Nellie Thompson has circled the date on every calendar in her Govans home. Dawn Bokeno hopes it will be just another payday at her Joppa office. Lynn Nichols knows that when she wakes up that morning, the latest waiting game will be over.
Tuesday, Jan. 15, is the day the world has been waiting for, the line drawn in the sand, the deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait or face the consequences.
"We're just extremely afraid, and waiting," said Mrs. Nichols, whose husband, Sgt. John Nichols, is among several hundred Marylanders stationed in Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield. "First, waiting to find out where they are, then waiting to find out what their address is, then waiting for a phone call and now waiting for the 15th deadline."
"I'll be on my knees praying on the 14th that they will resolve it before then," said Mrs. Thompson, whose son, Sgt. Kenneth L. Thompson, was working for the New York state government when his Maryland National Guard unit was called to active duty in November.
As evidenced by the breakdown Wednesday in diplomatic talks between the United States and Iraq, however, a peaceful resolution to the conflict may prove to be as illusionary as a desert mirage.
"I'm living one day at a time because you or I can't possibly predict what's going to happen," said Patricia Fallon, a Carroll County schoolteacher whose husband, Ed, is a sergeant with the Towson-based 290th Military Police Company.
The days have become weeks now. Ever since the 290th and the 200th Military Police Company from Salisbury reported for training at Fort Meade in mid-November, those left behind have been trying to adjust. And make do. And cope.
A young wife returns to her hometown in Harford County and moves in with her parents rather than remain in a Texas apartment meant for two. Another woman in Pasadena struggles to keep afloat her husband's home improvement business and wonders if she'll be able to do any more than pay the bills. A newlywed in Reisterstown becomes an instant father to his soldier-wife's son.
In Crisfield, a woman spends her first holidays in 35 years without her husband. A sister in Mount Airy finds the name of her congresswoman to begin a lobbying effort to bring her brother home. A mother keeps a dim light on in her son's bedroom in Berlin.
They have become prolific letter writers -- and daily patrons of the local post offices -- as their family members in Saudi Arabia plead for mail. They have become diarists, chronicling events at home that prior to Desert Shield may not have even warranted a mention at the dinner table -- the snowman on the lawn, a dinner invitation from a neighbor, a family joke.
They are creating a time-line along which their loved ones can travel.
And they are looking at their world differently. Like the recent morning Mrs. Thompson went to the supermarket. "I went from aisle to aisle just to see, and I made a list of things that have a flip top," said Mrs. Thompson, 58. "Although they are a little more expensive, I think that it's better than worrying about a can opener."
Dottie Vacovsky keeps an open box nearby in her kitchen, a care package for her son Robert that she has been filling over the past week. "Ravioli, tuna fish, Spam. His watch. He needs a watch. Toilet paper and some Lifesavers," said Mrs. Vacovsky, who has pinned a yellow ribbon to the carport outside her Pasadena home every day since her son left for Saudi Arabia.
When she learned that he hadn't received her letters, she called the Maryland National Guard's family support staff and discovered that some of the service members had given their families the wrong address. It was corrected, and the word went out on the support group's telephone tree.
"I don't want him over there thinking no one loves him," said Mrs. Vacovsky.
The families wait for mail, too -- it takes about two weeks for letters to arrive -- for news about where their loved ones are, the conditions under which they are living, the food they eat. They are awakened in the middle of the night by an unexpected call from a soldier whose scheduled seven minutes to telephone home are ticking away.
"All he talks about is he wants to come home in May. . . ." Anna Vidi said of her 21-year-old brother, Pfc. Patrick Sofsky of Rosedale. "He went with the belief he would be there six months. To me, that's a lot for a 21-year-old boy to leave their family."
Mrs. Vidi is lobbying her cousins -- about 20 -- to write their congressmen on her brother's behalf.
Worry is a constant companion; uncertainty shrouds the future.
"I just wish they would quit playing with our lives," said Alaunda Vacovsky, Dottie Vacovsky's daughter-in-law, who is now running the home improvement business started by her guardsman-husband. "All these other people's jobs are protected. My husband's job isn't. It wasn't my business. It was his dream. I know when I married him he was in [the National Guard]. But in my heart, I thought the National Guard never went anywhere."