One day in May, Alan called from Tikrit, Iraq, where he was serving with the 1/22 Infantry. When you only hear from your spouse every two weeks or so, and then only for short conversations, maybe 20 minutes at the longest, you cherish it.
You cherish it so much you hang on their every word. Everything meant more. Everything. Alan called and gave me a general idea of who he was working with and not much about what they were actually doing. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what their average day in Iraq looked like in 2003.
It wasn’t that it was secretive stuff, probably. The thing is we had such a short time, we usually talked about other things, like whatever MY most recent crisis was.
We spent a chunk of that time exchanging the most important information we could think of. Since there were no children yet, it was all about us and our friends. Alan told me to please, please, please send him more wet wipes in the care packages. They did not have showers in the beginning. Wet wipes was the closest thing our soldiers got to getting clean.
Then he passed along a phone number, a rare occurrence indeed. Alan had a soldier in his team who lived on our same street, in a duplex identical to our own, just four or five houses down. She was also young and alone, and Alan implored me to call her.
Another amazing coincidence!
God’s provision is always there if you look for it. Our husbands were serving together, on the very same team, and she was only four houses down? Oh, I would definitely call her. I actually did!
Calling people is sort of a phobia of mine. I hate it. I get butterflies just looking at the phone. For anything! I don’t want to call businesses because they make the call take too long. I don’t want to call doctor’s offices because they ask so many questions, and there are so many decisions. And then people! What if they’re busy? What if they talk for an hour, and I can’t get off the phone? So many what ifs! I’d rather just not.
But this was different. This person had tons in common with me. Maybe she was even expecting my call. I could do this.
Roll your eyes at me if you want, but I can still remember the very first time I called Cloe, the wife who lived 4 doors down. I took out my scrap of paper, my cordless land-line telephone, and I dialed, heart pounding in my chest from nervousness.
She didn’t answer. I left a rambling message with my number. Remember answering machines??? Cloe called me back right away. Ah yes, Cloe, I know that call-screening trick. I’m the master of that game too.
I paced back and forth in the kitchen, my strawberry theme decorated, sparkling-clean-because-I-lived-alone kitchen, introducing myself to Cloe. True to my new mission of bringing people together, I invited Cloe over to my house to hang out with Sarah and Elsie and me later that day.
She actually came!
How do I describe Cloe’s appearance to you? Well, for starters, she was the baby of the group, at only 20. Cloe’s eyes are not only a lovely sky-blue, but they are framed by the longest eye-lashes I have ever seen. Just picture Snow White but with longer, much wavier hair.
We all introduced ourselves. There were only a few awkward silences. We were doing a smashing job of just sitting around gabbing and eating and getting to know each other.
Cloe didn’t seem to approve of the raspberry wine, and she did not have any. After all, she was only 20, and I was quite proud of her.
Cloe and her husband, Rob, were even more newlywed than Alan and I were. In fact, Cloe spent that whole year of deployment planning their wedding ceremony because they had only done a quick, Justice of the Peace ceremony before the deployment. So many military couples do the quick, JP ceremony because we always have hard dates and orders to work around.
Cloe and Elsie were both college students. Elsie already had her BS degree in something-or-other, but she decided to go back and get an RN certificate, at the local Central Texas College. Cloe was working on her accounting degree from Mary Hardin Baylor University.
Sarah was not in school and lived more like me, only she did have her dogs to take care of.
These sessions of talking and laughing were like group therapy for us. We had many problems in common to solve.
One issue for ME was lawn care. Elsie and Cloe’s landlords took care of their lawns for them. Mine did not.
The second week of the deployment, Alan’s cousin, Katie, and her husband Eli and son, Garrett, came over, and Eli cut the grass while Katie and I visited. I enjoyed that thoroughly, but I couldn’t ask him to do that again. Eli was a busy captain in the 1st Cav himself, and he had refused to let me pay him.
Why didn’t I just hire a lawn service??
I have no idea. I think it was just that I was so very young and inexperienced at the whole grown-up thing.
A couple of weeks later, my friend Theresa’s husband came and cut it while Theresa and I visited. He wouldn’t accept payment either.
This was so kind. People were so incredibly thoughtful and helpful, but I knew I needed to take responsibility for this.
Once, even my little 10-year-old neighbor Hannah cut my grass for me. She was all stealthy and did it while I wasn’t home. I never even would have known it was her that cut it, but that was the beauty of having Elsie directly across the street from me. Elsie’s living room window faced my duplex. She could sit there in her living room, petting her cat Reese, and watching her t.v. shows while simultaneously keeping an eye on all that went on at my place.
Elsie would drop by when she had information, or when we’d all gather for chatting and dinner. Since she was right across the street, Elsie is definitely the one that I spent the most time with. Elsie is one of those kindred spirits, who is not only ridiculously easy to talk to, but we were at the exact same place in life.
I remember that particular conversation about Hannah and the grass vividly because I was so surprised by it. Elsie reported that little Hannah cut my grass while stopping about 10 times to press her face to the glass of my front living room window to see if I was home.
You see, I knew Hannah and her brother just a little bit. Sometimes her mother wasn’t home when Hannah and Houston would get home from school. Then they would appear at my door. I would invite them inside and feed them snacks while they waited for their mom to arrive home.
Then there was that time I saved them all from Child Protective Services, but maybe I’m exaggerating a little, and that’s a story for another chapter!
In hindsight, I should have just hired Hannah to cut my grass. That would have given her some toy money, but that thought never even occurred to me.
Instead, I gathered up all of my resolve, and I dragged the push-mower out of my garage.
I looked at the mower. It looked at me. My nemesis. The lawnmower. I’m hearing the Wild West Tombstone music in my head.
Alan tried to teach me how to crank it before he deployed, but I had not truly wanted to learn, so I didn’t try very hard. If only I’d known! My strength was pitiful, and it just seems like you always have to pull that cord so hard! Then he’d talked about oil and gas, and all I heard was “Mwah mwah Mwop Mwop Mwaa Mwaaaa.”
How I wished I could go back to before he’d left and tried much, much harder to learn!! Why had I been so stupid?
I pulled the cord. Nothing. I pulled it again. Nothing. I poked around at it. I sat down on the grass.
I must have looked like a sight. Maybe I looked that way on purpose in hopes someone would feel sorry for me and come help me. I was out there in my most worn-out blue jeans, an Alabama t-shirt, a pony tail, and my glasses on. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but it was an interesting one.
I took a break, and then I started trying to pull that cord again. What a stupid invention!! Why couldn’t it just start with a button or a key like everything else?? Why make it so dang hard!!????
I don’t think I kicked the thing, but I’m 100% sure that I wanted to, but see, I was in the front yard, hoping some neighbor would look on me with sympathy. Getting violent would probably get me nowhere.
Thankfully, I did acquire an audience in the form of my neighbors, Katherine and Nick,
but you really only need to know Nick as The Beefcake because that’s what we called him for the rest of the year, but only behind his back, of course. Or maybe it was only in my head. Or maybe it was just Elsie and me that called him that.
You see, Katherine and The Beefcake lived next door to me. In fact, my grass blended right into their grass. They were boyfriend and girlfriend, and they were exactly my age, 22. The Beefcake was a second lieutenant in 1st Cavalry Division, which wasn’t deployed that year.
Katherine was an adorable gal from the state of Washington with a ton of snark and the cutest blonde bob. I super wanted my hair to do what hers did. It was always perfect, but try as I might, my hair was never going to do that.
Our duplex on move-in day–That’s the reflection of Elsie’s duplex in the window.
The Beefcake was a hispanic body builder in the medical corps. We called him The Beefcake because he liked to parade around his front yard shirtless. While yes, he did look good, it was still hilarious. All men who strut around shirt-less are somewhat comical, you have to admit.
(Remember that, my sons, just remember that.)
“Hey, we were watching you try to crank that lawn mower there,” Nick opened.
*Embarrassment. Yes, I had purposefully made a spectacle of myself, but I was still embarrassed.*
“Oh, um, yeah. I just have no idea how to crank a lawn mower. You know, I could totally cut my own grass if someone would just start the thing for me.”
“Eh, don’t worry about it. Our yards are like two feet wide anyway. It’ll be easy. I’ll cut it for ya later today when I do mine.”
Oh. happy. day. Problem solved.
I did still sort of want to know how to crank it, but at least there was this. Plus, I finally got to meet Katherine and Nick. They were extremely personable, and it wasn’t long before Katherine was hanging out with Elsie, Sarah, Cloe, and me too sometimes.
Nick decided that he would prefer that I pay him in sweet tea, so that’s what I did. I made tea and took it over there a couple of times, but then Katherine asked me to teach her how to make it. Once I taught her how to make sweet tea, they always had it in their fridge.
There were many problems of that sort that Army Wives face, and the first time you do it, that’s when the obstacles seem the biggest. This was the first deployment for all of us, and we were learning together.
Our circle was getting closer-knit quickly. Cloe started going to church with me at First Baptist, Killeen, that very first Sunday that we met, and it wasn’t too long before Sarah started coming too. Elsie went to a Lutheran church.
Our Sunday School class at First Baptist was such an active one, having socials once every month or two. Wanda, our class teacher, took an interest in each individual who walked through the door. Just talking to her made you feel special, so that class just grew and grew. It was a fun group, and everyone wanted to be a part of it.
I think it was that very first Sunday that Cloe went to church with me that we met Kayla, and then the inner circle of the John David Drive Army Wives was complete, well, at last until Tegann arrived later that year.
Kayla was from Oklahoma. She was a newlywed, around 20-years-old too. Kayla was instantly a part of the group. She was new in town and didn’t know many people, so whether I was right or not, I felt that she needed us.
Kayla is the only TWICE friend I’ve ever had. What I mean is that of all the people I’ve met in 15 years of Army life, Kayla is the only one who I’ve been friends with at two duty stations, as we re-met several years later in Washington, D.C., and resumed our friendship, that time in the form of play-dates.
Kayla is one of those people who just tells it like it is, but in a likable way. She’s not going to hurt your feelings, but she doesn’t beat around the bush. Her feet are always planted firmly on the ground.
Kayla and Me. We shared a birth month. This was my 23rd birthday, but I can’t remember how much older I am than Kayla!
It wasn’t always the whole group together. Sometimes it was just parts of the group, but I always thought it was the most fun when everyone was there.
Putting together Kayla, the truth speaker, Cloe, who was always up on the news and sensitive, Sarah, also a practical, problem-solver, Elsie, who was the life of the party, and then me, the loud laugher….it was a pleasure.
We were all smart, capable, fun-loving, but well grounded young women. We were young 20s at the same time Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears (during her head shaving phase) were making tabloid headlines, at our very same age. That always puzzled me. We all had our act together, pray for our husbands, kept our houses, studied or worked, and then there were these wild girls on t.v. giving our whole generation a bad name.
I can’t tell you that it was such a hard first year of deployment. It wasn’t hard once I had my crew. It was downright fun.
Many women began the pressure on their husband to get out of the Army as soon as that first deployment was over. We knew it was going to happen over and over again, but that wasn’t me. If Alan enjoyed the Army, I could handle that, so long as I had a good support system.
Come back next week for the next chapter, the in-laws visit and the funeral.
Want to catch up on what you’ve missed? Click here for a list of chapters.