Without the Army, I don’t know who I am or what I’m supposed to be doing; it’s like the week between Christmas and New Year’s, but without the glee.
I’ve lost track of how old my toothbrush is. When did I last change my contacts?
I’m lost in time and space. I don’t know where to put things. I don’t know what’s for dinner.
One day my husband said the baby needed to stop coming into the bed with us in the mornings. I said one of us would have to get up with him then. He suggested that would be me since it always used to be, but that was because he was going to work… so he doesn’t really know what he’s doing either.
I didn’t know how intertwined my identity as a wife was with being an Army family. I didn’t know how much of who I am was a wife centered around my husband as an employee.
Now I find myself with almost a blank slate, well more of a slate with white painted over it and you can still see the shadow of the old picture. I’m aloof.
Daily Life with No Context
I have no concept of what I should be doing at any particular time of the day. Primarily because there is nothing I really have to be doing at any particular time of the day.
This sounds like a vacation, but it isn’t. I feel lost. There’s a ringing cell phone somewhere lost in the house, how I feel.
Only recently did I start putting my son down for naps again at a specific time in the morning, but he may or may not sleep because he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be doing either.
Two months ago, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I got up at 6:00, got the baby up at 7:30, dishes and cleaning at 8, Crossfit 8:30-10:30. 10:30 Naptime and chill until noon, 12-2 chores. Start dinner at 5, and so on and so forth.
I’ve cooked twice in the last month. At some point I notice there are a lot of dishes in the sink.
It’s funny that my habits as a wife don’t exist outside the context of supporting my husband. Tried to have something cleaned before he came home. Had to make sure he had dinner and then lunch the next day. Went to bed with him at 10 because he had to get up early.
I went to sleep at 2:30 last night because we were talking. Talking, not fighting, with Spencer. Those who know him understand the significance here.
When I was working as personal trainer, my house was cleaner the busier I was. Not so much the case now, but there is simply no structure which gives me no framework for doing what I presume to be “my job.” But what is my job when my husband doesn’t have a job? (Hopefully he starts working next week.)
But he is the same husband in any context. He has seamlessly transferred his duties from one time zone to another.
A couple weeks ago I had to ask where the dumpster was and that was the one and only time I have been there. He never complains about eating rotisserie chicken night after night or the guest room being full of opened but unpacked boxes.
If he were the homemaker and I were the breadwinner, would he be as lost?
Unemployed Out of Context
In military culture, it is very common for women of average means not to work, even without children. I was unemployed for a year at 26. While I was desperate to get a job, I loved being a stay-at-home wife. I loved being obsessed with my husband’s needs. LOL.
In the real world, I’m feeling stupid for not working. I wanted to arrange a meetup for a St. Louis-based new moms group and was quickly reminded that as a rule, women work around here, kids or not.
I couldn’t find a job in 2015, which is a common reason military spouses don’t work, but another big reason is the amount of stress it puts on the family with the unpredictability of the military. Maybe I could have found a better job in Raleigh, but did I want to give up precious time with my soldier to commute three hours a day?
So even though I loved being at home, it was hard for me not to work because I felt like I needed to earn my keep financially. Just being a wife, I felt like a liability (but now I know I’m an asset). It was hard to accept that my value did not come from money and be okay not having a bi-weekly affirmation of my worth, a paycheck.
I think this is a reason some wives that do work tend to make the distinction that “they work” because they want to express that they add value. Some feel the need to express that they want more; they aren’t like the typical wife. And of course, some just need you to know they aren’t available all the time.
In the context of civilian life, there is less opportunity for me to provide value married to a spouse that has free will. If Spencer weren’t married to me, he would be just fine. His shower would be suuuper dirty, but he could still have a healthy livelihood.
Soldiers need spouses. They need someone to tether them to the real world. They need someone to make plans with their families and start their trucks from time to time during deployment. To send them care packages and handwritten letters and pick up their dress uniforms from the dry cleaners.
They need someone to bring them something to eat when they’re trapped at the COF because someone somewhere lost something. They need someone to qualify them to move out of the barracks. They need someone to help them feel like adults and have joy in their lives.
So I find myself remembering that technically I should be ashamed of having no income at a time like this. As an able-bodied, mentally competent, cogent, college-educated woman, I should be contributing economically. It’s like I’m having to devolve from being an Army wife where my value was in service.
While this can sound unfair to myself to think of myself as needing to provide value in the form of dollars, I welcome this truth and it is exactly what I need in this phase of my entrepreneurship.
Some cultures believe the financial burden is always on the man. That’s not the culture I’m a part of. I came from single black moms with reasons and not excuses. To each their own, but I’m feeling like this is my opportunity to relieve my husband after the burden of his military career, and I think I’m more than capable of doing that.
Marriage Out of Context
In 2014, I very much married a soldier and became an Army wife, living on an Army base with Army friends and an Army future with an Army mentality.
And all the sudden my life is just not that.
I find myself not being secure in who I am as a wife because I can no longer play the role of the long-suffering wife alongside the harried, beleaguered soldier. No one is suffering, no one is harried.
So sometimes I express residual resentment at having been put second, which I didn’t even complain about all that much at the time. It’s like I’ve become Sophia from The Color Purple talking about “all my life I had to fight.”
I mean, yeah, being a military spouse was objectively difficult as one could imagine, but am I overdramatizing it now?
Lately, I look back on what I went through and get stuck there. I find myself snapping with some old stuff. It all feels terribly old even though it was six weeks ago.
Maybe I had adopted a victim mentality and now that there is nothing to victimize me, I don’t know how to feel about my life. I should feel free, but I’m not there yet; constantly comparing one aspect to another.
The most significant experience I’m having is the realization I am not who I was four years ago, but, my husband is not who he was four months ago. If 2015 me and 2019 him could get together, it would be magical, but I don’t know if she can come back.
We had the typical not seeing eye to eye types of problems, but the military adds another layer of frustration. I’m sure several couples have issues stemming from careers, but I think the fact soldiers can’t quit kills something in them.
Here is an example of a common dilemma I had: I mom through the night, Spencer goes to PT at 6 am then work begins at 9. Spencer comes home at 4 and wants to go to the gym. I want to go to the gym. I’ve been home all day and didn’t get to work out.
But he’s been at work all day. (In subsequent arguments) He states the gym is a stress release. He gets to go to the gym. And if it’s Friday, then go to dinner and a movie with his friends. I’m jealous because I don’t have friends to go to dinner and the movies with, but that isn’t really his fault, except it is because we live here because of him. I eat leftovers and put the baby to bed by myself.
Second example: I wanted more emotional support during deployment. Spencer feels like he shouldn’t have been expected to provide that given he was in Afghanistan. But I feel like a little something extra would have been acceptable, given I was pregnant…with no friends on base, 12 hours from my mom.
It wasn’t a TV deployment where he was risking his life everyday running off infidels. He was safe, well as safe as you can be in Afghanistan. The hardship was that he didn’t get the luxuries of a typical deployment: free time, relaxed standards, shooting dangerous people. And my hardship was that I would go a week and only have meaningful conversation with the retirees at the gym three mornings a week, and eat cereal for dinner.
In all the fights we had last year (about attitude, priorities, stress management), Spencer would blame things on the Army and say I should give him a break until he’s out of the Army.
I thought that was a cop out, but, dammit, it was the Army! I still think he’s accountable for his actions and attitudes while Army, but now I’m thinking the military really was the root of the problem.
After some time, Spencer stopped being the husband I signed up for. And now after four years, I am not the wife I signed up as. I don’t love on my husband as easily as I used to. I hate to admit that, and I hope I can recover from that, but if I don’t, it will really be the Army taking on a toll on our marriage.
The novices look at marriage and think that with goodwill and communication we can overcome anything. But it’s not that simple. We rearrange our marriage DNA to get through difficult times, and we don’t just bounce back. We may overcome but not without collateral damage.
I felt like people were quite precious about military service. Seeing those men and women everyday, knowing them personally, they weren’t heroes. I wasn’t a hero; that was just my lot in life and you could do it to if you had to.
Except you didn’t have to, and it was a sacrifice. I don’t know why I couldn’t see that or from which view– the inside or outside– is more valid. Am I being dramatic now, or was I downplaying the stress then???
I don’t know!
I’m used to feeling slighted and short-changed, I’m used to fussing at my husband over what’s fair and then feeling guilty and letting him have his way because Army. Now that “what’s fair” is a black and white concept, the pet frustration I boarded no longer has a home. Almost overnight, my resentment is out of context.
Running Out of Context
I am not sure what other experience in life, over age 21, has shown me so many ways I don’t know what I thought I knew.
I didn’t anticipate the types of stress I have experienced as a result of moving, didn’t know I could ever not want to leave the Army lifestyle, and didn’t know stress could make you hate your house. I didn’t know one could be in a haze for years and never really know, (it’s important to take inventory of your feelings.)
But in a span of a month, I have been enrolled in all these lessons. These are lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn.
The newness of these thoughts please me. What if I don’t know everything? That means anything can happen. My wifeness will regenerate. My identity will be rebuilt. I’ll have great healthcare.
I can’t decide who I am or who my spouse is, or what life is like because anything can change. I am guilty of preemptively being disappointed and hopeless. We can all discover something or experience something that changes who we are.
Therefore, I should never give up hope, never throw in the towel, never mourn a loss. I can’t say someone will always be one way or this condition will always persist. Because when the context changes, so do we.