Today, my relationship has officially been put under fire. Earlier, I dropped off my fiance, we’ll call him Ben for security reasons, at his unit so he can catch his flight to Afghanistan, and I am feeling both nervous and panicked. Weeks ago, I had anticipated that I would be a woman who would wave calmly from the car, aware I would see him in a few months and then drive home, slightly tearful but entirely composed. After all, I am a female military officer who has been trained to be composed and professional at all times. To say the very least, this was most certainly not the case. We popped the trunk of my Volkswagen Golf and I stood there, frozen in place as he took his bags and placed them by my tire, old tears sticking to my face like toffee while new ones rolled down, leaving salty stains. His rucksack was huge, filled to the brim with all the stuff he would need for his time there. I think for a moment, wondering if I would fit inside the bag and he could carry me with him instead. I would fit (yes, it really is that big) but inevitably, the military would come to find me. There were a bunch of other soldiers in uniform who were watching us, casually sucking on cigarettes and chatting amongst themselves, likely aware he is leaving me for months on end but ambivalent towards it because they have all been there. I too have been the uniformed soldier on the side, witnessing a farewell between husband and wife, sad for them but always of the frame of mind that they would be together soon and there was nothing to get particularly emotional about. But there I was, without any composure whatsover, wondering how the planet will continue to spin without him there. How on earth am I going to mow our huge lawn all by myself? Who will go look for the culprit of the scary noises in the middle of the night? Who will be there when I come home from work, feeling mentally drained and needing someone to share it all with? Suddenly, our Bull Terrier Duncan seems a meagre substitute. I had always thought that this is the great thing about being a service couple…we are always able to understand the way the system works and the necessity of always being apart. I’ve dated civilians, and trust me, it was not nearly as easy! But to provide readers with some perspective, I have spent a whopping 59 days at home this year (away on courses and gone for two months for the Olympics), saw Ben for 6 weeks in total and now he will be gone for approximately 8 months in Afghanistan. Furthermore, this is his THIRD time to Afghanistan. Yes, it hardly seems the substance marriage is made of but somehow, we manage. Many people have asked me why we bother. Why stay in the military when this is the kind of life it has to offer? When you are ALWAYS saying goodbye and very rarely saying hello. I don’t have the perfect answer to those questions but mostly, I suppose that as you continue to read my blog, you will slowly understand why we stay. At the end of it all, we knew it was what we signed up for, but ultimately, I don’t know if I was prepared for the reality of such a palpable loneliness. I did not picture myself as a cliche, watching Ben from my rear view mirror, desperate to turn back and steal him away where the military will never find him. But now we know it is time to say goodbye and Ben has to pry my arms from his neck and push me into the car, tears welling up in his eyes but trying hard not to let me see them. I want to get back out again, nuzzle into his neck and record his smell in my memoy. We are both in uniform, and normally this would mean that we would not be allowed to touch and as we walk away from each other, Ben would have to salute me and I would have to return it. But today we ignore the requirements and instead, he has to push me into my car gently, the sobs screeching out of me now. He tells me he loves me one more time before shutting the door and then tells me he will be safe. I know this is something I will pray for every night for the next 8 months. I pray he will come home mentally sound, with all his body parts, and most of all, I pray he will not come home in one of those refrigerated caskets. I know I am being morbid and I try to convince myself that I’m being silly. But this has become our reality as when I return home from dropping off Ben, the face of someone who was once my friend now appears on the news with the ticker saying that we have lost another soldier thanks to an IED. My military exterior has cracked and I cry the whole way home. Days like these make you wonder how you could ever sign up for this kind of life.
FILED UNDER: under-fire