SALISBURY -- Every evening after work, Lisa Hughes sit down with the phone in her mother's home in Salisbury and telephones each of her two young children -- living in two different places -- to say good night.
"I tell them, 'Mommy loves you. Mommy's here if you need me,' " she said.
Then begins the worst part of each day: night with its recurring nightmares.
"I'm afraid to fall asleep," said Mrs. Hughes, who dreams of her husband living on a piece of cardboard somewhere in the Saudi desert and of him and the National Guard unit they were both a part of coming under attack.
Unlike most wives left behind by the Persian Gulf war, Mrs. Hughes must not only bear the worry of a husband and brother in the war, but also the guilt of not being beside them. She was also a member of the National Guard's 200th Military Police in Salisbury on the Eastern Shore, which was activated last fall.
On Nov. 15, Mrs. Hughes, 27, an eight-year-veteran with the rank of specialist, and her husband, Pfc. Gene Hughes Jr., whom she met and married while in the National Guard, were both ordered to report to Fort Meade. Her brother, Spc. James Bare, with the same unit, was also told to report to active duty.
Since it seemed that they would both be sent overseas, the couple made the decision to give up the lease on their apartment in Salisbury and separate the family. Mrs. Hughes' daughter, 5-year-old Faith Weed, moved in with her father by a previous marriage, and 3-year-old Gene III went to live with his paternal grandparents.
A month later, when Mrs. Hughes was released from active duty because of a medical problem, she found she had no way to pull her scattered family back together again. She could no longer afford to rent an apartment, since her husband's salary had been cut in half when he was activated. Consequently, she left the children where they were and moved in with her mother, whose home is too small to accommodate the two children.
"We were one big happy family. Now were scattered," said Mrs. Hughes.
The toughest job for her has been dealing with her children's anxieties and mixed feelings.
"Gene will ask, 'Mommy, where's our home?' How do you tell a 3-year-old we don't have a home any more?" Mrs. Hughes wondered aloud. Even harder to deal with are Gene's reactions to the sudden absence of his father.
Sometimes the toddler, who will talk with his father on the phone when he calls from Saudi Arabia, will say, "Daddy, I'm mad at you. You left me," recounted Mrs. Hughes. At other times he'll say, "I'm going to go over with Daddy and help him fight those men."
Faith had also grown close to Gene. Mrs. Hughes attributes her JTC poor performance in kindergarten with worry over Gene Hughes' safety and the breakup of their home.
As hard as the separation is on the children, Mrs. Hughes believes it is hardest on her husband.
"He couldn't talk very long because he was getting upset," she recalled of one phone conversation they had when she put both children on the phone.
While she does not know where her husband and her brother are stationed, Mrs. Hughes knows the living conditions are difficult.
At one time, her husband was living in a trailer with no running water. Her brother lived in a trailer with some running water. But ++ conditions worsened when they were moved to another location, she said. In his most recent phone conversation, her husband said they were "sleeping on cardboard and had to put pieces of wood together as a shelter."
Since arriving in Saudi Arabia in early December, they had had only one hot meal -- on Christmas Day -- and have eaten mostly dehydrated food.
"One time he talked to his motherand said he felt like he was losing his mind," said Mrs. Hughes, who worries about the emotional scars the war may leave on her husband and brother.
"I'm afraid they're going to have flashbacks. It's harder on the National Guard than on the regular Army. The Army has been training for this sort of thing," she said.
Had it not been for her children, Mrs. Hughes said, she would neverhave mentioned the persistent back problems that eventually got her release from duty. "If it weren't for my kids, I would be over there. I feel like I've completely deserted my company," she said.
Over the past eight years in the National Guard, Mrs. Hughes had become close to many of the 95 men and women of the 200th Guard who were sent to Saudi Arabia, where their job is to guard military facilities and prisoners of war. Besides drilling every month, the company spent two weeks training together each year. Often, National Guard families would get together for cookouts at one another's homes, she said.
After three days of medical examinations, doctors at Fort Meade determined the cause of her back pain: kidney stones. She was released from duty.
"It practically killed me when I said goodbye to my husband and my brother, but it was also hard saying goodbye to my company. They're like a second family," she said. "It's hard on me not knowing what my company's doing."
After a month at Fort Meade, Mrs. Hughes went back to her job at the Custom Carpet Shop in Salisbury, which her employer had held open for her.
Gene Hughes' employer, Dresser Industries, has also been helpful.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes would like to help organize a support system for Eastern Shore families whose lives have been torn apart, like hers, by war.
"I don't think about myself. I think about other people," she said. "This whole war has really tore everybody's family apart. I'd be more than willing to help them any way I could."