Chapter One

Sandy and her husband, Steve, were having lunch at the Officers’ Club on this Monday, March 8, 1999. Even though there was plenty of activity around them - people walking past them, others talking at their tables, and silverware and plates clanking together - neither of them was talking. There was a palpable tension between them.

After a major argument a month ago, Sandy was determined to spend more time with Steve. She hoped that joining him for lunch at least once a month would help get them better connected again.

At the moment, the painful, prolonged silence between them was just too much for Sandy to bear. So, she started talking. “We got our new Chemistry analyzers delivered at work today,” she said, forcing a smile and infusing some enthusiasm in her voice, trying to engage Steve in some form of conversation. “They look more streamlined than the ones we have now. They can do BMPs in 42 seconds and CMPs in 90 seconds, which the E.R. doctors will definitely like.” For Steve, being a doctor, Sandy thought the topic would interest him. “The best thing about them is that they require very little maintenance,” she continued, and all the while observing him for any signs of being the least bit receptive to her. What Sandy saw, instead, were Steve’s openly unresponsive and expressionless face and a general stiffness in his overall posture. He grudgingly uttered the absolute minimum of words in response to her statements, until they had finished with their lunch and were getting up to leave the club.

“By the way, I’ll be a little late coming home today. The hospital commander has scheduled a meeting at 1700 hours.”


“Don’t know. It’s probably our usual monthly meeting, except that we’re doing it today rather than on Friday.”

Sandy was suspicious, but she brushed it off. She was all too familiar with the unpredictable nature of military life.

Since Steve was going to be getting home a bit late, Sandy and the children went ahead and ate their dinner. It was almost 7pm when she recognized the sound of Steve’s Toyota SR5 pickup’s engine in the carport outside, followed by the sudden silence of the engine being shut off. She heard the vehicle’s door open and close. As she looked towards the kitchen door, she saw the doorknob turn. The door opened slowly and Steve walked in.

“How did the meeting go?” Sandy asked as she met him at the door. Steve didn’t answer right away. He put his briefcase down on the floor before giving her a hug and a peck on the lips. He looked disturbed and very distracted. He picked up his briefcase and went to their bedroom. Sandy followed him. Still waiting for his response, Sandy faced Steve with a questioning look and said impatiently, “Well, are you just gonna ignore me?”

Steve sighed heavily (the kind of sigh that told her he'd like to say something, but was finding it difficult to get it out). “You’re not gonna like what I’m gonna say,’’ he finally said and then paused. And more pause. He removed his shoes and socks, tossing his socks in the hamper. Sandy’s facial expression changed from questioning to worrisome. “I hate to tell you this,” he added and then paused again while busily changing his uniform into his shorts and t-shirt.

Sandy’s heart jumped to her throat. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the rest of it. With the way Steve had been acting towards her within the last three years—becoming more aloof, unloving, and less caring, she was afraid that the day had finally arrived for him to say that they were through. She tried to prepare herself for the worse, but it wasn’t helping.

“… but I’ve got orders to go to Kosovo this Saturday. That’s what the meeting was about. It’s not all a secret, but it’s not something we want to be advertising or necessarily be telling people about either. NATO has agreed to get involved in Kosovo. My group and I will be assigned there for medical support.”

“What?!” Sandy exclaimed, even though she was relieved to know that Steve wasn’t asking for a divorce. Panic soon followed with the realization that Steve was going off to another country and would be leaving her and the children behind. Sandy would just die if something bad were to happen to Steve in Kosovo - or anywhere else in the world. “How long will you be gone?” she asked when her nerves finally settled a bit.

“Don’t know for sure. I was told to get all my personal affairs in order before shipping out. One thing they assured me was that this deployment would be for at least twelve months.”

Hearing the news, Sandy didn’t know whether she could survive without Steve that long. It would mean that she had to do everything while Steve was away. They’d been married almost thirteen years and had never been apart for any length of time throughout their entire married life. After dinner, she cleared the table and started the dishwasher.

After she took a shower, she sat down on the sofa next to Steve and started massaging his neck and back. It was something she did gladly and routinely. Steve was more talkative and social this time, which made Sandy very happy. They talked and wondered how the kids would handle the news and whether she could handle work and the whole household all by herself.

“I’m sure Carrie doesn’t mind moving from the dorm to come live with us for a while until you come back. I’ll call her tonight and also call Mom to see if she could stay with us until Carrie comes back from Florida.” Carrie, her baby sister, was off to Florida with her class, attending a two-week study of the Florida Everglades' Ecosystem.

Sandy said goodnight to Steve and then to the children who were playing with their toys in Sheyenne’s bedroom. In bed, after she set her alarm clock, she made her calls to Carrie and to her Mom. The news earlier had been dropped on her like a bomb. She had a difficult time falling asleep, so she tossed and turned. Sleep finally came to her, but it was seemingly just in time for the alarm clock to sound off.

Taking her lunch break that night, she ordered a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich with a large-sized Coke. (No matter what time of day or night it was, all of the shift workers at the hospital called their meal in the middle of their shifts, LUNCH.) She took a seat and started to eat. Besides her, there were only two other people sitting and eating in the entire cafeteria. The three of them were seated alone, each to their own table. The other two were busy reading paperback books while they ate.

The lighting there was somewhat dim. There was a spooky, ghostly feeling she experienced each time she ate there, but tonight she didn’t feel it. Her mind was preoccupied with the thoughts of Steve going to Kosovo and about her and the kids getting by without him. It was a good thing Carrie agreed to move in with them until Steve came back, and for her mom to come over also for a short while. Otherwise, she didn’t know what she would do. Steve had never been close to his aunt and uncle. Therefore, Sandy didn’t feel right asking them for their assistance now that she needed it.

Orphaned at twelve when his mother died in a car accident, Steve went to live with his aunt Molly and her husband, Rick. Rick was a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Steve never got along with them very well. So, when he turned sixteen, he left them and went to live with his friend, Tony, and his family when they moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. That was how Steve ended up in Minnesota. And that was where he met Sandy.