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Our History That Afternoon

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The first decade of our military marriage brought four household moves. The fourth was our first across country. We’d rolled up carpet in Havelock, North Carolina and rolled it out in Barstow, California. At both ends of every move, I am a trash truck’s worst nightmare and a thrift store’s best friend (or vice versa). Having always moved ourselves, it was especially important that we traveled light because we had three children, a dog, a bird, and a tarantula.

Before our move, friends shared the comedies and tragedies of their own moving experiences. Once in our new home, I felt good about how well everything had gone. Except for the fully packed 26-foot truck breaking down in 123-degree (F) heat six miles out of Barstow and the tarantula having died, it was truly the great adventure. I snicker to think I can still remember that truck’s license plate number, having followed my husband in our Firebird for 2,554 miles.

The emotional upheaval I’d heard so much about had left me relatively unscathed until I went to organize our bedroom closet. What followed left me exhausted and renewed. On the back of old invoices, I scribbled to my husband the moments I’d relived that afternoon.

Dear Robert,

We have history. We have boxes and bags, cartons and more boxes. Documents and statements. Cancelled checks and paid bills. Tattered dust-rags that used to be our first set of towels.

These boxes are full of tears, smiles, decisions, and accomplishments. When did it all happen? Where have I been? All I wanted to do was straighten up and throw out a few things, but instead I find myself perusing our past and making room for our future. Surrounded by pieces of strapping tape, and beneath these box-labels are so many reasons to say, “I’m sorry”, “I can’t believe we did that!” and “You’re the greatest guy I’ve ever known.” Here are so many reasons to celebrate, endeavor, and hold you closer.

These aren’t just statements of accounts paid-in-full. These are life receipts that don’t read of the prices really paid: the gauntlet of professionals before our daughter was diagnosed with Hyperactivity Disorder; things pawned to keep the car from being repossessed; the “flu” that turned out to be our “uh-oh” baby.

There are so many letters from too many deployments. Millions of words, some I only now read for the first time. How did I miss it when you wrote “I can’t imagine not having you in my life. You are my fantasy and my reality.” Was I that preoccupied with school conferences and the busted water heater?

Look at this, honey. Paper covered in glitter, string hanging from it, tiny clothes’ pins hanging from that. The kids were four and five. They made jewelry from nothing and laid it on our pillows to surprise us. Here are some Mother’s Day cards Hallmark could never best. They’d pressed so hard with the crayon you can just imagine their little tongues sticking out the sides of their mouths, genuinely concentrating on the next carefully chosen word. “I lov you mor thin all my toys.” Where are those little people now?

We still have these tickets to our first Marine Corps ball at Cherry Point. I stepped on my gown early in the evening. You said I looked stunning so the rip didn’t matter. It was cold in that decorated airplane hangar. You set aside your dislike of dancing and warmed me during a slow song. We had friends, a night out, and it almost lasted forever.

These hundreds of photographs are proof that our guilt over not spending enough time with the kids was silly. Here’s Amelia at two, sneaking into the fridge for more cheese slices. This one is blurry because we were all laughing so hard at the milk coming out of my nose. Here’s our four-year-old Therese singing the Marine Corps Hymn for her turn at saying grace over dinner. That night you said you’d have given anything for a video camera, but you know you can still hear her when you close your eyes. Here’s one I haven’t thought about in some time, your promotion to Staff Sergeant. Eight months pregnant, my belly got in the way of my pinning on your chevron. In my nervousness, it snapped out of my hand and landed on the collar of the guy next to you who was being promoted to Sergeant. This one is from our road trip to Wichita in 1990. While there, your squadron called you off leave before you had even checked in from your year in Okinawa because Kuwait had been invaded. Once home, you packed your gear and, because of delays, we said good-bye for the last time eight days in a row. On the way back from Wichita we played the alphabet game and I almost pulled over in shock when, for the letter “P”, our five-year-old Abram said “preposterous”. A fitting choice, given the circumstances of the trip home.

These pictures, papers, pieces and parts — it all makes me sit slowly and breathe deep. I had no idea what I was getting into when I married you and it’s a good thing. Who knew “in sickness” meant all three children having chicken pox and you feverish from anthrax shots? Or that “for poorer” meant the Marine Corps underpaying us entire paychecks several pay periods in a row?

I don’t regret saying “I do”. I regret not saying it to you more often. Amid what I mistook for the mere rubble of our lives together, I commit to what I thought I already had, and this time a little more specifically — to you, to us, to our children, to fewer trips to Target and more after-dinner walks.

I’ll go ahead and throw out a few things. I’ll repack and put the boxes away but more gently, with care. I never knew what we had was so precious, so fragile. From now on I’ll heed the words “This End Up”.

Love, Diana

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • What a (quite literally) breathtaking piece of writing, Diana – thanks for this.

  • so much cynicism in the world…this is a true breath of fresh air.


  • This post seems like a reflection of my four years of marriage to a Consultant. Since my marriage I have moved four times in four years and even now I am living out of boxes and luggage as we are in the middle of another move.

    For a family who is on the move just about every year, life can be tough.

    Living light means no expensive furniture, china or just about anything expensive that can break.

    Of Course, the bright side is getting to see new places, having new experiences, new people but it can get lonely.

    The worst part is leaving good friends behind and I have had so many farwell parties and shed so many tears at the parting that now to go through another round of farwells seems like a given thing.

    We are the entourage of our husbands following them around literally through thick and thin or better still we are the modern gypsies.

  • DJRadiohead

    Reading this reminds me of why I feel sorry for people who think of marriage as a punchline. This is quite terrific.

  • thank you everyone for such positive comments 🙂
    it’s so nice to get such great feedback…

    swingingpuss, ugh, i feel your pain and your joys…it’s a life of many advantages and disadvantages, and i wouldn’t trade any of it for anything else…
    an interesting thing happened this last move though…interesting and kind of sad if looked at in a certain way which i try desperately not to do…before we moved here, my husband was in iraq…of all the deployments, it didn’t feel like the longest but it sure as hell was the most stressful and exhausting…my friends, god bless them all, were my family…there’s no way i could possibly have gotten by without them…they raised the bar and set the standard for what a good friend really is — i learned this of them and for myself as well…i am a much better woman and friend because of them…
    therein lies the problem with our moving here to a base where only a handful of the servicemembers have ever deployed, and even fewer went to iraq…it was a struggle just trying to get to know their wives…at first i thought i was being snotty and just needed to get over myself…but several hundred dollars in phone bills later, my friends assure me there’s nothing wrong with me and that no one could go amicably from someone who’s known you in your darkest of hours to someone who stresses over there being fewer product parties next month…
    so after two years i still have no one i would call my friend, and it’s not that i expect them to be like my other friends…after all, the situations then and now are very different…it’s that i’m having a difficult time relating or finding anything of interest in those who have gone so far as to question how much i love my husband if i can stand to be away from him so often for so long…i should mention that he hasn’t stopped going places since we’ve been here…many of the servicemembers don’t deploy from here, even the marines, but a few of them still do…there are just a handful of marines, and many, many more soldiers and airman…i’m already a curiosity in the group as my husband is set to leave soon and won’t be home for christmas so once again i’m setting up for the holidays early and we will be opening gifts before thanksgiving — and again at christmas, just me and the kids…yea, it’s expensive, but that’s why he gets the big bucks (snicker)…

    or maybe all of this is because that last goodbye to my friends was heartwrenching…all we’d been through with each other, the things we did to help each other cope, the middle-of-the-night calls, the impromptu “support” sessions numbering well into the dozens by the time all was said and done, it was very much like we were each other’s spouses on so many levels…all our kids were in the same boat as were the thousands of other kids who missed their parents so badly and worried so much…we helped bail kids out of jail, drove kids home from the MP station, and picked up kids who were fighting at school…sometimes we were picking up our own kids, but not every time by any stretch…we drove each other’s cars to this ballgame, that recital, plays, parks, counseling appointments, you name it…every kid on that base was wound for sound until his/her parent came home…even the most congenial children suddenly became heathens, and it was in large part because no matter what we told the kids and no matter how much news we didn’t watch, someone was going to open his/her mouth in front of a child and say something stupid like “four marines were killed today, did you hear?”…we couldn’t get away from it, not while eating out, shopping, or even the park…

    so saying goodbye to those people who were everything to me and whose kids i love as my own, it took it all out of me…they’ve since scattered around the world themselves, in okinawa, iwakuni, california, north carolina, and some have retired and gone home to other states and countries…we all got together when we got the news that one of our husbands had been hit…he’s missing half his skull, can’t see through one eye, and will probably never work again…he was awarded the purple heart…we had to be there to give her our heart…

    and now i sit here thinking i just want them all back…i don’t want to ask new questions, form new bonds, any of that…i bristle at the idea of someone worrying about a man going away for a month or having to move a second time in two decades…if someone can’t handle that, it’s a good bet they couldn’t handle being my friend…

    gawd, what a ramble…perhaps i’ll go back to my soulsearching workbook and see what new truths pop up this time…

  • Diana, you are a brave lady. I cannot imagine being worried about my husband and not having the right kind of support to turn to. Hats off to you and other army/marine wives and mothers.

    You ladies deserve laurels just like your husbands.

    I too prefer to be alone rather than put up with shallow women; god knows I have enough shallow relatives to deal with than to add another load of women as friends whose world rises and sets with parties, shopping and gaudy diamonds.

    As it is I will probably be moving to a small town in Ohio and when I say a small town I mean it has only one main crossing.

    I’m dealing with the whole situation with a pinch of humor. There is going to be no sun and no friends but still I dont have much to bitch about as I am leading a civilian life.

  • whoa now swingingpuss, diamonds are forever 😉

    a one-crossing town sounds very small but i understand the attraction…my husband and i both grew up in cities…except for this area, every area we’ve lived in has been a smaller community…

    the thing is, i don’t prefer to be alone although not enough alone-time and i’ll get batty quick, but not having that at least weekly hook-up with my girls, oh how i miss it…