(wherein reporter Jed Berman arrives in Bangor after covering the war in Afghanistan and is greeted warmly at the airport and even more warmly by his wife Jane when he gets home)
It’s probably obvious I didn’t have it worked out by the time we touched down in Bangor. I just felt very tired, tired of trying to figure it all out and just plain exhausted from four weeks at war, in one of the most barren, hot, inhospitable places I had ever been. What I wanted most was to hold Jane in my arms for a very long time and a really hot, really long shower.
That’s all I was thinking about as I stepped out of the jetway into the waiting area by our gate. I looked across the room and saw Jane standing there, smiling and waving at me. She looked beautiful, as always. She’s one of those people who stay fresh and youthful as the years tick by. I picked up my pace to get to her as soon as I could.
To make me feel special, she’d made a big sign with “Jed Berman” on it and was holding it up like limo drivers do when they’re meeting important people at the airport. It was just supposed to be a little joke between the two of us, but what it did was tip off the airport people that I was coming in. When I walked through the doors into the public area, still wearing my camos, with a couple days growth of beard on my face, the security officers stopped checking people in and turned toward me and started clapping. People close by joined in, and a couple of them yelled stuff like, “Way to go, Jed,” or “Thanks for sticking up for our troops, Jed” or just, “God bless America, Jed! Can’t wait to see your reports.” I was a little confused by the first greetings, but that one told me what was happening. Besides putting me on the air every night with those satellite phone reports, the station had been running the hell out of promos for the special reports I’d be doing next week. I smiled and waved but kept on walking straight to Jane, who dropped the sign and threw her arms around my neck and gave me a big kiss.
“Welcome home, soldier.”
She kept her arms around me but pulled her head back a bit to get a look at my face. My eyes had teared up. Anyone else might have thought I was just really emotional about the greeting they’d given me, but Jane knew better. She hugged me again and spoke softly in my ear.
“I’d say we need to get you home for a little R-and-R. Let’s get out of here.”
Before we got to the front sidewalk, a couple of people stopped me and shook my hand. They thanked me for caring about our soldiers over there in that hell hole. One guy told me he wasn’t always sure what to think about those wise-ass TV news people, but he sure knew what I was—a God-fearing, loyal, patriotic American. I thanked him for the kind words, but protested that I was just doing my job, like all of those men and women in uniform were doing theirs. It was a moment much like the crowd at the Desert Storm parade in that town in the Midwest. I was still playing the role, walking the tightrope between what I thought I should do as a professional journalist and what the community thought I should do as a natural-born American. And it didn’t feel any more comfortable here in Maine than it had out there.
Jane held my hand as we walked to the car. We talked a little on the ride home, but she sensed that I was too tired and stressed out to get into it too far right away. And she meant what she’d said in the terminal. When we got into the house, she took my bag, pushed me toward the bathroom, and ordered me to get a nice, long, hot shower while she fixed me something to eat. The shower really worked, I could feel myself unwinding right away, and the more that happened, the more I realized just how tired I was.
It reminded me of the week I’d spent years ago covering the Democratic National Convention for my old station. It was exhilarating to be there and have contact with all those major political players and celebrities, but we put in twenty-one hour days, averaging three hours sleep a night. I drove myself home from the station when we got back from that trip, and realized later that I didn’t remember anything I saw during the forty-five minutes it took me to get to the house. I probably got more sleep in those four weeks in Afghanistan, but it was always fitful sleep. You don’t really rest under stressful conditions like that, even when you force your eyes to close for a while and try to relax. I couldn’t tell you anything that happened on the way home from Bangor that day, either.
I wandered out to the kitchen after my shower, and Jane was carrying a couple of plates into the dining room. I do remember what she made—a gorgeous spinach salad with hot bacon dressing, a tender piece of chicken and a big glass of Riesling, perfectly chilled. She had candles burning on the table, with some beautiful cut flowers in her favorite vase, the one hand-blown by a young friend of ours. We talked a little as we ate, mostly little details about her life while I was away that she hadn’t thought to mention when we talked on the satellite phone. I was surprised how hungry I was and how good everything tasted. It wasn’t as though I didn’t get plenty to eat while I was over there, but embedded reporters eat what the troops eat, and even modern innovations haven’t made troop rations all that tasty. I came home on a Friday night. Jane put me to bed right after we ate, probably around nine, and ordered me not to set my alarm clock. I usually sleep about seven hours a night when I can get it. I woke up at Noon on Saturday, and felt much better.
It was a brilliantly sunny Maine day. Jane was sitting in the chair by our bed, reading. I lay there watching her for a few moments before I said anything. She wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, just Jane being Jane. But as I looked at her, I realized all over again how lucky I was to be with her and how much I loved her. I finally sat up.
“Good morning, honey.“ She smiled broadly. “You awake already? It’s only Noontime. How do you feel?”
“Better than I thought I would at this point.”
She moved over to the bed and repeated her second question.
“No, I mean how good do you really feel?” She smiled even wider. I had a feeling I knew where that was going, and I was happy to play along. I patted myself down like a doctor checking a patient.
“Yes, I’d say I feel really good.”
“Great! Slide over and let me give you the rest of your welcome home present.”
She dropped the robe she was wearing and climbed into bed with me. The next couple of hours glided by in a perfumed haze as we made love and then just held each other. I know this might sound over-the-top to some people, but just being with her was better medicine for what ailed me coming home from war than anything else in the world. Her love and tenderness are like an ointment that soothes the rough edges that my encounters with life inflict on my body and my mind. It’s even more than that, almost beyond words. It’s the feeling of being soul-mates that I thought I had with Gwen, way back when, multiplied by about a thousand.
It is an incredible gift, being able to connect with another human being—who will forever and always be physically separate from me—in a way that supports me, restores me, and allows me to be a complete human being. I know not everyone manages to find someone like that; the path of their red dots on the map of life never crosses just the right person. I feel sorry for those people; they’re missing so much. And I feel incredibly grateful that fate, or God, or whatever allowed me to find Jane. I probably would have made it this far if she hadn’t touched me, but the quality of my life, my worth as a person would be much less without her.