We were sitting under a tree at the splash pad, and I was nearing R&R. Less than a year before, I hadn’t even met her, and yet at that point she was one of my closest friends. She still is. A fellow Army wife who also went to our Church.
“It took probably eight months after he got back before things felt ‘normal.’ I mean, at the time, I would think okay, we’re back to normal. And then I’d look back. And we weren’t.”
Not us, I thought. Foolishly.
The books warned me. Fellow wives cautioned me. It was all in a very subtle way. Which was part of the reason I didn’t understand and was not at all prepared.
“The honeymoon period will wear off, and reality will set in…” “You both will have a readjustment period. Give it time.”
Not us, I thought. Ignorantly.
But, we did. Because that’s part of the cycle; the natural cycle of sending someone off to war and not just living in their absence, but living in spite of there absence. It’s something most will never understand.
I treated the deployment as a challenge. A challenge to overcome–a battle to be fought and won. My war. He was fighting in Iraq; I was fighting at home. Fighting to maintain a sense of normalcy, a sense of consistency. Striving to survive without him. I did. And I went so much further than that, which was a victory, and then a shortfall. But it had to be that way.
I didn’t learn to merely survive without him. I didn’t simply get through the day to day. I managed to get beyond just surviving. We lived. The three of us built a life, which didn’t include him. Went on without him and in spite of him being gone. Most women will never have to truly live without their husband and understand the magnamity behind that. Before he left, my days revolved around his very being, around his schedule and needs. I loved that. So innocent, so dependent. So spousal.
And then he left. And took all of that with him to Iraq. I had to learn to get up for myself. Make breakfast and eat for myself. Lunch, naps, dinner, cleaning. For myself. Don make up and pretty clothes for myself. I had to literally cut his presence out of my life. For a year.
After it was heartbreaking, it was liberating. I came up with my system to run the house. Laundry on Monday, and it all got done on Monday. Because I was doing it for myself. To make it run more smoothly for myself. I called the shots. Who could come visit, and when. Because I had to maintain a balance for us. I kept a spotless home (for the most part), because it made me feel so much better. It was for me. It was such an adjustment learning to do nothing for him. Cutting him out. No more dinners. No more notes in his lunch. No more lunches. It ripped my heart out. But, after awhile, it became a challenge that I overcame. I won. I didn’t need him. I always wanted him, but I didn’t need him.
And then, he came home. And turned the house on its ear again. After having become so good at making a life without him, I had to undo all of that.
At first, I thought we’d go back to what we were before he left, before The Good-bye. But, that was impossible. The woman who stood on that parade field had changed drastically from the woman who’d watched him board that bus. The family he’d left had changed drastically; his oldest much more grown than when he’d left and there was a new tiny person to meet.
I was a very different person; I’d become drastically more independent, delightfully more sarcastic, my independence and confidence were at an all time high. But, deeper, I was slightly jaded, a little more rough around the edges. Because of it all. The horrible text message that caused several weeks of worry, the internet dropping after a frantic, “Oh, my God,” by my Soldier, the ensuing 36 hours I waited to either hear from my husband or the uniformed officers to ring my bell. I had reared a toddler, maintained a pregnancy (a battle in itself, since the previous pregnancy had ended all too short), and spent two months caring for a newborn and toddler.
I realized that the “normal” that had existed before his departure would never exist again. It was gone. The innocence, the dependency, the naivete. It was gone. Now, I had to learn–we had to learn–who we were all over again. Carve a place out for him again. Become one. This wounded my pride and pulled at my heart.
It was another battle. But, I was tired.
This time, I had to garner energy I no longer had, muster morale that had long since staled. I just wanted normal. When would normal come back. And what was the point, when it was all going to inevitably change again?
And then I realized it. It was through several Brigrade Spouses’ functions. I watched all the women as we laughed about reintegration, the ups, the downs. Learning that all the wives had highs, and they all had lows too. Newbies and Seasoned wives alike, we were fighting still to maintain our homefronts, battling to keep our families together. Still. It was the strength and the resiliency that exuded from all of us that we all in turn were hungry for. We regained it from one another and took it home to our own families.
My father once gave me incredible advice. “Write about what you are passionate about.” As I’ve walked through life, I thought I was passionate about various subjects. I would attempt writing about them, try to convey the emotion and stories. I could not.
But, nothing makes me more confident, more sure, than being an Army wife. My Faith feeds the desire to keep trucking in this path. My confidence in the truth and the virtue of this life makes me stand up tall even when I am breaking on the inside. My raw passion about the spirit behind the mission enables me to share this. To fight. To win.
As Spring dawned on my little family in my Little Home, we fought to regain ground as a family. We worked tirelessly to find our new normal. It was a long journey. The deployment doesn’t just last a year for the Army family. The predeployment phase, when the Soldier checks out and the family stands in his or her wake unsure of how to help. The boarding of the buses and the family goes home and makes a life. Then, they come home, and they battle again to make a new normal. It’s a long and tiring cycle. And it repeats itself.
The reintegration phase was such a personal battle for me. For the first time, I was at a loss for words on where to go. Because it brought me to my knees. For me, it was the hardest part of the deployment. But, when realization dawned, I stood up. Battered. But, I moved forward. I took my Soldier’s hand, and I grew some more. I stifled my survival pride, I realized I needed humility, and I fought back. Hard.
And now, life is good. Different. So different. But, we have learned, we have grown, and we have won. That battle, that I thought would end on the parade field when I took my Soldier in my arms, lasted much longer. And it was so hard.
“Nothing in life worth having comes easy.”
There’s the reason behind the passion, the love I have for this Army life. Keeping a family together and happy is so hard in any walk of life. But, especially so in this one. It takes guts, blood, sweat, and tears. It will try to kill your joy and steal your innocence. It will leave you jaded and a little bitter. But that makes you stronger. I will do anything to keep my family together. I will stand behind my husband proudly, diligently, consistently as he fulfills his mission. And when we are together–wonderfully and blissfully together–we will stand side by side and work for the consistency and love that this family deserves.
Through each battle, through every war, I have only one thing to say: Charlie Mike.