on the floor of the guest room of my own home, anxious, tired and utterly alone and unwelcome.
Christopher Dunbar, a retired Marine of 17 years, is a student at UC Davis. Originally from Sacramento, California, he is currently pursuing a degree in the environmental sciences and is striving to work as a consultant under the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as an Occupational Health and Safety manager.