I’ve worked on this blog for two weeks. I started it at the request of a friend whose daughter-in-law is going through her first deployment. My friend thought it would help her to read words of wisdom from an experienced military spouse. I’ve written multiple versions, deleted, re-written, started over. I have two others saved on my computer that may, someday, find their way to my readers, but for now, this is all I can say…
If you walk up to any random military spouse and say, “Let’s talk about the ‘D’ word,” I bet you $10 they will immediately know you mean “deployment.” Jay and I have been married for 21 years and survived six deployments. Deployments are dreadful. You dread the first one because you don’t know what to expect. You dread the rest because you know exactly what to expect.
Often, when I say that Jay is deploying soon and I see that look of sympathy cross someone’s face, I quickly and cavalierly say with a shrug, “Oh, you get used to it,” because I really don’t want to talk about the gut-wrenching emotion that I’m feeling. I’m a bottler. I bottle up my stress, anxiety, and, yes, fear, until I have dropped Jay off, hugged him, and said, “See you later.” I calmly get back in my car, drive home, hug our girls, excuse myself, go into my bedroom, close and lock the door, and then, and only then, do I cry my heart out. I give myself that one good cry, then I dry it up, head back out to our girls, and we get on with it. The first time Jay deployed I cried every day for a week.
So, while it’s true that you never truly “get used to it,” you do get better at it. You get to the point where you can establish a rhythm and routine faster. You just accept it quicker. In fact, after your first couple, you start making jokes about how easy the next one will be. “Nine months? That’s it?? I can do that standing on my head!” And, really, you can. After a couple of 12-monthers, nine seems like nothing. It still stinks, and you don’t want to do it, but you know how to do it.
The first week is always the hardest because you have to adjust to flying solo, and because something will inevitably go wrong. I call it “Military Murphy’s Law.” You see, the moment your soldier leaves, there is an accident waiting to happen. It might be something simple like the battery in your car dying or your washing machine kicking the bucket, or it could be big, like a surgery or your ceiling falling in because of a leak from the upstairs bathroom. (Yeah, I’ve dealt with both of those.) But large or small, something… will… happen.
I look back on my deployment mishaps and misadventures and recount them for younger wives like a crusty ole first sergeant telling a war story.
“I remember our third deployment, back in ’07. Jay’s battalion was the first unit in as part of the Surge, and I came down with these awful chronic sinus infections and had to have surgery…” Or
“In 2009, Jay was in Afghanistan, and I went out to the garage one Saturday and felt water dripping on my head. I looked up, and there was a huge bulge in the ceiling. I ran inside and called the plumber right as it gave way…”
Yeah, that happened…Jay and I had finished the upstairs of our house and had a bathroom installed. The plumber didn’t seat and seal the tub properly; so, when my sister came to visit and showered up there every day for a week, the water just ran right under the tub and out over the garage ceiling. That was fun. I use that story with young spouses to emphasize the importance of knowing their financial details and having access to important papers and accounts.
Another story I love to tell to encourage spouses to make friends and form a support system is from our fifth deployment. Both the girls came down with a heinous stomach bug. Grace was only two and had it first for just a couple of days. Then Breanna got it. It hit her harder. She was down for a week. I thought I’d gotten lucky and been spared, but a few days after Breanna got well, I attended her school open house. In the middle of the principal’s plea for PTO volunteers I started having terrible stomach cramps. By 2AM, I was curled up in the bathroom floor. I had a neighbor, a fellow milspouse, who dropped off dinner for my kids every night while I was sick. By the fourth day, I was no better and truly felt like death. I called my neighbor and said, “I really think I might die today. I need you to take the kids and send a Red Cross message to Jay.” She kind of chuckled at me and said, “You’re not going to die. You just want to.” I more firmly asserted my belief in my impending demise. This time she got annoyed, “You are not going to die! I’ll be there in half an hour.”
True to her word, she showed up 30 minutes later, wearing a mask and gloves and carrying grocery bags containing Pepto, Immodium, chicken broth, and Gatorade. She instructed me in no uncertain terms to take the medicine and drink the liquids. She said, “I don’t care if it comes back on you, drink it, then drink more! I’m taking the baby for the day, and I’m getting Breanna from school. You rest. I’ll bring them back after dinner.” With that, she picked up Grace and left. I followed her instructions, and she checked on me throughout the day. By that evening I was on the road to recovery, and I had a new forever friend. Five years later, she and I still keep in touch, and our kids write letters.
I could tell all kinds of stories, some truly awful, some funny, and a few heroic tales of friendship, but the bottom line is this: if you married someone in the military, deployments will happen, and, to use one of my favorite Army phrases, you just have to suck it up and drive on. With every caved-in ceiling, flat tire on the side of the road, and time that you’re so sick you can’t even sit up but still manage to take care of your kids, you get stronger, more resilient, and a little better at figuring out how to survive the “D” word. You might even make a few amazing friends along the way. And you do it for the love a soldier, sailor, airman, pilot, or marine who couldn’t do his or her job without you.