Tags: Army wives, Iraq, Military, War
Once upon a time there was a little girl. All she ever wanted was to grow up and get married and be a mommy. She dreamed big, aimed high, and accepted no obstacle which would deter her from her ultimate goals. She always gave the proverbial answers when asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
” A teacher.”
She dreamed of working outside the home, but only as an afterthought, only as a second choice. She realized she was born in the wrong era. She would have loved to wear beautiful dresses and stockings with the hem up the back and be at home all day making her house a home. Her ultimate goal was to be a wife, a mom, a good mom, who puts her children first.
She dreamed of a beautiful wedding in a beautiful church surrounded by all of her family and friends. A place filled with love and joy and happiness. A day to celebrate two lives beginning a journey – together.
“Who do you want to marry?”
” A doctor.”
” A fireman.”
” A youth pastor.”
Never a preacher. Never a cowboy. And never a military man.
Never. Never. Never.
Isn’t it funny how your life can sometimes take a path you never dreamed it would? Is it karma? Is it fate? Is it God reminding you that you are ultimately not in charge?
My Not So Fairytale Life with Hubby began when I was 20 years old.
I was in college and there was this guy. He was so sweet and kind. He started hanging around more. He took such interest in me. We could talk for hours about what was important or what was silly. It didn’t matter. We were just together. Just us.
Shy. Painfully shy.
We had classes together. We started walking to and from them together. Hanging out together. Months later we were dating. It was our junior year of college and we were falling in love. One problem, he was a part-time military man. Once a month he would don his camouflage and head off to somewhere I was not interested in nor wanted to hear about. I could love him in spite of that one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer that he must be away.
He didn’t talk much about his duties. He was a Military Policeman. They are never deployed, unless there is a huge riot in an adjoining state, then they are sent. They are trained in riot control. That is about the extent of their duties.
September 11. Buildings falling. People dying. The world is changing.
Our lives are changing.
I stood in my dorm with many of my girlfriends and I watched the towers fall.
We prayed. We hoped. We feared.
Everyone stared at me out of the corner of their eye. After all, I was the Army girlfriend.Were we going to war? Would there be retaliation? Would I be forced to say good-bye to the man I loved?
I walked to find him. I remember exactly what he was wearing, where he was standing, what his demeanor was.
Head down. Hands in his pockets. So still. So in shock.
I walk toward him. Our eyes meet. Neither of us said anything. Neither of us had to.
We both knew.
Our lives were going to change from this moment on. Nothing that we ever knew was to be the same ever again.
Where would we go from here? How do we cope? What does this mean, for us?
All day I heard the inevitable conversation over and over without fail.
“Man, have you heard anything? Have you gotten a call?”
“No, nothing yet.”
“Do you think there will be a war?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think you will be called-up?”
”I don’t think anyone knows that right now.”
Shut up. SHUT UP. Stop saying that. Who are you to ask him that? Go away. Leave us alone. You don’t know what you are talking about. You don’t know!
Life goes on. We go on. We hear talk of war, talk of deployments.
Full-time military is stretched. They are beginning to call on the National Guard.
Can they do this? Apparently they can.
We wait. Nothing. Talks of war. Talks of deployment. All we know is we want to be together. We decide to go on with our lives. We want to get married and begin our life together. We decide to move forward.
We plan. We arrange. We prepare.
All of the details were finalized. The date was set. May 31, 2003. People were preparing to travel, to come, to celebrate with us.
We were so happy.
I had one more thing to do. My flower girl’s dress. It was the last thing to do. That little girl was growing like a weed and her dress was the absolute last thing that could be done. I return her to her home.
His car. At her house. And I knew.
You know when you have pivotal moment in your life and you know that your life is about to change and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it? I wanted to run away. If you can’t give me news that I can’t hear it isn’t real.
But I couldn’t run. I had another person’s child in my car. That is the only thing that made me walk in that house.
He was there with my friends. Serious. Very serious. The only sound that broke the ice was the sound of the children laughing, oblivious to the situation. I envied them. I wanted to be them. I wanted to laugh carefree again with no knowledge of things like war and separation and dreams shattered.
He took me in his arms and held me. I knew.
“How long do we have?”
” A month maybe.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“No more than six months.”
Six months? Six months? That was an eternity to two people in love who were ready to begin their lives together.
We would wait. He would come home after six months and we would continue our lives.
We had planned a beautiful wedding. All the arrangements had been made, all of the details finalized, all of the deposits had been made and paid.
We would reschedule for when he would return. That was the decision.
Five years ago today we sat in front of the TV and watched the horror of shock and awe. I was living with my parents, they had moved to town just that year for a job relocation and I moved off campus to live with them. Fiance moved in too when he had to have a place to go in between being withdrawn from school for a military activation and reporting for pre-deployment training.
We watched. In silence. He knew that in a few weeks time that he we be walking where those bombs were falling.
He left for the army base near our home. It was a sad day. I knew it was just the beginning. The beginning of good-byes, of long absences, of separation.
Five years ago today. It doesn’t seem real, in some ways it seems like a dream, surely this is someone else’s life, or a story that I am reading. This is not my life. This is not the way it happened for me. That was not my plan, my dream, my fairytale.
He went for training. He prepared. We grew sick away from each other. Like so many others we decided to marry before he left. Due to the news of inevitably long deployments, good benefits, and a make-up wedding that most likely he would not be here for, we decided to elope.
On April 19 we were married in a very small, very quick, ceremony on an army base in KY. We were one of about fifteen couples who were trying to get married that weekend.
“You have the chapel for fifteen minutes, no more” the chaplain told us.
Nothing like being rushed on your wedding day.
We hurried. Our dads prayed. My dad cried as he performed the ceremony.
He was granted two days leave.
He had to take me home to my parent’s house following our brief weekend together. He had to go back to the base. I had to go finish my senior year of college.
The next two weeks were a blur. I drove an hour and half every day each way to be with him. We had to stay in a hotel off the base site. Being part-time military there was no base housing for couples, we spent thousands on just being together. But, we didn’t care we were together and we knew our days were numbered.
He left in May. The day I graduated from college. He called from New York on a layover. I held my cell phone in my hand during the ceremony. In that way he was there.
The next year and half are such a blur.
Loneliness. Utter loneliness. Grief. Sadness. Pride. Anger. Depression. Extensions. Anniversaries apart. Medical problems. No husband. No partner. No friend.
“How are you doing?”
This was my line. I lied to everyone, to myself, to Hubby. I was not fine. It was the darkest time in my life. If I could have gone into a coma and awoken the day he would have returned that would have been my preference. I kept going. I trudged on. But I died inside. I shut down when I was alone. I would go home on the weekends and not go anywhere or do anything, my only solace was Lily, my new little puppy, whom Hubby insited I get to keep me company.
He knew exactly what I needed. She kept me sane in so many ways. She was my friend, my housemate, and my primary source of conversation. She was my sanity in a time when I felt like I was going insane.
But I kept it together, I never cried, never showed my emotions, put on a happy face. That is what we were supposed to do right?
For God, for Country, for our men? Right?
I am not sure.
All I know is that five years ago today my life changed. My hubby changed. Our relationship changed.
Five years later are we for the better? Have we changed the world? Are we safer?
Five years later I still don’t have the answers to those questions.
Tags: Military, Veterans
Hubby is away tonight. He signed up for a research panel for war veterans. That makes me sick to even type that. War veterans are people like my Grandaddy who spent his time fighting in Korea and the men I used to walk by at the VA Hospital. They are the guys you see on the news riding motorcycles or at the dedication of the newest war memorial. They should not be my husband. The fact that we have 20 something year olds who are now considered war veterans is mind blowing.
I don’t talk much about my experience being an army wife. It was not a role I ever saw myself filling or even committing to. It was a very painful time and for that reason I don’t discuss it or even remember it willingly. That all changed when hubby signed up for this panel. He said they wanted spouses to be a part of the panel too, and they would pay us.
Well, sign me up!
I was not granted access though. The focus group for spouses was full by the time Hubby got to talk to the recruiting team. I am not sure if he just told me that though, for fear that I might rant on and on about our experience being a newly married couple surviving thousands of miles apart.
Where would I begin? Perhaps I would want to discuss the lack of adequate communication to stateside families within our own FRG (Family Readiness Group), the fact that he was only suppossed to be gone for three months but that turned into eighteen, that every time I had to file paperwork for anything it would somehow get lost and no one knew how to help. Or how about that they pulled him out of school mid-semester and then refused to pay for the rest of his college education because he had gone over the time limit in years to receive benefits under the GI Bill because he had been deployed for them for too long. Or maybe we would discuss how when I did get to talk to my husband it would be at 4:00 in the morning with such a bad connection that we spent the entire fifteen minutes saying about three sentences each. Or perhaps they would like to have heard how they don’t want to give my husband or his comrades “veteran status” because they were not “full-time” soldiers. Well, they were full time in the dirt longer than many other units, I can tell you that! They watched three full time service units come in and leave before they received their orders to go home. I would have loved to have talked about that.
I think they would have liked to have heard about moving up our wedding, cancelling all the plans we had made, and watching my partner of two weeks walk away and not knowing if I would ever see him again. Maybe they would like to hear about how the day I graduated from college my husband was unable to attend because he was on a plane headed for a place I already hated, a place I loathed for him. Would they want to hear about us spending our first wedding anniversary apart and how we received word of yet another extension only two days before it? Would they sympathize when we told then that when he did fulfill his time commitment to the Army eight months into the deployment he was not allowed to come home due to stop loss and he spent another ten months in the sand?
Would they care that we spent a fortune on mailing packages and letters, paying for his own plane ticket to come home when he did get leave, and driving back and forth to Ft. Campbell multiple times to take care of paperwork that the personnel were too inept to help someone with over the phone? Would they offer reimbursement for that? While they were writing that check I would ask for the rest of his college tuition we payed out of pocket when they refused appeal after appeal to get his GI Bill reinstated. Again, he wasn’t given veteran status, so “there is nothing they could do”.
Would they listen as we told them how alone we both felt? Him being so far away in a strange and dangerous place and me being home alone in a new phase in my life without people who understood or knew what to do with me? Would they know how it felt to feel so abandonded and homesick? To feel forgotten? I don’t think they could understand.
Would they like to hear about how my husband had to drive an unarmoured vehicle on the most dangerous road in Baghdad for months before someone decided that too many men and women were dying and they must armour the vehicles before public scrutiny got too bad?
Do they care that my husband spent years recovering from the things he saw and heard and witnessed. Were they there during the night when his nightmares woke us both? How about that? Maybe it is a good thing I did not get to go. I obviously have a few things to say. It is a good thing they did not want a piece of my mind, they would have gotten a lot more than they bargained for.