SALISBURY -- Every evening after work, Lisa Hughes sits 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 absence of his father.
Faith had also grown close to Gene. Mrs. Hughes attributes her 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 TC stationed, Mrs. Hughes knows the living conditions are difficult.
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 mother and 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.