Thursday, November 19, 2009

dear oprah, 2000 characters is not enough

so oprah is looking for real army wives. cool! i'm game for going to chicago, never been before, and tell america what a real army wife's glamorous life is all about, hardly anything i've seen on the lifetime show 'army wives.' so i wrote this great essay, and not saying that because i wrote it, but it was a great 2000 word essay, not a 2000 character essay, including spaces. so, i had to widdle it down, and well, i might be watching that show from my comfy couch.

so, oprah, if you're reading this, this is what a real essay, 2000 words, would look like:

i don't own a 'hump bar' or any other business. i don't recent my husband's job, what i don't nor will ever know about it, or the fact that his career will always come before mine. i have never, nor will i ever cheat on my husband. i'm not the perfect army wife, but i am a real army wife.

as each day passes, i can tell you exactly how many more until my husband deploys for the his fourth time. each night i lay awake because my anxiety keeps my mind racing, worrying what i'll do if i become 'one of them.' i've heard taps played twice, watched the folded flag be laid in the arms of friends and clutched our son tightly as the smoke cleared from the 21-gun salute. nothing can prepare you to comfort a friend and their family when their life has been shattered, not even the care team training.

i started writing a blog,, to clear my head and somewhere along the way i collected stories from my sisters, my pillars of strength that i now pass on to those who walk in our shoes for the first time. each week i type away on my blackberry a check-up for those, many i've never met, who are currently surviving a deployment. all little things i wish someone had done for me. and yet things you can't prepare yourself for until you're there, in their shoes.

in the three short years we've been together, we've spent more times apart then together. this will be the first year that we actually celebrate every holiday between labor day and valentine's day according to the calendar without having to send a single flat rate box. sure, it's a life we knew we'd have. heck, we spent 12 hours on our first date talking about it. but nothing can prepare you for this life. how do you prepare to change your wedding date because 'duty called?' how do you enjoy your pregnancy knowing that 5 weeks later the first-time dad will miss the next 15 months of your son's life? how do you prepare to handle the changes you all will experience?

you can't prepare for this life, but you can get up each day and make the most of it. between balancing a daily schedule that involves play dates for our 2 yr old, household chores, frg meetings, and just living, i struggle, but i'm learning to deal. and even after taking every class offered about ptsd and suicide, nothing can prepare you for it until it's at your doorstep. but you learn to deal, because even though he changed, you changed too and i can't stop loving him.

as the minutes tick away, you try hard not to cry. you smile, you post for what could be your last pictures together. you just become numb. you watch him board the white bus with the rest of his soldiers in the midst of the cool night and watch them drive away, praying it won't be the last time you see him alive. and then you clutch to your phone for the next three days praying for any word from him. if you're fortunate enough, he'll pass through bangor, maine, and maybe they snapped a picture of him as the was greeted by those amazing veterans and americans. until he reaches his destination, i'm a mess, on the inside. you build a routine, you keep busy, and you avoid the news at all cost. between the last 'good-bye' and 'i'll be seeing you in my dreams tonight,' you keep his words echoing in your head, 'it's just a few months out of a lifetime.'

as the weeks pass and you've built the routine, you countdown until r&r, making plans, picking out the perfect outfit, and planning a surprise a the airport for him. the next 18 days fly by way too fast. i don't think i've ever taken that many pictures of them, my husband and our son, in their entire short time together. and then comes one of the hardest days ever, you have to take him back to the airport and watch him leave, again. and what made it harder this time around is our 7-month-old son standing at the terminal window crying as we watch his plane taxi away. i cried for over an hour in the car that day. then begins the countdown again, this time to homecoming.

finally you cling to the phone again, counting down the hours, praying the sandstorms don't delay their flight, again. you wait in the crowded gym with the air stuffy, filled with excitement and sadness, knowing that some of those you send off won't be coming home, not this way. the doors finally fling open, a roar comes over all of you and you finally see his scruffy face with his over-grown fro under his patrol cap. he runs toward you, you throw your arms around him, squishing your now 15-month-old son, and not noticing the horrible smell of 3-day unbathendedness. on the inside i've been praying our son would take to him quickly. at first, it seemed like we would have a long struggle, but by bath time that night, it seems like they picked up right where they left off. and then begins the reintegration.

he reads parents magazine in between suicide briefings and psychological screenings. as he's learning everyday how to be a father, he also struggles with isolating himself from us, knowing that in a short time he will be deploying again, leaving us alone again with only a webcam and care packages to stay in touch. it's tough, giving back all those responsibilities you had to take on during the deployment. while we try to get comfortable with the idea of being a 'family,' it's overwhelming, trying to give him more control again and yet giving him all the time he needs to take on those responsibilities. we moved shortly, twice, after my husband returned after his last deployment, adding a heap of stress that others didn't have to take on.

over time i too isolate, or rather make myself so busy, that i don't have time to feel the pain or the anxiety anymore. i cry in the shower nearly everyday. sometimes i take my valium and precicot, prescribed for my back injury, to help me sleep. i waited for months to see a mental health specialist; partially afraid that my 'weakness' would hinder my husband's progress, mentally and professionally, and partially because i was just 'too busy.' it's ironic, my air force family provider was the one who noticed my anxiety and referred me, 10 months after my husband had come home.

my husband and i aren't the only ones struggling. our 2 yr old son cries each morning, clinging to my husband's leg as he leaves for work, convinced that today might be the day he leaves again to return to the webcam. i would expect him to experience separation anxiety with me, i'm the one constant in his life thus far. when we're on post, he 'searches' every uniform for daddy. we visit my husband at work at least once a week to have lunch with him, each time ending with a few tears in our son's eyes and a face of anxiety and wonderment, will this be the last time. the sound of taps, backfire, and even fireworks scare our son more then the average toddler.

it's not an easy life. it's not a life you can prepare for. it's not a life that most 27 yr olds live, but it's our life. we're the fortunate ones. we have an amazing support unit that we've surrounded ourselves with. between our parents, all with prior service to the military as either soldiers, spouses or civilian contractors, our siblings who are our leaning posts, and our best friends who call me out of the blue every few weeks to make sure we're okay when my husband is deployed. i have also sought out encouragement and strength from my online friends, nearly all who i've never met, but never let me down when i need encouragement. it's the support unit that has helped us through all of the deployment cycles. and without them, you're setting yourself up for a failure, for more struggles then you need.

so i may never make it on the cover military spouses magazine or sit before congress and speak on the behalf of all my sisters-in-arms, but the little things i do make me a real army wife with real struggles and real moments that shine.


Tyler said...

If that doesn't start the waterworks, I don't know what will. Ugh I hate certain aspects of Army Life. I hope you are doing well Miss Jackie!

Taylor said...

Wow...just wow. That was really amazing to read, Jackie. I'm here for you, I hope you know that. We can talk about our anxiety and prescription meds together. ;-) Love you!

Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you! I'm not alone!!