Letter From An Angry Military Wife

** About two weeks ago, I read something posted anonymously on a military spouse Facebook page that really bothered me. It was from a soldier. It went on and on but I want to share with you the one part that really bothered me. “I am a soldier and I have to say I don’t know why everyone acts like being a military wife is special. You are just a wife.”  I knew then that my next letter would be an open-letter reply to that statement. So here it is…….

You don’t know me. You’ve most likely never heard my voice, listened to the happiness of my laughter or seen the way my cheeks flush when I’m angry. You have no idea that spiders don’t scare me but grasshoppers do. You don’t know that I work hard every day doing a job that leaves me feeling exhausted, humbled, and hopeful. You don’t know that I’m raising boys who respect women and honor their country. You don’t know that I need help changing the car battery but not fixing the garbage disposal. You don’t know that I volunteer, donate and in general try to make the world a better place. Odds are, I could pass you on the street and you would never even notice me. And yet in your eyes, I’m nothing more than three simple words…..”just a wife”.

Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am just a wife. I do clean the house and mop the floors but can’t promise that these will be the same floors I’ll be cleaning next year, next season or even two months from now. I grocery shop but I may do it in silence because I haven’t lived here long enough to run into people I know. If I do see a friend in the cereal aisle, that probably means we’ll be PCSing soon. Just like any other wife, I tend to the garden and water the flowers. No matter how hard I try though, I cannot plant roots. Like any wife, I buy furniture for my house but I pick the sturdy, solid pieces over the irreplaceable antiques. I need something that will last through being packed up and shipped off again and again and again. Just like any wife, I know how I want my home decorated but getting that pie safe and wooden bench would bring us too close to our weight limit. Just like any other wife, I have a group of friends who I can count on. I know that in one year’s time, we’ll all be scattered around the world and I’ll once again begin the great challenge of being loved and lonely at the same time. I worry about my children choosing the right friends and when they do, I pray that they form life-long friendships even though we have to move every few years.

When my husband leaves for work, I kiss him good-bye and squeeze his hand. If I meet him for lunch though, our fingers can’t be intertwined. When he travels for work, I tell him to be safe and that I’ll miss him while he’s gone but his trips aren’t measured in days or weeks but rather months, missed holidays and sometimes even years. When work calls him away, I slip love notes in his baggage. When I see his helmet and body armour, I’m reminded how important those notes are. When he calls from far away, I ask him how he’s sleeping and about the weather. Yes, just like any other wife but you see, I only ask those things because he can’t answer questions like where he is, what he’s doing or how long he’ll be there.  I take care of my home and my children while my husband is gone but I do it on months and months of little sleep. Just like any other wife, I’m nervous when he tells me to drive his truck while he is gone. I do it though but some days, that’s when I’ll cry.  When he comes home, I’ll be excitedly waiting at the airport….just like any other wife except I’ll be the one waving a flag and kissing a hero.

So maybe you’re right, maybe I am just a wife. But then again, maybe I’m right and you’re just a damn fool.

An Angry Military Wife

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Dear Soldier

Dear Soldier,

I don’t need Valentine’s Day to write you a love letter. Hallmark, hearts and cupid could never tell you how much you mean to me. Only I can do that. And while I try to show you, I thought it was time to write the words down for all the world to see. I wanted something tangible for you to hold onto even when you’re far away.

I know when we’re apart, you think of me. I know how much you miss me when you’re gone. I know you count the days till you can come back home. I want you to know that I miss you and I count the days, too. It’s not the same without you. I wish that it didn’t have to be this way. I wish you could be here where you belong — with your family and me. It’s hard not having you here, knowing that you’re somewhere else. Somewhere you don’t want to be; somewhere dangerous and lonely. I know you have a job to do though. A job that you take very seriously. A job that helps keep me safe and that allows you to keep evil from winning. I cannot tell you how much that means to me.

I hear the pride in your voice every time you say my name. I see the love in your eyes when you talk about me and in those moments I know you would do anything for me. Even in my hardest times and darkest hours, you always believe in me. You say you look at me and see greatness and strength. What you don’t understand is that I have you to thank for those things. I hope you realize I can show the rest of the world my strength simply because you share yours with me. I would not be who I am if I was not loved by you. I look at you and see honor and loyalty. As much as your heart belongs to me I hope you know that my heart belongs to you, too. You are the face of courage, bravery and commitment that I want the rest of the world to see. To me, you are the definition of hero and I’m so very proud to call you mine. Every day, I am honored and humbled by you. I know that I owe you more than I’ll ever be able to repay.

Others may look at you and see just a soldier, an ordinary man. But I look at you and I know how lucky I am to be loved by you. Until you come home where you belong, I’ll be waiting and counting the days. Afterall, isn’t that what you do when you love someone as much as I love you?
Love,
America

Dear Photographer

Dear Photographer,

It may seem odd that I’m writing to you. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what could I possible say that you haven’t already created in a million other ways?  How can simple words in black and white convey the way you’ve colored the world around you? How do I paint, snapshot and capture what you’ve done? You are the one with the camera. How do I show you what your pictures mean to a word girl like me? It’s not as easy as you would think.

I look at your pictures and I realize you are a storyteller, too. You don’t capture a smile, you freeze laughter. You don’t focus on a moment, you work to turn moments to memories. You don’t stop time, you show the world a beautiful story as it unfolds. You step into someone else’s life and find the story that matters most to them. You don’t interfere, you observe and by doing so, you allow others to observe as well. You do your job so well that I can smell the sweetness of a newborn baby, I can feel the excitement in a bride’s first kiss and I see endless possibilities in a senior photo

There’s more than that, though. I see the brightness of Old Glory, even when you choose to shoot in black and white. I’ve felt the overwhelming heaviness that settles over a family as they do their final pre-deployment photos. Their smiles don’t reach their eyes and even in a photo it is possible to see the heartache. That is another testament to your art for those moments are as important as the joyous reunions. Then, when they are gone you offer holiday photo shoots meant to give soldiers a piece of home. Props and beautiful weather cannot hide the weariness these families feel. You know this and yet you believe those moments are beautiful. You work your magic with a hug, a smile and the word “Gorgeous”. Slowly those moments turn into what you know they can be. Overly bright smiles meant to re-assure their soldier. Everything is fine. We’re missing you but we’re getting through so please just hurry home. You are able to show the exhaustion that comes with waiting, a fact that cannot be described only experienced  You beautifully illustrated that it is possible to still hold your breath even after you exhale. After all, isn’t that what every military wife is doing? Occasionally, if the camera is fast enough, you capture the constant fear that lies just below the surface. Those photos are the rawest for they show the vulnerableness that comes from loving deeply. But there’s more than fear in those photos. They way the head tilts and the jaw sets can only be described as pride. No amount posing could ever recreate such a moment.

Then when they come home, you are there to capture that moment, too. The frantic search in a sea of camo and then the moment they find each other. You’re ready to capture their latest first kiss. A moment that will probably have more butterflies than one they shared on their wedding day. You constantly snap photos realizing, you’re telling the world a story with every click of the shutter. The flood of tears, the balloons, the signs, the bended posture of crying soldiers, tear-streaked smiles and the joy that comes from a child’s voice whispering the word “Daddy”.

Sometimes, the worst happens and families are robbed of those homecoming moments. In true grace and respect, you are there for those families as well.  You print the pre-deployment photos for the family of the fallen soldier. You take photos of a flag draped coffin and a 21-gun salute. Your photos are frozen moments of  “Duty”, “Honor” and “Sacrifice”. You capture heart break and grief but you do it because they deserve to be remembered and respected. You do it because somewhere along the way, those stories you captured became a part of your story, too.

I realize now that you don’t take pictures. You give families a tangible way to hold love in their hands. Even when it’s deployed to Afghanistan, stationed in Korea or not able to come back home. You give us a way to remember our stories and to me, that makes you the greatest storyteller of all.

Love,

A Military Wife

Thanksgiving Letter

Dear America,

I know you’ve probably seen me lately; at the soccer game sitting alone, at the DMV registering the truck that he’s supposed to drive, at the grocery store buying hot sauce and snacks to send overseas, at the post office attempting to send Christmas across the ocean in a priority box with “Fragile” written across the top.  You might have watched me run to the mailbox and go through every envelope before I even walk back inside. You’ve seen me pull out my cell phone because I swear I heard it ring…..even when no one else heard a thing. You’ve seen the tears in the commissary when I realize that there is no one to complain about having cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving but I suddenly don’t want it anymore. Maybe you’ve seen the blueish glow coming from my darkened living room at 5am, the tell-tale sign that I’m Skyping with a country 15 hours and half a world away. Maybe it’s my afternoon yawns that let you know having a queen size bed to myself does not guarantee good sleep. You’ve heard me say his name even when I don’t need because that’s how I keep him with me. I hug his pillow, sleep with his shirt and have his picture by my bed. I miss him and yet those words do not even begin to touch the emptiness in my heart.

You might ask me what I’m doing for Thanksgiving. I’ll tell you that I’m cooking dinner. I’ll say we’re staying home and doing a quiet day. We’ll watch the parade, look at the Black Friday ads and put on a movie. You might offer me a spot at your table. Extending an offer to let me share your turkey, desserts and laughter. As much as I appreciate your offer, I won’t go. I don’t know how to tell you that it’s at home that I feel closer to him. It’s at home that I can take  his call even if it is in the middle of dinner. It’s at home that I can play his favorite movie. It’s at home that I can hang his coat on the back of a chair and set a place for a man who won’t be able to join us. It’s at home that he’ll imagine us when he pictures our Thanksgiving Day and so that’s really where I want to be.

When you see me alone at the soccer game, tear-eyed in the grocery store, arms full at the post office or checking my cell phone once again, understand that what I’ll really be doing is just trying to put away the day. Crossing another number off the calendar and getting a little bit closer to him. What I’ll really be doing is dreaming about a homecoming that is months away. What I’m really doing is counting the days, holding my breath and waiting. So please understand if sometimes I just want to be at home.

An Army Wife

Dear Grocery Store Cashier

Dear Grocery Store Cashier,

Excuse me but I know you.

I know you don’t recognize me and I really didn’t think you would. That’s OK.  Trust me, who I am isn’t as important as what I need to say to you.

I see you often and I’ve wanted to talk to you for some time but I wasn’t sure that you would listen. I’m still not sure but I have to try. You don’t have to say anything. Just listen. It might be easier that way because this is going to hurt. A lot. But these are things you need to hear.

I know he hits you. No, don’t look away and shake your head. Just listen. I’m not judging you. I promise. I’m trying to help. I know you hold your breath when he walks in the door. I know you try harder to be good or do better. But being better doesn’t change things. Some days, you’re even afraid to speak. You give excuses, reasons and alibis. You take fault and carry the blame because he has you believing that somehow you make him do it. You don’t.

I know he says he’s sorry and maybe  he is. But being sorry doesn’t stop him from doing it again and again. I know he said the last time was the last time but it wasn’t. And every time, he’ll leave behind bruises and tears. Nightmares and fears. He’ll take more  and more of who you are and then one day you’ll realize you don’t even know the girl in the mirror.

I know why you stay. Leaving’s too hard. You don’t even know where to start. You have no one to help you. How do you untangle his life from yours? Where will you find the strength? I promise you one thing, when you finally leave, you’ll realize the hard part wasn’t the leaving. It was the staying. When you finally go, you’ll find leaving is easier than you ever imagined.

Love doesn’t hurt. Not like this. Love doesn’t call hateful names. Love doesn’t break things. It doesn’t cheat. It doesn’t leave bruises, black eyes, or bloody lips. It doesn’t crack ribs or require a trip to the emergency room. Love doesn’t rape. Love doesn’t make you believe you’re going to die. Love doesn’t work that way. That’s not love. You won’t fully understand until real love comes along but rest assured someday it will.

I know you say that you aren’t a battered wife. You hate the stereotype and the sympathy that comes with it. I understand but before you can change the facts you have to accept them.. You ARE a battered wife. But here’s what’s really important. You’re a battered wife but you’re also a survivor. You have it in you to get out of this. You have the strength to walk away. You don’t have to live this way. You are going to be judged by people  if you leave. Leave anyway. Those same people are judging you now because you stay. One day you’ll realize, It doesn’t matter what they say. There’s a freedom that comes with not caring.

I can’t promise you that it will be simple but I can promise you that you have the strength to move on and change your life. You can do it and when you finally do, you’ll wonder why you waited so long. It is going to be okay. It really, really is but it’s up to you to make sure it is. It may be hard to believe now but some day, this will all be a bad memory. You’ll leave it in the past. There is an amazing man waiting for you and he will show you what love really is.

I told you who I am isn’t as important as what I needed to say to you. I realize now that I was wrong. Who I am is as important as what I had to say. Look again, I should look familiar now. You see, I used to be hit too.

Signed,

The Woman You Become Years Down the Road

(October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This letter is what I would say to 21 year old me. I know it’s a topic that some people aren’t comfortable talking about but avoiding it doesn’t make it go away. I know I might be judged for sharing this but I felt it needed to be done. This is real, true and it is my story. My nightmare ended when I left. Millions of people are still living their nightmare but they don’t have to be. That’s what I’m hoping to show. There is another life out there.)

Dear 18 Year Old You

Dear 18 Year Old You,

Welcome to the real world. It is far more amazing, beautiful and breathtaking than you can imagine. It also will break your heart, make you cry and cause you to question everything that you know. It will challenge you, stretch you and force you to grow. If it’s easy, you aren’t doing it right. It’s going to be hard and while I do not know what waits for you up ahead, I do have advice for the journey.

1. Get dirty. Nobody’s ever done hard work while wearing white jeans and worrying about staying clean. The best stories and greatest rewards come when you have mud on your shoes and dirt on your hands.

2. Forget the thought that you’ve learned a lot. Believe me, the real lessons are just now about to begin. There is no studying, no preparing and every day is a test. It’s OK though, you’ll do fine. And when you don’t, well, even that helps make you who you are supposed to be.

3.  Let the world break your heart. Seriously. Look around you and see the sadness, hurt and pain. Feel it so deeply that it moves you to tears and your heart breaks. Then get up and get busy doing something to change it. Don’t ever think you can’t make a difference. I promise you, you ARE the difference.

4. Embrace adversity. It is, after all, the only thing that builds strength, endurance and resilience.

5.  Know the gift of believing in someone completely. Even when they disappoint you and even when they disappoint themselves ESPECIALLY then. No gift is harder to give and more desperately needed than unfaltering belief.

6. Twenty years from now, that prom dress will not be cool. I promise. It’s beautiful now and well worth the price but it’s coolness won’t last.  Hard to believe but down the road, you’ll agree with me. It’s ok, wear it. One day you’ll laugh at your prom dress exactly like I laugh at mine.

7.  Glow. Shine. Sparkle. Let the world see your light. The world may not deserve it but it desperately needs to see it.

No matter what happens, know that you are never alone. I’m so excited to see where your journey goes. I believe in you completely. I love you. Not because I have to but because I want to. I know you are going to change the world. After all, you’ve changed mine.

Happy Birthday to the only girl who can make me laugh till I cry.

Love,

Thirty-Eight Year Old Me

Dear Army Wife

Dear Army Wife,

Tomorrow is a big day. You’ll walk through your home one more time. You’ll stand in the bedroom and remember late night talks, good night kisses and hidden Christmas presents. In the kitchen, you’ll remember laughter, sunshine, bowls of brownie batter, and the smell of taco dinners. You’ll remember monkeys in the bathtub and wet footprints on the floor. Your eyes will automatically go to the spot where the Christmas tree always stood. Maybe you’ll close your eyes and try to hear the crinkle of wrapping paper and squeals of delight. You’ll look out the back door one more time, a last attempt to perfectly memorize the view. You’ll open the closet door and pretend to make sure it’s really empty. You’ll really just be trying to remember the winter coats that used to hang there. Your heart will hurt with an ache you call homesickness even though you are still standing in your house. Then holding your head high, you will walk out the front door one last time. Yes, tomorrow is a big day for you for that’s when your new adventure starts.

Today is a big day for me. Today I will hug you one last time before you go. I’ll struggle to tell you how much your friendship has meant to me over the last two years. I’ll wonder if you realize that you were a friendly face in a very lonely place for me. I’ll remember the conversations, the honesty and the laughter we’ve shared. I’ll remember how I watched your daughter and your pregnant belly grow. I’ll look at your face to perfectly memorize the smile of my friend. My thoughts will go to lunch dates, FRG meetings and long afternoon talks. I’ll wonder how to thank you for helping me be less homesick and adapt to life far from home. I’ll realize that I can’t. All I can really do is hope that in some way, I’ve helped do those things for you as well. My heart will hurt with an ache called goodbye even though we won’t actually say those words. Yes, today is a big day for me for it’s the first time I have to watch another Army Wife leave.

Know that you have been a great friend to me. Know that I’ve appreciated your help. Know that you have made being here so much better. But most importantly, please know that you truly made a difference to me.

I don’t know when I’ll see you again. Who knows where our paths will cross? I do know though that I will follow your example. I will be to someone else, the same kind of friend you have been to me. I will brighten someone else’s life simply by including them in mine. After all, isn’t that really how we all take care of each other? Thank you for that lesson. I will carry it on. In that way, your fingerprints will remain regardless of how long it takes to see you again.

Now get going. Your next adventure is waiting for you.

Another Army Wife

Dear America

Dear America,

Do you remember me? I’m a military wife. The one who may or may not have a bumper sticker, an accent and an Army Wife t-shirt. My social security number, marriage license, driver’s license and car registration were all issued in different states. I am a product of my environment which means I love a Texas Longhorn burger but I still really miss my Maine lobster.  I’m the one who takes too many pictures because I know once we leave here, we will never walk this way again.

I am also the one who will soon be left behind to wait. The one who will cross off 365 days and turn the calendar twelve times. I am the one who will struggle with 2am and unopened pickle jars.  The one who will cry secretly and smile bravely. I am the one who will be able to tell you exactly what time it is in Korea and how long it takes for a letter to come. I’m the one who will spend the next year talking to a computer screen and sleeping on the wrong side of the bed.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s the same thing everyone thinks. He’ll miss Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, our birthdays and anniversary. He’ll miss a graduation, Easter, Super Bowl and 4th of July. Regardless how important those things are, they are just events. You know that they are coming and you can prepare, mentally and emotionally.

As much as I’m dreading the events he’ll miss, I’m dreading the moments even more. Those you cannot prepare for. They come without warning. They will be found in the frantic Monday morning when nothing will make me smile but a “Hi Baby” text. They will be in the long hours before dawn when I want to reach across and find him sleeping. They will be found in the Friday night movies I’ll want to share with him and the lazy Sunday afternoons. They will arrive as quickly as a summer thunderstorm or the first blooms of spring. They will be there when I realize I don’t have to buy hot sauce for a year. When the Steelers lose (and they WILL lose) and when the snow cone stand opens again. It will be my cold feet missing his warm ones. It will be the silence that comes at night instead of the steady sound of his breathing. Yes, the moments will most certainly be the hardest.

So when you see me, remember that. It’s not the big days that I will miss him the most. It’s the every days. Don’t ask me about the holidays, birthdays or graduation because I’ll have a plan for those. Ask me how I’m doing on the every day and if the tears come, please understand. It’s not every day that I’ll let them fall.

An Army Wife

Letter to the Family Dog

Dear Memphis,

It’s quiet again now. No running feet, no slamming doors. The water gun fights have stopped and there are no more “after lunch” soccer matches in the backyard.  There is no one around to blame for the gassy smells. There are no more lazy mornings watching TV while they pat your head. There is no more sleeping in, no more staying up late.

The alarm clock once again rings far too early. Doors are slammed. Grumbles replace actual words. Showers are rushed and leave steam on the mirrors and wet towels on the floor. In a flurry of sneakers, backpacks and lunch money, our household comes alive.

You sit there watching. Waiting. Head down, eyes looking up. You wonder who will remember you. Who will sneak you a piece of cereal or their last bite of toast? You follow them around. Looking for even a quick pat or a reason to wag your tail. Most mornings their feet fly around you and they never stop just to notice you. The hugs happen less and less. I know that hurts the most. I know because their hugs come less and less for me, too. Then as quickly as the activity started, it’s done. With the shutting of the front door and the hiss of the school bus brakes, our hours of quiet begin again.

Your eyes now turn to me. I know that I don’t measure up. I could throw the ball for you but I know mine aren’t the feet you long to chase. Mine isn’t the voice that you are listening for. And while my smile makes your tail wag, I know it is their smiles that bring you the most joy. I scratch your head realizing that watching them grow up is also hard on you.

I haven’t told you this because I don’t know how but soon they will be grown and they will leave. They will come to visit but life for us will never be the same. All we can do is enjoy this time. Right here, right now. Let them blame you for smells that they make. Follow them around when they come home from school. Don’t give up trying to make them understand that you’re happy with their leftovers but you’re starving for their affection. Chase the ball, pull the rope, fetch the frisbee. Run after them. Don’t just sit back and watch them go. When all your work pays off and they stop and slip their arms around you, enjoy it. Enjoy those hugs just as I’m trying to do. Memorize the feel of their arms around your neck so you can relive them on the days they are gone. When all we have left is each other and the memories of when they were younger. That’s really all we can do.

Love,

The woman who shares the silence and sadness with you

Letter to a Stranger

Dear Sir,

I’m sure you don’t remember me. Your focus wasn’t on me. You were concentrating on avoiding pot holes with your walker and simply putting one foot in front of the other. It was a slow and tedious task. Off to one side, you did your best  to stay out of the way while the world rushed on around you. Worried about being an inconvenience, you were trying to keep from slowing others down.

I was one of the ones who rushed past you. A woman on a mission with things to do. Errands to run and places to be. But, I didn’t keep on going. I stopped. I turned around and smiled at you. I waited, not to get by you but FOR you. I waited to hold the door. No rush, no hurry, I just waited. A smile lit your weathered face. The wrinkles turned up and your eyes sparkled, delighting in the fact that someone hadn’t just kept on going.

You watched me read the words on your hat “Purple Heart, Vietnam Veteran, Combat Wounded”. I wondered if you could see how humbled I felt in that moment. I realized you are a Wounded Warrior. A man whose service to his country cost him blood, pain and tears. A hero who carries a scar and memories that don’t fade with time or distance. You were forced to heal in a time when the troops weren’t supported and America was angry. Sympathy, understanding and resources weren’t readily available. You came home to a country that keeps moving faster and faster only to discover that you were moving slower and slower.

You smiled at me again, bringing me back to that moment. “I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying. As fast as I can.” Your voice scratchy but warm exactly what an old soldier’s should be.

I shook my head, swallowing down the tears. “No. Don’t hurry. There’s no rush. Take your time because I’ll wait.”

Your smile broadened (if that was possible) and you nodded. As you went through the door, you softly said “Thank you.”

I realized in that moment I couldn’t make it all better. I couldn’t undo everything you had been through. I couldn’t make you forget or not hurt. I could however do something. Shutting the door behind me, I took two steps beside you to look in your eyes and hoped you would see the sincerity. “You’re welcome and Thank YOU for serving our country.”

You nodded in a bashful way. “You’re most welcome, Sweetie.”

Next time you see me, don’t rush. Smile at me and take your time. I’ll gladly wait because I’ll be holding the door for a hero.

A Forever Grateful Military Wife