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The Ugly Truth

This post has been riding with me for awhile. I’ve rolled this around, considered not posting it, considered curbing some of the truths, and then became comfortable enough with the truth that I determined I could handle whatever comments people may want to lob my way.

As a military wife of the National Guard variety, I do not have the benefit of an active duty, post centered support network. I have forged, through sheer curiosity and necessity, a core group of military spouses, from various branches of service and numerous States. Our relationship is primarily technology based. We do see each other occasionally, but we mostly communicate through our computers, our telephones and even snail mail.

I have a family who, while supportive, cannot possibly understand that chilling effect that hearing the words “deployment” have upon my heart and my mind. How absolutely exhausted I can become contemplating the hundreds and hundreds of days between now and when I lay eyes on my husband’s physical person again. How easily it is to become angry and resentful over this overriding, overbearing, inanimate, but very much living entity smack in the middle of our lives known as ARMY.

Most of the time, I can put up with ARMY. I can put up with the absences, the training, the utter lack of ability of any one hand to know what the other hand is doing and plan accordingly, the uncanny talent of ARMY booking things for the only weekend we have anything even remotely interesting to do.

As an adult, I understand what it is to commit to something. As an attorney, I understand what it is to feel duty bound to do something and to do it in a particular fashion. As a mother, I understand the quality and character of the individuals who serve and how wonderful it is to be able to raise people like that.

As a wife, though, I teeter between uber supportive superwoman and raging-against-the-machine whiner. There is no better time to see this vacillation than the time immediately preceding a deployment. Those final weeks before my husband boards a plane, I can no longer deny what is about to happen nor the reality of what could happen, and I. Am. MAD. Mostly, because there is not a damned thing I can do to stop, change, like or otherwise deal with what is happening.

If ARMY were another woman, I’d hunt her down and whoop her good. Period. I mean, how dare she? Who does she think she is anyway? Yep. Definitely would reach back to my roots and remember how to adjust her attitude in a hurry.

But, Army isn’t another woman. And, frankly, after all these years of marriage, if Army were another woman, and my husband couldn’t walk away, I’d toss his clothes out our bedroom window onto our driveway, throw him his keys and tell him to get off my lawn.

For the record, I love my husband. I have been connected to him in one way or another for the better part of twenty years. And, before that, I definitely knew who he was and what he was about. When he is gone, there are very often times where the feelings of loss are so great, I cannot breathe. The weight of it just sits on my chest and crushes every bit of air from my lungs. The vacuum within the space he leaves overpowers and draws me closer. I cannot shake that cone of silence that follows me around. It is the constant, uneasy feeling that I’m forgetting something or something is out of place. Knowing, rationally, exactly what that is, but my subconscious mind refusing to just let it be.

I spend the early days needing to hear his voice and coming up empty.

Of course, it isn’t like you know this the first go ’round. Before my husband left for Kosovo a few years ago, I could not even contemplate the year ahead of me. Two very young children who were constantly sick. Working full-time. No sleep. It was horrendous. I didn’t have my military wife friends then. I just kept hearing, “Single mothers do this every day and their houses are clean, their laundry is done, they take care of themselves. Get with the program.”

But single mothers do not have in the back of their mind that their soul mate is a world away, strapped with pounds of equipment, braving the elements, remaining vigilant against danger and only being able to contact home sometimes. They have their own sets of fears and worries I can’t contemplate anymore and I am in awe of those who hold it all together. For me, being in this spot doesn’t really make for a pleasant experience.

This time, my husband wasn’t going someplace where people wanted each other dead and he just needed to stay out of the way. This time, he’s where people would just as soon he be dead as anyone and he needs to stay out of the way and then some.

You want to present a scenario like that to a control freak like me and expect it to go over with my spontaneous combustion? Good. Luck.

My husband and I had many conversations. Much of the really bad moments, however, came directly before I went to see him on his final pass in June. By that point, he was sassy himself and not at all interested, routinely, in what my damage was. It couldn’t help talking to some people about how I felt.

I realize now, looking back, that I should have saved the very darkest of my thoughts and feelings to share with those who would absolutely, 100% get it without holding it against me, thinking I’m off-center, or deciding I didn’t deserve a husband like mine and that I needed psychiatric intervention. The appropriate audience would have been my fellow military spouses who have lived this dance before, know how badly it sucks and who would listen without judgment.

The ugly truth is–I needed to fall apart before he left so I could be unwavering once he was gone. I needed to scream and cry and be angry before he ever got on that plane, so I could handle all our business once he was headed overseas. The idea that I could just blithely shrug my shoulders, say “Oh, well! See you in a year! Love ya! Bye!” is ludicrous. Maybe some people do it. God bless ‘em. I’m not one of those folks. I needed to mourn the loss of yet another year of our family being intact before I could be the kind of mom who makes things feel almost normal.

I needed to think the horrible thoughts about what happens if he hurts himself just enough that he can’t work his civilian job anymore all the way up to, what happens if people show up at my door in their Class A’s? I needed to say it out loud and I needed also to hear myself say that I didn’t know why I should believe we would be fortunate enough to miss out on that kind of crap sandwich. I needed to say out loud that I had absolutely no say in any of this. It wasn’t my choice. I didn’t enlist. I’m here against my will. I needed to make it known that if any of this horribleness did come to call, I tried to warn people. I tried to tell ya and yet, ya went ahead and raised your damn hand anyhow…because that’s how you roll.

How I roll is I get really mad and then I move on. I’ve been that way since I was a child. I say things I absolutely do not mean, plot things I absolutely never would carry out, and do both at such a decibel level, it’s scary. But then, like any other kid who has a tantrum over her favorite thing being taken away against her will, I’m wrung out. There is no other way to describe it. I have no coping mechanism for having zero control. I’m not a child anymore and yet, I have to reach WAY back to find a scenario in my life where I could not control at least a portion of what is happening.

Please don’t tell me I have the power to control my reaction to things. I know that. I’m doing that now. I’ll continue to do it for the next YEAR and, likely, even more than that. As a worrier, when you do your best to live in the moment, you cannot do that unless you are in heavy denial. Denial must come to an end, though, and when it does, it isn’t pretty. And, for the next year, I will sometimes have to decide between doing a load of laundry or going to bed before 1 a.m., unloading the dishwasher or talking to my husband on IM, or scrubbing a toilet and watching a movie with my kids. I don’t have a maid, so get over it–these decisions are no-brainers.

That’s the ugly truth.

My husband and I are fine with all that. He knows I needed to do and say those things, get them off my chest and then come back to center. He knows that the house is usually in better shape (eventually) when he’s gone than when he’s home, but that it takes me time to find a routine. He’s had his moments too; don’t let his stoic face in all our photos fool you. We did what we had to do and continue to do what needs done and are simply stronger for it.

That’s a military marriage from my vantage point.

Maybe it’s different for other people and that’s okay. But, I’m done apologizing or feeling unbalanced for what I needed to do to be able to send him off with a kiss and a smile. It was what it was–an ugly, crying, snot flying, curse screaming, holy hell of a rage.
And, it’s over.

That’s the honest truth.

Post adapted from version posted at Guard Wife’s personal blog, Most Certainly Not.

About Guard Wife

Melinda, who writes as Guard Wife, hails from a rural farming community in a Midwestern state. She moved to the southwest part of her home state to attend college and remains there some twenty years later. Today, she's a licensed attorney who spends most of her professional time working within the academic support and bar exam passage programs at her alma mater. Her volunteer interests vary from pro bono legal work to Brownie troop leader to Soldiers' Angels. Melinda and her husband have three daughters, the youngest of whom the couple brought home from Ethiopia the same week Melinda's husband returned from a deployment to Iraq.

Melinda also writes about her experiences as the mom of an older internationally adopted child at www.5forHope.com and maintains her individual blog at www.mostcertainlynot.typepad.com.

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