When I was a lot younger, I remember sitting in a service at the campus church we attended. The pastor was speaking about marriage, and for some reason, I actually paid attention and remember it like it was yesterday. He said a wife was supposed to “leave and cleave”- leave her parents and cleave to her husband. It’s the same thing as Ruth saying, “I will go where you will go, and your God will be my God.” I admire the mindset, the strength of loyalty, the unswerving devotion without conditions. And yet, when I said my vows to Sky, I knew the fine print included not going where he will go. I knew I was promising to stay behind.
We’ve been through half a deployment together, since we started our relationship on his leave (I am tempted to write 'only half', until I remember the certain days that nearly brought me to my knees). My family has been through a whole deployment with my brother leaving- the months of training and pre-mobilization beforehand included. Between the two of them, we sent hundreds of emails, letters, and care packages. We drove several states away for a graduation or a goodbye. It seemed like an overnight transformation for us as a family- suddenly, we were experts in time zones, post office rules, attendance at family meetings at the armory.
But once Sky came into the picture, things changed even more for me. Not only did it mean another person to miss and worry about (something I consciously thought about even on the drive to see him that first time), it meant so much gaining and losing at the same time. Now that I experienced his kiss, his hand gripping mine, or his laughter, it felt like a cruel joke for it to be taken away from me for months. We had gotten so close during his leave that I came home and felt a little lost, because it didn't feel right being without him. Going out with friends was a little lonely. I felt a kind of hostility to any guy who noticed me, as if they were trying to take Sky away. I picked out things for our apartment, wanting to tell him about every little purchase, only to get online and feel silly about describing a shower curtain when I would see his makeshift bedroom. I felt annoyed when I would hear someone complain about their husband. I felt angry about the war and anything that reminded me of it. I had a very strange relationship with news channels and online newspapers that has continued to this day. I became even more politically-minded but tried even more to keep my mouth shut, especially to the boys while they were gone.
So in some ways, I've already practiced being a Army spouse. I have been reading dozens of military blogs lately, as I've mentioned, because I can identify with their deployment experiences. I also think it's important to never lose one hundred percent of the fear about it because, as much as I hate the thought of him being gone more than I hate anything, it also makes me grateful to have him. But last week, we drove to Scott Air Force Base (where my dad was stationed over 20 years ago) and got my military ID card that looks a lot like his, with my picture to the side of his name and his rank. As we waited in the stuffy reception area, sliding doors would open every so often and we would hear bits of "Hail to the Chief" being practiced on the lawn nearby. We drove by the housing area, where women put out holiday flags or potted plants so they can identify their house among the 50 that look like it. After they called us back- by his name (and rank), not mine- we handed in our documents and the lady in the uniform addressed me as ma'am. Afterwards, we went to the PX and looked around at all the stores, including the military supply shop that was selling "The Army Wife Handbook" that teaches girls how to tie their husband's tie and address officers. It felt a little like Dorothy stepping into Oz after her house thuds on the ground.
If you've read my blog, you know I have two things on my mind most of the time- my husband and the baby (who is going to be born in 3 months-yikes!). I think about deployments a lot; the strength that I displayed getting through this first one (because, for all the times I was a baby about it, I am also proud of myself for some of it!), and the way life will be with the next one, including parenting kids by myself for a year.
Being caught up in all this is not the way I pictured my life. Who raises their hand and signs up for a year, two years, tens years of loneliness and worry? Who gets married with the knowledge they won't always be side by side with their husband?