The last time my husband was deployed was in 2004. During that deployment, he was in an area of Iraq with very little infrastructure. There were no phones or internet where he was; there wasn’t even running water. During that deployment, our main source of communication was snail mail.
I sent my husband 215 letters while he was gone. He sent me 10.
For me, this was a serious sore spot. I begged him in letters to write me back, but it was fruitless. I hated to use precious phone time to nag my husband to write me, but I felt so disconnected from him. I had no idea what was going on in his life for 13 months. I wanted him to write to me, but mostly I wanted him to want to write to me. Why didn’t he want to write to me? When we did get to talk on the phone, about once a month, he would say that he loved my letters and that they kept him going. And it stung, because what I wanted to say in return was, "Yeah, don’t you think I would like to feel the same way?" But I didn’t. I just tried to gently suggest that maybe he could send me a letter if he had some free time.
I even tried dropping hints, like sending him a self-addressed envelope and card. I found it in the bottom of the footlocker he sent home at the end of the deployment.
When my husband got home, I let it all out. I cried and slobbered and said that it made me feel unimportant that he didn’t set aside a few minutes a week to write to me. I said that I know it’s not in his nature to compose with a pen, but that I thought he might try to do it just because it would mean so much to me. Boy, I laid that guilt trip on! But I was serious about the feelings: I felt like our communication had been a one-way street for over a year, and it had taken a toll on me. He said that he knew he should have been writing me while he was gone, but he didn’t realize how much he had hurt me by procrastinating. He knew he had screwed up, but he didn’t know how badly until he got home.
So we kissed and made up, and then it became a running joke. Anytime someone on TV was writing a love letter, I’d throw him a mocking glance. I’d start sentences with "The next time you deploy and you write me letters all the time…" And my husband would exasperatedly joke that he was gonna bury me in letters the next time.
When we watched the John Adams miniseries, and Abigail Adams sadly chastizes her husband for not writing to her while he was in France, my husband groaned and said, "Aw crap, here we go again…" John Adams gave his wife some line about how missing her was so burdensome that he couldn’t possibly write her a letter without falling into depression, I turned to my husband and said, "Don’t even THINK about using that line."
Now that he’s deployed again, I’ve so far written him 26 letters and he’s written me eight. Not a great improvement, but at least it’s a better ratio than before. And honestly, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much this time. We have far better access to phones and instant messaging than we did last time, so I don’t feel his absence as much. The last time he was gone, phone contact was for passing on information only, like when he called to say he’d probably be out of contact for three months. But this time we get to talk or IM often enough that we have time to laugh about movies or talk about the presidential elections. (That’s another thing that’s someone else’s weird: Joan D’Arc thought it was funny that we’d waste our time IMing about politics, but that’s what we like to talk about when we’re in the same room, so it’s fun to still talk about it when we’re apart. That’s our normal. And I like that our contact and conversations have felt so normal this time around, unlike last time.)
I don’t need those letters as much as I needed them last time, though I still cherish them and love that he takes time in his week to sit down and do something he really hates doing, just because it makes his wife happy.
But sometimes I still like to tease him that he’s "pulling that John Adams bullcrap" when he doesn’t write.