Sunday, March 6, 2011

Things I've been thinking about...

Lately, I've had a lot on my mind.  Way too much really, which is probably why up until the latter part of this week my newly found gym habit was flourishing.  I thoroughly enjoy hopping onto the elliptical, cranking up the tunes on my i-pod, and for 25 minutes disappearing into the music, the movement, and not thinking about much of anything except breathing through the next 25 minutes.  I'm working my way up to longer amounts of time, but this 29 year old body is having a tough time adjusting to the gym again.  My muscles are sore.  Everything hurts.  I'm a whiner, I know.

Some of the many things I've had on my mind:

What does it mean to be a military spouse?  How do you help prepare someone for that role without utterly terrifying them about the realities of a military spouse, especially with the nation at war?  How do you then adapt to life in the civilian world once you are no longer active duty?  How does that change your role as military spouse?  I have so many questions...and not nearly enough answers, but like any military spouse does I put one foot in front of the other and I keep on doing the best I can in all aspects of the role.  I recently read a blog that very concisely summed up some of the parts of being a military spouse.  You can read what she had to say here.  Some of it made me smile and nod, other things made me laugh out loud, and some things made me tear up at the memory of those moments in my own life.  I think she answered my question about what does it mean to be a military spouse pretty well though when she says  "I have no clue how to still my pounding heart when he finally walks through our door again, I don’t know how to pull my hands from his sand-stained neck and say goodbye, and I don’t know how to ever walk away from a man who stands while many choose to sit."  I think that is the key to any lasting relationship in the military.  Your spouse always has to be worth the wait, if not I'm not sure your relationship will make it-because the reality of military life is rather frustrating and down right hard sometimes.  I know I didn't have the worst of it either.  I'll openly admit that.  It wasn't all a rose garden, but I know it could have had a lot more thorns.

I recently read "You Know When the Men Are Gone" by Siobhan Fallon, an Army wife.  I was enthralled.  I had read a review or two about it awhile before it actually hit the shelves.  I anxiously waited for its arrival.  It is a collection of mini stories giving you glimpses into the different aspects of life as a military spouse. It left me wanting "the rest of the story" for each chapter, but I suppose that if I knew all of the story it might not have captivated me.  I made it all the way to pg 6 before stopping to write down a quote that makes all spouses that have had their loved one deploy smile and nod...

      "She hated grocery shopping, she hated cooking without a man to satiate; the only pleasure in her trip was picking out the food she would send Jeremy in a weekly package-beef jerky, Twizzlers and lollipops, hand wipes and magazines, things that could get crushed, exposed to high temperatures, sit in a box for over a month, and still manage to be consumed by home-desperate soldiers."
I remember grocery shopping with my sweet friend Anna at the commissary on Friday nights after a long week of teaching.  Shopping with a friend made the task more enjoyable.  The highlight was picking out the items we would mail out to our husbands in their next package.  Plus, it helped that once we were done shopping we would eat dinner together and split a bottle of Duplin County Wine.  Another quote contained in this same short story that made me chuckle: "Please get that Churchill-headed creature away from me.  The wives were always throwing their offspring at her as if they thought that the more she got spit up on, the more she'd want one of her own."  As if, lol.

Related to this was an incident that happened last week.  My mother-in-law told me we had some mail at their house.  Their house is listed as a permanent address on a few things from Dave's time in the USMC.  She said he had mail from the USMC. I should have asked for clarification (like read me the return address) and saved myself a few restless nights, since we didn't make it over to pick it up for a few days.  You see, the only thing I could think of that the Marine Corps might have for him at this point would be a recall notice.  The time is still ticking on the inactive duty contract.  So of course, I had to do what I do-run through every worst case scenario I could think of attached to this news.  How would I react, how was I going to deal, what would I do, what would he be doing, what happens if it all goes horribly, horribly wrong?  I tend to let my imagination run a little wild and the worst case scenario really means absolute worst case.  I won't type it, but I'll run through what little I am able to imagine in my head and think about how I'd deal.  I'm seriously afflicted.  Yet somehow, running through all the worst case scenarios makes dealing a little easier.  I feel a little more prepared.  Sort of.  I had some crazy dreams. I'm sure my sweet mother-in-law had no idea the panic that USMC mail might bring about in me.  I'm glad we eventually found out it was a letter from the VA and not the USMC.  Nope, not the same.  Not the same at all, lol. 

Pondering what it means to be a military spouse has also played a major role in another thought that is taking over a large percentage of my brain.  What am I going to do for the rest of my life? More than 10 years ago I would have told you I'd be teaching.  Even 5 years ago I would have told you that.  While I do sometimes miss the classroom and the thrill of watching students learn something new or think about something in a whole new way, the truth is there is plenty I don't miss too.  I keep debating about going back, but I just don't know.  I don't think it is going to be a retail career forever.  While I enjoy it, I'm a little wishy washy about it.  I've also been thinking about going back to school too.  This will probably wait a bit, but I'm thinking about it.  There have been a few things that have prompted me in this direction.  I'm pondering a master's degree in counseling or some such thing.  I've always been someone that people will share things with.  Even complete strangers will share things with me that they might not tell their best friend.  I don't judge them.  I don't share their secrets.  I just listen and comment as appropriate.  Rolled into that is pondering about doing PTSD type counseling.  I started thinking about it a little on the drive to DC after listening to one of the This American Life podcasts that had a story about a guy living with the effects of his life with PTSD.  It made my heart ache for many reasons, but it also made me wonder how can we be doing more to help these people?  What can we change about the process?  How can we help them return to life as usual after they've given up a part of their soul, their life, their security...?  Can we even help?  Well, I think I might like to try.  Pondering it anyhow.

I've also been reading an enthralling book entitled "What Was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It." I should add that the book includes Marines and I have found it extremely distracting that this particular publisher did not know that Marine is a title that is earned and as such is ALWAYS capitalized.  I want to write over every lower case m in the book, but it isn't my book so I can't.  A friend read this book and then loaned it to me to read, knowing that I enjoy reading this sort of book.  It gives brief glimpses into the lives of soldiers, what it was like for them, and how they are dealing with it now.  I have enjoyed reading this book-as much as anyone really enjoys reading about acts of war and the affects they have on people.  I quickly learned that I couldn't read this book at bedtime.  I love to read myself into sleepiness, but this is not a book that lets you rest easy if you read it right before bedtime.  I have had numerous ah-ha moments while reading and many, many things that these soldiers and Marines share make me want to stop, take notes, and write whole blogs about them.  I think I may have to go back and re-read this book doing just that.  Right now though, I have to keep reading-just not before bedtime.  There are so many things I've read in this book that just seem unimaginable to me.  I can't quite imagine dealing with these things and managing to continue day after day after day.  These soldiers and Marines did.  So have countless others just like them.  Oh my heart hurts for them.  The thing I love the most about this book is that it is written from a first person perspective.  The soldier or Marine is talking directly to you as the reader.  It makes it more real to the reader and that much more difficult to digest.  Crissy, this is not a book you should read.  In fact, you should not read the rest of this paragraph.  Other tender hearted readers or those not ok with graphic descriptions of war should skip the rest of this paragraph as well.  Look for the next italic sentence to rejoin me...  The second story shared is from a Marine from Task Force Tarawa telling about the beginnings of the battle in Nasiriya.  He talks about seeing an AAV (amphibious assault vehicle) in Ambush Alley after it had been hit by an RPG.  He said he could see the crewman inside on fire, but trying to get out (7-9of them).  He and the Doc leave their vehicle and run over to help.  He hands the Doc a leg that was laying on the ramp of the AAV and tells him to lay it off to the side because they are going to find who that belongs to.  He goes to help get another Marine out of the back, and as he was pulling him out his upper torso separated from his lower torso.  He ends up with only his upper half in his hands.  He passes it to the Doc telling him to "Put this in the back of the Humvee because Marines don't leave our dead or wounded on the battle field; everybody comes home.  Even if its a piece of you, I have a responsibility to your mom and dad to bring everything back."  Can you imagine what that would have been like?  How do you finish a task like that and then rejoin the battle?  I know, it is in the training-but still.  Another story shared by a Marine was about care packages sent from home.  This Marine was in Mortuary Affairs.  They had a big dry erase board in their meeting room with a Word of the Day.  His wife had sent him a Webster's build-your-vocabulary dictionary and every day they would choose a word of the day, write the word and the definition on the board, and then get Marines to use the word in sentences.  They would also try to see which Marine could use it with the highest ranking officer he could get to.  The Marine no longer remembers all the words of the day, but there is another Marine who kept logbooks of them.  I can see Marines doing this, it made me laugh.  Another Mortuary Affairs Marine shares that the first thing they did when a Marine came in was "we had to get his shirt sizes and his clothing sizes as a form of identification because you're issued garments when you join the Marine Corps, and it's crazy but grunts are known for wearing five different people's clothes when they go outside the wire.  They have to go on a mission, but 'hey my shirt's not dry yet.  You got a shirt I can borrow?' They go outside the wire with someone else's boots, with somebody else's dog tags.  They've got a shirt that somebody else's name is on.  So you end up with a Marine that comes in dead and he's got four different names on his person."  Wow.  I knew grunts would wear all kinds of stuff that was borrowed from someone else, but I never thought of the battle field ramifications of this.  One final story is about an MP stationed in Abu Ghraib Prison.  He was there during the infamous incidents, but while that is an interesting part of the story he had a lot more to say about other things too.  This MP tells us he is a born-again Christian and a born-again believer.  He believes that the Bible is the emphatic word of God.  He also believes that there is still a lot of good that can be done for people.  "Every morning I would go up to the roof and pray before a mission, and put my requests before God to make sure we made it home safely, and that morning I forgot, with all the chaos.  I just didn't do it.  I didn't pray."  On this particular day his job was to transport some of the Iraqi prisoners to court.  Normally when transporting prisoners they leave the cover off the back of the Deuce, the two and a half pound truck with benches in the back that is normally used for troop transport, so that the insurgents could see it was Iraqis in the back.  Today they were rushed and forgot to take the cover off.  They reach a point in the road where they would change lanes and get ready to exit the highway.  Cars begin flashing their lights to suggest trouble is coming.  The MP realizes he didn't pray today and so he begins praying while driving.  "God, I'm sorry I forgot to pray.  Please keep us safe."  They were hit.  All of the US troops were survived, but one of the Iraqi prisoners died.  The MP is troubled by this and said "God you picked the wrong guy for this job.  You picked the wrong guy to be in this country, because if I've got to deal with this I just can't take it.  There's no way I can take it.  There's no way I can handle losing like this."   His roommate, who was always picking on him about talking to God, came up to him and said "All the times you talk to God, and it paid dividends today, because all of your soldiers are alive.  And that speaks to me."  The MP realizes he didn't pray for the Iraqis, he never even thought about it, and he lost one.  Geesh.  It makes me want to just give every vet a hug, although that would probably freak them out a bit.
Okay Crissy and anyone else who skipped the graphic parts you can rejoin me.  I'm only halfway through this book.  It is taking me some time to read, process, and digest.  Some stories my mind has to ponder for a long time before I can move on to read the next one.  I think I will begin reading journal with it.  It might help me process a little better.  It has given me a lot to think about in relationship to a counseling degree.  Again, how can you begin to help when you have no idea the realities of war?  I suppose you can listen with an empathetic ear, treat them with dignity and respect, and listen, truly listen to what they do share...  I may not ever end up working towards a degree in  counseling.  I may not ever end up working with vets are on a large scale.  Who knows?  I'm still pondering.

My fortune cookie the other day said "You find beauty in ordinary things.  Appreciate this gift."  I try to, on both accounts.