ROUSES POINT — Peyton Alysse Hooker's first cry traversed some 5,000 miles, bridging war and peace and both melting and breaking her soldier father's heart."Somehow, someway, I should have been there," U.S. Marine Cpl. Tanner Hooker lamented in an e-mail from somewhere in Iraq.It was by telephone that he'd reached his wife, Amanda, just after her water broke and she arrived at CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh.A phone pressed to his ear, he tried to calm her as the contractions gripped hard."I was, like, please — just stop talking," laughed Amanda in her quiet, comfortable Rouses Point living room, cradling 3-week-old Peyton on her lap.
Tanner's war during Amanda's 18-hour ordeal was one of helplessness that phone calls every few hours couldn't put at bay.The emotion wasn't a new one.Tanner, 22, worked out his frustrations in the gym and by concentrating on his job, as — half a world away — Amanda's father, David Guay, dealt firsthand with the young woman's morning sickness and volatile emotions in early pregnancy.From Iraq, Tanner would murmur baby talk as his wife held the phone against her belly, but Amanda's sister, Ashley Guay, 19, was the one who practiced breathing with her at childbirth classes and supported her at every obstetrical appointment.Then, in the delivery room, the expectant mother's own mom, Laura Guay, "was keeping me focused, kept my head on straight," Amanda said.And Ashley, who afterward snipped the umbilical cord, held the phone when Peyton, at 1:46 a.m. March 15, wailed the news of her arrival to her anxious dad.
Since then, he's met her online, in photographs and on video."He said (the video) made him upset," said Amanda, who's 23.
But then he pushed "play" again.The Marine fears his daughter won't know him when she first sees him for real, that their so-far-one-sided phone chats won't be enough.But Tanner's imprint is upon her already."She has his little dimples," Amanda said, lifting the sleeping, wriggling baby for a tender kiss. "She looks just like him."
Amanda wed Tanner four years ago, clad in capris and flip flops in a courthouse ceremony just six weeks after they met in a Virginia Beach tattoo parlor.She was struck by the young man's direct approach; he loved how genuine she was.And, Tanner wrote, punctuating the sentence with lol (for laugh out loud), "I thought she was smokin'."Amanda had already put in her own Iraq stint as a Navy medic and was awaiting transfer to a base in North Carolina when Tanner proposed."He didn't want me to leave him," she said.But military life is full of partings. Tanner has had three deployments since then, and there's a sense of suspended time in a marriage apart.Reunions in between have been bliss, Amanda said, but marred, too, by their brevity.And after the partings come regret for time wasted, by mundane chores of daily life, for perfectly normal but petty quarrels.There's fear, too.
Amanda's own Iraq experience is almost dreamlike now, and aside from frightening air-raid alarms, she saw little of war.But she knows the death toll and the frequency of insurgent attacks.
About a month before Peyton's birth, Tanner's Humvee struck an explosive device; he was thrown from his gunner's turret by the concussion, which also robbed about half his hearing in one ear."I've got something to tell you," he began that phone call home. "I had a little accident.""I held it together pretty good," Amanda said.Tanner doesn't let fatherhood affect his work in Iraq."I concentrate on two things," he said. "The job at hand and how to overall accomplish the mission."We started hard, and we will damn well finish hard."Persistence — that was another quality that won Amanda's heart.Love does trump separation, she said."It's stronger every day."Tanner had been due home in March; now, that looks like late May or early June."I tell him all the time," Amanda said, "I can't wait to start our life together."