I had spent the majority of the previous afternoon straightening and cleaning the house, as I usually do when he’s at work. It’s my time to get all the things done that are so hard to do when he’s home, and to show him that I care by taking care of our nest. He always tells me it’s so nice to come home to a clean house, so I try hard to make sure it’s spic and span when he arrives. Despite all my efforts to clean and tidy the day before, upon waking up, there were new messes everywhere. My fireman had picked up an extra 12 hour shift so he came home after I had been in bed and obviously didn’t think anything of leaving his uniform strewn over the couch, boots in the middle of the floor, all the contents of his pockets on the kitchen counter and snacks and wrappers all over the stove. There are dishes on the counter, socks in the hallway, gym bag behind the door. It looked like a post-shift bomb went off… I took a deep breath and just started putting it all away. I got a little more perturbed the more I found to pick up, it’s never ending. I’m usually amazed at the amount of mess that the boys can make in the smallest amounts of time and this was no exception. The more I picked up the more I found to pick up. I made my coffee and flung myself around the house cleaning up after him before I started breakfast.
Today I wanted to do some shopping, and we have some errands that need to be done. I realize that it’s an hour after the time he usually gets up and he’s still sleeping. My frustration turns into selfish anger because he isn’t up, he left me with a mess and I don’t want to work on today’s tasks alone. I start seething as I pick up the wrappers on the counter that are 2 inches from the garbage can and could have easily been thrown away. I huff and puff as I take his badge and belt off his uniform and throw it in the laundry room. I throw a little pity party all by myself as I finish cleaning the downstairs and I toss breakfast meats from the fridge onto the counter with angst.
With bacon on the stove and the house restored to it’s former state of cleanliness, I head back upstairs with an empty laundry basket to find anything that he inevitably threw on the floor before I start the wash. Of course I find enough to fill the basket and proceed back downstairs. But before I do I catch a glimpse of him asleep in the bed. In my own little fit, I almost didn’t even look towards him because I was angry. But when I did, I see his body is thrown over the top of the bed, over the blankets and pillows, as if he were so exhausted that climbing into bed regularly would have been too much work. His phone isn’t plugged in, he hasn’t taken his contacts out, and he’s sleeping hard. I realize that falling into bed was all that he could do what he got home last night. I start to feel bad. I go plug in his phone and set the laundry down to sit next to him for a minute.
He looks older than he did when he started with his current department. The last few years have taken their toll on him. He works so hard and sees so much, and it wears on him. It’s outwardly evident now. His hands are rough and cracked and there’s a cut on the back of his hand that I notice as I hold his hands in mine for a minute. I’m sure if I asked him about it, he wouldn’t even know where it came from. What a lot his hands do when he’s at work. He’s responsible for so many incredible things with these hands. He doesn’t wake up to my touch so I know how exhausted he really is. I set his phone to silent and tiptoe out of the room and quietly back downstairs. As I set in to start the laundry I turn the news on and see a story of a young police officer who lost his life in the line of duty. His wife is on the TV speaking and in the words that she’s able to mutter, through her anguish, she made me realize something extremely important.
There will come a day that my house will always be clean. Someday there will be no wrappers that don’t make it into the garbage can or clothes thrown right next to the hamper. Someday there will be no evidence of snacks left in the kitchen by a hungry husband who came off of shift late. There will not be socks in the hallway or a uniform thrown on the couch. Someday the house will be just as I left it when I get up in the morning. Someday there wont be messes, there will be no plans that are waiting as he “wastes the day” sleeping.
That day will come one of two ways.
I hope it will come when he retires and we get to go travel and spend time with family and years in love, just relaxing and enjoying what we’ve built throughout his career. Its my vision that’s the way that I meet that day. But I am not deceived into believing that there isn’t a chance that it could come much sooner than that.
Maybe it will be a day just like any day, except when that day comes there will not be an exhausted husband in my bed. If that day comes soon, I will be facing the tasks of every day alone. There will not be a doting partner to make breakfast for or look after. If that day comes soon, he won’t be there the morning after a long shift. He wont come home to make me crazy, but he also won’t be home for me to hold his hands or slide under the comfort of his exhausted arm and fall asleep. If that day comes too soon, I will make all of my to-do lists alone and stay up nights pacing the floor, because I can’t sleep when he’s on shift. Except that there would be no end to this shift, if duty called him the same way that duty called the husband of that poor woman on my TV. I could be the trembling voice in bitter agony trying to form words where there is nothing but rivers of love and loss pouring out of me. It could be me. And that day could come. It could be soon. It could be any of his shifts, it could have been his last one… and I would be left sitting in my nice clean living room just wishing for a stray sock. Just trying to breathe as I encounter the reality of an entire lifetime without him and the knowledge of the pettiness I once felt about the silliest things.
Someday I will miss the unique smell of his cologne intertwined with smoke on his pillow. But when that day comes I hope to be celebrating with champagne at his retirement party, and not doubled over, trying to muster one more whiff from his pillow before the scent permanently fades and all essence of him is gone. Someday, I will miss the mess. I will miss the role I currently play in his life. And though it is taxing and somewhat annoying sometimes, I pay a very small price for the sacrifice he makes for us. I want to look back and know that I was the wife he needed me to be, however that day comes.
So I left the laundry downstairs, turned off the TV, stepped over his gym bag in the hall and headed upstairs to sneak under his arm to fall asleep, because today, he is still in our bed and that’s all that matters.