Last night, Traci and I were playing Bunco, chatting throughout the night about military life, the cruise she will go on with her husband, Paul, when he returns from Afghanistan, our workouts and how tonight is her 'lucky night' as she proudly wore the Bunco crown. The plans for Paul's return were many, the days of single-parenting were long. Life was one way. Full of hopes, anticipation, trivial desires. Traci would lose weight this summer, Paul would get a Jeep when he came home, we'll be sure to invite so-and-so to our next girls-night-out. How life would completely change the next day. How we would all lose our smiles.
I called Traci around 2pm to pick her brain about her religion. I had some questions I needed answered in order to support another Jewish friend who wanted to attend Christian church with my family this weekend. Traci invited me over to keep her company and I declined, knowing I had to cram for my Personal Trainer Certification test this weekend. I would regret that decision in about 2 1/2 hours.
Around 5pm, the phone rang. It was Traci again. In a soft, shallow voice, she said something along the lines of "I need you to come over"
Traci: "Paul was killed"
Traci: "Paul is dead and I need you here"
Traci (in a little louder voice): "PAUL, my husband"
Me: "What!? I'll be right there"
Someone punched me in the chest. I could barely stand and Barrett was not answering his phone. I ran to the neighbor's house with my wobbling knees and asked her to watch the girls. I jumped in my van and called my mom. "What do I say, mom? I don't know if I can handle this. I don't want to see her tell the boys. I can't believe this is happening. This isn't fair."
Over the next few hours, a few of us would sit by her as she recalled the details of most dreaded moment in a military-wife's life, called various family members and friends and sit her boys down and tell them the tragic news. The latter is a moment I won't soon forget. I knew I was witnessing two little boys being scarred for life. I felt the anger inside my soul boiling over.
Later, the thought that would bring me comfort was that Paul himself lost his father at the age of 6. And he became one of the most humble, giving, loving, smart, gentle men I have ever met.
People heal. Traci will heal. Life will never be the same, just like that. But we will get our smiles back. She will regain hopes and dreams. We will get through this. Together.