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July 23, 2012 / Jess

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Dear Army,

I flew to Denver, Colorado last week. While on the plane, I met a 10-year-old girl named Charlotte. She was a sweet, inquisitive thing who decided immediately that we should be best friends for the next four and half hours. Until you, Army, upset her.

When she found out that I was going to Colorado to visit “a friend from college, and my boyfriend’s sister and mother” she quickly asked where my boyfriend was. I hesitated, then told her he was serving overseas with the Army. I was not sure how she’d react.

It turns out she reacted much like I did – with a ton of questions. (Good to know I’m still acting like a 10-year-old, even at 27.)

She wanted to know where he was, when he was coming back (her eyes got wide when I said I didn’t know), what happens if the uniform gets dirty … well, duh, of course they wash them, but where do they wash uniforms in a lake or something, what do they eat, do they sleep in a bed, do we write letters, do I have any letters with me (I did), why don’t they need to use stamps, are we going to get married, what is the weather like there, can it really get that hot, and why do they wear long-sleeved shirts if it’s so hot?

I was surprised she didn’t ask if my boyfriend has killed anyone. That’s a common (and rude) question I often get from strangers. (Which I never understand – I don’t go around asking people who I’ve just met if they’ve killed anyone! Come on, people. Manners.)

No, she asked something far more poignant.

“What happens if he doesn’t like it and wants to come home?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Soldiers have to stay until they are told they are allowed to come home.”

This scared her. I suppose that’s because, as a child, her mom will come get her and let her come home if she needs to. She rephrased the question a dozen more times, anxious for me to provide a different answer. Finally, her mother stepped in and said “honey, people who join the Army know they aren’t going to want to come home – they want to leave.” Then she told her to go back to her book.

I didn’t argue, but only because I really wasn’t interested in making a 10-year-old girl burst into tears.

But it hurt, to allow the lie.

And to know that the child had it right, to cry over that. Children see the truth more readily than adults, I think. Her reaction was appropriate.

Army, you make children cry because they see the heartache that most people learn to rationalize away by the time they become adults.

I suppose this is just another area in which I’m not ready to grow up.

(Not) love,

Jess

July 6, 2012 / Jess

When to Write Love Letters

Dear Army,

Many people think deployments are romantic. These people are idiots. No, wait, I’m just in a bad mood today. In fact, the reason I’m in a bad mood is you, Army, and my bad mood is the very reason why I chose this topic to write about. Let’s try that again …

Many people think deployments are romantic. These people are …  just people who haven’t experienced one for themselves or who watch too many romantic movies, or both.

There are elements to a deployment that are romantic. Yes, I get hand-written letters from my boyfriend. Yes, he sent me flowers AND chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Yes, we had a movie-like reunion at the airport when he came back from mobilization training. I turned, saw him across the room, and walked quickly through a sea of soldiers to get to him. When I reached him, I practically threw myself at him and he absorbed my weight with glee.

Yes, he gets silly foam hearts covered in glitter glue, books filled with post-it notes so he finds a random “I love you!” when he stumbles upon those pages, and letters smelling of my perfume.

These gestures make the deployment survivable. They do not make it romantic.

I can’t speak for him … but I rarely write any of those things when I’m feeling romantic.

I mostly write him love letters when I’m angry. And not just angry – pissed off.  At you, the Army, at this deployment, at people who don’t understand that Army girlfriends and Army wives do not go through the same thing, at people who tell me that it’s “easier” now that he’s been in the desert for three months, and at him.

Yes, sometimes I’m angry at him. Why do I get angry – furious – at him? I get angry at him for being so loveable that I have to suffer this much, and I get angry that I understand why he loves you, Army, but don’t understand why he can’t give up on you – even though you don’t love him back.

And when I’m that angry, like today, I write him a love letter.

This seems counter intuitive. Well, everything about you, Army, is counter intuitive. You’ve forced me to learn that it’s a mistake to trust my emotions. I trust the facts. And the fact is – I love my boyfriend. I really do. Even though I’m seething with fury as I type this, I love him fiercely.

So when I get like this, I often choose to write him a love letter while fuming. And by the time I’m half-way through, I’m not mad anymore. Something clicks in my brain as I remember that I love him and that my anger is not anger at all, but just me missing him.

The anger courses through my veins some days because it’s just easier to be angry than devastated.

I write love letters for Jonathan. But I also write them for me.

I never write them for you, Army.

(Not) love,

Jess

June 26, 2012 / Jess

The Story of Ian & Larissa

Dear Army,

My soldier didn’t want to go to Kuwait. If he was going to give up a year of his life and return home to unemployment, he wanted it to be for a purpose.

Neither one of us sees much point in him serving in Kuwait. (Which is not to say that I know much of anything about his mission, since that’s classified. But I’m well aware that they are a garrison force, a just-in-case placement, and I don’t agree with that on a number of levels. This is not classified. It was just in the news again last week.)

I feel badly for him, that he gave up his freedom without gaining a purpose. It’s a trait I will never fully understand because it is not one I possess – the willingness to sacrifice all that you have for your country. But I saw the struggle on his face (when I got to see his face); I see it in his letters, and in every piece of military literature that talks about such things that I read.

He is grateful he is not in danger. His life will not be sacrificed … or, as happens far too often, wasted. His time, maybe (probably), but not his life.

I thank God for that every day. I pray that if he cannot come home yet, and it seems that he cannot, that he stays in Kuwait – miserable, if necessary, but always safe.

I saw this video almost two months ago, and think about it almost daily. The video is about civilians but it’s a scenario war can and does cause. It is a scenario I often thought about in the middle of the night, as I tried to decide if I was strong enough to date a soldier.  It is painfully beautiful.

I’m grateful that this deployment will not create that path for us.

I’m convicted by Larissa’s strength.

And I’m totally buying that John Piper book.

(Not) love,

Jess

June 24, 2012 / Jess

Mars looks a lot like Kuwait

Dear Army,

When I was in my first “real” relationship in college, I read “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex” by John Gray.

I remember it compared men to rubber bands and women to waves.

“Men are like rubber bands. When they pull away, they can only stretch so far before they come springing back. A rubber band is the perfect metaphor to understand the male intimacy cycle. This cycle revolves getting close, pulling away, and then getting close again” (page 98).

“A woman is like a wave. When she feels loved her self-esteem rises and falls in a wave motion. When she is feeling really good, she will reach a peak, but then suddenly her mood may change and her wave crashes down. This crash is temporary. After she reaches the bottom suddenly her mood will shift and she will again feel good about herself. Automatically her wave begins to rise back up. When a woman’s wave rises she feels she has an abundance of love to give, but when it falls she feels her inner emptiness and needs to be filled back up. This time of bottoming out is a time for emotional housecleaning” (page 120).

I remember wishing the author had used the same metaphor, to better demonstrate how each gender reacts to the overall metaphor applicable to the relationship. Rubber bands and waves? They don’t relate to each other at all.

Now that I’m in a military relationship, I’m starting to think mixing those metaphors makes sense. I’m seeing that the men react in specific ways, as do the women. I’m blessed to have two fellow Army girlfriends that are dating men in my soldier’s unit. I met them at the airport when the guys came home after 7 weeks of stateside training; we decided we should get together throughout the deployment. We get together almost weekly, making projects for the guys – and venting.

What I’ve learned: We’re all very different, and none of our relationships are the same. One girlfriend talks on the phone with her guy every day, one a few times a week, and another (me) every few months. It doesn’t matter the amount of contact we have – all three guys react to the deployment in the same way, and all three women react to the deployment in the same way.

The women struggle with feeling unappreciated. The men struggle with feeling like they can never, ever do anything right. The women cry. The men stop talking to us all together (that never lasts long though). It’s actually rather fascinating (you know, when it’s not devastating).

If you mix the metaphors, it kind of applies. A wave in the ocean would carry a rubber band. It gets tossed around, disoriented, and cannot calm the wave. The wave needs something bigger to steady it, but that’s not an option.

It seems that long distance relationships are cyclical.

I knew I was getting into a military relationship. I knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. And frustration feels like resentment (and sometimes is resentment) which leads to guilt – because how can I feel resentful toward the person I love the most? And guilt leads to trying to be comforted by him, so I feel less alone in my suffering. The more I reach out for comfort, the less he reaches out for comfort because he’s trying to be strong for me but what I really want is to know that he feels weak too. But even if he does admit he’s weak, he can’t comfort me, not really, because what I need most is for him to just physically be there with me. That likely makes him feel helpless because he can’t give that to me. Feeling helpless makes him feel angry. And before I know it, I’m bickering over things that don’t really even bother me but suddenly now are critical.

I suppose what I, as a wave, really need is a drought – a desert to dry me out.

Not for my guy to be sitting in said desert until 2013.

That’s when his rubber band will snap back across an actual, non-metaphorical ocean and meet me where I am.

I can’t wait!

(Not) love,

Jess

June 15, 2012 / Jess

“Do you know how many Batman comic books there are?”

To the readers of this blog: I often feel like people who don’t have any connection to the military don’t understand a vital part of who I am now; I’ve changed so much in the last year. Apparently, I don’t give my friends enough credit. Liz came up with the idea for our adventure and decided to write a blog post all on her own. Thanks for being awesome, Liz!

Dear Army,

My friend Jess has a boyfriend who is currently serving in Kuwait. He also likes comic books. I have wanted to put together something to send to him for a while, so when Groupon recently had a deal for $30 worth of comic books for only $15 at a local comic book store, I was all in. I coordinated with Jess, who also purchased the Groupon deal, and we set a date for a nice low key evening of comic book shopping and ice cream.

But Army, instead of a low key evening of catching up and having fun with a friend, I instead got a firsthand look at how the Army can make the simplest task – like shopping for comic books – seem insurmountable.

We set out on our adventure the evening of Flag Day (how patriotic!). The evening even held the promise of being epic when Jess checked the store’s website and found that they were having a magic gathering that evening! Well, Army, there was no magician. Apparently a magic gathering is some kind of card game where you sit around a table trading cards. I’d much rather have seen a magician.

Before Jonathan deployed to Kuwait he took Jess to a comic book store to educate her on what he liked so she would know what to  send to him. With this knowledge, we were educated consumers on a mission, and armed with twice the buying power thanks to our Groupons. This should have been simple … but it wasn’t.

We knew that Jonathan liked Batman comics so I found a bin of those to pick out a few that I thought he would like. Do you know how many Batman comic books there are? Batman & Robin, Batman Incorporated, Batman Dark Knight, Batman Chronicles, Shadow of the Bat, Batman Confidential….and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the different series they had, with each series having multiple books each. Paralyzed with all the choices, I did what any girl and non-comic book expert would probably do and picked the ones with the prettiest and coolest looking covers. I even found this perfect one that had Batman and an American flag on the cover!

We had what we thought was a good stack of comic books that we were satisfied with, then we realized we were pulling from a bin that was all 50% off. We really had a lot more to go so clearly, we were going to be there forever.

We tried to be strategic in what we chose, trying to get as much of a certain series as we could, but eventually gave up and just grabbed a stack full of Batmans and started picking them by price. “Okay, so here’s a $4 comic, so that’s $2, and here’s a $3 one so that’s $1.50 … no let’s get a $6 one because that’s $3 and then we have $5 worth of comics.” However, when we got to the comics that were $2.25 we got stumped because it didn’t divide evenly. I’m normally someone who is good at math – I took Calculus for fun and I work as a research analyst and deal with numbers and statistics all day long – but this just stumped me. I got so frustrated that I whined in pain “THIS IS HARD AND I LIKE SHOPPING!” Jess responded by just breaking out into a sweat. Relying on cell phone calculators and finger counting we made it through the daunting task of selecting all the comic books our Groupons could buy.

Yet math failed us again when we got to the register. Jess rang out first but her total didn’t meet the voucher so she had to go back for even MORE COMIC BOOKS. When it was my turn and the same thing happened I took an easier route and just grabbed something random on the counter to add to my order. So now in addition to a massive haul of comic books, the troops will now be getting a Hello Kitty pin! I selected the particular pin because Hello Kitty is wearing a lot of bows in it. When we got to the car Jess looked at the pin closely and said “Is she flipping me off?” In hindsight, perhaps I should have gone with the Care Bear keychain…

So Army, there is a massive haul of comic books and a potentially offensive Hello Kitty pin that will be on their way to Kuwait soon, and I hope your troops enjoy and appreciate them. But they did come at a price – they made me question my love of numbers and shopping, and that is just not cool.

(Not) Love,

Liz

June 9, 2012 / Jess

Data Analysis

Dear Army,

There are many tangible aspects to relationships – knowing glances, clasped hands and lingering kisses, among other things.

You took that away from me. You take that away from all of us who date soldiers. It’s hard. But this is particularly problematic for me, because of my love language.

I had never heard about love languages before. Apparently, there are five. As I struggled to figure out how I was going to navigate a long-term long distance relationship, a friend suggested we take the quiz to determine our preferred love languages before he left. “Then, you can know more effectively how you prefer love to be communicated to you,” she said.

So we did.

There are five love languages in all: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Most people have one or two languages that are most prominent; you can find out what yours is by taking this quiz.

Mine is, very clearly, Physical Touch. Jonathan’s is Quality Time.

Perfect. Of course that’s how this would play out.

We can sometimes get a semblance of Quality Time – it’s defined for this quiz as being there for someone, and giving them your full attention. I’m clearly being there for my soldier: I email every day, twice a day at a minimum. I try to send mail three times a week. Doubts may creep in, but my actions are consistent. He can see that. And we try to IM or Skype (WHICH NEVER WORKS ARGHHHH) every week or so and, at some point, I’m hoping to talk to him on the phone.

I’m out of luck when it comes to Physical Touch. Wah wah.

Neither one of us was particularly surprised that it is my love language. It is not uncommon for me to scamper up to him if he’s walking a bit ahead of me and grab his hand. If he greets me and we’re in a hurry, I’ll say “Wait!” and kiss him deeply, sigh in relief and say, “Okay, we can go now. I’m ready.” I feel connected through touch. I just do. I like hugs.

There is no semblance of that now. But I found a work around: I collect data.

I have a Google Calendar, and on it I put everything about this deployment. I know that the last time I spoke to him on the phone was April 15, and we spoke for 14 minutes. I know that in February we spoke on the phone for 2 hours and 45 minutes total, but when he was in quarantine in March, there was one day that I got speak to him twice and we spoke for almost 2 hours that day alone (March 11).  I know that the mail I sent him on Friday will probably get to him on Thursday because I write down the day I mail something and then make a note on the day he mentions that he received it. I know it averages out that we (try to) video chat every 10 days or so.

I know that it’s weird that I know this.

I do this because without physical touch, I lose my sense of connection. He feels far away (because he is), and sometimes, because I hear from him less often than he hears from me, it can feel like he is not as dedicated to this relationship as I am. That’s nonsense, but there’s nothing for my hand to hold – so I look to my computer to remind me that the gestures are there. I can’t feel their weight and they are not tangible, but they are there and as consistent as you, Army, allow. It didn’t feel like we talked at all in February – because most of our conversations were less than 10 minutes long. They often ended abruptly with someone in the background shouting “ROLL OUT” or “RAAB!” (his last name) and my suddenly angry-sounding soldier saying “I have to go – bye!”… but if I look at the facts, he called me 9 days out of 28, and we spoke for almost three hours. That’s actually quite a bit.

I have never loved math, but it is what helps me feel loved these days – the math shows me I am a priority.

But I’m ready for him to show that to me by holding my hand and kissing my cheek and giving me as many hugs as my heart desires.

I’m so ready to feel him again.

(Not) love,

Jess

May 31, 2012 / Jess

Bunnah

Bunnah is a fellow Army girlfriend. 

Check out her blog here. Seriously. Take 5 minutes and appreciate the awesomeness that is her blog.

She is where I was about six months ago – except she’s handling it better. Even though her words could have been mine, she is also training for the Tough Mudder, which raises money for the Wounded Warriors.

I don’t know her. But I don’t have to meet her to know she is amazing.