Guest Author: Rachel Engel, Air Force spouse

As completely cliche as it sounds, my first serious boyfriend actually used the words, “We need to talk,” before telling me he wanted to end our relationship (to date a friend of mine, apparently, and I use that term loosely). After spending eight years as a military spouse, I have come to realize that the tiny phrase, and all its variants, is just as dreaded in this lifestyle as it is in the civilian world, except that it takes on a slightly different meaning.

I was 20 when my husband came home from work one day, only 11 months into his military career, and asked me to sit down on the couch with him; a subtle, more kind way of saying, “We need to talk.” A thousand thoughts ran through my mind, from, “Does he already want a divorce?!” to, “Are they kicking him out?” The possibility of a deployment never even entered my brain, which proves how naïve I was to the ways of the Air Force at that point.

Sure enough, the next words out of his mouth were, “Honey, a tasking came down today, and my name was included.”

Cue panic, and add about a million questions.

The memory is seared into my brain. I remember what furniture we had at the time, what color our walls were, even what he was wearing. I remember being paralyzed with fear as my mind ran through a huge list of possible scenarios for what the next year could hold for us.

But, just as thousands of other military couples have done, we weathered that first deployment, not without tears and fears, but knowing that on each end of that calling-card phone call was someone who loved and was thinking about us.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was running into his arms, relishing that hug, and then immediately retreating back, suddenly shy around this man who I had loved for four years. Is there anything in the world as amazing as a homecoming?

Fast forward 15 months, and we were in a different house (three streets over due to renovations), with different colored walls (Classic Taupe this time), and with him wearing a different uniform (ABU’s instead of BDU’s), when the second version of, “We need to talk,” came spilling out of him.

After arriving home from school, I came into the kitchen to find him quietly making a snack, avoiding my gaze. When I went to give him a hug, he finally looked at me, and there, in his eyes, was that terrible phrase. I knew what was coming before he even opened his mouth. The panic set in, but at least the questions were held to a minimum, broken down to a simple, “When and where?”

Once again, we endured the months apart, and homecoming was once again absolutely glorious-and I was much less shy for the reunion.

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