Shelby the Spider Slayer is Busted

****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 the previous chapter, The Fork in the Road*****

 

I love telling you the sweet, happy stories every week, but the truth is not everyone’s story is either of those things. When one tells a story, one must tell the whole entire story. I would be amiss to leave this part out.

 

Shelby, the duplex neighbor I mentioned here, was still in this downward spiral. Her husband, Dylan, was overseas just as the rest of ours’ were, but she’d taken up with this Muslim man. His car was always parked in her driveway, so Shelby wasn’t bothering to hide this.

Meanwhile, she was still cussing her husband out on the phone, as well as occasionally cussing out the new boyfriend, and this was all Shelby’s general pattern so it didn’t feel like anything new to me.

One time Katherine, my other next door neighbor, asked me, “April, what about Shelby, are you not going to try to save her?” Now Katherine was saying this half-sarcastically anyway, as she had sworn off all “organized religion” for herself.

I just looked at her with big eyes.

“Nooooo, no. I am not about to deal with that level of crazy.”

I could not save Shelby. Dylan could not save Shelby. The new boyfriend couldn’t save her either. No one but Shelby and Jesus himself could save her.

My actual interactions with Shelby were few and far between, though I heard her everyday on the other side of our ridiculously thin wall.

I could count our actual conversations on one hand. There was the time I mentioned before when the police came, the time she borrowed my vacuum cleaner (and two months later I was STILL waiting for her to return it…), and the day of the spider incident.

Did I ever mention the spider incident? Well! Let ma tell ya.

I had just returned home from the grocery store. After bringing all my bags in, I was putting groceries away from off the table, and there in the middle of my dining area floor, was THE spider. I was later told that this was a garden spider, but to me it looked like some sort of gigantic Harry Potter spider. This thing was as big as my hand, and I am not exaggerating a bit!!

Terrifying!

So there we were, and what was I to do? Alan wasn’t coming home for months yet, and I certainly couldn’t kill it. No way could I get close enough to it to kill it. I do NOT handle creepy-crawly things. I do NOT. It is not in me.

“Who in the world could take care of this for me,” I thought, and it came to me. Shelby was 2 things:

1. She’s a mom, the only mom on the street, and moms do gross things… and

2. Shelby is scary herself. She could totally take this spider.

I was desperate, so I knocked on her door. It was 12pm, and she answered in her bathrobe. I’d clearly woken her up. Her bleached blonde hair was all catty-wompus, her eyeliner which is usually an inch or two thick, was all over her face, and she looked annoyed. Ha! But who was I to judge? Back then, I routinely slept until lunch time.

“Um…” I definitely stuttered through this, “Do you, um, kill spiders? There’s this ginormous one in my living room.”

Then it was her turn to get the wide eyes..”uh..Okay, I’ll come see.”

I escorted her into my living room and pointed at the offending monster.

“Ewwwww, do you have paper towels, or a napkin?”

“What!!!???” I thought, and probably SAID out loud. A paper towel!!?? I had thrown a lamp at it, and that hadn’t worked. How was she going to kill this thing with a paper towel!!??

I dutifully rolled off literally 20 paper towels and quickly handed them to Shelby.

She looked at me like I was complete bonkers and tore off ONE.

And then, y’all! She grabbed that spider up with that one little old paper towel and squashed it.

My eyes were popping out of my head. This was both horrifying and amazing.

I don’t remember if she flushed it or threw it away, but wow.

So…..all people have their redeeming qualities….and I had to respect her for this!

******

Shelby didn’t know much about me either. She knew I helped her out with her kids sometimes and the cops that one time, and she knew my husband was gone too. She probably knew all the neighbors hung out without her.

Also I should confess…..I used to sing to Shelby.

Say what?? Okay, I know that sounds weird, but it wasn’t really. See, remember we had the  thin walls. The bathrooms and the master seemed to be the thinnest, and by nature I am a singer. I can’t help it. It’s what I do. If I’m not singing, I’m humming or whistling.

I keep it in check in public, but at home, that’s my space to sing out as loudly as I want. And we all know that bathrooms have the best acoustics, right? So that’s where I sing the loudest when I really want to belt out a powerful song.

Shelby’s family needed some powerful songs, but not just Brittney Spears. They needed the gospel. So what do you think I sang? I sang How Great Thou Art and It is Well and my favorite Jaci Velasquez and Point of Grace songs.

So you might say she knew me better than you think. Was it annoying or endearing? Judging by the state of mind she was usually in, I’m guessing it was annoying. But I could no more not sing than I could just not eat, so it was what it was.

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

Fast-forward a few months, and one gossip talking to another gossip who talked to another gossip. Rest assured, I was not involved in this particular gossip trail, as I didn’t know any of Dylan and Shelby’s friends or co-workers….but the thing is your sins really do eventually find you out.

And Shelby left a steady trail. Dylan’s superiors in Iraq knew all about her affairs, and they did something that might surprise you.

They shipped Dylan home to get his house in order, and they switched him to rear duty, so he was home to stay.

Around the first of October, Dylan just showed up at home one day.

First, there was an epic fight. Of course. Then Dylan packed himself and his two children up and left.

For two weeks, things were fairly quiet, and the boyfriend’s car was never seen there again.

Then as suddenly as they’d left, they were back, both Dylan and the children. They moved back in with Shelby. I guess this was their attempt to work things out.

Shelby’s defense was that their marriage was over even before he left. Emotionally that was true for her, but technically it wasn’t true at all.

It didn’t take long before Shelby moved out, and for the rest of our time there it was Dylan and his kids living there. Actually, it was them PLUS Shelby’s oldest son, who wasn’t Dylan’s, but he said he was the only person that kid had who’d really take care of him.

Elsie and I went over and introduced ourselves to Dylan. He asked us if we’d be willing to testify if it came to court as a custody battle. We said we would, but we never had too. Shelby willingly surrendered them over to him.

All in all, it was a heart-breaking saga to watch play out from the very beginning, though I’m thankful that those kids do have a dad who cares for them and was looking out for them.

In situations like that, you hope for the best, but I’ve always wondered if there was a happy ending of any kind for that family. Did Shelby ever face her demons and calm down? What ever happened to them? Did those sweet children go on living with Dylan?

I like to think they did.

 

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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.”

 

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Alan’s Convoy Attack

****It has been a few weeks since our last chapter, so let’s do a quick recap. I finally quit teaching, and Alan left Tikrit and moved to Ad Dawr.  At this point, we are 6 months into our first deployment, exactly halfway through it. So far, Alan’s unit had suffered 3 casualties. I also came up with this clever list of my expectations as a mil spouse. This is part of my ongoing series of the story of our first deployment, way back in 2002-2004.****

The Convoy Attack True Stories of Real Army Wives Series

There is life after teaching.

With the decision made to not ever, ever be a teacher again, I adjusted quite well to my life of new-found freedom. My house became a hub of activity again. We Army wife buddies were always eating at each other’s houses and watching movies and even planning trips.

We had our own little clique. In fact, we spent so much time together that sometimes we did have jealousy and little gripes spring up, but they were never anything big. Usually, someone simply didn’t like something someone else said, or someone got mad because they weren’t included in a fun trip.

We took day trips to San Antonio to go outlet mall shopping, and one of the girls was pretty mad at us for not inviting her to the first one. That sort of thing happened, but in the end we all knew that we needed each other, and in general, we had a ton of fun.

It was around the day of the San Antonio trip that Alan called me with sad news from war.

On September 26th, Alan and his roommate, 1LT Arizona, worked out together as usual, and Alan went around to every company in his unit putting together enough up-armored humvees to make a safe trip up to Bayji. For some reason, he met with a great deal of resistance in acquiring the heavy-duty humvees, but if you know Alan, you know that persistence is one of his greatest strengths. Therefore, he DID acquire his humvees after all.

You see, that day Alan was the designated Officer in Charge for the 3-truck convoy, and he intended to keep his men safe.

(Now when I say men, I literally mean men. His entire unit was a field artillery unit, which is a combat branch. In those days that meant that the entire unit was male.)

On the way back from Bayji, Alan, who was in the lead vehicle, heard an EXPLOSION, and looking in his rear view mirror, he saw the last vehicle with all the doors open and smoke coming from it.

Alan’s captain yelled over their radios, “Go! Go! Go! Get out of here!”

However, while Alan was outranked, he was still the designated OIC, and he had no intention of leaving his friends behind. So Alan commanded them to turn around, establish a security perimeter, and get the men from the third humvee, which had obviously been hit by an IED.

Thankfully, Alan had insisted upon those up-armored humvees, so everyone lived!!

The four men in that vehicle were all injured, though, of course. They were all friends of Alan’s. One of the injured men was Alan’s battle buddy and roommate, 1LT Arizona.

Shortly thereafter, Alan and his captain butted heads on how to handle this situation. The captain was desperate to get the whole convoy back to the home base in Ad Dawr.

The Convoy Attack True Stories of Real Army Wives Series

The problem was that Alan assessed that the injured men seemed to be in need of more urgent medical attention than the captain did and their unit’s assigned medical officer was back home in the states on leave. Alan did not want to risk making them wait out the long trip back only to have a medic evaluate them, require evacuation by helicopter right back to here…all the while worsening potentially time-sensitive injuries. Alan had to convince the captain to take them to the nearby unit’s medical clinic and get them seen right away.

Again, Alan had to override the captain. “No sir, we’re going to get them care now.”

Done. Don’t worry. This wasn’t insubordination, this was Alan pointing out the hard right because this incurred additional tasks such as them finding a place to sleep the night on the local forward operating base, or “FOB”, send word back to Ad Dawr why the humvees (one of which was damaged) weren’t going to support the next needed mission by being delayed…and other various reasons…but it was the right thing to do based on the situation at the moment.

It was a good thing they did. Lt. Arizona’s ear drum was busted. The men were all in need of medical attention. Two of them had to remain in a field hospital.

Lt. Arizona actually ended up having to go home for a month or so before he returned to the war.

Several of the men, including Alan, received medals for their bravery that day.

The captain actually put Alan in for a much greater reward than he ended up receiving, but either way I was so proud of him.

There’s no such thing as sending your husband to war repeatedly and nothing ever happening. Alan was serving in the hometown of Saddam Hussein. There were plenty of enemies all around, but that was, thankfully, the last time Alan’s own convoy got attacked.

I’d always had this feeling that Alan would come home without a scratch, and he DID, so long as you don’t count the damage the desert did to his eyeglasses! This convoy attack news shook us all up and challenged that assumption of safety quite well. I didn’t even learn about the incident until several days after it happened.

It’s a helpless feeling, being the family back home waiting. What could I possibly do to help, way back there in Texas? Nothing– but keep up a positive attitude and do a great deal of trusting. I had to trust God, trust the Army leaders, trust Alan, basically just trust that everything would be okay.

 

Click here to read the next chapter: Fork in the Road

 

 

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