The Fork in the Road

****This post is part of my series on Real Army Wives. This series follows my husband’s first deployment to Iraq in 2003, but it’s the story of the wives back home more so than the men at war. Click here for last week’s post, Alan’s Convoy Attack.*****

 

Mon., October 6, 2003

Alan,

I’ve had a week off now to think about what it is I should be doing. I really still want to be a physical therapist. The only reason I ever dropped it was because of all the science classes. So today I searched every college in a one hour radius of here, and there are NO physical therapy schools, not even any physical therapy assistant schools.

So that door is just closed to me. Now I simply don’t know what to do. And I’m unsure if I should look for part-time or full-time work. Plus, I’ve already planned long vacations for Thanksgiving and Christmas and payed for the plane tickets.

I don’t know what to do. What do you think? I’d really love to hear your thoughts. I love you, Alan.

I was talking to Elsie today too, and she said that the Army will pay for you to get a master’s degree. You just have to commit to more time in the Army. I want you to know that at this point I would be fine with that.

You are excellent at what you’re doing, and I know it makes you happy. And now I KNOW what it is like to have a job that you hate, so I think once you find something you enjoy, you should stick with that. I will always support you.

'I know what it is to have a job that you hate, so I think once you find something you enjoy, you should stick with that. I will always support you.'Click To Tweet

It’s hard with writing. Sometimes you may read things one way, but really I was saying it another. There’s no sure-fire tone of voice in writing. So let me just say this: This letter is written in a completely, gentle, thoughtful, tired kind of voice. I am a person who at this moment is just wondering what direction to go in.

It must be awesome to know what you want to do and be doing it. I wish I were as lucky as you. Oh, now I’m making myself cry…

Sarah’s husband Zack is landing in Killeen TONIGHT, in the next few hours. She’s all excited and anxious, of course. She wanted Cloe and me to go with her, but when she found out he’s getting in so late, she told us not to worry about it.

Sarah’s husband was finished with his service obligation and was on his way home. How we would miss her!

I guess my world is about to REALLY change. I’m going to miss Sarah. They’re moving in December too. I guess it’s like when Reston (Lt. Arizona) left you. Reston’s wife is supposed to find out today if they’re sending him home or not. I wonder if she found out, and if he’s coming home or not.

I broke the computer desk Saturday. I was having trouble buying a flight ticket, and I was feeling all rushed because I was supposed to be at Elsie’s to go to the hockey game. Everyone was waiting for me, but the American Airlines site kept messing up, so I was angry, and I slammed my fist down on the desk, and the shelf below just popped right out…..Sorry.

I miss you: firm, steady, calm, responsible, you. I need you.

I hate being a lazy bum like this. I hate how everybody asks me what I’m going to do.

I hate that you’re allergic to cats, and that I will have to give up Kitty.

Everything just isn’t what it I thought it should be.

And I’m going to have to wait 6 more months to see you again. How I wish you could just be here tonight. I wish you could be on that plane with Zack.

In a perfect world, huh? But of course, this is not a perfect world.

But Lord willing, one day you will be back. One day I will wake up before lunch time. One day I’ll be doing something I enjoy. One day.

I love you, Alan. You’re my husband. Talking to you is the highlight of my week.

I love you,

April

****************

Melancholy

Melancholy is not my typical state at all, but I do suppose that’s where I was when I wrote that letter.

Finding yourself at a fork in the road when you have no idea which way to go is not my favorite. It can be an exciting phase when you stop to consider the seemingly endless possibilities, but it didn’t feel that way to me.

I felt lost in the desert all over again, stuck in the middle of Texas with no plan whatsoever.

Doors all around me were closed, but I can tell you I am not one to sit around in the waiting place, content to just be. No, that isn’t me at all.

Restlessness is a feeling I cannot tolerate. That’s how I began my traveling phase.

This was 2003, well before the days of iPhones, but we did have Google Maps on our personal computers. I charted myself a course, mostly on I-10, got myself a good night’s sleep and set off for Alabama in my royal blue Pontiac Grand Am.

My parents would be so surprised when I showed up at their door unannounced!

I did call my brother, a college student at Troy at the time who lived at home with my parents, just so someone in the world knew where I was, but I swore him to secrecy.

I pulled into my parents’ driveway around 2am. I’d called Mom a couple hours prior to arriving to insure safe entry. Ha! But Dad didn’t know I was there until he got up in the morning. That was such a fun surprise!

There in Alabama, I enjoyed just being with my family. I slept in my little twin bed, in the bedroom I’d shared with my sister for most of my life. The familiar old surroundings of home and family were healthy for me. It was a good time to put my recent failure behind me and come up with a new plan for the future.

I actually spent most of the rest of 2003 on the road. Instead of staying with family through the holidays, I drove back to Texas a week later. Then I took a trip to Houston to Cloe’s parents’ house, along with Elsie, Kayla, and Cloe. After that, there was a trip to Florida with Jennings. I had Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with both families, and I’ll have to save more about all those trips for another chapter.

I think where we run to in times of trouble or uncertainty says a lot about us.

For me, I guess I was running home to my mom. Ha! But sometimes that is absolutely the BEST course of action, isn’t it? I hope my children will know they can run to my house as a refuge too.

And you’ll be happy to know that I actually did come up with a plan, quite of my own accord. I decided to take the GRE and go back to school, to a local satellite branch of Tarleton State University. I enrolled in the graduate school to pursue a counseling certificate.

Did I want to be a counselor?

Eh…not really, and certainly not right away, but I was considering it. I felt deeply that I was too young to be counseling people. But I WAS excited about going back to school and getting back into the psychology field. My bachelor’s degree was in psychology, and I figured I could figure out my path as I went along.

Sometimes you have to jump right in and try it to figure out if a thing is for you or not!

Life as a military spouse is just like that. There weren’t many online graduate programs that I knew of, so I was doing the best I could with what I could find.

“When we are so wedded to what we think should be happening or what we want to happen, we don’t see what IS happening.”

 

SaveSave

6 Ways to Save Your Marriage During Deployment

****This post is part of the series Real Army Wives on storiesofourboys.com. This series chronicles the story of our first deployment, back in 2003.****

Once Alan had been gone for 6 months, and we were finally able to communicate regularly, we found that we began to bicker–even from continents away. We were having newlywed problems, whether we were together or not.

Alan was anxious to move us forward towards our goals in the U.S., yet he was stuck in a combat zone, feeling powerless to affect change. He wanted me to go out and buy a $70,000 house. Plus, he thought I should move us in there by myself so we could start building equity……I was like, “Heck no, I won’t go..”

I wanted him to call more. He gave me the actual reasons he couldn’t.

I was disappointed that he hadn’t had a family member send me an anniversary gift.

Granted, my expectations were HIGH, and he was never one to sugar-coat a single thing…..so we had issues….

an Iraqi flag Alan sent me in a package

On October, 1, 2003, I wrote him out this list, half-joking, half-serious, to lay out all of my expectations and avoid further arguments…

» Read more

The First 3 Casualties From Our First Deployment

***This post is part of the Real Army Wives series, which appears each Monday morning on storiesofourboys.com. Click here for last week’s chapter. In this series, all names of service members and their wives are changed. However, names of the fallen soldiers are their correct names.***

Preparing for the Worst

We all supposedly knew going into this that they wouldn’t all come home, but I never dwelt on that bit of information. Call it a defense mechanism, I don’t know. Being happy is important to me. I couldn’t let worries over things that may not even happen steal my joy.

Alan’s mother and I used to discuss what we would do if we found out before the other that Alan had died. I certainly did not cherish the thought of telling a single one of Alan’s family members that sort of news.

I knew that if Alan died, a casualty officer would be dispatched to my house to give me the bad news in person.

However, what I now know is that IF your spouse dies in war, there are usually multiple people in uniform that show up at your door. Not only that, but they have to arrive at your door at exactly the same time as they arrive at the door of the soldier’s parents.

So the good news is you should never have to tell your mother-in-law that her son has died. That’s not your job. They do that for you. That’s a relief and something I didn’t realize until I befriended a war widow many years later.

Meanwhile, there is the news.

If you watch the news regularly, they will tell you how many have died and where, and if you know where your loved one is serving (as we did), there is added anxiety until you find out for certain who it was.

Alan’s parents were more devoted to the news than I was, so they clued me in to lots of things that year, both good and bad.

 

Thurs., Sept. 18, 2003

Alan,

I’m SO sleepy. It’s 10:30 already. I got BAD news from your parents today. 3 men were killed and 2 more wounded in a shooting VERY close to Tikrit. We’re really worried. I just have this HAUNTING feeling.

I’m so afraid. I can’t help it. I won’t feel secure until I hear your voice, and that will be a while because I JUST talked to you like 3 nights ago.

Man, Alan, I love you so much. I don’t even want to think of “what if.” It scares me so much. I don’t ever want to lose you!

Fri., Sept. 19, 2003

Alan,

Hey! Well! Only 1 more week of teaching! I went to a 4-42 coffee tonight at the Irish Pub at the mall. It went well. It was another sad one though because there were 3 more deaths and 2 wounded yesterday. But of course, you know that.

That was really hard to talk about. Did you know any of them? Were you nearby there? All I know is that it was a team in support of 1-10 Cav, from HHB.

Other things were difficult too. Holly Marsh got switched to the 4th ID unexpectedly, and will be deploying within a month, leaving their 15-month-old to a relative for roughly six months. [editor’s note: Holly Marsh’s husband was deployed already with Alan’s unit. That left their baby without a parent at home.] Plus, her family’s house was destroyed in Hurricane Isabella that struck the east coast this week.

[Holly was devastated. Yes, her mind raced to find a way to stay home with her baby, but what could be done? This is another of the harsh realities military families face.]

I stayed up after the meeting talking to Sarah and Kayla about what I learned at the meeting. Plus, Sarah said that one of those soldier’s wives is expecting a baby soon. How awful is that? I was okay until they said that, and then I was a mess.

I was so relieved to know you’re okay.

I love you,

April

 

Those of 4-42 who gave all. Photo courtesy of Rachel Jack.

 

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the men honored the friends they lost and were all prevented from calling home until the families were properly notified. And the mission went on.

 

Monday, Sept. 22, 2003   9:05pm

April,

Hey! Today was the memorial service honoring the three soldiers of ours who were killed.

Then, at almost 10 this morning we had our first try at a city council meeting and, well….let’s just say we learned a lot about how we’ll do the next meeting!

They’re talking about moving us to the Brigade Support Area (BSA) which is this really big camp that’s just a bunch of tents in a bunch of fine sand we call “moon dust.” It wouldn’t be fun. Here we have hard shelter, paved areas, and a routine, you know? We’ll supposedly know if we’ll move or not by October 1st.

I hope we get to Tikrit some time soon and are able to use the phones. It feels like it’s been so long since we’ve talked on the phone, but when we went up last Friday, we were restricted from using them because of those guys getting killed and their families had to first be notified.

Those $40 Thurya phone cards are sometimes difficult to find. I’m looking though! I love you. I miss you it seems every moment.

Missing You,

Alan

Oh, and if you’re wondering, they thankfully did not move Alan to the “moon dust” area mentioned in the letter above. He continued to live in his rat-infested building with electricity, in Ad Dwar, where there were many, many adventures left to be had. We were only halfway through this deployment.

The families of those who make the ultimate sacrifice for our country are our heroes. As a part of the military community, our hearts break for them, and we always know that we could be next. Just talking about it leaves me with a heavy feeling.

Don’t live in fear that your service member could be next. It won’t help.

Just live with gratitude, being thankful for what they have done for us.  And be generous with their families, not jealous, when they may sometimes need your or your husband’s help. Hold them in honor always.

I can’t wait to tell you about the rest of our adventures. Come back next Monday for the next chapter!

 

 

 

 

 

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