My first Army friend! She was everything I needed. A successful professional, a mom, a confident force who didn’t take any shit. She’d built her own life alongside her Soldier’s. In true Grey’s Anatomy and Meredith Grey fashion, this was MY person or at least I hoped she would be.
Our one year dating anniversary was just around the corner! I still felt new to military life. I’d given up my life an hour away to join his a few months earlier. And then the Iraq surge happened.
Within weeks he was out the door and across the world. There was barely time to process what was happening, what it meant. I recall an emotional fight we had as my type A brain sought information, the information he didn’t have and couldn’t give me. It left me vulnerable. It left me terrified. And it left him wondering if I was military spouse ‘material’. “This is the job. If you can’t handle this, then maybe this just doesn’t work.”
Stress brings out the worst in most people, we were no exception. It was a verbal kick in the gut like I’d never experienced, in part because I didn’t want to believe I wasn’t strong enough.
We fought about the dish in the sink or the sock on the floor, you name it. We did what military couples do when a separation looms. We created emotional distance. If his presence was annoying, it was somehow easier to let him walk away, onto a bus, not sure if he’d ever walk off it again. After five deployments, we can now name it and accept it. Not surprisingly, the pettiness still happens. Every. Time.
So, I was in a house I didn’t own, in a town I didn’t know, navigating a life I swore I’d never want. Alone. And then I had a friend.
We were a few weeks into the deployment and the spouses were getting together. Apparently, this was a thing. They’d have dinner out or at someone’s house. They’d lean on each other. They’d support one another. And my new friend was bringing me along!
This introvert was terrified of walking into a room of people she didn’t know. Especially a room of “seasoned” military spouses with far more experience. I imagined they’d be confident, informed, welcoming. And they were, except one.
I don’t remember her name, but I remember the blue shirt she was wearing, and I remember where she sat at the long table of about 20 women. The hugs, handshakes, and introductions gave way to laughter and chatter. The kids, the house, the job, the major appliance that crapped out the day after the guys left. Stories for days, from everyone. And then it happened. She asked how long we’d been married.
The assumption was if my friend had brought me, we were married. But we weren’t. We’d had the casual “so, should we get married?” conversation in the chaos of the weeks before he left. We both knew a life together was coming, eventually, but I still had dreams of a white dress, the church, and my niece and nephew as flower people. I declined to rush things. He’d also offered in part because he feared my access to information would vary based on our marital status. Back then, that was a thing.
The lady in blue’s eyebrows raised as she confirmed, “Oh, you aren’t married”? My friend had my back and retorted with a quick wink and a smile, “No but they will be.” I didn’t think much of it until that line of conversation ended. And for the remainder of the night, the lady in blue turned her back to me, just enough for me to know that I was not welcome in her circle. I didn’t make the cut, yet. I wanted to crawl under the table.
So many of the ladies were supportive, welcoming, and lovely, but the lady in blue had deemed me unworthy of her time. And not because I didn’t love a Soldier, not because I didn’t watch the news with the same fear, not because I was young or inexperienced, but simply because we’d decided to wait.
Fast forward a few years to when a new deployment loomed. This time my Soldier’s job provided an invitation to attend meetings with leaders discussing how spouses could be supported during this deployment. It wasn’t a surprise; we had time to plan and do it right. And the lady in blue emerged again. This time, she was a story I’d tell.
I’d tell how that shoulder made my experience of my first deployment far more difficult then it had to be. I’d tell how it made me feel like my pool of people to call when a news story scared me to tears was smaller than it needed to be. I’d tell how if we want to support marriages we have to support those who are pre-marriage so that they can fully experience all that it means to be a military spouse and make future commitments with eyes wide open. We owed that to the future spouse and to the service member.
And so we did. We wrapped our arms around girlfriends when the Soldier’s asked us to. We made them part of our unit family.
So, to the lady in blue, I thank you. Your inability to see my inherent value to the circle helped me build bigger circles in every unit since then. There will always be that person. The person who doesn’t see you or your value the way you do. Use it. Use it to make a difference for the next person and be their person.
Tell us! Who was “your person” in your early days as a military spouse? And what was it about their support that altered your experience?
Jennifer is a military spouse of 12 years, 6 moves, and 4 duty stations. She’s also a business owner and lover of travel, Italian wine, German Christmas markets, fireworks, soft, comfy socks, cream cheese icing, warm bath towels, and morning snuggles with her kiddos.
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