SOMETIMES I LOOK AT MY HUSBAND and I think about him dying. I really don’t want to think about such a thing, but the thought crosses my mind a few times a week. I can be driving to the grocery store when I pass a tree with a big yellow ribbon tied around its trunk, and I think about losing Justin. Or I will be watching the local news and I hear the anchor announce that another soldier has died in an IED blast on the streets of Baghdad. And suddenly I’m very grateful that Justin is still in training, still a year away from deployment.
But usually when I think about losing my husband, we will be lying next to each other in bed. He sleeps quietly on his side while I lie awake beside him, listening to his deep, slow breaths. Softly, he mutters to himself and I think he must be dreaming. Lost in some subconscious world where I cannot join him.
Sometimes in the middle of the night, Justin has a nightmare and he wakes up shaken and clammy. He turns to me and pulls me into his big arms, and I try my best to soothe him. Yet I am the one who feels comforted as I draw close to his warmth and nestle my cheek against his chest. His heartbeat sounds like a drum in my ear—beating in strong and steady steps, beating life through my husband’s body. And this is when I think about losing him the most.
When Justin and I first started dating, I tried not to think about him dying or about him even going to war. He was just an all-American boy with green eyes and a casual smile, and I was just a BYU coed trying not to fall in love with him. On one of our first dates, he took me to a small bakery to have lunch. We ended up sitting at our table for an hour, reading the newspaper and talking about the articles as we passed them between us. It felt like we were seventy years old and married for forty-five. My heart had found its home.
One night I asked Justin if he was afraid of dying, and he told me no. The only thing that worried him, he said, was his mother. His death would break her heart, and the thought of that broke his own. I wondered if he knew that my own heart would fall apart too if he died on some faraway battlefield in some foreign land. But I didn’t tell him my thoughts because our relationship was new and we weren’t supposed to talk about things like mortality or eternal companions. Instead, I asked him about politics, traveling, religion, and even war. I didn’t say much about dying.
I pushed away my fears about losing Justin because we weren’t married—or even close to being engaged—and I figured this was something a wife should worry about. Besides, I would be heading to London in a few short months to start graduate school, and I would probably never see him again. Our relationship would become one of those quick summer romances that faded away like lightning bugs in the winter.
But when our summer drew to a close I realized I wanted more time with Justin—even more than I wanted a year in England. My mother scolded me for being so foolish—for deferring graduate school for a boy—and at times I wondered if she was right. Was I making a mistake? But in the end I chose to follow that quiet inkling in my heart. I stayed behind in America to be with a boy. I stayed behind to be with a soldier whose uniform made my eyes well with pride and my heart tremble in fear. My worrying days had begun.
Sometimes I am the one who wakes up Justin in the middle of the night, crying into his thick shoulder. He asks me what is wrong, and I mumble that I am so afraid of losing him, that my prayers can’t protect him from bullets and roadside bombs. His arms tighten around me, and Justin whispers that he will always come home to me—he makes this promise to me. I can only nod meekly and cry harder.
“Don’t you believe me?” he asks.
“Yes,” I stammer but I am lying. I will always worry.
In a few minutes my husband falls back to sleep, and I curl up beside him. For now he is safe in our bed, and I must be grateful. This is a gift. Yet I lie still in the blackness, staring into nothing, and thinking about his destiny.