Maybe it isn't the big things that sap your will to live a military life. Maybe it is the little things. Maybe it is the one-two punch of things that happen.
That's what I was thinking the last time the one-two punch happened to me. I don't know why it mattered so much. It wasn't an injury. It wasn't a death. It wasn't even an extended deployment.
Instead a much anticipated vacation came crashing down as one of our long-approved leave days was pulled (for what seemed like a really dumb reason.)
Then the family photo shoot planned months in advance was preempted. The boys and I dressed up for the photo only to spend 30 minutes in the parking lot waiting for my husband who was stuck in a meeting with his boss.
I sat in the car as the opportunity slipped past and felt the bitterness seep in the windows.
When I look at Army couples a few years older than we are, I see two kinds of wives: the bitter and the oh-so-sweet. The bitter ones say things like "The Army doesn't give a damn about families. I am his mistress -- he is married to the military."
Some of these families have every single reason in the world to be bitter. They have had so much to bear in a dozen years of war it would be a wonder if they were anything else.
Then you have those oh-so-sweetlings, spouses who are so proud of our heroes. So honored to partner them. So perfectly fine with raising the kids on their own. Are they real? They don't seem real.
I also know there are people who are neither bitter about the military nor too too sweet, but how are they doing that?
Because when the few things that I want for our family like group photos and vacations scheduled outside of military time are cancelled, I find myself tipping into the bitter pot. No matter how often I blast the Star Spangled Banner on my iPhone, I am still irritated by the Army.
Sorry, I'm just like that. Seeing my toddler standing at the window waiting and waiting and waiting for daddy breaks my heart. I can't help it. Sometimes I find myself asking out loud, "WHY ARE WE DOING THIS??"
I'm pretty sure that is the kind of thought that leads directly to Bitter City.
Yes, I chose this life. Yes, we are in the military because we WANT to be. And oh, I DO want to be.
But as I drove home that evening after missing that photo, I let a few hot, bitter tears fall down my face. Why does the military have to break me like this? Why do the disappointments have to feel so crushing? And why do they always come in pairs?
I love our Army life – I really, really do. I love the pride and joy seeing my Soldier in uniform gives me. I love the Army Song, the National Anthem and all the ceremonies. Five years into our military life and I long to have that shiny new wife glow.
But when disappointments come one after the other I feel bitter. When my four-year-old cries “Daddy didn’t give me any loves!” because Daddy left while everyone was still asleep, it hurts. When my one-year-old’s daily evening Daddy window watch is fruitless because Daddy had to stay at the office way past bedtime, I feel sad and angry.
“Why are we doing this to ourselves?” I wonder.
I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t want to be indifferent. I don’t want to go through these military years of my life and turn out angry about the military – one of those women you don’t want to get stuck next to at the ball because all they can about is how much hate the military. I don't want to look back and wish we'd gotten out so that I could save myself some heartbreak.
But I can’t be Nancy Nice either – so proud and happy that my husband is gone all the time. I can’t be delighted that he missed yet another birthday. I can’t muster up the feeling that the thing that cancels his leave is necessary for the good of the nation.
Is there some kind of middle ground I can stand on?