Sometimes the truth about what my husband does for a living wraps around me like a corset and makes it hard to breathe. He is in danger. He travels all the time with and without advance notice. He has done multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the kind of places where they don’t have Marriott or Starbucks. This time next summer my husband will be back in Iraq.
But my husband is not in the military any more. Now he is an agent. After going to college he opted for a career that combined service, danger and (in all honesty) the ability to run around the world with a really big gun and find the bad guys.
So I live a life that is like (and yet unlike) the life of a military spouse. And I envy you all, in a good way.
I envy military wives because you have a place. You have a role. I see that when I meet you and you say proudly, “I’m a military spouse,” or “My husband is in the Army.” I can feel your confidence in the job you know you have as the backbone of America’s military. I see your connection to one another. You bond over the silly things civilian wives say to you or the major pain in the ass of moving all the time. Most importantly, you have a sisterhood that is strong enough to lift someone up when that terrible knock at the door is heard.
We agent’s wives don’t have that. I do know other agent’s wives, but everyone moves around a lot.
We don’t have homecomings. My husband simply comes home from the airport. No one holds a flag aloft and thanks him for his service. There is no ceremony, no news crew angling to get the shot of the hero embracing his wife after a long separation. He just comes through the door, we hug for a really long time and then we try our best to resurrect the routine we had before he left. And we do that until he leaves again.
This life is lonely. He and I have each other. Yet when our world went pear-shaped and we were suddenly not with one another and under a kind of stress I could never imagine, it broke my heart to realize how little we matter to others. It shocked me to see how truly alone we are in our service.
That’s not to say we should be pitied. We make a good deal more than the average officer in the military, which is nice. We have better access than most with regard to communication when our loved ones are downrange. Our men aren’t always in danger. Some assignments, like in the military, take agents to pretty normal places or they do a tour of school or command center that make life seem ordinary for exactly 12-24 months.
What jars me the most is the reaction I get from civilians who, when hearing my husband is in Iraq or Afghanistan for a year say, “Oh is he military?” When I say he is an agent their faces fall in disappointment–as if I am unworthy of their support because the fabric on my husband’s back is not a uniform.
Some people ask me if I am afraid he’ll be killed. I am. You know I am. But I did not freak out when I heard about a bombing that I knew he would be responding to even though insurgents were still in the building and shooting at the good guys. I did not cry when he called me (again) to say he was disappearing for a week or so in Afghanistan and that he would call me. Later.
Even on the day I opened up Yahoo news to a car bombing that included the name of a person I knew, I did not fall apart. I frantically searched the pictures online to see if I could identify anything: a boot, a haircut, anything to let me know if he was in that picture and not somewhere else in a body bag.
He was there. Bending over the bomb blast crater with his M-4 slung across his back, face averted from the cameras he knew were there. Amid a heavily protected band of brothers with every gadget known to man, my guy was wearing cargo pants, a NorthFace shirt and a bulletproof vest. Not the cool kind. The clunky kind with his blood type written in bold across the back.
Even then I did not cry from relief or fear of what could have happened. I couldn’t. I can’t. If I let that emotion out it won’t stop and I will start to worry and cry when he goes to the gym for a workout. I can’t allow myself to be afraid of anything or I’ll be afraid of everything when it comes to him.
He thinks I am tough. When I tell him I’m fine on those so very long-distance calls he says, “That’s my girl” and I melt. I will not give in to worrying because he’s proud of me for being strong. I live in a perpetually suspended state of emotion that makes it hard to feel when he is home because I spend so much time trying to ward off the devil of emotional vulnerability.
Why am I telling you this? Because someday you might meet me or one of me and I know that you military spouses are among the best people in the world. You are kind, strong, welcoming, and you have hearts the size of Texas. I count so many of you among my friends and I am a better person for it. You offer someone like me a place to be honest about my life. You let me admit I’m lonely and sometimes not very good at ignoring the dark whisper at night that tells me we are crazy to live this life and his number is up soon.
The sisterhood of women who marry men who move toward the danger and disaster and death encompasses more than military families. Bond with us as women who marry men who defend. Your understanding of what it’s like to fear and carry on at the same time is a priceless gift. I know I haven’t thanked enough of you for that sisterhood. I thank and thank and thank you now.
Editor’s note: The writer of this post prefers to remain anonymous.