Husband: What are you going to miss most?
Me: The people.
Had you told me this would be my answer two and a half years ago when we landed in Europe, I would have laughed you right out of the room.
Until now, I never integrated our family into military life. We always lived off-post. I consistently held a job. I never participated in spouse events. I even paid the out-of-pocket expense for medical coverage just so I could go to the civilian doctors of my choosing.
But when we arrived on the European continent, I was newly pregnant. It wasn’t a surprise (we had been “not not trying”) but we thought we would have some time to experience this new adventure without needing to consider a tiny human.
I was hormonal. I was jetlagged. I missed my friends. I wanted a job. No matter how much I tried to make this foreign land a home, I felt like it wanted to smack me down. It was brutal. And what made it all the more difficult was that our friends and family back home expressed their jealousy, lamenting that we should feel blessed and grateful for such an amazing opportunity. “I know,” I said to myself. “I know I SHOULD love this. But I HATE it so much.” Intellect and emotion were in direct conflict in my brain and heart on a daily basis.
And then an acquaintance of mine (now a dear friend) recognized my pain. She saw a new mom, who was still recuperating from the effects of a traumatizing postpartum experience, with a newborn in tow and a husband who was gone for training most days. She lent me her support and showed me what it is like to be part of a military community.
She invited me over for coffee one day. She was patient with my newborn even though she was nursing one of her own. She encouraged me to attend a women’s group and called me every week to invite me back again and again.
So I went. And over the next few months, the fog lifted. I stopped to have conversations with acquaintances in the commissary. I made meals for families in need. I made plans to go to lunches and play-dates. I volunteered. I made friends.
And these friendships bloomed into relationships that I thought only existed in fiction. We brought each other pastries and coffee after particularly long nights with our respective children. We dropped Pedialyte on each other’s doorsteps when we were sick. We gave each other rides or watched each other’s kids without expecting anything in return.
It was the first time I had experienced the type of friendship that only the military community can create, with the organic push and pull that comes through shared experiences and a common lifestyle.
The disdain I felt towards the military lifestyle for years (“I am NOT a military spouse, I am MY OWN person”) dissipated. I embraced the fellowship of women who were supportive, helpful, warm, welcoming and open. This could have happened at any point during our military life – and it probably would have – but I had shunned it; I had belittled it; I had tried to be above it. And what I found in this small military community in Germany was that even though I instinctually tried to do those things, the community STILL embraced me.
As I sit now on the eve of our departure from Germany with most of our belongings in various shipping containers crossing the Atlantic Ocean, my heart breaks for two reasons: One, I feel guilty for having been judgmental and for refusing to be open to the military community, a community that I had so decidedly thought wasn’t for me. And two, I’ve had to say goodbye to people who have impacted my life more than I could ever express, people who I wouldn’t have met except for our mutual affiliations to the military.
A particularly close friend of mine wrote me a note after saying goodbye earlier today. She said, “Just in the short time I’ve known you, it’s been a true friendship. Knowing that we would both do anything to help each other because we care. That’s what friendship is about.”
Cue me, in our little hotel room, bawling my eyes out. Leaving is THE WORST. But it is the blessing and curse of military life. We are blessed to know so many wonderful people all over the world. We are blessed to have complete strangers welcome us into their homes, give us food and supplies to get by until our worldly possessions arrive in battered crates, laugh with us when we need it, watch our children when we have an emergency, run by with provisions (sugar, milk, diapers, batteries, WINE) when we need it most, and support us when we are left trying to hold the pieces of our ever-complicated life together while our spouses are living the most dangerous lives they can live. And we are cursed to then have those friendships ripped away seemingly instantaneously because the military decides they need your spouse elsewhere.
I am resolute in believing that God has a plan. I believe that we meet people at different times in our lives – whether we are military or not; whether they are military or not – who provide us with the tools we need to survive and become better people. Had you told me two and a half years ago that I would have an amazing tribe of women in my life and that my heart would break when it was time to say goodbye, I would have laughed uncontrollably. It took nine years, five duty stations and one persistent friend to come to that realization. But now that the time has come to move on, I would never trade the heartache, those friendships, or my newfound belief in the sense of community the military fosters, for anything in the world.
Tell us! Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t do it – this military spouse life – any more and then an amazing friend strolls into your life and reminds you why its worth it?
Kristine is a marketing professional by day and an army wife-blogger by night. When she’s not traveling, party planning or chasing after her toddler, you can find her on her couch with a good book and a glass of wine.