Skip to content
January 21, 2013 / Jess

What I Wish I Had Known About Deployment Homecomings

My soldier came home on Christmas Eve. It was a logistical nightmare and the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received.

I wore a Santa hat. I didn’t need help figuring out that would be the best thing to wear. But there’s a lot of other stuff that would have been helpful to know. Such as ….

1) You’re probably going to get sick just before it happens. The last few weeks of a deployment are particularly stressful. Less contact – even less contact – as they travel and go through out-processing. Nerves. You may not feel excited, but everyone will expect you to. You’ll be stressed arranging logistics. If you finally figured out how to sleep more efficiently (I never did), insomnia will probably flare up again. Your immune system will take a hit and before you know it you’ll get a 101 degree fever just a few days before you see him again and have to pack an inhaler with you to pick him up in an attempt to keep your newly diagnosed severe case of bronchitis under control.

2) If you’re picking up your soldier and traveling somewhere, ask him how many bags he’ll have. I wish I had asked this. I was trying to figure out how to leave enough room in my car and that was a crucial piece of information I was missing. If they’re not going home first or they have to be in the car awhile, pack some civilian clothes for them and toiletries so they can change and get more comfortable ASAP. You’ll be flustered as it is, keeping logistical hardships to a minimum will help.

3) You may be forced into a room and have to wait there FOR MORE THAN AN HOUR knowing your soldier is down the hall. There will be cookies and coffee but they will not let you leave for bathroom breaks. (Side note: Avoid the coffee. You’re about to kiss!) I stopped in the bathroom before I went into the room – but only to check my hair. GO TO THE BATHROOM IF YOU HAVE THE CHANCE. Try not to let your mind wander about how you’re trapped in a small room by people with guns while they effectively hold your loved one hostage. Or are you the hostage?

4) If you ever wondered why homecomings look kind of lame on TV, it’s because there are more rules than you realize. They kind of suck the fun out of it. (See point 3.) Also, they insist you walk and don’t run, and that you don’t yell. Okay then.

5) You may not be excited. That’s okay. You may feel nervous, apprehensive, angry, afraid, totally numb. I felt all those things. The last few weeks I felt really angry at him. I don’t know why. I just did. I was not excited until the moment I saw his face. Don’t listen to people who tell you it’s not normal. Maybe it’s not. But it’s your reality. What’s normal about a deployment anyway? It’s fine to feel how you feel.

6) Bring more tissues than you think you need. I did not cry, but I was sick and then trapped in a room for an hour. I was out of tissues before I saw him. Our first kisses tasted … well, gross.  I distinctly remember him saying “I want to kiss you more but there’s so much snot.” Then I distinctly remember wiping my nose on his shoulder. I suggest you do not this.

7) It may not be as romantic as you think. Especially if you wipe your snot on his shoulder. But it will be great.

We didn’t take a picture. I wish we had. But that was such a flurry of nerves and snot and adrenaline. I feel like our true reunion has come in small moments over the past month.

It’s a process.

I’m glad he’s home.

December 2, 2012 / Jess

Losing the gift of shared pain

Dear Army,

I don’t feel particularly articulate today. I think that’s from all the crying. I feel drained, and my head hurts.

I hate that even something as joyous as a homecoming can make this deployment harder. You have been consistent with your inconsistency, Army, and your new and unusual ways of torture – ways that I can’t anticipate, but know will be far worse than anything I can prepare for.

I burst into tears when I got to the ending of the first Saw movie years ago. It took my sister by surprise. It was not the gore that bothered me, but the psychological torture. The twist ending was just too cruel for my sensitive heart to take.

The deployment is an exercise in psychological torture – for my boyfriend, and for myself.

There’s such a dramatic difference between those who have experienced a deployment and those who are in the midst of it. There’s a special kind of relationship that develops with women who are supporting soldiers abroad right this second – even though I know those who have been through it before and they treat me kindly, only those who are going through it right this second truly have the ability to comfort me.

I don’t know why this is. Perhaps it’s because their men are experiencing the exact same thing my boyfriend is; that everyone’s emotions are fresh and no one has the wisdom of hindsight. I don’t feel like I’m overreacting with them. I’m more honest with them, and less embarrassed about how much I struggle.

I know two women who are dating soldiers in my guy’s unit well; we’ve bonded through this experience after I Facebook stalked them and asked if we could get together. I know one woman who is married to an officer in my soldier’s brigade (battalion?); she attends my church.

I do not know anyone who is pursuing a Christian dating relationship through a deployment. This has been extremely difficult for me. I’m alone in that regard; I’m alone in a lot of ways.

That’s why the married woman from church has been so helpful – she can’t understand what it’s like to date during a deployment, but she helps me with my faith.  I help watch her children once a week while she takes a night class. In return, I learn about having a biblical marriage by hearing about her relationship when we talk about the deployment after she gets home and the kids are asleep.  It’s been a good arrangement.

We were even starting to go through a Christian book together. For the first time during this whole deployment, I truly felt like I was going to get something I really needed. That I was going to serve and be served and have fellowship and attention by someone who truly understands what’s going on in my life. It took months, but I now felt safe to be open and vulnerable with her – she knows my struggles are not a reflection of a problem in my relationship. I fear that if I talk openly about my pain, it reflects badly on my relationship. But the truth is, it’s all situation based. He’s great. We’re great. This just hurts.

The other day, the first day we started to go through the book, she looked at me and said “It’s like I’m holding a baby in front of you and you can’t get pregnant.”

What she meant by that was, her husband was coming home.

He came home two days later.

The soldiers are coming home in waves, her husband was in the first wave. I do not know what wave my boyfriend is in; I have no date. Probably 2013.

She said we’d keep in touch; I suspect she means it. But something shifted. It is no longer shared pain. I felt a guard go up that night, and I’m mourning the loss of a comfort that almost was.

I saw her reunion pictures on Facebook and burst into tears.

I feel cruel for being upset. She deserves this. Her kids deserve this.

Her husband got home late on November 30 – about an hour before his birthday began on December 1st. His children prayed so hard for him to be home for his birthday.

My boyfriend’s birthday was November 30. He didn’t celebrate. No prayers answered.

Why does God answer some prayers and not others? Did I not deserve this? Did he not deserve this?

Did I even pray for him to come home by his birthday? Is this my fault, because my brain said that was unrealistic and my heart sometimes thinks God can’t do extraordinary things?

This is exactly the type of faith-based question I would asked her. It’s foolish, and I know the answers but it would have been nice to talk about. Helpful to hear out loud. Comforting to hear it’s normal to question, soothing to be prayed for. I wish people prayed with me more.

My boyfriend makes me feel safest, she made me feel safer and now I just feel even more alone. I was so close to getting comfort and again, it’s been taken away.

God keeps isolating me. In bad moments, I feel it is punishment, in calm ones I feel God wants me to turn to him.

But I don’t, I can’t, I won’t, I don’t know how. Or something.

My head hurts.

My heart hurts.

I really hate this deployment.

(Not) love,
Jess

November 17, 2012 / Jess

I’m not counting down until my soldier gets home.

Dear Army,

This deployment is winding down for my guy. He’s been gone for almost a year. He is scheduled to be home in early 2013, which means, even though I don’t have a specific date, I could start counting down by weeks instead of months. Days, even.

I don’t.

I HATE COUNTDOWNS.

I know some people make paper chains and take a link off each day, countdown to Christmas style. I know some people survive deployments because of countdowns. To me, they make everything harder.

Time moves sooooo slowly for me. It has never changed pace. Some of that may be because this deployment has come with a huge side of insomnia for me, some of it may be because I have only ever been impatiently waiting. I love this man more than I’ve ever loved anyone – more than I ever even wanted to love someone, to be honest – and I want this reunion more than I can articulate.

So seeing the time that still stretches before me just makes me feel like I’ll never make it to the finish line.

And, honestly, Army, I can’t let myself believe he’s coming home. I can’t. First of all, they changed his departure time so many times. I said goodbye to him THREE TIMES IN TWO DAYS. So there’s that. I know the same thing could – and probably will – happen with his arrival. I don’t trust you, Army, with accuracy. And, there’s the bigger, more irrational fear that he won’t make it back. He has had an excruciatingly safe deployment. I know this. But I’ve long since feared that I’ll never see him again and to get excited feels foolish. I feel a sense of insecurity that I haven’t felt since the beginning. That horrible story about the veterans killed during a parade in their honor about sent me off the deep end.

I’m a Christian who spent the last year realizing that I don’t understand that God loves me – even though I’ve also spent it recognizing what a wonderful gift my soldier is, as he is a constant reminder that God must love me, to give me someone so wonderful. I’ve learned to rely on God in order to be gracious – being an Army girlfriend requires an amount of understanding that is beyond my capacity – but I’ve struggled to understand that God applies that grace to me every day. In fact, I’ve just gotten angrier and more bitter as time has gone on.

I’m waiting for God to punish me by taking away the gift I never deserved to begin with.

This relationship is too perfect. Flawed, of course. But perfect for me. I feel like I don’t deserve it under normal circumstances. I get it now, because it’s doused in misery but fear I’ll lose it if we have happier circumstances because I struggle to feel like God wants me to be happy. After all, the Bible doesn’t say we’ll be happy.

The depression I’ve sunk into feels all-consuming. It has changed me physically, and emotionally. What if it doesn’t fade? What if I’m always this sadder, angrier version of myself? What if I don’t love God enough? If a deployment could shake my faith, what type of Christian was I to begin with?

As I try to wrap my head around the fact that I feel permanently altered, the nearing homecoming just calls attention to the fact that I am not who he deserves me to be. Did I waste this year? Shouldn’t I be a more faithful Christian – why have my doubts increased so much? Why can’t I forgive you, Army, and all of those who hurt me along the way? How come I feel more and more like I made huge sacrifices? In the beginning, it didn’t feel like sacrificing. Now, it just feels like … “Please. I can’t handle this any more. Take care of me now.”

Perhaps my selflessness has been a misperception all along. I hate realizing how selfish I am; I truly felt like I was a better person than I am.

This reminder of my failings often comes from other people – the same people who dropped into silence when he needed them most. The fact that he’s nearing the end of this deployment means suddenly, everyone is interested again. They want to know when he’s coming home and when I say probably within the next two months or so, the response is “That’s so soon!” or “You must be so excited!” or “That’s gone by fast!”

No. It isn’t soon. No, I’m not so excited. NO IT HASN’T GONE BY FAST. I try to explain why I feel this way but honestly, it’s not worth the effort.  It’s a fairytale now, a romantic reunion that everyone wants to be a part of. And I’m still working on forgiving all the people who promised they’d be there for him but weren’t, who hurt me by not helping, who hurt me by making it worse, who hurt me by forgetting him, who hurt me by forgetting that I was struggling too. I watched them fail him. He may rationalize the silence away, but as he reintegrates into his social circle with me by his side, I fear I’ll be seething. The silence he received may be repairable because he didn’t watch it happen. Knowing I advocated for him and I wasn’t enough … it just hurts.

Above all, Army, I think I feel confused.

I feel confused about who I am, about who I will be without the confines of this deployment, about what my relationship will look like without this deployment, and about my faith.

And I feel confused about why countdowns are supposed to make me excited.

Am I doing this all wrong?

(Not) love,

Jess

October 6, 2012 / Jess

Dating a Soldier Has Made Me a Liar

Dear Army,

I gave some relationship advice to a fellow Army girlfriend who was struggling the other day. My advice?

Lie.

When Jonathan and I started dating, one of the things he found most attractive about me (other than my big brown eyes) was my honesty. And I felt the same way about him. In fact, his honesty and vulnerability in his first New York Times article, published a few months after we met and less than a week after we had a dinner date that went so well that we both knew we were in trouble, is what kept me from running away. A man that honest and vulnerable and wise was worth getting to know even though, at that time, I didn’t think any relationship that developed would be able to survive a deployment.

And now that I’m his girlfriend, I lie all the time.

I hate that.

I lied this summer, when things between us were particularly brutal and he asked me if I needed to take a break. (I typed “no, of course not” while yelling “YES” at my computer.) I lied when he asked me to tell him I wasn’t a complete mess. (I typed “I’m hurting, but I’m okay” as I shook with sobs in my desk chair.) And I’ve lied a thousand other times, by omission, when I had to deal with something alone because he was not around – mentioning it later, but filtering it to hide just how bad it was.

Now, these are lies of protection. I’ve never lied about what I was doing or who I was with. And he knows about every lie I’ve told, once I felt like he was strong enough for me to be weak. I feel like my job is to gauge his emotional status, and adjust accordingly. There is only so much I’m allowed to need, and how much I’m allowed to need ebbs and flows depending on whatever is going on with him at that time. Sometimes, things are so bad on his end that he can’t handle it if I need anything at all. A common question on my part, on my worst days in the beginning was: “Are you doing well enough that it’s okay if I fall apart at you for a few minutes?”

Six months into the deployment, I can gauge this more effectively now. I don’t actually really have to lie at all anymore, because we both know the other isn’t going to leave. But it was messy at first.

And sometimes I worry about the long-lasting implications of it.

Sometimes I think back to when he came home on leave between his state-side mobilization training and before he left for Kuwait. We were inseparable. The night before he left, we had dinner with his parents – and then he came back to my place. He said, with a smile on his face, that he had to hang out with me for a while longer and that “I won’t take no for an answer.”

If he hadn’t said that, I would have said no. I barely made it through that dinner as it was; I was not up for more quality time. I wanted to be alone on my terms. The next unknown (and still unknown) period of time would find me alone with no control. In that moment, I wanted to choose to be alone.

You see, Army, I had spent the two months he was away processing as much as I could about the things that upset me on my own. I didn’t know how to talk through my concerns with him – I felt like I wasn’t supposed to anymore. I had become used to hiding my emotions, as best I could (and I’m not particularly good at it). But he was there that night, and I freaked out. I was hysterical, and it was awkward – he saw the depth of it all. I still feel guilty that I tainted his last night in his adopted hometown with my intense grief.

What will it be like when he gets back and I’m upset about something? Will I be wise enough to talk through it with him in the moment? To admit when I’m upset with him? Or will I withdraw and process it on my own, like this deployment has forced me to do on a daily basis?

If I return to my honesty, will he be disappointed that I’m not as strong as he believed?

I hate lying.

I hate you, Army.

And that’s the truth.

(Not) love,
Jess

October 1, 2012 / Jess

Inside I’m Screaming

Dear Army,

I am often defined by my words – persistent thoughts, scraps of paper with sentences that may eventually make it here, half-filled childhood notebooks riddled with Harriet the Spy-style observations. I process the world through writing.

Or, at least, I did. You took away my boyfriend, and now I’ve let you take away my words.

I’ve lost patience with you. I don’t want to write anymore. I speak of you and people say …. “Still? You’re struggling still?” – as though I’m supposed to have moved on without him. I write about you and people say, “that’s so depressing,” and I feel dismissed.

It’s just … I’m over it. People don’t get it. People don’t see the problem with you. People don’t want to, not really. It has become my problem, my inability to cope. Somewhere along the way it  manifested into people not seeing me anymore.

I’m tired of sharing; I feel like there’s no point. So I shut down, and I stopped writing. I had no intention of writing for this blog ever again.

But then my boyfriend got published. The title given to his article? It’s Time to Talk About What Troops Leave Unsaid.

He got interviewed about it too.

It was quite the wave of conviction. So here I am, writing. Not well, but there are words. It’s a start.

We can’t not speak just because it hurts, just because people don’t understand. Some things need to be said; maybe they’ll help someone eventually understand. Maybe they’ll start a dialogue. Maybe they’ll just help me cope. Either way, some things just need to be said.

And what I need to say right in this moment is: I’m struggling. Differently than the beginning, but still – yes, still – struggling.

This is really hard. I miss him.

It just hurts.

(Not) love,

Jess

August 23, 2012 / Jess

Why I’m An Army Girlfriend

Dear Army,

I saw this picture on Twitter today:

And it made me feel like crap.

I am an Army girlfriend because I love my boyfriend. That’s it. It’s as simple as that. It has nothing to do with patriotism for me, although admitting that does make me feel lousy.

Look, I love this country – but not enough to die for it. I don’t love it even enough to do what I just did – which is eat a spoonful of peanut butter. I’m annoyed at you, Army, because I had to do that.

I had to eat a spoonful of peanut butter because this deployment causes me so much stress that I often don’t feel like eating. I’m not unhappy with the subsequent weight loss – it’s not like I didn’t have some pounds to spare – but I knew I wasn’t getting all the necessary nutrients that I need. Besides, I promised my love I would take care of myself, so now I use myfitnesspal.com to track my caloric intake. And today it said “you didn’t eat enough,” so I ate a spoonful of peanut butter to make sure I ate enough calories.

That’s not for my country. Did you see what I typed? “I promised my love.” My love is a person, not a country.

I’m not doing anything special here.  I didn’t offer him up; I didn’t have a choice. I wouldn’t have chosen this path.

My boyfriend made a choice. He made a sacrifice.

I just love him through it.

Yes, I all of him – including the part that called him to war. Yes, I love how patriotic he is. But, if anything, this process has made me a little less patriotic. I am not proud of how my country is treating him; I am only proud of how he chooses to handle it. I don’t want credit or praise or positive qualities like unwavering patriotism attributed to me for reasons I don’t deserve.

I do, however, want a hug like that woman is getting in that picture. He looks like he’s never going to let her go.

Soon. Ish.

Emphasis on ish, for now.

(Not) love,

Jess

August 8, 2012 / Jess

My boyfriend is hot. Really hot.

Dear Army,

It’s currently 100 degrees in Kuwait. No big deal, right? It’s been a hot summer. Most of the U.S. has been in a drought, and I’ve seen the temperature hover around 100 degrees several times myself.

The difference? It’s 100 degrees here as the high. It’s 2 a.m. in Kuwait right now – 100 degrees is their low. The dew point is also 43 right now; after it hits 60 – which it easily will during the day – humidity becomes more noticeable. Once it hits 75, which it will, the humidity feels stifling. (Shout out to weather.com, because I definitely don’t know this stuff on my own.)

August is the hottest month in Kuwait; the high averages in the 120s but often feels hotter since the country borders the Persian Gulf.

It’s easy to feel bad for them, but it’s not easy to really understand. That’s one of the hardest parts of this experience for me – I understand my soldier so well; intrinsically, we’re very similar. I’ve never met someone who views and understands the world the way I do. I can understand him, but I cannot understand what he goes through. I will always only be a civilian.

That doesn’t stop me from trying though. I became obsessed with the idea of understanding what 120 degree weather feels like.

So yesterday, I wore a sweater and dress pants to work. I wanted to be fully covered, like the soldiers are in their uniforms. When I got to work, I didn’t leave my car windows open. I let my car bake in the sun for nine hours. When I got into my car at the end of the day, the air was hot and stuffy. I started the engine.

And turned the heat on high.

I only made it 10 minutes. 

It took less than a minute for my contacts to start sticking to my eyes – the moisture was already being sucked out of my body as fresh hot air mingled with the stale hot air in my car.

After two minutes, I began to get a headache.

At three minutes, I cursed – because it had only been three minutes.

I kept adjusting my hands on the steering wheel; the wheel was too hot to hold for more than a second or two at a time. The air blowing in through the vents felt like pinpricks on my skin; I felt a need to keep moving. The breeze was not comfortable – it only made things worse. It was like windburn and a sunburn all at once. It was like a hair dryer turned on high was just pointing at my face.

At six minutes, I felt a burning pain on my chest and around my neck. I looked down – my metal necklace was starting to burn onto my skin.

At 10 minutes, I felt mildly short of breath, rather dizzy and frustrated. I don’t sweat much normally, but pools of moisture had already started to form under my arms, on the backs of my knees and on the small of my back. My skin had the beginnings of a film of sweat everywhere. I felt nauseous – from the heat, and from the wave of fresh, more accurate empathy.

I only made it 10 minutes. 

Army, you’re making them deal with this for months – months.

I don’t know how they do it.

Army, I don’t know why you do this to them.

(Not) love,

Jess