Since we have started this whole Notes Girls Write project, I have gotten to know the stories of some amazing women. Catherine’s story is one of the ones that is really sticking with me. I met her and her daughter, Adeline, only three days before she was set to deploy to Afghanistan for a year. I got to her house, for a pre-deployment session. I learned that she has been in the Marine Corp. for fifteen years, but has never has never been sent overseas. So, her first deployment comes when she is the single mom of the sweetest, little one year old I have seen in a long time. Catherine told me she lost her husband, who was also a Marine, in 2005. I saw the flag she had been given at his funeral on her nightstand, as I photographed her playing and laughing with her daughter on her bed, and my throat tightened. I saw her uniforms hanging neatly on hangers on the back of a door, and saw her boots lined up next to a pair of flip flops, about ten feet away from a pack’n’play filled with Adeline’s toys. I tried to comprehend what she was going to have to do in about 72 hours. Hug her baby for the last time in a year. Hand her to her parents and board a bus. How exactly does someone find the strength to do something like that? She asked me if I thought it was silly to want to have some images of Adeline in a onesie……because she knew that when she came home, she would no longer be wearing them. Um. No. Not silly at all. And the lump in my throat grew bigger. I immediately reshifted my focus to using my images to show Adeline as she was right now. In all of her chubby fingered babyness. Stuffing slobbery cheerios into her mouth. Playing peek a boo. We took some images of the two of them sitting together on the couch, and Catherine began to tear up. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I haven’t cried yet,” and she went to grab a tissue. And I could not imagine her feeling the need to apologize for her tears, as again, I wondered…how the hell does someone do this without crumbling?
When I got home, and began working on the images, I knew instantly that I had missed out by not asking Catherine to write a note. I decided to send her an email and ask her if she thought she may be interested. She said yes, and I drove to her house, camera in tow, the night before she was set to deploy. Her house was covered in her gear. Her parents were there. A friend was there. Adeline toddled around, alternately stuffing toys into her mother’s bags, and unpacking the things that were already in them. She had no idea what was about to happen….she only knew she had quite an audience, and pulled out all of her best tricks. She did the Hokey Pokey and was met with her mother’s delighted laughter. She spun until she fell over into her chair, and everyone in the room cheered her on. She hammed it up for my camera and invaded our attempts at taking Catherine’s note image more than once. One of which ended up being the image I chose to use here. She was leaning to give her mama a kiss…which she immediately followed with a smack to the back of the head. Ah, toddlers. 🙂 I grabbed a few more shots, and a little video to email to Catherine later, and said my goodbyes. Adeline followed me to the door and reached her arms out for me to pick her up. I gave her a hug, and said goodbye, and forced myself to close the door behind me. It was heartbreaking enough, and I had only known her for a few hours. I tried not to imagine Catherine doing the same the next day.
By now, Catherine is gone. Beginning her year of serving her country in Afghanistan. While Adeline may struggle with her mom being gone, for a time, I know that this absence will be nothing but a faint memory for her as she grows older. My hope for her, is that someday she will understand the amazing woman that her mother is….the strength that she has needed to get to where she is…facing things that many of us will never have to face. And that while her mother calls Adeline her “miracle”, that she will see that she has been so blessed as well.