It started with planning. Planning meals, planning events, planning homework schedules. The planning became a compulsion, a temporary world where (if the spreadsheet was done right and the colors complemented each other) everything made sense. Planning gave her a sense of power and a feeling of control. She liked the control. Control of the order in which the house was going to be cleaned, the number of loads of laundry that would be completed, or the vision of a sparkling clean and peaceful home. The order and plan varied by project, naturally. But the picture in her brain of the end result...that stayed the same. At the end of the day, there was always to be a spotless home, a warm cup of coffee, candles flickering with tropical scents, all her homework assignments complete, and the serene quiet that is only really yearned for by heavy metal roadies and mothers of toddlers.
Mediocrity became her arch enemy, and done well and half-assed became synonymous. Somehow, she felt that if their household was organized and her desired level of perfection attained, the feelings of peace and accomplishment would overshadow the emotions she fought tirelessly to ignore. The longing to have her husband home, the dull ache in her stomach as she waited for the phone to ring, and the fear that the phone would not ring, and that she could easily become one of the many that...well, you know. As long as their home stayed dust free and in precise order, the dust covered Afghanistan would somehow balance karmically and keep her husband safe. She knew the thought process was as senseless as some of the war casualties were, and she knew that if life were to change, the absoluteness of the situation wouldn't be altered or sugar coated by a clean bathroom floor or laundered curtains. But she scrubbed and washed, nonetheless, until everything shone and smelled pleasantly of bleached flowers.
Bit by bit, she worked her way through their home. Meticulously wiping, scrubbing, vacuuming and rinsing every inch of reachable space. Nothing left undone, for fear that it would mess up the order of the never ending task. Although two pets and the spastic three year old loin fruit rendered the task of cleaning down to little more than a vicious, lavender scented circle, she scoured every inch of the self-imposed first circle of Hell like each stroke of the sponge put a gallon of fuel into her husband's plane home.
The plastic doctor's kits and floppy brown slices of apple became par for the course, and were picked up daily without thought. Spiderman stretched proudly across the comforter that was tucked in neatly every day, and the dinosaurs knew better than to stay the night with the train sets or the puzzles. Once the task of righting the toddler-topia was complete, she would move to their room. Although it had long since felt like her room, she worked around it as though doing it wrong would make him uncomfortable. So she continued to fix the sheets on his side of the bed just the way he liked them. Sometimes she'd pretend that he would be there to sleep under them that night, and sometimes she'd allow the knowledge that she'd sleep alone again. In either event, she'd convince a smile onto her face and keep tucking, as though tucking the bedding tightly enough would coax her sanity to stay in place, too. She kept his soaps and razors in the shower caddy, although they were so light from being nearly empty that the bottles frequently fell down onto her head when the caddy was bumped. She put the t-shirts of his that she wore back in his bureau, even though she was the only one there to take them out and wear them. She left his cologne taking up space on the shelf, missing his scent but terrified that if she smelled it, the emotions would take over. So there it sat and there it would stay, dust free and full of the smell of the love she missed, encased in green glass and silent mocking.
Most days she was able to ignore the pain and loneliness. Even when their son cried relentlessly for Daddy. Even on those days, she was able to keep a brave face and provide comfort. But some days...some days, being human took hold. Some days she would cry relentlessly with the boy, and they would hug each other back into solace. But those days, the days when humanity flexed its awful grip, the glorious feelings brought on by cleaning, organizing, and perfection came to a screeching halt. The glorious feelings were then replaced by feelings of anxiety, discomfort, and fury with the marital dislocation. Most times, she was able to push them down so they weren't so overwhelming, so it was just enough to feel like things weren't the way they were supposed to be. Like when you pick up a pencil and your brain and hand don't agree, so the pencil takes flight. Easily remedied, but still askew and still all her fault. Still needing to be fixed, regardless of the situation the repair interrupted.
It wasn't all bad, though. The hard work and exhaustion, whether from algebraic equations or furniture polishing (or, more often than not, both) were rewarding. For each dish put away clean, each sheet smoothed and pillow plumped, each paper typed and resource cited, she checked off a block on her mental list that equated to keeping up her end of the bargain. She'd traded in her dusty boots and guns in favor of securing the home front, and she would be damned if their home ran like anything other than a Swiss timepiece. As long as he was away, she'd keep the world they'd built in order.
As long as nothing was out of place, in her mind, he was safe.