I was a terrible Army wife. I started out that way and I never got any better. One of the worst things about it was that my in-laws made sure I knew it, too. And feeling guilty about it on top of everything else made it even worse.
I can't remember when I actually came face-to-face with the frequent separations that are a fact of Army life. All I remember is that I hated it and I never got over it. It always followed the same pattern. I would find out we were going to be separated, I would worry about it until it happened, I would feel like my guts were ripped out of me the whole time my husband was gone, and there was no relief when he came home because I knew it was going to happen again. Getting back together was very intense and it seemed like his return was always delayed past the time I originally expected him.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Once when I found out he was going was to the first Gulf War. Dick Cheney told me. I'll never forgive him for that. From the moment he did, I cried every day for weeks until my eyes swelled shut, I got scared, and I didn't cry again for six years. Not a good experience. I was kind of flaky during the whole time he was gone. But I held it together (mostly) and then the day finally came when he was coming back. The kids and I went over to the Kaserne where they were coming in on buses. After some unnecessary preliminaries they finally "released" the soldiers and everybody ran all over the parking lot trying to find their loved ones. Of course, MY loved one was the last one out of the last bus. I was so mad at him. But I didn't want to spoil his homecoming so I got over it quick and didn't say anything. Anyway there were plenty of reunions that were much better. One time I saw him coming down the sidewalk of the building next to ours from my window and I ran all the way downstairs to grab him before he even got to our door. That was a good one.
I couldn't understand why everyone was so stoic about this. Why couldn't I have my own feelings about it? My father-in-law even went so far as to tell me that they wouldn't let me go to Germany to be with my husband unless I could prove I could "handle it". All these things were arranged by others, even when they affected only me and my life. Did I come off as immature or too young to make my own decisions? I don't think I'll ever understand this.
Once when we were stationed in California I had a friend whose husband was on orders for Korea. When she told me about it, the first thing I said was, "Oh, I'm so sorry". She burst into tears. "You're the only person who has said that", she said. "Everyone has just been telling me to grow up and accept the fact that my husband was in the Army and I knew what I was getting into when I married him. Does that mean I have to be happy about this? Do I have to like it?"
No, it doesn't mean that. Must we pretend that we are happy to take a break from our "boring" marriages? That it's somehow childish or embarrassing to admit that we love our spouses and want to be with them? And what difference does it make if you knew what you were getting into? Does that somehow magically make it easier? Does it wipe away your tears and take the pain away? Besides, if you're not the one being separated, what right have you to make that call?
A wise and sympathetic friend once said to me: "If more men and women would learn to live together in love, maybe we wouldn't have to be going off to war all the time."
Sometimes it takes years to realize that you have a right to feel what you feel, whether everybody else thinks it's appropriate or not. I've often wondered, what difference does it make to them how you feel about it? It's really none of their business.
Here I go quoting the Bible again. "It is not good that the man should be alone" and it's not good for the woman, either. (Genesis 2:18-look it up!) Today I heard about a man who leaves Tuesday on his SIXTH deployment to Afghanistan. My husband has been retired from the military for twenty years and the pain of the memory of separation shows up as sharply as ever whenever I hear about these young families facing so much time apart. I don't care if it makes you feel better to tell them to grow up and quit crying. As we used to say in our family, "Humble up". Those who wait are giving sacred service, too. And they're not even getting to choose it for themselves, not really. They gave their hearts, and the Army took the rest.