22 years of marriage
Obviously this is not my first rodeo, I have been here before and yet I am nervous, excited, weak in the knees, sick to my stomach, and even though I have over six weeks left of this deployment, I feel like I am standing at the front of the line for the biggest roller coaster at Six Flags. I have been here, done this, heck I do this for a living. I prepare Families and Soldiers for deployment, redeployment, and the ups and downs of reintegration every day and yet, I am a massive jumble of emotions. We have a lot of experience with preparation, separations, and reintegration’s after a decade of war.
Deployments, separations, and reintegration are unique for every person and we react differently from everyone else, what freaks me out may not freak you out. We do have one thing in common, there is a point when it is over and they are home and we are in that Redeployment Center in the same nervous state as everyone else, waiting for the moment when the music is playing the song that the unit will enter to and the General will say Dismissed, when we rush towards our Soldier with our heart in our throats and a jumble of thoughts such as “will he like this dress?” “Is the house clean enough?” “will we make it through the first four days without a fight?” and then we reach our Soldier and suddenly every moment of heartache, pain, frustration, and so much more melts away the second we are in each other’s arms. I. Love. That. Moment. The moment when I can thank my lucky stars that he is here and I can touch him and smell him, even though he smells like a men’s locker room and I can see his sweet smile that lights up just for me and feel his strong arms around me that remind me that he is here to protect me and hold me and his kiss that melts my heart. Yes, that moment!
Whew, that’s done. Over.
What? Wait, who is this stranger sleeping beside me waking me up every time he rolls over, getting upset over the empty milk carton in the fridge, invading my territory? Who does he think he is? I have spent the last nine months dealing with everyday life, tackling issues as a single parent and sole homeowner. I have spent three months teaching our 16 year old daughter how to drive, gone with our 14 year old son to buy an athletic supporter, tangled with a 19 year old know-it-all that suddenly thinks she knows more about life than I do, cried as our 21 year old took his oath and swore into the Army on 9/11 and then drove over a thousand miles to watch him graduate from Basic. I have dealt with World War III every single day, and drove to so many sports events, I lost track. Suddenly I go from Superwoman to completely clueless, as if everything I have done for nine months didn’t count.
What? Why didn’t someone tell me about this?
Oh wait, I have been here before.
This is supposed to be a time of bliss so why are we so out of sync? Why are we not in stride? Why are we so frustrated with each other? Why are we not enjoying every moment together in total harmony? Because for most of us, we have been here before, this is not our first rodeo. We have spent almost two years of our lives preparing for and dealing with this deployment. We prepare, we cope, we sustain and maintain, we reintegrate and then…we reset. By the time we get into a rhythm, we are starting that cycle all over again. Let’s be honest, our Soldiers don’t tell us what really happens downrange. It’s like an unglamorous version of Vegas, what happens there, stays there. Part of us wants to know what happened, what they did, what they saw, how they lived, and then the other part would like to play ostrich and keep our heads buried in the sand. We don’t want to know what really happened downrange just like they really don’t want to know what happened at home. We protect each other and ourselves. I protect him by not telling him about every little fight, every little issue because I need him to be safe and focused on the mission when he is away from home so that he can return home. Which only causes anger, frustration, bitterness, and more. Why do I always have to be the one that takes care of everything? Why can’t he do this? Why? Why? Why?
Why do I feel this way? Am I alone in my thinking? I feel so guilty for the resentment that manifests itself when he is really trying to help. I try to put myself in his shoes and walk that mile. It’s a really hard mile to walk. This person that is my other half has just returned from being away from the comforts of home, sleeping in shelters made of plywood, freezing as he tries to catch a few hours of sleep and eating MREs instead of a hot meal 3 times a day because budget cuts prevent that little comfort before going out into a war zone and worrying about himself and his battle buddies. This person has come home to a foreign place, a place that sustained and maintained without him for nine months to a year. Soldiers return home and just hope to find a place to fit in again and sometimes that struggle to fit is like a bulldozer to everyone else. So what if the dishes aren’t loaded in the dishwasher the way I want it or when he unloads it, he manages to relocate half of the items to new cupboards so I play “Where’s Waldo” with my china for a good 20 minutes before dinner? He is looking for a place to fit. And yet, I feel anger, frustration, and guilt. I shouldn’t feel this way; I should just be overjoyed that he is home safe in my arms where he really fits.
We feel anger when they leave us, we feel anger when they are gone, and we feel it when they come home. Why are we angry? Shouldn’t we just be happy? We now have a foreign person back in our lives, this person has changed but so have we. We worry about his safety, our relationship and can it survive, we get frustrated with communication and the lack of it. Why won’t he talk to me? We worry if we are strong enough to survive alone and mainly we worry if we are the only person that feels this way. When he walks away, leaving the life and love you have both built and cherished, the actual deployment begins. But, our battle began long before that moment of goodbye.
Life revolves around waiting, always waiting, and hoping we have done enough, been enough, laughed enough, loved enough. We move through our military life, always wondering if we meet the “standard,” or if we have the strength, or even the ability, to maintain a family, to be a single parent over and over again. We push to be more, to be perfect. We pick ourselves up when we fall, and we move through the pain when we fail. Tried and true, we prepare ourselves for his return. We push ourselves to stay, understanding that only “half” of him may return to us. We expect night sweats. We prepare ourselves to nurture him. To listen. To be a confidant and a safe haven in the storm.
We don’t expect to be the ones with war wounds. We don’t expect to be the ones who need help. We don’t feel entitled. After all, we wear no uniform.
But we are in the battle.
(Written for a Redeployment brief at Ft. Riley, Kansas to start an introduction about HWHV In-Person Groups)