Should I bake a cake or mop the floor? What am I going to wear? Melanie Alvarado, 33, could hardly stand still in her kitchen Saturday, much less make a decision. Her daughters, 8 and 6, were more productive, washing their father's car outside.
Billy Alvarado is coming home from war today, and they want things spic and span at their home on the Tustin Marine Corps base.
So they fussed and primped and filled their time Saturday like so many other Southland military families, waiting for loved ones to return from the Persian Gulf.
The oldest child, "Desirae, said a little prayer this morning. 'Dear God, please make today pass fast,' " Melanie Alvarado said, laughing at her own giddy voice. "It's been seven months, so what's one more day?"
At 3 p.m. today, Staff Sgt. Billy Alvarado, 33, is expected to touch down at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, along with others from the Marine Aerial Refueling Transport Squadron 352 of the 3rd Air Wing, which has been flying in and out of the Mideast since United States forces first arrived there in August.
His wife, of course, will be there, daughters in tow. And the homecoming will be especially sweet. When her husband rushed off Aug. 13, Melanie Alvarado never got to say goodby.
"I only got to see his plane taxi away," she said ruefully. "He only had 55 minutes between the time he called me and when he left. I was working, and I went home to get the kids from the sitter, and if I hadn't done that I could have said goodby."
When she arrived at the El Toro base, "nobody seemed to know where he was. Then his boss said, 'Oh, there he is, taxiing away on that plane over there.' It was horrid. Absolutely terrible."
She went home crying and didn't stop for days.
"I did get to write him a letter and gave it to his friend," another soldier who was shipping out later," she said. "The squadron laid over in Texas and then again in Cherry Point, N.C. When he handed my letter to Billy, it was like he could almost fall apart."
Billy Alvarado, an electrician who works on the KC-130 re-fuelers, was not flying combat missions, a fact that gave her some comfort as the past seven months dragged on.
Last weekend, days after President Bush ordered a cease-fire, she called him because "I just had this feeling he might have some news for me. And I say, 'Are you leaving? Are you leaving? And he said, 'Well, nothing's definite, but it could be as soon as 15 days. So I added a few days on to that and figured he'd be home in (several) weeks.
"People at work have told me I've been walking about 3 feet off the ground since then."
On Thursday she called him again when news spread that local troops would start to arrive home this weekend. He said he would be leaving Bahrain on the next plane out that night.
"I expect a call from him sometime this evening," she said Saturday, "and (base officials) said he will be here tomorrow. . . . I will be very happy to see him come off that plane."
Melanie Alvarado, an operations manager at an office-leasing firm in Irvine, tossed and turned and went mostly without sleep Friday night. While she fretted over whether to cook him chalupas , his favorite bean and pork dish, she did have the presence of mind to make some of the more important arrangements. Her daughters, who announced their ages as "8 3/4" and "6 3/4," will stay home from school Monday to visit with their father.
"And I already called in sick to my boss for Monday and Tuesday," she said with a giggle. "I said I'm going to be ill those days. But they all know. They've been teasing me. But I will be in bed some of that time though."