Twenty-five long, traffic-laden miles from the closest military installation and 72 even more congested clicks from the nearest Naval Station, my family and I exist in a world draped with all the trappings of civilian life while fostering a military career that served up two deployments in four years.
Reservist life is a double-edged sword; our family gets the benefits of a “normal” life, but dealing with the complexities of Navy life without the built in support network is trying and incredibly lonely.
I live in a town where freedom is free and doesn’t bear the jagged scars of its true cost. It is white picket fences and parades, not gold star families and wounded warriors. I envy their naïveté at times; it’s a blissful calm where news reports are just distant problems, a forgettable soundbite at best devoid of the turmoil of the worrying what that might mean for our family. Along the way, I have faced the questions, the confusion and the hilarious antidotes that come with a path the isn’t de rigor of suburban living.
“I thought your husband worked for a shipping company?” He does, that is his civilian job. A service academy graduate, the Navy is his career since he was handed his commission on graduation day and he is a lifer. He is not resigning or retiring one day before they force him out, it is in his blood. Yes, he has two jobs and pushing ahead two careers, juggling annual training and reserve weekends against business trips and family life is a veritable three-ring circus at times, but we make it work.
“But you have children!” Well, that explains the three mini freeloaders hanging around my house. I was beginning to wonder where they came from and why they are so suffocatingly dependent on me for every basic need. In truth, two of the three are classic post-deployment babies, so yes, I am aware I have offspring, but just as your children do not impede you from fulfilling your job requirements they also don’t prevent my husband from doing his job.
This is a major good with the bad moment.
My children have not dealt with changing schools and homes every few years and trying to fit in with a new group of friends, but it is a tough road for them to travel. In the fold of a military community, other children have shared experiences and understand the emotional turmoil; teachers know how it can affect academic performance, out in the civilian world it is a foreign concept, and the intrinsic support structure is not there for the kids.
Devoid of commonality, the kids sometimes feel very isolated. However, it does help them learn to be resilient and flexible.
“So it is like he is on a business trip.” Every military spouse faces this gem. Yes! Deployment is a business trip, a long, psychologically scarring, traumatic trip to the scenic vistas of warfare and despair.
His last tour came with a gleeful report back that he was certain he found the entrance to the gates of hell a la Dante’s Inferno amid the burned rocks and desolate soul crushing expanse of nothingness. That is the same as a conference in Cincinnati, right? I am so glad your husband also slaps on 50 plus pounds of body armor and travels in high-speed convoys careful to avoid roadside IED’s when he leaves his hotel. Oh, and the “hotel” my husband is hanging out in is a giant metal box or a snazzy five-star canvas tent in the finest olive drab tones, a very en vogue color this season. There is a woeful lack of room service, but otherwise, it is essentially the same, said no service member ever.
“How do you do it?” I know they are looking for deep insight into my psyche to understand what underlying masochistic tendencies I am hiding or some dissertation of a noble sacrifice for the greater good, but it is painfully simple: it is not optional. My husband was in the Navy for eight years before we met, so I went in with eyes wide open to our reality. With a firm sword whack to the butt, I signed on for this for better or worse. Deployments lie firmly in the “for worse” category, but it comes with perks. We spent two weeks traveling Europe on an R&R meet up making a nice break halfway through for all of us. I know they do not want the truth, they want and on some level need, the sitcom version. Teary, joyous reunions and by the next morning everything is back to normal. I let it go.
I did have to laugh when I found out our sweet, elderly neighbor was telling people around town that she did not understand why I would take my deadbeat husband back after he was absent for a year and left the children and me.
It was the uniform; it is always the uniform that sways me to welcome him back.