I know. I am supposed to be the silently pining wife, checking the doorstep every day for that awful moment that no family member of a deployed soldier ever wants. My life is supposed to be like either a Norman Rockwell painting or that of a character in a TV sitcom living crisis-to-crisis complete with close-up moments.
But being a milspouse is not quite that way. While we miss our loved ones a lot, in fact they cross our minds constantly, life goes on. And if I can be even more precise, life is good. The reactions I've had when people learn my husband is deployed have ranged from gratitude to verbal lashings, but the worst are those who become weepy. The reason I say it's the worst is that there's nothing I can say or do to convince them that we don't live our lives as though it were an impending tragedy.
Getting on with life means learning that the dog can walk up to 90 minutes a day for several miles. One cat can tear through 12 pouches of food in a week if you listen to his lies. I've also gotten used to feeding teens by buying large bags of food, not once but several times a week. I've discovered that the equivalent to kibble for teens is cereal. Holding the fort alone also means saying "no" to most of the fashion shows I used to cover because it's hard to be gone from 8 am to midnight every day during Fashion Week. Not having him here also means helping the kids learn to drive, helping with their homework, taking them to summer camp, to visit relatives in other states — all of on my own. But truthfully? I can't really complain; after all, single parents have done this through the ages. My situation is only unusual in that my husband is at war.
This doesn't mean that there isn't stress. But it's not the stress of the old days, when it came in waves. This is more like a silent nag, always wanting to put its nose over your shoulder. Like many, I've learned to bat it away. My method of coping is daily yoga, reading, and writing. The one thing I don't do is watch the pundit shows or get bogged down in politics. Because really — there is the political argument, and then there is the military argument, which are two different things. If I listened to all the infighting, then I'd hug the nag, which isn't an attractive option. But this doesn't mean that I don't read history, culture, and war books, scan the papers for a glimpse of life over there, or haven't formulated my own opinion. Guaranteed, my being a milspouse also doesn't mean what I think stays behind my prettily pursed lips. And that is getting on with life as well.
We get mail from my husband. And though there have been very worrisome times (meaning, more than usual) under conditions that would send most of us packing, he does have some funny things to share.
Last night we had an interesting patient at the clinic. He is one of the local leaders and enjoys the respect and loyalty of a large following. Injured and initially treated elsewhere, he came here by helicopter for the remainder of his care.
It was late and he was very tired but people kept filing into the clinic, each wearing the standard third world camo with sandals. I was startled as I looked up from my examination to see some thirty to forty well-wishers, crammed Kalishnikov-to-Kalishnikov into the tiny clinic, analyzing my every move. "Late. Him rest," I tried in my primordial Pashto. "Yes-yes, of course," they murmured. No movement. Now through my translator, "Tell them the man is tired and must rest. Everyone who is not family must go now." "Absolutely… good," they agreed. Nobody moved. They continued to watch, commenting quietly to each other. A bit frustrated, my translator made another attempt. Nothing. Finally a well-dressed young man squeezed over to me and spoke apologetically in quiet, perfect English, "I must tell you, Sir, your patient has three wives and twenty-seven children. We are, all of us, family."
It's little pastiches of his life over there that make it easier for me to not be the desperate milspouse. I know that he loves what he's doing and that his world is being expanded. He hates war, loves the people he's working with, finds great value and growth in helping the locals. It doesn't make the situation perfect, it doesn't mean that I worry less, but the fact that he's found a role over there helps me carry on with my life.
Are we milspouses a tough group? Not as tough as one might think. As I said to novelist Khanh Ha who grew up in a war during a different era, "Though your experience was direct and mine is on the periphery, war is a part of both of us, whether or not we like it." The truth is that both of us have learned to get on with things. We are and will be forever putting this into perspective. But I still like a good laugh, I gasp when I see an unimpeded view of the valley outside, and I yearn for the day when a knock at the door can only mean the postman or a friend.