NORFOLK -- Tanya Burnham's Sunday started with a collect call from a port in the Persian Gulf. She cried. Her husband talked.

She then began disassembling a leaking washing machine.

Life for Burnham, a sailor's wife, has become a roller coaster of emotion while her mate is on board the USS Kidd, the Norfolk-based destroyer floating in the treacherous waters of the Persian Gulf.

This recent deployment of sailors, more than most in the past, is proving to be a trying experience for scores of spouses left behind, according to Cheryl Harris, the 26-year-old wife of a chief engineer on the Kidd who serves as a liaison between the crew members at sea and the families at home.

"It all boils down to the Stark incident," Harris said this week, referring to the Iraqi warplane attack May 17 on the Navy frigate, the USS Stark, that left 37 American sailors dead. "It is very stressful for all of the wives."

While the 380-member USS Kidd is at sea, the concern at home about its well-being has kindled friendships between women who barely knew each other and a reaching out to others whose worries reflect their own, according to Harris and other Navy wives.

"Everybody needs somebody right now," Harris said. "They need someone to talk to."

For Burnham and her best friend, Rosa Gray, whose husbands are petty officers on the USS Kidd, the stress has prompted them to rent a house together.

The two women, with four children combined and an assortment of cats, parakeets and a dog, moved into the four-bedroom house on a quiet street in Virginia Beach last Thursday. They decided to maintain two telephone lines so they won't miss calls from their husbands.

They said they prefer to keep their own company, and find themselves losing touch with civilian friends -- "people who don't understand." They also are wary of the company of some other Navy wives and public places that might be upsetting.

"You don't have to deal with unknowledgeable people. Our husbands are constantly telling us everything is fine, to have faith in the ship," said Burnham, 33.

As they wait for their husbands' safe return, they are proud of their men's actions and try not to dwell on possible danger. For now, their attention is focused on the disassembled washing machine, and later will shift to a car muffler that needs repair.

"You fall apart because you miss them. You don't fall apart because you're scared to death. You block that out," Burnham said.

It has been much that way since June 6 for many Navy families in the Norfolk area. That day, they kissed and waved goodbye to the crew members of the USS Kidd who embarked on a six-month voyage from a pier on the naval base, a place that had all the levity of a morgue.

When their husbands set sail at 9:30 a.m., Burnham and Gray were sobbing and said they were the last ones to leave the pier. But then they got a brainstorm and decided to speed down the highway for a final wave to the ship as it passed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel 15 miles away.

They missed it.

For a number of the wives, the anxiety and uncertainty were heightened Friday when the Kuwaiti tanker Bridgeton, sailing under the American flag and accompanied by the Navy convoy, struck a mine.

Donna Stanczyk, whose husband Mark is a petty officer on the USS Kidd, said she spoke by telephone to her husband last weekend and "he seemed kind of depressed."

"I'm really upset about the whole situation," said Stanczyk, 23. "I know he's in a lot of danger. The tanker that was hit could have been the ship . . . . Kind of sitting guinea pigs is the way I look at it."

But each military family copes in its own way. And for many wives whose mates have made careers out of the Navy, the danger is seen as part of the pact of being married to a sailor.

Mary Jo Yonkers, whose husband is tactical commander of the three-warship task force assigned to the escort duty in the Persian Gulf, said her days are much the same as they always have been.

"It doesn't change my routine much at all," said Yonkers, whose husband has served 25 years in the Navy. "Of course, you're concerned, but you can't spend your time worrying about it. You'd go nuts."

Yonkers, a self-assured 46-year-old woman who does part-time clerical work at a private college in Norfolk, said the current situation reminds her of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when she was a college student and her fiance was a junior ensign on board a destroyer.

But while news clips then showed only distant pictures of the ship, the television and newspapers now are filled with commentary from her husband.

Yonkers said she is interested in updates on the situation but is not glued to the television set. She said she tries to send a letter to her husband at least once a week.

Burnham and Gray admire Yonkers' style and express similar confidence in their men and their government's action. "I know they are on the best ship and of course President Reagan is not going to let anything happen," Burnham said. But they still anxiously monitor the news and call the Navy ombudsman recording twice a day for updates. Letters also are mailed to their husbands twice a day.

For now, Burnham and Gray are preoccupied with fashioning yellow ribbons that will dress up a tree in their front yard. And they are busy with plans for a homecoming gift for their husbands.

With a smile to each other, they said they are contemplating a cruise.