We’re at the dinner table, Lane walked in the door late, later than he thought he would, later than he told me. Par for the course in a military life though, he puts his bag down, enters the fray. The conversation has gone anywhere from school to tadpoles to Kindergarten-sized knock-knock jokes, a constant whiplash.
Then, a big sister begins to quiz the little: “Mae, what does Daddy do for work?”
“He always goes to war.”
“What does Mommy do for work?”
“She’s always protecting us.”
Lane chimes in here: “Well, I go to where war is happening, but I’m not the one doing the fighting like I was before you were born. So when I go to war, I’m just going to those places now.”
I think he meant that to be reassuring?
It’s just a Thursday night over bbq chicken sandwiches, please pass the chips.
So Lane is always going to war,
I am always protecting the ones back home.
When we got married, I had envisioned marriage to be side by side, together, never alone.
But here we are- more apart than we are together.
Is this life in a military marriage?
Back in Spring when the world shut down, our school district set up bus stops in order to still offer a lunch service to students. We still are digging our way out of the tower of Uncrustable sandwiches filling our freezer.
It’s a Saturday afternoon, the girls are playing in the driveway. Lane and I go to the front porch, watch them play, sit side by side for a minute. I’d never had an Uncrustable before and my curiosity ran high this day, but only enough to try a bit.
I offer the rest to Lane “Hey you want to try the rest?”
“Oh I’ve had tons of Uncrustables before.”
“You have? When?”
“Anytime I deploy. It’s the only time I ever eat them, but by now I’ve had them a bunch. They give them to us in our boxed meals when we go over and when we come home.”
Without pausing to even think about it, he then lists off all the items in his boxed meals:
A bag of chips
A bottled water
And some fruit.
Every. Time. It hasn’t changed in 13 years.”
I sit there stunned for a minute and I try to figure out why this feels so unsettling to me.
It’s not that we have now done so many deployments that he can mention the word on a casual Saturday without an impact. It’s not that it makes me reckon with the reality of our military right now that our service members are still deploying, still saying goodbyes to family, still putting themselves in harms way for the sake of another.
Of it all, it’s that he has had an Uncrustable before, has been having them for years in his boxed meals while riding toward the Middle East, and I had no idea. It’s that he has had so many of these boxed meals that he can rattle off the contents without thinking twice, and I didn’t even know.
I mean, of course, there are parts of his life at work, his life going to and from war, that I don’t know.
The Uncrustable situation isn’t that big of a deal, not really.
So why does it feel like a big deal?
Here we are, serving in the military- he the soldier, me the military wife. We serve together, sacrifice together, decided to live a life as hard as the military life is- together.
But here I am- still surprised at some of the unexpected pieces of military life; the mundane details that aren’t actually so mundane.
He goes overseas, eats a boxed meal, takes care of his guys.
I stay, make mac ‘n cheese, meet up with the wives.
And so here I am wondering, does he serve and I just support him? Are we all serving- soldiers and airmen and marines and military spouses alike?
Because in the eyes of a child,
He’s always going to war.
I’m always protecting them.
Here I am again wondering about the surprising loneliness of a military marriage.
Wasn’t marriage supposed to be together?
A 7th deployment, one like no other we have experienced, harder than the rest in its own weird way.
While Lane was gone, I run into a friend, she asks how we’ve been doing. I mention that Lane’s not around.
“Wow. I don’t know how you do it.”
On another day, I would have maybe interpreted this as admiration, accepted it gracefully, but on this day I’m exhausted, on this day I actually wonder the same thing and so I say the same thing:
“You know, I actually don’t know how I do it either, sometimes.”
Whenever Lane does come back home, whether it be a deployment or a training, I feel something rise up in me- a competition of sorts, a challenge of who-had-it-harder, me versus him.
Extend it further to all spheres of our military life and I claim rights over a constant trump card- waiting for PCS orders, waiting to see what’s next, waiting for him to come home, waiting for a new town to feel like home.
“You better be glad you’re married to me with all I put up with,” I tell him one day, teasing, but also: Not.
Call it what you want, but beneath it all is a plea for recognition: It’s hard for us, too. We serve, too.
Here we are, ten years of service, still finding our way through the life of a military marriage.
Our military unit had a memorial ceremony the other day for a man who was loved, who served our unit with his whole heart.
For a moment during his talk, one of the speakers turns his attention to our soldiers in formation standing beside him: “Boys, you have given your lives in service to this country and your family has struggled and run right beside you.”
And right there, sitting in the folding chairs underneath a tent, right before they begin to play Taps, I look out at all of our soldiers in formation, then back to the wives next to me.
That’s it- We’re not just watching him run. We’re running too. With him, next to him; together, our own race but not by ourself.
Sure, sure, there’s times like when I run into that friend and blurt out I don’t know how I do it either, or there’s the times when the separateness and the hard of this military life is louder than the rest because of Uncrustables on the front porch.
That’s the struggle.
I think of that deployment when the guys left and that very night us wives gathered in one of the girls’ living rooms- all of us heartbroken but all of us together.
I think of my girls sitting on our front porch, waiting for their Daddy to return after a training trip, racing to his truck as it pulled in the driveway- eager to be back together.
I think of telling some of our stories at a marriage retreat, to a room full of military couples with stories of their own; all of us reminding each other that the work of marriage is worth it, don’t quit, keep going- you’re in it together.
That’s the running.
Time and again we come face to face with the whole mystery of marriage- we become one, yet remain distinct, separate, and military life can make the separate more pronounced, more literal, and that’s what aches.
There’s many days when I don’t know how I do it either, but there’s also a lot that I do know, too:
We- him and I together and our kids, too- get to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
I get to look out at other military wives, remember I’m not alone.
And when I let it, it reminds me that a life of service is one that thinks of others first, that lives on behalf of another, that is surrounded by and for and with others.
Which, of course, means that you’re not doing any of it alone.
It’s a simple mindset shift, but one that matters so much:
Military service is not just his thing, its our thing, in-it-together whether we’re together or not.
Man, do these guys of ours run a good race.
But look at us- we military wives are running right beside them, a race of our own, never alone.
And that’s enough for me to keep going, running my race right next to him as my soldier runs his.
And that’s the exact marriage I want.
Struggling with the demands and depletion of military life? Maybe this will help: 5 Ways I Stay Sane in This Military Life. Click here and I will send it quietly to your inbox.
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