An army base is a strange place. An army base in a time of war , especially after 4,000 men pack up their duffel bags, put on their uniforms, and leave their wives and children for an entire year. In You Know When the Men Are Gone, I attempt to show that world and the moments that lead up to the separation, the long and difficult absence, the return. Military families are wrenched apart and expected to piece themselves together again and again. Somehow, they manage. They improvise. They take the strangeness and make it normal.
During my husband's last deployment to Iraq, I knocked a valve off my sprinkler system while gardening, causing a geyser I couldn't stop. It was a Sunday afternoon. I called the company that installed my sprinkler. I called the contractor who built my house. I called the water department. Standing in my front yard, dripping wet and muddy, no one answered my call. Most of my neighbors' husbands had deployed, but I remembered there was one house that still had a man inside it, a pilot who was on a different rotation and whose name I later learned was Tim. I took off running down the street.
Tim answered his door. He followed me, bringing his wrench (where was my wrench? I had no idea). He got the valve back on that gushing pipe. A few days later, my neighbors and I were outside, and I told them about my soggy lawn. It seemed like each of us had knocked on Tim's door and he had left his family at the dinner table, come into our homes, tried to fix our problems, his only qualification being that he was a man. He never said no. He acted as if it was his duty to care for us while our husbands were away, hoping we'd watch over his family when it was his turn to go.
It was this sort of everyday moment that inspired me. While there are a lot of books about soldiers' experiences on the battlefields, there are few about the home front. For every soldier deployed, there is a family waiting for his return, and those stories, those battles, those small and fragile moments, are extraordinary to me.
Siobhan Fallon lived at Fort Hood while her husband, an army major, was deployed to Iraq for two tours of duty. She earned her M.F.A. at the New School in New York City. She lives with her family near the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. Fallon’s debut novel, You Know When the Men Are Gone, will be published by Amy Einhorn Books.