Today my husband
went to prison deployed. For those of you who have dealt with a spouse’s deployment before, you probably understand the sentiment. For those of you who have not experienced this unique, impermanent loss; let me explain.
My husband committed himself to the military and willingly accepted the consequences of that commitment (deployment). He’s been
up the river deployed 5 times before. He was sentenced kindly asked to spend the next 7-12 months in a maximum security setting with minimal communication and absolutely no visitation rights.
I have no say in the matter, and although my husband (unlike a criminal) will continue to receive a paycheck, I am now responsible for our family and our home until he is
released (no), paroled (no), returned home to us (yes).
I’m medicated just enough to stop crying and write this post because 1) it has given me something to focus on besides my husband leaving our family and facing possible imminent danger for as little as 7 months to as long as a year, and 2) our story, the ones who are in the shadows of our uniformed spouses, often goes unheard. That needs to change. This is officially the non-service-member spouse’s-side of the story.
Here’s the briefest of back stories so you can get to know me and the family I will be unintentionally embarrassing for the duration of this deployment.
My husband and I have been married for 16 years, together 18, and he’s served in the United States Marine Corps for 17 and some change.
We have two teenage sons, one who is 16 and one who is 14. Both are dating wonderful girls who may or may not make appearances in this blog from time to time, too.
Currently, we live in Southern California, and my husband is stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
Due to security concerns, spouses are hit over the head (rightfully so) with the term: OPSEC, which, in Marine-speak means Operational Security. This means that at no time may I divulge the location of my husband’s deployment, nor the unit with which he has deployed.
I can, however, wax poetic about past deployments, and share my personal account of having a husband and partner one minute, to being a single parent with a missing spouse (who you’re worried might keel over at any moment) the next.
Whether you want to read that or not, it’s the truth. Every military spouse who’s faced a wartime deployment has those fears and worries, and it is my goal to keep this recurring blog post as #real as possible. So I will repeat myself: when our spouses deploy, we are not only alone, we are also terrified that our other half will DIE. Sounds impossibly
romantic disturbing, doesn’t it?
Here I am, wondering if my husband will survive another deployment, and selfishly wondering if I will survive, too. While I’m expected to be “semper gumby” (always flexible, and no, that doesn’t involve sex positions) I’m also supposed to never complain, never indulge my own fears, and always wear a brave face.
Sorry – I did not sign up for that.
I’m flawed and far less heroic than my husband. He is gone to serve our country and I couldn’t be prouder – but…what about me?
A friend and fellow military spouse posted the following quote on her Facebook page today:
“If you want to help a military spouse, call and tell her you are bringing her dinner, or invite her over to your house. If the military spouse has young kids, she will likely not want to go out to a restaurant since it’s quite stressful to wrangle kids and try to carry on a conversation and eat and feed the toddler that wants to climb out of the high chair. Offer to watch her kids while she showers, or runs errands, or gets a haircut. Buy her favorite coffee or a Starbucks card – I promise she is tired. Tell her you are coming over with junk food and a chick flick to indulge on (after the kids go to bed, if she has them) because that time in the evening between 8pm and midnight is incredibly lonely. Tell her you are going to help her weed that garden she forgot about the day he left and mow her yard. She needs you to set the date and time and tell her it is happening, because she won’t – she is afraid of bothering you, or pulling you away from your family.” – (via).
It made me cry to read that, because it called upon 16 years of losing and regaining my husband, raising our children, and trying to fit in with friends whose husbands are still home (and vice versa).
It summoned the sadness of not only losing someone so pivotal to your day-to-day existence, but the absence and loneliness we can feel around fellow military spouses because they are either 1) not experiencing the same issues at the same time or 2) more comfortable hiding their pain than sharing it with others – (the Marine Corps motto is: “pain is weakness leaving the body” and in spouse-speak that means: “pain and sadness are badges of weakness.”)
Today for our sad day-one deployment dinner we had leftovers from the 4-course meal I cooked my husband the night before, to make him feel as loved and important as I could possibly muster. (It was Indian food, on his request.) The leftovers were great, but the simple act of feeding ourselves was something of a chore.
While in theory it would be awesome if a friend brought dinner for my family, the reality is that many of the women I know are going through the same debilitating sadness, while others have just welcomed their husbands home after enduring their own lengthy deployment. Still some are so uncomfortable reaching out to others, that it would be awkward for them to check in on my family the way friends in “the real world” (aka civilians) might do for one another.
It’s not that we’re inherently negative, it’s that we find ourselves regularly drowning in a pool of grief of which we’ve managed to tread while our husbands were still home. While we are so busy demonstrating our undying love to our soon-to-be-departed (but hopefully returned) spouses, who is showering us with love, affection and attention, too?
My husband tried his best to let us all know how dearly we would be missed, but he was also focused on mission readiness, something the Marine Corps prides itself upon. All that energy towards the job ahead means the family left behind is also left depleted.
So, I spilled my syrupy sweetness all over him, once again, as I have done 5 times before, and then, in what felt like a premature separation (it came so fast) he was gone and I was teetering on the side of empty.
Once my husband was out of my line of sight, my face fell straight into the puddle of my exhausted misery.
What about my kids? When I revisit the ghost of deployments past, I see tears, confusion, and heartache. I remember the time my husband did a back-to-back tour to Iraq, returning to the war-torn country just 5 months after coming back from the same place, and how our youngest son, then just 6 years old, cried anytime Greenday’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” came on the radio.
I remember how lost my oldest son felt at 2 when his daddy and best friend suddenly vanished, leaving a newborn baby brother and a very tired, frazzled mom in his place.
Now, thankfully, they are older and wiser. It doesn’t mean they don’t hurt, too. They do. On the car ride home today the only thing spoken was a response to my question “What are you thinking about?” through teary-eyes. The answer? “Dad.”
We’re not special, either. Although our pain feels unique, it’s alarmingly widespread. According to the Department of Defense Statistical Information Analysis Division (SIAD) as of March 2014 there are approximately 1,959,820 dependents of active duty military service members. At any given time, there are around 235,921 service men and women stationed overseas (with or without family members) and of course, those like my husband who are deployed.
That means there are a lot of people who have felt this same sadness, this same haze of “what just happened,” and “how will I go on?” with a thumping, annoying dose of “who will take care of me?” added in for good measure.
And what will we do with that flour-sack of emotional weight?
I can’t speak for every military spouse out there, but I know many fall into the same badsoothing habits as me:
I won’t shower, will forget to brush my teeth, will eat/feed my family whatever is in the fridge/cupboard that requires no more cooking than a microwave zap and once those items are exhausted, will resort to drive-thrus in my pajamas.
Then, a week will have passed, I’ll have *hopefully* heard from my husband, and with the knowledge that he is safe, and the realization that the world keeps spinning and I have somehow survived without him, I will drag my hairy, greasy, pimply self to the bathroom and rekindle my love-affair with personal hygiene.
Once I’m clean, I’ll feel invigorated and the other crooked pieces in my life, like cooking, and cleaning, grocery shopping and dedicated parenting will straighten themselves out and, as my husband calls it, find their battle rhythm.
The only song I’ll hear tonight, though, is “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” by Celine Dion (oh
fuck no, here come the tears…).
“Where do all the lonely hearts go?”
Stay tuned for post 2 – where I follow up with you one month from today to see just how hairy my armpits got before I took the inevitable “moving on” shower.
God bless our troops, but especially, my husband.
This post was originally featured on Bryanne’s blog, Bryanne Bites The World. Photo via.