We are standing on a beach outside of Charleston, arms intertwined, so that in shadow, we form one mass.
Ahead of us, her young son runs and tempts the tides, his toes darting in and out of the water’s pathway. It’s not that we’re just protecting one another against the chilly night air sweeping off the ocean, but it’s a physical representation of a deeper connection. We are the closest of friends, but we’ve only just met in person hours before.
It sounds like a bizarre whirl of fate, but it’s quite simple and happens across similar beaches and corner cafes more often than one might think: We are military spouses.
Beth and I ‘met’ shortly after we were both married. Our stories so strikingly similar, we had reconnected with our husbands, boys whom we had gone to school with at one point, but who had, over the years and training and deployments, cocooned into men.
While we didn’t know one another then; we would come to find out that we both started dating our future husbands within weeks of one another and our wedding anniversaries are only one week apart.
They also deployed, though with different companies and to vastly different parts of the world, within a few days of one another. We considered ourselves fortunate when they returned around the same time.
Later, we would both have baby girls, born just six weeks apart.
It was through chance, really, that we met. Desperate for any connection to the military universe, I joined a few support groups online. Because my husband and I had dated long distance and I absolutely loved my job, we thought it better I stay working in Chicago, rather than pick up and move across the country to California while he was away.
But there were SO few people I knew that could relate, and there are, I am so sure, so many people that were not spouses, but were going through their own thing that surely wished that I could relate to them.
We all have something.
The group had posted a photograph of her and her Marine on their wedding day. There was something so bright about her, and on a whim, I clicked on her profile. On it, she listed prominently her favorite book. Not only was it my favorite book, it was the very same book that led my husband and I to find one another again. The book, which centers on low-country Charleston, the exploits of one family and its brash and brilliant narrator, had always been a sense of comfort and luck. And once again, it was bringing me luck.
I took a chance and emailed her and laughed at myself feeling like an online dater, but I wasn’t searching for romance, I was seeking understanding.
We made fast friends. Though we both lived far from one another, she in Atlanta and me in Chicago, I knew that she was always on the other end of the line — a comfort since my husband was often not able.
She understood when I would wake up in the morning and committed the cardinal sin of the deployed spouses everywhere: check the news, hold my breath and pray not to see something horrific splashed across the front page. It was a bizarre ritual that I kept telling myself not to repeat, but every day the same, as though if I were awake any missteps could be prevented. But she understood my superstitions, because she was going through them as well. And she NEVER judged.
During particularly difficult weeks, when neither she nor I could barely remember the last time we had spoken with our husbands, we would call one another with a joke or the latest celebrity gossip.
When I was hyperventilating tears with fear and feeling so very out of control, she was on the other line, occasionally crying with me, mostly soothing.
We traded off, shifting emotional vents to one another, but I always felt like I was the luckiest one in that equation. She was often the light bulb in a world that felt so many times, very, very dark.