Cringe and Purge: A True Story

It’s a rite of passage, I suppose.  And thank God it’s over with.  I hate those rites of passage that involve hardship, manual labor, and quite frankly, doing something that I really don’t want to do.  If you’ve been through it, too, you might relate to my feelings of dread and perhaps a touch of anxiety as you’ve anticipated the ritual’s beginning, and you might further relate to my desire to avoid it entirely, as well as its potential to develop irritating (although nonthreatening) marital friction.

But it’s so much better in the end, they say.  You’ll feel a huge weight lifted off your shoulders!

What am I talking about, you ask? Continue reading

The spirit of our land

(A later version of this piece was published on Military Spouse’s web site.  Click here to read.)

I remember the first time
I drove through Indiana
Watching fences in the distance
Fade away …

I remember the first time I drove
Through Indiana
Thinking to myself how big
This land really is

The Samples, “Indiana”

Personally, I don’t remember the first time I drove through Indiana. As a child, driving through Indiana (as well as neighboring Midwestern states) was as familiar as driving up my own street.  Still, The Samples’ song ran through my mind on repeat as my family and I made our Odyssey from DC to El Paso.  And with each town we passed, I grew more and more enchanted with our great land.

In the rolling, forested hills of Maryland,  I thought about early settlers forging new territory, and even the kids in the back seat noticed how many different shades of green there were. In West Virginia, old homes dotted the hillsides, which soon flattened. In Ohio, I became a little giddy. The home state of my college and many friends and extended family, Ohio stirred up memories of my youth and young adulthood. Exit signs were familiar, and farmlands introduced us to the rest of the sprawling, hospitable Midwest. Indiana and Illinois did not disappoint, as miles of farms stretched to my right and to my left, with the fading fence lines immortalized in The Samples’ song in the distance.

It struck me here how Continue reading

Dear PCS…

(This piece was later published on Military Spouse’s web site.  Click here to read.)

Dear PCS,

Yesterday, you showed up on our doorstep. I turned to my husband and said, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and he said, “You say that every time.”  But I can’t believe this is happening; I can’t believe you’re already here again.

“It’s Moving Day,” you told me. “It’s Moving Day, and I’m going to spend the next eight hours piling your belongings into boxes.  If you hear a crash, a bump, or a dump, just turn away. It’s Moving Day, and this what happens on Moving Day.”

You callously pushed past me, barged into my house like you owned it. You picked up my picture frames, rooted through my closet, emptied my drawers, boxed up my kids’ most precious keepsakes.  You arrived at a home, but left it an unsettled, uncomfortable fortress of cardboard.  What was once our sanctuary has been reduced to a staging area of labeled cargo. I can still sit on my couch, but in a moment you’ll remind me, “I’m going to need to take that. It’s Moving Day, and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

So I’ll sit on a step, lean against a wall, curl up with a book, a magazine, or a newspaper, and I’ll pretend to read, but you and I both know I won’t be reading. I’ll be watching you, instead. I’ll be pretending there are no knots in my stomach when you haul our custom-built Turkish furniture through the narrow doorways. I’ll blink away tears when you clear out my kids’ playroom, and I’ll blame it on the glare from my iPad. I’ll grimace when you drop boxes in my driveway like they have nothing more than blankets inside. You’ll look at me and shrug. “It’s Moving Day,” you’ll say, “and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

But don’t remind me that “this is what I signed up for.”  As if I could ever forget that. And don’t act like you’re assuming control. You’re not. I’ve been preparing for you for months, and I’m onto your wiles.

In fact, I’ve seen you lurking around my home for weeks now, sneaking in and out of rooms, swooping through conversations, steering my car, wrenching muscles in my shoulders and squeezing my head.  You’ve made me say things to my husband that I didn’t mean to say, and you’ve made him do the same to me. You’ve made my kids watch more TV than they probably should, and you’ve made them endure a very tired mother whose back is weary from bending low to pick up, wipe down, scour, and scrub.  You’ve made me tell them, “I’ll play with you in a minute. Just let me finish packing, stacking, organizing, arranging.” Funny thing is, that minute never ends.  You’ve made my husband bear heavy loads at home, even as he comes back from work exhausted from finishing important projects. You’ve made me guilty for asking him to help with things that I couldn’t finish; I wish I didn’t have to burden him.  You’ve made my son look around at the changes and ask, “Mom, if this isn’t our home anymore then where do we really live?”

But here’s what I have to say to you, PCS, you sneaky little beast, who hides behind a vague, euphemistic, and somewhat faulted acronym:

Bring it.

I know who you are, and I know how you roll, and there’s nothing “Permanent” about this “Change of Station.”  This is the time when we add another notch on our bedpost, another picture on our wall, another link in our chain, another thumb tack on our map. “This is from our time in DC,” we’ll tell visitors, and some will say, “I don’t know how you do it.” I’ll throw up a dismissive hand, and say, “It’s nothing.”

Because you are nothing. I know this is a part of the mad game that is military life. And I know that when you load the last box on that massive truck, turn around and smirk at me, arms crossed across your chest, you’ll think you’ve won. You, like some others, will take pity on me, but in a more sinister way, because after all you were the one who emptied my home.

But when you feel my heel connect first to your groin, then to your throat, you’ll realize that the three people standing behind me – my husband, my son, my daughter, and yes, even my loyal dog – they are my home, and you can’t ever, won’t ever, take them with you. You’ve got nothing on them. Stew on that.

I know you’ll visit us again, PCS, I know you will. But next time, please remember how I look standing over you, and remember how you’re too stunned and weak to get up. And remember what I whispered in your ear after I kicked you down:

“It’s Moving Day, and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

It’s That Time Again…

A few weeks ago, my friend Cheryl came over for our weekly happy hour. Our kids immediately got to work dismantling the art corner, settling into the chaos that they call fun.  Too tired to bother with organizing their mess, Cheryl flopped down across from where I lay on the playroom floor, head resting on a stuffed animal, equally spent. She filled me in on her day, tossing a miniature basketball from one hand to the other, and I smiled to myself.  I was glad that our regular get-togethers had grown into visits comfortable enough to bypass small talk and social graces and dive right into conversation… and a glass or two of wine.

And that’s the point in an assignment, when you take a deep breath, appreciate good friendships that have developed, and feel at home… and then you get orders to move.

It’s that time again.

Yet again, the length of an assignment has been adjusted.  We’ll be leaving a year sooner than expected, embarking upon our sixth move in ten years this summer.  A 2,000-mile journey stands before us, from the competitive grind of Washington, DC, to the farthest corner of Texas, where they reportedly operate on “mañana time”: El Paso.

It’s time to stop buying items that the movers won’t pack, like jugs of Clorox or family-sized liquid Downy.  It’s time to buy only sparingly other staples, like flour, vinegar, lotion, and shampoo.  It’s time to think about purging items that aren’t worth taking, like over-the-door shower caddies that have lost their luster or toilet brushes that… well, that would just be disgusting to pack.

Inevitably, we’ll have a few boxes filled with spray bottles of 409 and unopened boxes of Swiffer Wet pads,  half-filled Domino sugar bags and a never-enjoyed box of Bisquick.  We’ll pass those items to neighbors, hoping they can use them.  We might unload them with a disgruntled humph, annoyed by the wasted money, or we might hand them off with the immense relief felt by simply getting rid of stuff during a period of high-stress.

But what do we do with the friendships?  Do we put them in a box, give them to a neighbor, and hope they can be useful?  Do we unload them with a humph, a sigh of relief?  Do we put a numbered sticker on their foreheads and load them on the truck?  Gosh, I sure wish we could.

This is one of those parts of military life Continue reading

Looking Back

The rain was positively pelting the car’s windshield.  Wipers swished at full blast, but that didn’t make it any easier for the young mom at the driver’s seat to see the road in front of her. Driving across the South into Texas, on the way to their next assignment seemed interminable, especially with her hungry infant tucked in his carseat behind her. Shoulders rounded over the wheel, she leaned forward, tired, worn out, and slightly jealous of her husband, who was an hour behind her with their happy and willing dog.  She was thirty minutes from her destination, catching glimpses of the ranches she sped past, and begging her baby to hang on for just a bit longer.

And then finally, finally, she entered Killeen, home of Fort Hood, and saw the sign for her hotel standing over the buildings ahead.  Taking a deep breath, she slowed the Corolla and stopped at a light, at last able to take in the surroundings.  But her eyebrows furrowed and her stomach dropped when she saw the town that was supposed to be her new home.  Old buildings were crammed along the road, with fast food joints and discount car dealerships standing just about anywhere there was a corner of space.  The street was cracked and potholed.  A few men in ragged clothing huddled under a bus stop.  “What… is… this?” she wondered out loud.

The light changed, and she turned into the hotel parking lot.  People loitered under overhangs, smoking cigarettes and looking around at seemingly nothing.  The pavement was crumbling, and as she drove the car around the back of the hotel, she winced at the peeling paint, dingy railings, and outside-facing room doors. She pulled the car to a stop and thought with a feeling of dread, What have we gotten ourselves into? Continue reading