Ex-hostage Richard H. Morefield, uneasy in his role as a national hero, knew life was at last returning to normal when he started getting computer-printed mailouts at home addressed to 'occupant.'
Clair C. Barnes, another former hostage, found new meaning in life when a long-lost love wrote him after seeing his picture in a news magazine. In a story-book romance, they now plan to marry.
But for Air Force Lt. Col. David M. Roeder, whose joy at his release was quickly captured when he raised his arms in triumph as he stepped from the plane in Algeria, the public adulation he and his intensely private family have received since has left him both puzzled and troubled.
"I'm not sure I know what 'normal' is yet," the Vietnam veteran says sadly. Then, lowering his head and running his hands through salt-and-pepper gray hair, he adds, "I'm not sure I'll ever know what it means to be normal again."
The homecoming so longed for by the Iranian captives who were released in January and their families, 31 of whom are attending a two-day State Department medical reevaluation here this week, has proven both sweet and bitter. The awards, the public scrutiny, the free trips and gifts, for instance, have been seen as bonanzas by some and as demeaning burdens by others.
More subtle and potentially damaging have been the changes wrought within some family units by the 444-day ordeal. Many wives have complained to government psychiatrists and psychologists in group meetings that their hard-won independence, forced on them by events, is now scorned by husbands who hunger for a return to the old relationships.
But regardless of their individual joys and sorrows, there is one strong and common thread that runs through almost all conversations with the hostages and their families: a profound wish to become ordinary Americans again, anonymous, lost happily in a life where concerns with jobs and careers and the problems of raising children are paramount.
This desire for normalcy is deep and urgent, a need discovered during their months of captivity. To them, such a return is not a burden but a second homecoming, and by far the most important.
"We want to shake [being a hostage] off like a dog shakes water off coming out of a pond," said William F. Keough Jr., 50, the superintendent of an American school in Pakistan who was captured during a visit to Tehran. "The American publis has to, too.
"I think everybody in my family is ready to move on," he said. "It's over."
Accordingly, most have regarded the reevaluation that ended today as a graduation of sorts, a final brush with the past. A State Department spokesman said that the 20 psychiatrists and psychologists who interviewed the ex-hostages here found that they have readjusted well. All 31 who attended, the doctors said, are ready to return to their jobs, and many already have.
For the hostages, the three months they have had to rediscover themselves and their families have provided light moments as well as sadness. Dorothea Morefield, who was one of the most outspoken of the hostage wives, tells how during her husband's capitivity she wrote a book club her husband belonged to and asked that they not send any more notices because, since he was a hostage, he obviously could not read them.
"I got a nice letter back from someone there saying they would suspend it until he got back," she said. "Then, when he got back, we got another nice letter saying they were glad he was back and including some free book coupons.
"But in the same mail with that letter was a computer notice from the company that said that, because he had not ordered a book in a year, they were going to have to end his subscription."
Her husband laughed. "It's beginning to fade into the background now," said Morefield, 51, who was counsul general in the U.S. embassy in Tehran. "I would like to get away from the tag of being a hostage family. I have my own identity and I need it back."
Most talk about the problems they have had coming to terms with being celebrities.
"I have always thought that it would be easy to be a celebrity," said Barnes, 35, who was a communications specialist in the embassy when it was seized by the Iranians. "The public expects a lot. Besides, the real heroes were the men who died trying to rescue us. All I was doing was trying to stay alive."
His fiance, Mia Sanderson, said that Barnes, who lives in Falls Church, talks more about being a hostage than he realizes, and even though she understands it is part of his readjustment," "There are times when I'd rather talk about the color of the carpets than about what happened over there."
"I won't say my life has changed," said Barnes. "It's more like I have a new chance. I was pretty lackadaisical about my career before. I wasn't overly ambitious. That was a bad state of mind. Now I'm more aware of my opportunities. I was to take advantage of things, and I'm going back back to school for some administrative experience."
It is the contradiction between the adulation he has received for simply being a hostage and the lack of attention paid to the fellow military men who died trying to save him that most troubles Lt. Col. Roeder.
"I don't think any of us are heroes," said Roeder, whose family lives in Alexandria. "I don't like the word. It's embarassing. We've lost a great deal of our privacy, and I'm still baffled by the interest in us."
Because of the [Vietnam] POWs, Dave finds it embarassing," said his wife Susan. "Good lord, they were in prison for seven years!"
For the Roeders, the separation has not caused the problems it has for other wives. "In some of the meetings, some wives are saying things like, 'We're having difficulty getting our lives back in balance: our husbands are saying it's their car and their house. I don't know who I am.'"
"I say to myself, I know that feeling. But I've been there. I was ready to get back to life as normal the day he was back, but all this attention has changed that.
"For all of us, it's time for it to come to an end."