Okay, you may or may not get my title reference there to the children’s book, Sarah Plain and Tall, which you should totally read to your children. It’s such a great book.
I still vividly recall the day I met Sarah.
(I even have some adorable photos of Sarah…..but I left town for Hurricane Irma and didn’t pack my photo albums, so you will have to wait for those…….)
It was one of those oddly eventful days. Before Alan’s unit ever left, they hosted a Unit Sports Day, which was a fun way to break up the monotony of all the waiting for deployment.
It was February, so I wore these blue, bootcut, work-out pants I had with a white Alabama t-shirt tucked into it. My, how fashion has changed. I promise it was not weird in early 2003 to tuck in your t-shirt. It’s funny that I can often remember what I was wearing but never what anyone else was wearing…
Fort Hood had a policy of pulling people over for “random” car inspections, even if you did have your car dashboard military ID sticker in place as well as your personal military ID card. Sometimes it seemed like the inspections weren’t all that random.
That day the NCOIC, which means non-commissioned officer in charge, decided to pull me over for a random inspection. Of course, I was running late and nervous about even finding the sports day location, so I was annoyed by this. However, I complied like a good little citizen. For some reason I even had to get out of the car, though I have no idea why.
Once they were all finished inspecting my Grand Am and my paperwork, this staff sergeant handed me back my ID and said, “All done. You got a nice ass!”
Say wha?????? Well, that did rattle me a bit, but I spoke not a word, got back into my Grand Am, and drove on in a billion circles until I finally found the sports day location. I probably had to call Alan on the way there lost, knowing my typical pattern in the pre-GPS days. Oh, who am I kidding? That’s still my pattern!
The Unit Sports Day consisted of several groups of soldiers running different lengths of races. That’s all I can recall from it, and then there was a food booth, run mostly by wives. I joined the wives at the food booth, and that was where I met Sarah.
I’m sure I told Sarah my gate car inspection story, but I’m not sure if I made a lovely first impression after being flustered over the gate guard and the getting lost. Unfortunately, I also told that story to Alan in front of a few of his co-workers, who all hooted and hollered and egged Alan on to go down there and say something to this man.
Well, Alan did go down there, but we could not find the offensive staff sergeant. Instead, we found a regular sergeant who griped about how the staff sergeants were coming down there as if the regular sergeants couldn’t handle overseeing the gate, which they didn’t appreciate.
It was probably best Alan didn’t get to talk to the guy in the heat of that moment anyway. Of course, Alan’s a big dude, but he’s also very mild-mannered. I wonder if he had thought through what he was going to say.
Back at the Sports Day booth, I guess we handed out chips and hotdogs or sold them as an FRG fundraiser. Sarah and I got to talking and hit it off so nicely. Sarah was 25, and I was 22, so we had that bond of youth. Neither of us had lived in the Fort Hood area for all that long. Sarah lived in Copperas Cove with her husband and her two dogs.
Sarah is hard to describe because there are many facets to her personality. She is all at once outgoing but timid in some situations. Sarah is of Mexican heritage, but she was raised in San Antonio and had never actually been to Mexico. Her Spanish is excellent though. She is fun-loving but highly responsible. Sarah was one of those people, like my friend Jennings, who just knew how to jump in and help. That’s a gift that some people have, a highly useful one, of innately knowing the helpful thing to do and doing it without anyone asking.
Sarah is also that kind of friend who will give you the shirt off her back if you say you are cold. Also, she did an excellent job of killing ants in my kitchen that week the ants came marching in.
Sarah was a godsend.
One thing that always made me laugh about Sarah was that she never called any of her friends by their names when she would tell stories. It wasn’t, “Oh, I was at Janice’s house.” Instead it was always, “I was at my friend’s house,” which almost made it sound like she had this one friend when truly she had many.
I was amused to find that Sarah, who could not have been an inch over 5 foot 1 inches tall, was married to an enormous African-American man named Zack, who must have been about 6 foot 3. I couldn’t tell you what he was like though because that was another thing about early 2003. All of our husbands left the country before you got to know any of them.
On that Unit Sports Day, Sarah and I decided to go ahead and leave before our husbands left. Sarah’s car had a run in with one of those dirt-devil type of mini-tornado storms that had completely smashed up her passenger door window. That left her car-less that day, so I gave her a ride home.
I thought I had a cute little duplex, but Sarah’s duplex in the Cove was much smaller because it only had two bedrooms and wasn’t in as nice of a neighborhood as mine was. Sarah let me come in and introduced me to her dogs. She even gave me a potted plant that sort of became my friend during that deployment and for a couple of years afterward. I remember moving with that plant onto base housing a year later and then even to Arizona in 2005.
Sarah was a great laugher and was better at having a handle on knowing how she felt than I was. I love to laugh with friends normally, but when I have a lot on my mind, I tend to space out. Intentionally, I shut the world out while I process. Phone calls go unanswered. Text messages do not get replied to, and I will even hide in my room rather than open the door to knockers.
After Alan left, it was time to space out. Sarah called frequently. She was reaching out to me, but I wasn’t answering. Most of the time I knew she was calling, but I was not ready to talk to people, not even to friends. I just wanted to be alone with my t.v. and my board games that I played versus myself. I realize it’s almost comical, me sitting in my living room playing 4 different hands of Skipbo against each other, but I don’t know what to tell ya. That was how I coped, that and many calls to 911, but you can go back and read that story if you missed it.
After my crazy-lady wake-up call, I called up Sarah and Elsie and invited them over.
Let me clarify that I wasn’t completely isolated. I saw my church friends Ashley, Theresa, and Wanda, on Sundays, at choir practice on Wednesdays, and at events. My neighbor Elsie and I talked frequently outside. Plus, Alan’s cousin Katie helped me out, checked on me, and even sent her husband over to cut my grass. Then there was also the coffee group once a month. I wasn’t completely alone.
But this was part of my new GOAL, to begin to focus on others instead of just myself. I reached out first to Sarah and Elsie.
Elsie and Sarah probably do not even remember it, but it was huge for me because I was intentionally focusing on facing my problems and giving back to others just like me. That was what this was about. I wanted to gather these women and make a difference. We could do this together!!!
And I knew Sarah needed me because she had called and called, and I felt bad for being such an absent friend.
Sarah looked positively giddy when she knocked on my door around dinnertime, and held up a bottle of blackberry wine. I welcomed her in, and soon Elsie arrived. That very first night it was just the three of us because we had not yet met the rest of our group of mostly neighbors.
Was it blackberry wine or was it raspberry? It was something like that. The alcohol content was so low on it that you could freeze the whole bottle in the freezer. That wine was more sugar than anything else.
The only thing was that I don’t drink. I wasn’t sure what to do with this obviously thoughtful gesture, especially after having been such a bad friend. Elsie arrived, appearing pretty happy with Sarah’s wine too, so they urged me to open it.
I didn’t even have a wine bottle opener-thing, but we quickly discovered that it was a twisty cap anyway.
Well, the Bible does say that wine is for the miserable, and I didn’t want to let them all down, so I went ahead and partook. I’m sorry to tell you that it was quite delicious, and it became the sponsored drink of choice of our Army Wives group even though none of us were drinkers. (And don’t worry. I’m still not a drinker.)
Elsie and Sarah were the perfect friends for me. They were both jolly souls who seemed to be handling this deployment thing fathoms better than I was.
That night we ate and talked and laughed uproariously, and by the time Elsie and Sarah left I felt better than I had felt in ages. It’s amazing how uplifting the countenance of good friends can be!
It wasn’t the barely-even-wine or the food that brightened our hearts. It was each other, encouraging one another, and laughing and talking about a shared trial we were going through.
No one can relate to military life like a fellow military spouse can.
We were going to survive this year just fine after all, and did you know that we had all heard from our husbands in Kuwait too? The soldiers flew to Kuwait, where they lived in tent cities and were all able to call at least once. Then there was the month of silence as the 4th Infantry Division drove into Iraq, through Baghdad and set up camp.
Alan said they arrived to cheering crowds, though it didn’t stay that way as the months wore on. Alan arrived in Tikrit, they set up their tents or trailers there, and then I finally heard from Alan again, ending the month of silence, which had coincided with my month of hiding quietly in my house.
When Alan finally called from Tikrit, he gave me the phone number of a wife who also lived on my street named Cloe. Cloe’s husband was a soldier on Alan’s Fire Support Team, and she didn’t have a crew of Army Wives to hang out with yet either. She would be my next person to call to add to this newly formed little tribe.