SpouseBUZZ is a site by military spouses for military spouses, but I'd like to write this post for someone else - civilians. I live in a civilian community right now, and I've been lucky. I am surrounded by people who have been truly helpful and kind. They want to do what they can for our family while Air Force Guy is deployed and I appreciate it more than I can say.
But wanting to help and understanding how to help are two entirely different things. And honestly it really doesn't help that I'm fairly typical as far as military spouses go in not wanting to let people know I need help. Because I'm Superwoman and I can do it all myself, thank you. Don't want to put anyone out - I'm fine... In military-speak we all know that means, "Um, guys? Can I get a hand here?" Actually, it wouldn't come out in military speak because we often tend to just barge in with each other and do what needs to be done. When you get a bunch of truly capable and strong women together in one small area, things get done - let me tell you. My teenager spent her weekends mowing several neighborhood lawns one year during a large deployment; there was no asking if it was needed, we knew it was needed and it got done.
Anyway - we speak the same language. The civilians who surround me truly try, but they don't. They want to, but Rosetta Stone doesn't offer that course (yet). And so it gets weird, particularly awhile ago when AFG's folks took some casualties.
Now, reporting recently hasn't been what reporting was in the last few deployments AFG had. Casualties aren't really reported. Actually, not much is reported. I think it's easier for people to ignore what is going on if they aren't interested in finding out. Often, the first time people hear about something is when they ask me, "So, how is AFG doing over there? Is everything going smoothly?"
Which leads me to point number one: If you ask me how my husband is doing, particularly if you follow it up with a phrase that leads me to believe you're really interested in the answer, I will tell you. And I'm not going to sugar coat it, either. Trust me, I'm not going to be Eeyore, and there are more than a few funny anecdotes and interesting tidbits I'm willing to share. In fact, those will be the vast majority of my discussion. But they are not everything, not by a long shot. If you ask, prepare to hear the answer.
Point Number Two: I'm schizophrenic and bi-polar right now. And I'm truly sorry. I try very hard to behave in a socially acceptable manner and not take advantage of people's good will. I try very hard to be fun and engaging and a good friend; but I'll be honest, it's weird. And I know you notice it's weird. And I'm sorry, but I just can't help that. One day, the fact that my husband is thousands of miles away and people are trying to kill him and those with him is neatly tucked at the bottom of my mind closet with those socks that came out of the dryer with no match. I'm able to accomplish a lot, go out with friends and laugh like things are completely normal and AFG will be home bar-b-queing this weekend. Other days I can't seem to shake the thought. I never forget it, it's just that some days it is easier than others to ignore it.
The advice to us is always, "Go on with your life!" and I do. I mean, with a roiling horde of particularly over-active children and a personality that really does not lend itself to being a hermit, I have no choice but to go on with my life. But it's weird. I'm sorry. Please forgive my roller coaster emotions - I promise you that I am doing my best to keep them as even as possible. Or at least to keep the worst excesses hidden up in my bedroom after lights out when I have some popcorn and a Stargate Atlantis marathon to pull me through ( I love Stargate Atlantis - I have this thing for John Sheppard, he reminds me of my husband for some reason). But sometimes I will say things that sound... off. Which brings me to:
Point number three - My sense of humor is weird. You can't live this lifestyle and not develop a finely honed sense of gallows humor. I've probably said things that you thought were not funny (I mean, over and beyond the fact that I'm really not as funny as I think I am anyway), but really - I do find the fact that AFG had some particular local food and there were... repercussions *ahem*... quite amusing. And so does he. Now that the incident is over, that is. Remind me to tell you the story of his favorite shawarma stand in Baghdad sometime. The one that the MP's closed for health code violations. In Baghdad. Seriously. I STILL laugh about that one, and it's been six years.
Point number four - just because my husband is not one of the casualties doesn't mean that I'm happy. I mean, it's weird. I'm relieved, but I also feel guilty. Someone else lost their loved one, and how am I so special that I did not? I certainly don't want to be on the other end - I can't imagine anything worse. But I also can't help feeling guilty that (and this sounds very odd, believe me, I know that) my husband dodged a bullet that someone else caught. I know that's not true, and not even rational. But it is still how I feel. I may not have known that other person, but I know they had people who loved them, a future, and now they are no longer there. That could have been my husband. It could be my husband in the future. And even though I can usually force that thought down, when casualties occur it is the number one thing in my mind.
I think that dealing with military families dealing with casualties has to be the hardest thing for a civilian to do. All that bi-polar schizophrenic behavior that they barely understand how to deal with in me comes out full force. At that point, I can't keep it hidden. And how do you respond to that? Particularly if one moment I'm happy to have a hug and the next moment I don't want anyone to touch me? What a sticky, nasty situation to have to maneuver. I do understand how hard it is. I really do. But please understand how hard it is to be the one living through it. I wish I could say I would meet you half-way on this one to make it easier, but I can't. All I can say is that if you catch me on one of these days, please just go with the flow. Understand that I'm going to be moody and just go with the flow. Don't run away and never come back, because I've got to be honest - the military and military families can't do this without you. We need you, we really do, and I'll be honest - we often feel abandoned. There aren't that many of us - there are a LOT more of you. We need the support and help of civilians, just please understand that supporting and helping us isn't going to be easy. And some times are worse than others.
Point number five: I'm often just putting one foot in front of the other. A big part of my day is trying to appear "normal". Whatever is going on inside my head or wherever my husband is deployed to, I have to take the kids to Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Gymnastics, Swimming, and Boxing lessons. And I've got to figure out how to group everything around the times AFG might possibly call (because I will NOT miss those). I've gotten really good at squashing down inner turmoil to get through the day. It's a defense mechanism and we all develop it eventually. It seems that there is always a crisis, and if we holed up in the house for each and every one we'd never leave. And the nice thing about putting one foot in front of the other is that eventually you end up somewhere and find yourself enjoying things. In any case, I'm on auto-pilot a lot. I'm multi-tasking parenting issues, planning a menu, grading schoolwork, getting laundry done, writing, planning for holidays, getting birthday parties planned, and making sure the dog gets to the vet when necessary. Among other things. Meanwhile a large part of my brain is wondering what my husband is doing. Is he cold? Is he hot? Does he have enough clean t-shirts? What is he thinking about? Is he okay? I'm distracted, yes. And I'm sorry. I don't mean to forget things, be late, or in general act like "Hurricane airforcewife." Trust me, it could be a LOT worse. Most of the time everything goes as planned, but when that kink hits my schedule...
There's more, of course. There is always more, but I hope this list helps. I'm certainly not trying to push the onus of our relationship onto you, but I am trying to make it easier for us to have a relationship in the first place. And we do need to have a relationship - believe me when I say we need each other.