Tag Archives: military girlfriend

Walk With Me: Our Story, Part XIV

Hiking helped pass the summer during the Iraq deployment and by August, my boyfriend and I were planning for two weeks of leave.

Read Our Story from the beginning.

By some fortunate coincidence, the R&R for K’s husband and my boyfriend overlapped by a week. K and I were ecstatically happy over this. It meant that neither of us would be without the support of the other for two full weeks. It meant that each of us would be spared the longing and envy that would come from knowing the other was spending those two weeks in the blissful arms of their significant other while one of us sat in a loneliness intensified by that very knowledge.

We also got to fully enjoy the planning and the excitement leading up to leave instead of trying to temper it to spare the other’s feelings, We knew, too, that we would be mopping up our broken pieces together once they were gone again. Even better, we could plan something for all of us during that overlapping week. For once, things seem to be working out perfectly.

Joe was due home in the middle of August and K spent the first half of the month frantically preparing. I was so excited for her when she left for the airport and I was busy enough preparing for – and worrying about – the imminent arrival of my own love that I didn’t dwell on it. I could just be happy.

I focused on cleaning my apartment – and myself – from top to bottom. I counted and recounted the days until my period was due. (Never very regular, I had narrowed it down: it could come before, during or after T’s leave.)

I wondered whether I’d recognize him when he walked out of the terminal. I have a terrible memory for faces and didn’t have many pictures of him. I hadn’t seen him in six months. What if he’d changed? What if there were other soldiers in uniform on that flight? At that point, I felt they would all look alike to me.

What if I didn’t feel the same way about him once I saw him again? Our communication for the last eight months had consisted of a disembodied voice on the end of a phone line and sometimes misunderstood emails. Sure, we were competently compatible via email, but what if we weren’t in person?

By the eve of my boyfriend’s arrival, I was a wreck. I knew he was in route, but I didn’t know exactly when he’d be landing in the States or when I’d need to go pick him up. I was waiting on yet another phone call and it was making me into a certified wall climber.

Having been there already, K knew some of the palpitating anticipation I was feeling and insisted that I spend the evening at her house grilling, eating and sitting around the fire with her family. I resisted, insisting that they needed time together, but K told me that they were already perfectly reconnected. If it weren’t for his going back, she told me, it would almost be like he’d never left.

I took profound relief from this and applied it happily to my own worried circumstances. Surely T and I would pick up where we’d left off as well. True, K and Joe had been together for years while T and I had only been dating for ten months (eight of which he’d been gone for), but we’d worked at staying connected. Right?

I hadn’t been to K’s house since Joe had been home. When I arrived, he was walking around the backyard in shorts and a t-shirt, carrying a spatula. Seeing him sent another wave of relief over me so strong I had to fight back tears. It was the same old Joe. He greeted me with a grin and a bear hug. Haircut a bit sharper, skin a little darker, face almost imperceptibly more weathered, but still teasing his kids, groping his wife in the kitchen and tossing her an, “I love you, baby,” àpropos of nothing.

Yep. That was Joe.

Sitting around the fire pit later that evening, still glancing at my Siamese-cell phone every three seconds, I shared some of my fears about not recognizing T at the airport. K tried to ease my worry by telling me about her reunion with Joe.

When she got to the airport, she said, there was a sign asking folks to wait for arrivals downstairs and to stay clear of the terminal area upstairs. Despite the sign, there were plenty of people milling around upstairs. K felt a pang of envy, thinking that if anyone had a reason to wait upstairs, it was her. (I agreed.) Reluctantly, she compiled with the sign, and waited diligently at the bottom of the escalator.

Soon travellers began pouring out of the doors and making their way down the escalators. K didn’t have to look long for Joe. He appeared at the top of the stairs and spotted her almost instantly. Circumventing the statues on the escalator, he dropped his bag at the top of the stationary stairs and bounded down them, two at a time, until he reached her. Picking her up in a cinematic hug, he spun her around, while she hissed, “Put me down, put me down!” in his ear.

I laughed, but my heart melted at this story; so romantic. I couldn’t wait for my turn. I longed to feel T’s eager arms around me; to breathe him in and touch him again; to see his bright smile. I imagined the sympathetic looks of others as they watched a soldier reunite with a loved one. This moment would make up for every minute pain over the last long months. Easily.

Toward the end of the night, I got my long-anticipated phone call. T was on the other end of the line. He sounded weary but excited. He told me he would be landing at the jetport at one o’clock tomorrow afternoon.

I went home to wait.

Walk With Me: Our Story, Part XIII

With the funerals over and the FRG temporarily disbanded, we still needed to find a way to endure the next nine months of the deployment.

 Read Our Story from the beginning.

The months following the funerals were filled with dread and uncertainty. I had no idea what my boyfriend was going through: how trying to sleeping during the day for night missions was nearly impossible on a base as large as BIAP; how, with his platoon separated from the rest of his unit, he had to deal with unfamiliar and often incompetent leadership; how as ranking officer from his unit he was responsible for not only the physical safety, but the general well-being of fifty other guys.

I was new to the military. I didn’t know any of it and he certainly didn’t tell me much. When I asked what he needed me to send him, the answer was always, “Nothing.” They had it all on base. They had phones, internet connection, a huge PX and even fast food places. They had a chow hall, a swimming pool and a barber shop. They got their laundry done for them and T had his own digs.

Other than being out on the road every night, navigating through the IED-infested streets of Baghdad, it seemed like things should be pretty good for him.

Well, they weren’t. But I couldn’t see it. All I knew was that my boyfriend had email and phone access, but our communication was limited to one short phone call where he was constantly distracted by music, shouts and the delay of the international wire, and one email per day. (I didn’t have a computer, so my emails were all sent and received from work or from K’s house.) Instead of the starry-eyed start to a new relationship when we should’ve been inseparable, we were thousands of miles apart and we were constantly beset with the misunderstandings of a toneless email environment and the miscommunications born from two totally different sets of experiences.

Fearing that our relationship wasn’t growing as it should, I became more and more needy. I begged for more communication. Then, when I did get it, I reacted negatively, letting my feelings be hurt by every little nuance of an email. After one such misunderstanding I complained, “It’s hard enough for me to tell when you’re joking when I’m talking to you, never mind in email where tone is more difficult to express.” We didn’t have the luxury of history, so we didn’t know each other well enough to fill in the blanks.

Yet, somehow, this man never lost patience with me. Not then, anyway. Not while he was still deployed. He just continued to send more and more loving emails.

And there were some good moments. We joked and made each other laugh and sent increasingly steamy emails as leave approached. We developed some interesting ways to stay connected. But I still needed a way to cope with the tension and the gut-wrenching pangs of worry and the long, empty nights where I lay and wondered what it was really like where he was and why he couldn’t be with me. I needed an outlet.

Clearly, alcohol hadn’t worked for me.

So K and I turned to exercise. We pumped up our running program. We set goals for ourselves. And we began hiking.

Bingo.

Being in the woods was almost like meditation for me. The earthy smell breathed its way into my pores and flushed out the toxins of stress. The sound of tricking water melded with that of little peeping birds and tiny rustling creatures, making a subtle music of epic joy. It was creation. It was pure. And it was truly spiritual.

Hiking brought me closer to my boyfriend, even during his absence, in a way I didn’t anticipate. He is an avid hiker and has hiked about 75 of New England’s 100 highest mountains. I met him on a hike and we had plans to hike during his leave. Hiking became a bond between us.

So K and I hiked.

We hiked Cranberry Peak in May.

We laughed with Little K and Laurie Loo for the length of the trail.

K and Little K on Cranberry Peak

K and Little K on Cranberry Peak

We laughed at the summit as we posed for silly pictures to send to Iraq.

At the summit of Cranberry Peak.

At the summit of Cranberry Peak.

And we laughed when we got lost, thinking of the joy our men would take in teasing us.

For the record, we weren’t really lost. We knew exactly where we were and we knew where we needed to go. We just didn’t know how to get there. But I don’t see how we were to blame for poor trail maintenance. Even the warden couldn’t find the trail right away.

Yes. Yes, we had to call the warden to take us down. Not one of our finer moments.

Waiting for the Warden

Waiting for the warden.

(I love how in this picture Little K’s face so clearly shows that she’s thinking, You guys are idiots. And I’m stuck with you. Great.)

In early July we hiked East Osceola and Mount Osceola.

My boyfriend had hiked Mount Osceola several times and when he learned we were going he told me of his experiences. He had never seen the view from the top because it had always been raining or socked in the clouds. In fact, he wanted to hike the mountain again sometime for that very reason.

When K and I started out, it was a sunny summer day, without a cloud in the sky. I couldn’t wait to tell T that I had gotten to see a view he hadn’t.

Osceola trail sign

Notice the sun?

But as we neared the summit, a fog rolled in, seemingly out of nowhere. The first drops began to fall as we came out of the woods and the rain continued for as long as we were on the top. I stood looking out at the white blanket obscuring the other mountaintops and thought about how it felt too big for a coincidence, even considering the weather of the Whites. It felt mystical. I got goose bumps on my arms and tears rolled down my face. I had never felt closer to my boy.

Socked in on Osceola

Socked in on Osceola.

When we turned to go down the trail, the clouds broke. The rest of our hike was sunny.

Finally, in late July, we hiked Borestone Mountain.

For this hike, we travelled up Maine and spent the weekend with a fellow military spouse. We had a lovely time connecting with this friend who knew just what we were going through.

At the summit of Borestone.

Another bonding moment.

That was our last hike for a while. By August we were planning for two weeks of R&R with our men. K’s husband would be home in the middle of August and T would arrive a week later.

I couldn’t wait to finally see him again.

Walk With Me: Our Story, Part X

Welcome to Sunday Stories, hosted by The Annoyed Army Wife. If you haven’t seen her fabulous blog yet, please go check it out! While you’re there, link up and share a story of your own.   

On March 6th of 2006, in a cold, damp parking lot, my then-boyfriend and I said our last good-byes before he shipped overseas to Iraq for a year-long deployment. We had no way of knowing that three years later, on that very day, we would stand before God and say our vows to each other. We only knew that we had a long, winding road ahead of us.

Read Our Story from the beginning.   

Within a few days of our good-bye in the Fort Dix parking lot, T had arrived in Kuwait. His unit would be there for a few weeks while they adjusted to climate and time changes and did some more training. T was busy, but I did get a few emails and even a couple of brief phone calls.

Our worlds began to diverge. I was at home, working the same two jobs in the same New England spring and seeing the same people I always did. T was living 25 people to a tent – most of whom I’d never met before – in a place that I’d probably never see, doing things I’d probably never do.

For instance, I don’t expect to ever have to saddle up in an Army vehicle and drive down field to move Bedouins and their camel herds off of the firing range before target practice.

camel herd

T did his best to fill me in, but he had other things to attend to besides describing his surroundings to his girlfriend. I understood that and I was proud of his commitment to his job and his men…but I resented it. Fiercely, at times.

Too soon, T’s unit moved from the relative safety of Kuwait and into Iraq. Two of the platoons went to a FOB in the south and T’s platoon went to Bagdad International Airport (BIAP). All three platoons would be running convoy escort.

In convoy escort, Humvees are spaced at intervals between other unarmed vehicles – often supply trucks – to protect them from insurgents and other dangers. The missions were usually conducted after curfew, but in Bagdad T’s platoon ran missions almost every night and, as platoon leader, he went on a lot of them.

Still, there were advantages to being on BIAP (pronounced “bi-op”). It was the largest base in theatre and, according to T, was like a small city. There were “luxuries”, such as a Burger King, a KFC and, of course, the MWR tents. There was a pool and a barber shop (both of which took fire in the time T was there) and plenty of PXes.

Which is why when I asked the question, “what can I send you?”, the answer was almost always, “nothing.” I resented feeling useless.

We started to settle into a routine of sorts. I would carry my phone everywhere and T would call me when he could, which was almost every day. Some people will tell you not to get into a pattern like that with your soldier so that if a time comes when you don’t hear from him regularly, you won’t panic. I didn’t care. I was going to talk to him as often as I could and I was panicked half the time anyway.

In those days, Iraq was all over the place. I didn’t have TV and I wouldn’t read the newspaper, but it was kind of hard to open up msn.com and not see casualty figures splashed all over the place. I guess I could have changed my Internet Explorer default page, but part of me felt an obligation to know what was going on “over there”. I knew how skewed the media could make things sound but I didn’t know how else to learn about things.

Time dragged on and in early May I flew to Chicago on business. My company organizes trade shows and I was needed on site, so packed my bags and hopped a plane with a few coworkers. I had never been to Chicago before and was looking forward to seeing a new city.

On the first day of the show, I arrived at the convention center early to get set up. I was feeling business-sophisticated in my suit and heels, with my clipboard in one hand and a radio in the other. It made it hard to carry my cell phone, too, but I put it on vibrate and slipped it into my pocket as we gathered in the show office for the pre-show pep talk.

As our CEO broke the news about some partnership thing, I felt my phone vibrate. Of course. Why wouldn’t it ring when I couldn’t answer it? I eased it out of my pocket and snuck a peek. The screen didn’t show the garbled number that indicated a call from T. It was K.

That’s weird, I thought. She knows I’m in Chicago.

As soon as the meeting broke and folks scattered on the wind, I called her back.

“Hey,” I said. “Sorry I couldn’t answer. I was in a meeting. What’s up?”

“I’m sorry. I know you’re working, but I had to call you,” K said. She was crying. “N’s husband was killed yesterday.”

All the blood left my face and for a second the room swayed.

Two men from one of the southern-based platoons had been killed in an IED explosion and a third one injured. I didn’t know any of the men personally, but I did know the wife of one of the fallen soldiers. She had been acting as our FRG leader for the past several months and we had come to love and admire her.

It didn’t seem possible.

But it was.

I hung up the phone and walked out to the lobby. There were throngs of people bustling through the registration area, picking up programs and coming to look at and buy food. Their heels clicked on the polished floor. Their voices and laughter echoed through the hall. They walked by me, bumped into me and kept on going.

I had never felt so alone in my entire life.

A couple of hours later T called.

“Are you okay?” he asked. Two of his fellow soldiers had died and he was asking me if I was okay.

“I’m okay as long as you’re okay,” I managed to say through my tears.

I didn’t know how any of us would be able to bear the sadness. Or how we were going to get through the next ten months with this new, heightened fear. I didn’t see how life could go on at all.

But it does.

And we did.

What I didn’t know then was, we do what we have to do.

Because there are certain things we can’t change.

Because acceptance is more divine than defeat.