Category Archives: Military Deployment

Walk With Me: Our Story, Part XI

Many moons ago, I began writing “Our Story” and what started out to be a brief synopsis stretched itself into a serial. After Part X, I stopped writing for a few more moons. Part of that was because I was getting ready for T to come home from Afghanistan and was very busy. Then part of that was because T was home and I was even busier. And then I was just plain out of the routine.

So please pardon my long silence in this department and join me once again on Sundays as I pick up where I left off…

In early May of 2006, two soldiers from T’s unit were killed in action and a third was wounded. We were less than three months into a year-long deployment. I didn’t see how we were going to get through the next ten months with this heightened fear. But what choice did we have?

Read Our Story from the beginning.

The heightened fear began to increase tension and the increased tension began to spur drama back home. Rumors started to circulate: this person is having that problem with her soldier; that soldier is having this problem with his spouse. The FRG started to crumble and a promising group split and drifted, then reformed into smaller groups.
 
I will say that the drama was a good crash-course in all things military. Before all this happened, for instance, didn’t know an NCO from an ACU or whether I should salute the flag at dawn or fold my jammies at reveille. I had no idea that officers and enlisted weren’t supposed to fraternize or that some wives resented this. The day I found this out, I was horrified. I remember wondering if I was behaving inappropriately or in a way that would hurt T somehow. I longed to ask him.

But, of course, I had to wait for the next time he called me.

When I did finally get to talk to him, he patiently explained that at one time the fraternization rule did spill over to spouses, but that it was no longer applicable. I was so green that I asked whether he was uncomfortable with me talking to the wives of enlisted men.

“Baby,” he said, “talk to whoever you want to.”

Eventually, I stopped attending FRG meetings and gatherings altogether because I ended up feeling stressed, confused and left out. It certainly wasn’t worth driving five hours round-trip for a one-hour meeting that was more uncomfortable than sand in your skivvies.

Still, I had my friend K to fraternize with. K and I had grown up in the same neighborhood. We’d played kickball and flashlight tag with the other kids and listened on her front steps for the magical melodies of the ice cream man. In Junior High we’d alternated between best-friendship and fighting with astonishing regularity. We’d been together through everything from broken window panes to growing pains, but if you’d ever told me we’d be going through a deployment together I would’ve laughed in your face. The military was never an option for a pacifist like me.

Yet here we were, clinging to each other, almost as tightly as we clung to our cell phones each day. We listened to each other as intently as we listened for the instant chat buzzer to go off. And we were free to fraternize with each other.

And fraternize we did.

Alcohol

not my photo

In fact, we started fraternizing almost every weekend, starting on Thursdays some weeks. We sat around a campfire and fraternized. We fraternized after a run. We fraternized once her kids had gone to bed. We frat-, frat-, fraternized.

I don’t mean to imply that we became alcoholics. We didn’t. We weren’t secret drinkers and it didn’t interfere with our daily lives. Thankfully, it never got to that point for either of us. What we did do was take to using alcohol as a means to relieve stress and become happy for a while. It was not an ideal way to cope, but it sure was an easy one.

One night, shortly before the funeral of one of the soldiers who had been killed, I got drunk and angry. I was angry that I was thirty years old and had a boyfriend who wasn’t around – a boyfriend with whom I wasn’t sure things would work out. I was angry that I was forced to wait to find out. I was angry about the stress and the loneliness. Looking back now, though, I think mostly I was just plain terrified.

So, I sat down at K’s computer and started to type an email. I had no intention of sending it, but I needed to type it. The subject line was: BREAKING UP WITH YOU

I knew that was a cowardly thing to do to a soldier overseas, but, like I said, I had no intension of sending it. I don’t know that I even had any intention of writing it, but K looked over my shoulder and said, “You aren’t going to send that!”

That did it. A challenge! I was going to bluff her into thinking I was serious. I put T’s email address in the “To:” field and started typing out the poison of my hurt feelings, anger and fear. K’s sister Laurie Loo came over. She called my bluff, too. We started arguing, then we started laughing. I flailed my arms about. The keyboard jostled…

…and the screen went to a blank Hotmail page.

“Oh shit.” I said, stricken.

ODT

Operation Decorate Tree is complete.

Christmas tree 2010

And we didn’t even kill each other.

(I love reintegration.)

Waiting

We waited for so long.

Owen waiting

We waited for over a year. Sometimes it felt like the waiting would never end.

We watched as others came back. And still we waited.

We waited through flight delays and snowstorms, miscommunications and silly schedules.

On the other side there was waiting, too. Waiting in crowded places, waiting in the cold, waiting, waiting, waiting.

Then, when The Day came, we drove a few hours north to a big building and inside there were even more people waiting.

And we waited some more.

Little K waiting

Little K waited.

“Do you want to make a sign?” a Nice Woman asked, holding out markers and paper.

Little K shook her head.

“I don’t want to make a sign,” she told me. “I don’t want to do anything. I just want to wait.”

I felt that way myself. I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t want to think about anything, I didn’t want anything asked of me. Since waiting was the only thing left to do, I wanted to wait with all my might and main. Just wait.

K waiting

K waited.

K and I have done a lot of waiting together over the years.

She’s the best. The. Best. Period. End of story. Don’t argue with me.

Baby Blue waiting

Baby Blue chatted with Mr. and Mrs. Claus while he waited. It helped pass the time.

After the visit with the Clauses, we moved into the big hangar. The waiting there was almost tangible. It smelled of dirt and musty machinery, as it always does, and it hummed through the crowd.

Each time a sliver of light sliced the darkness by the door, my heart skipped a beat, but I couldn’t see much over the mob.

As I was checking, for the four thousand eight hundred and sixty-seventh time, to see if I still had both my camera and my purse with me, the cheering started.

The door had opened and soldiers were filing in to applause, cheers and catcalls. The waiting screamed with anticipation.

Four lines of soldiers stood at attention. Then…

“Dismissed!”

The wait rippled through the crowd as it swelled and then ebbed. I scanned the sea of faces.

“There he is!” I heard K tell Little K and Baby Blue, and that family crashed together.

Where’s mine? I thought. I knew he’d find me at the back, but wait gripped me hard and held me immobile.

He strolled casually around a group of people and our eyes met.

I didn’t cry or run towards him or anything. But my lips wouldn’t stop trembling.

He paused as the crowd flowed into and then out of his way. I wanted to throw a trashcan.

But I just waited. It’s what I’m good at now.

Our eyes met again and we smiled a smile of understanding. One that twisted into a smirk. It said, Boy am I glad to see you. This crowd is kind of overdramatic and I just want to hug you and then get the hell out of here.

We are not publicly demonstrative people.

He walked up to me.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

We reached for each other. And the wait was over.

Together again