I sometimes wish I could send a letter back through time, to the me I used to be. Not to the teenage me, not even to the young Mommy – but 23 years back, just as we were beginning our lives together.
Twenty-three years ago, we had gotten married and he had left just a few days later. We got married on the University’s “dead day” where students were supposed to be studying for finals. Instead, I said, “I do,” then we had two full days together before he had to go back to Kansas. It was two full months before he was done with training and had found a home for us. Twenty-three years ago was my first sense of “waiting,” and certainly not my last. On hold for the Army. It wasn’t the first time, even that far back, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Twenty-three years ago, I was learning how to drive. I had never lived away from home, and in fact had never even moved. Until recently, my mom was still at that same house, and my bedroom still looked a lot the same. I had lived what many thought was a very sheltered life.
But oh, what a gleeful, happy, optimist I was, despite the zillion and one things I did not know, and did not even know to ask.
This is what I’d like to tell myself:
Everyone is telling you that you don’t know what you are getting into, that the Army life is hard. They tell you that Uncle Sam owns your husband, and that you must be independent. They warn that you cannot count on him to be able to be there for everything. Believe them. But remember that you two are still partners in this, and still each other’s best friend. That will help get you through, and will help forgive quite a lot.
Do not take peacetime for granted.
There will come a time when the gate guards will no longer intimidate you. In fact, you will look at their sweet faces and wonder if you were ever that young. No, you were not. You never were that young.
One day, you will receive orders that will toss your whole family upside down. Tears will be shed, shouts will be heard. And you will be optimistic in the face of it, and you will say, “I will come to you those late nights. We will get through this.” And you will be right. And you both did.
You will lay down roots. And you will yank them out and find a new soil, a new ray of sunshine. You will become good at blooming.
So many people want to warn you away from the romance that they think you are imagining about the military. They wonder if you’ve seen “Officer and a Gentleman” too many times. You will enjoy the romance and the pride/showmanship of a good Army dog and pony show – but do not lose sight of what the Army is really there to do. They are there to fight battles.
Remember you married your best friend, who also happens to be a soldier. The world will see the soldier first; it is your job to see the man.
You are stronger than they think you are. You are stronger than even you could imagine.
Yes, you get used to the smell of gun oil and diesel. You still won’t like it, but it won’t make you as violently ill after a while.
You really should have checked out that book on Army etiquette before that Wives’ tea. At least you dressed ok for it. Mostly.
Remember that your value has nothing to do with the rank your husband wears, nor the worth someone else credits you with.
Do not worry that he will not kiss you or hold your hand while he is in uniform. Remember what I said about peacetime? Eventually, between experience and rank, it will be a moot point and you will tease him about this.
Make lots of plans. Don’t expect to keep any of them.
You have always been good at being alone. Someday, you may have to help others with this. Alone is ok.
Don’t lose yourself.
Sick call is a joke. Make him go anyway.
Learn how to iron.
Keep your friendship circles fluid, but your innermost circle nice and tight.
One of these days, your soldier husband will tell you that you should really, really meet this wife of a soldier he knows. You will roll your eyes. He will insist. You will grudgingly go along to be polite. She will become your truest battle buddy, and teach you everything you want to leave the Army with. Thank him.
Above all, know this –
You’ll be ok. You’ll be ok. You. Will. Be. Okay.
(Many thanks to Rebecca, Kelley, Erica, Julie, Lora, Susz, Kat, Kristina, Tiffany, Nadia, and all the others who reminded me of a few important things I wanted to tell myself. It all matters.)