Let’s Not Do This Again Soon

We’d been fantasizing for a couple of weeks about last weekend – our first getaway from the kids and our first actual couples’ get away in….well maybe ever. I honestly don’t remember ever going somewhere for a weekend with just the two of us. We were either with family or visiting someone, etc.

I had lofty plans: a soak in the hot springs, massages, a romantic dinner out, sleeping….not sleeping, you get the idea. Bow chicka bow-wow

What I didn’t plan for was breaking the 4 wheel drive on the way down the pass or getting mastitis for the second time in three months…yeah. So needless to say we limped around town on sheets of ice in two wheel drive. Spent a couple of hours at urgent care to get antibiotics. Spent a few hours coordinating a tow, a rental car and a repair.

Also because the ski slopes didn’t open until Thanksgiving day my plans for that nice dinner were thwarted because the fancy restaurants weren’t open and getting to town was a mighty dangerous endeavor.

But you know what’s important? That we had true one on one time with each other. Despite all that crap we still got massages. We couldn’t get to the hot springs, but there was a perfectly fine hot tub. We didn’t get that amazing meal, instead we got a meal that…well was kinda school cafeteria in nature. But we decided to dress up anyway and there were cocktails…so that was a win.

It was great getting to reconnect. Time to remember where our current life began – with just the two of us. Two crazy kids who thought they knew everything there was to know…. Turns out we only really knew that we were supposed to be incredibly humbled by life together.

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The Lure of Beautiful Things

It’s easy to see how it happens – the accumulation of stuff – it would sneak up on you gradually: a tea cup here, a angel figurine there, then suddenly you are standing in your own house, so overwhelmed by the shear magnitude of what you own that you really can’t even begin to tackle it.

We went up to Casper last weekend to pick up Andy’s inheritance: a 1968 ford mustang. His aunt is in her late 60s and can no longer see well enough to drive. The near perfect piece of classic americana has had an interesting history in his family.

It was his aunt’s first car. Then her dad bought it from her when she first moved to Wyoming. After his death, her mom drove it some, but it soon found itself sitting dormant in the garage.

None of us even realized it still existed until after her death in 2002 (7 months before our wedding), when we started going through her house.

I had only been to Ruth’s a handful of times in the 4 years we dated. The house was clean but you found yourself immediately overwhelmed upon entering the front room. There were 4 couches, arranged into a square, but spaced about 10 inches apart. It felt as if you had to step over their arms to get into the room to sit and this was just the front half of the main living room. There was a second “gathering space” in the back half…then a second living room towards the back….etc.

Every horizontal surface was filled with ceramics, doilies, whatever-the-heck-else people place around on display. We didn’t own a single china cabinet, so I had no concept that there were people who owned several. You didn’t want to breathe in that house let alone move an inch as you tried to look relaxed and engaged.

She was a wonderful woman. The kind of spitfire 80-some-year-old we all hope to be…except for the stuff that is.

Her husband died shortly after Andy turned 1. The stories of him leave a hole in my own life, as he was most certainly someone I was meant to love. I only see shadows of who he was through the kind-hearted and generous nature of my own father-in-law.

He adored his wife and cherished his children, so it is no wonder they found themselves trying to find ways to cope with his absence. I think Ruth couldn’t bear to get rid of anything he ever touched…..the problem was, she then found herself with decades of time on her hands and a penchant and pocketbook poised for accumulation.

“Mom loved beautiful things….” Gayle recalled as she stood next to me and watched me carefully wrap each piece of china.

This is my third trip to Casper in the last 18 months and maybe the 10th time in the last 2 hours that she has spoken of her mom. “I suppose I get that from her”.

The problem was that like her
mother, Gayle couldn’t let go of anything….and I do mean anything. I was living in the dorms when Ruth passed and Gayle asked if I would take a 2 lb bag of sugar, which was hard as a rock and might have been purchased 20 years ago, because she obviously couldn’t cope with the idea of throwing it out.

Andy’s step-mom at the time (long story there), spoke up for me “great idea Gayle, I’ll put it in the car”. She took me back up to school that evening and we stopped at the dumpster behind the mall to toss the sugar. “Believe me, this is the path of least resistance”.

…to be continued

Eff the Dishes

I didn’t actually mean to take a 3 month sabbatical from this place, it just sort of happened. Work got intense, but in a really awesome “living the dream” sort of way. Every week I looked at my workload and thought “this week is insane, but next week it will lighten up”, copy and paste that statement every week and I soon realized, things were not going to lighten up anytime soon.

Work is still crazy, but I am finding a normalcy in it. I am being a productive human being. I am making things, mastering my craft, pushing my life forward, etc. I am not sure how you guys are feeling, but I am feeling like the whole damn world is out of control right now. So I am trying to dial in and focus on what I can control, my own productivity and my own happiness.

A year ago I was stuck in a bit of an eddy, working on projects I cared very little about, trying to figure out how to escape into the realm of awesome work. Now I am finding myself in the opposite predicament. So many amazing projects and I want to work on them all, but I also want to be a present member of my family and you know…not spend my life at the office. The result? I’m accepting the fact that I can’t work on all the projects I want to. Surprisingly, I am sort of pulling off the “being a present member of my family”. However I have had to accept that our house will never ever be clean or organized enough.

But something has to give. And if it is housework then that’s what it has to be. No one looks back on their life in 50 years and says “I loved everything about that time, but I sure wish I had put forth more effort to wash the dishes”. So fuck the dishes. They will perpetually be dirty. With that in mind, please don’t come over to my house….like ever.

I do want to get back to writing though. Writing makes me happy. So in an effort to do so, but to still keep things in something that slightly resembles balance, I will keep my writing short and sweet. Here goes my stab at making a come back. Hopefully in solidarity you all with say “fuck the dishes” too.

Oh Hey…….now what

Why hello there…..one hundred new people…..gah!

It may be hard to grasp, but I basically wrote that post for my handful of long-time blog friends and the one or two additional people who I’ve met along the way. As you can probably imagine, going from 6 followers to 100 (I choose not to look at the exact number, I am close enough to nervous-pooing all over myself) is a little bit daunting. So bear with me as I work through this first post after being freshly pressed.

First of all, thank you. To all of you who read and commented and offered up the pieces of yourself that can relate to / be compassionate about the things that I wrote, I really appreciate it.

The more I ponder my life and the lives of those around me, I realize we all have something don’t we? Each of us has a chink in our armor, something sensitive…..something difficult to deal with. And as challenging as it can be, it is also fascinating. This is what makes each of us different, yet the same. We are all working to overcome something and having an outlet to share those things and find support is amazing and something I will never take for granted. I am so grateful there are others out there sharing their stories for me to read and be a part of and so, in turn, thank you for reading mine.

I have this cube on my desk. We designed and 3-D printed them for a trades show as a kind of cutesy joke. The thought that you can look at a building and roll a dice to decide on a treatment – this is obviously not what I do. I would never roll a dice, but again, cutesy catchy tradeshow item that starts a conversation with a passerby. But as I looked at it today, I thought this could be a tool for my situation as well. To Demo or to Rehabilitate?photo diceI can honestly tell you that there have been several occasions where the thought of tearing it all down seems like the most attractive choice. And I would be lying if I told you that our marriage didn’t get close to it a time or two….probably more.

I remember someone telling me that when you choose to marry someone, it is a choice you make each and every day. You wake up and decide whether you will continue that relationship and how you will go about it. There are days you wake up and think ‘is it worth the trouble?’ or ‘I just can’t today’. Sometimes the feelings are so strong and dark you could easily hide in bed all day, or in my case, rush off to the office and bury yourself in work to avoid it.

The truth is, he is going / has gone through a similar process, I’m sure. Certainly you can read my side of our story and think ‘wow she’s a saint and going through so much’, but I am not naïve enough to think there aren’t days when he has thought ‘is this worth the effort?’.

I choose to believe we are through the hardest stuff. I choose, each and every morning, to believe that making it through 2004-2011 was the hardest stretch of it and that we are officially on an upswing. Perhaps someday I will get my nerd on and make a real graph.

Basically what I hope everyone gets out of our story is that life is hard, marriage is hard, war is hard….but I don’t feel sorry for myself, or for us. I have to believe there is a way through it all. I choose to believe that a day will come where Andy will find peace. I will keep nudging, then waiting, then nudging, then waiting, to see if there is anyway to push him up through the surface.

But as a mother, I also have two little men to think about. They are so fortunate to have such a wonderful and loving father, but how will they see him when their vision starts to become more clear and their memory sharp? I keep wondering what I will do if he continues on in this way.

The phrase whatever will be will be keeps running through my head. Maybe when I find peace, so will he. So that is what I will work towards. Finding my own peace.

 

 

The Lucky One

*Natalie’s notes: It is weird to write about this now. Things are really good, but I also feel like writing about it when things are good is better than waiting until things are bad. My perspective has to be healthier if I do it this way. There are so many happier things to write about, but I also feel like I have to continue with what I started. So bear with me as we explore this..and thanks for all your love and support. Please know we (and I) am fine.

It’s a natural response to say “I’m so lucky” or “we’re so fortunate” when discussing Andy’s past. Maybe it is because that is all people want to hear about the war….or maybe that is just what wives who get their husbands back from war feel obligated to say. But if I’m being honest, there are times that I think ‘not one of us is lucky’. Am I thankful? Yes, obviously. I will take it and be grateful, but life after is sometimes really hard to deal with. And on really dark days I think of the “what ifs”. If we’re talking about this at all it might as well be raw and honest. So to be honest, I sometimes wonder if “the other” would have been easier.

When Tommy was lost, it was traumatic for everyone. We all bombarded Carla with phone calls and e-mails. She had moved back home, thank god! I thought of Laura, just one year old….she’d never really know her father. It should have been me, not Carla. She has a baby, she needs Tommy. It would have been hard, but I would have recovered…would she? Survivor’s guilt.

Andy drinks – who wouldn’t? – I remember feeling his shoelaces inside the body bag… Those words are ringing in my ears. I would drink too. It is worrisome. Especially now that we have two boys. When will they notice? How will this affect them?

There are times that I don’t know what to do….is there something to do? I get motivated, I research, I talk to his parents/sister/best friend, we discuss plans, I talk to Andy, he gets defensive, then suddenly the worry stops and we go on with our lives. I don’t know why the cycle goes this way, I can’t explain it. Perhaps we should follow-through, but perhaps no one really could help him. I watch him with our boys and I wonder if that is better medicine than what is available out there for him. Is he right? Is talking to a stranger no better than talking to me or his best friend? Perhaps he’s right….I don’t really know.

What I do know is this:

He didn’t want to name him Tommy and for the longest time I didn’t know why. All I could think of was the gorgeous man who was so full of life. Hilarious as hell and the worst driver on earth! He drove that Miata like a mad man, like he was asking for it. I remember the day I drove Andy on base and Tommy and Andrew were right in front of me heading back out in that damn Miata. I chased them down in our dodge, gas was cheap back then, and he later recounted to Andy “I just saw your truck barreling towards us in the mirror”. Hell, we were all asking for it. Fucking kids!

Naming him after Tommy seemed right….what was the issue?

Then one day he told me. It should have been him…and not just like in a blasé “oh it should have been me” sort of statement. It literally was supposed to be Andy that day.

God how do I adequately write about this?….I am not entirely sure. Forgive my stumbles.

Andy was there, not even three hours earlier. He was sitting on those stairs, he was sleepy, they all were sleepy. He was supposed to be there all day, then he got an unexpected call to go somewhere else, and Tommy came to take over. Tommy sat in his place and then fell asleep and what happened next was gruesome and horrible and I don’t think I should write about that.

The first few times Andy talked about it, he was pissed at Tommy. He fell asleep and got killed. He fell asleep and was supposed to be guarding the stairway up to the others. He fell asleep and the others were hurt. He got himself killed and he got others hurt and Andy was angry – Tommy had let them down.

Then it started to click, it took so many years, but it finally clicked in my head. They were all tired…they all hadn’t slept….Andy was there on those stairs…Andy was trying not to fall asleep as he guarded the access to the others. He is torturing himself thinking if it had been him, would it have turned out differently? Could he have protected them and would Tommy still be here if it had just been him instead?

As the story is retold now, Andy is more compassionate. The anger was a mask for the trauma. He knows it could have been any one of them on those steps. And I am thankful that it wasn’t him, and in turn, I am infinitely guilty for being thankful.

Then again, there are days…there are times and it is shameful to say that it has been more than once, that I want to trade places with Carla. I know it is a case of “grass is always greener” I know it can’t possibly be better to bear her cross than mine. But that doesn’t make me stop wondering….

How can I portray it correctly? Or even semi-correctly? Most days are fine, most days I can focus on the fact that he is smiling and telling jokes and laughing and loving our boys so fiercely. Most days I can say I am so absolutely lucky for each and every moment I have with him. And if I stay on that high, then I don’t notice as much.

I am very adept at gathering the cups around the house, and fooling myself into believing they were just soda. Or opening the cabinet to the side of the fridge on Wednesday night and turning off my thoughts as I gather the empties for recycling day.

I am so lucky after all. I shouldn’t worry after all, et cetera et cetera et cetera.

Then one day my eyes will open back up. He will be mid-sentence telling me a positive thought and I will be watching him pour his drink and it will all hit me again like a ton of bricks. He sees my face, he stops mid-story, he asks me “what’s wrong?”, Hide your faces better Natalie! - I think to myself. “oh nothing” - I respond out loud. But I am calculating….how many drinks could that have been? how many today? how many this week? how many this month? how much are other people drinking? shouldn’t I just be grateful he is drinking less than so-and-so? should I just be grateful he is able to go to school and work and be happy and playful and loving to our children? should I just be grateful he is a happy drinker? I am so fortunate he is a happy drinker…..so shouldn’t I just ignore it?

It is exhausting….I get physically exhausted thinking about it…thus the attraction of turning a blind eye. I know I am in denial, I don’t need to be told. It is very comfy to live here in denial.

Sometimes I am shocked out of denial. The sudden and unexpected death of someone because of drinking. Then I snap out of it and try to find gentle ways to tell Andy “I don’t want you to die” because saying it that directly has never been successful. Sometimes he responds to it well. He buys a liver cleanse and talks of reducing, talks of getting a new job that he will enjoy, talks of the future and things he wants. Things will be hopeful, things are going to get better for him and he won’t need it anymore.

The highs can last several weeks, or sometimes just a day. Then slowly I transition back into denial and not looking and not counting. Focus on the good things….

Afterall I’m the lucky one.

 

Haunting

*I obviously started this and intended it to go up while ago, it has taken some time to get it out.

April 6th was a haunting anniversary for Andy…and me too, but mostly for Andy. April 6th, 2004….a decade ago. That was the start of events that would change him forever. The man he was before that day would never return to me. The parts I got back were….different….it was him, but it also wasn’t.

I doubt any of our friends or acquaintances are unaware that Andy was a Marine….I can’t think of one person. It isn’t how I start a conversation with someone “Hi I’m Natalie, my husband was a Marine!”….but eventually if you get to know someone they find out. In fact, as the years go by, as we age, as our perspective on the events of 10 years ago change, my need to share that Andy was a Marine gets pushed further and further back. It is almost shameful to say that, but he got to that point far sooner than I did. I still tell people, but it is with less enthusiasm than was once there…

Slowly he revealed pieces of the damage to me….slowly I started to understand…. maybe it would have been better to know right away. Like ripping a band-aid off. I would have known absolutely everything and it would have been horrible and sad and traumatic, but at least then I wouldn’t have spent those first few years bumping around recklessly blind to him. Who knows? Maybe it was better this way….maybe it took him this long to share what he has shared….maybe there is more. That’s the true unknown. What more is there that I don’t know/understand? Will he ever share it all?

There was a celebration….no not a celebration, more of a memorial. It would be on base and lots of people were going….well lots of people from the battalion, but not from Andy’s platoon. We considered it. We talked about it 6 months ago and thought how it could be good to go back and reconnect with people. Then as the date crept closer, he stopped wanting to go.

I looked at plane tickets, it would have been a stretch to get us all out there together, but we would have gone. Because it is important. Not just for us, but for them….those that were lost. It is so easy to say “you won’t be forgotten” – “we will honor you”, but words never feel like enough. We would have gone to hold the hands of the wives who lost everything that month. The month that we all not-so-affectionately refer to as “Bloody April”. We would have gone to look into the eyes of the children and tell them a story about their dad and say how much they’ve grown to look like him and how proud he would have been. I was ready to go. Part of me needed to go.

But Andy couldn’t and he didn’t need it. In fact, a deployment you would have thought would pull together and strongly connect a group of guys, in fact tore most of them very far apart.

On September 8th, 2003 a platoon of Marine Snipers took me out for my 21st Birthday. I had been in California for just over a month, married for only 3. I felt like the odd-man-out as I watched this group of raucous men – boys really – interact. They punched each other’s shoulders, they gave each other crap, they pointed and laughed when the waiters all came over to deliver my piece of cake and sing, as if it was the funniest thing in the world to watch me turn red. They bitched about how Jason brought ten bucks and drank more than fifties worth. I was in awe of them.

They were some of the most specially trained men in the world, doing a job that was so personal and “in your face”. Yet they could think of nothing more fun than celebrating one of their buddy’s wife’s birthday. It was such a fun evening….probably one of the best of my life.

Five months later, I was sitting in our truck at 2am shivering and waiting for the last window to say goodbye to Andy. Valentine’s Day….I was never a fan before that particular one, but several of the wives’ were especially sad. When you drop your husband off for a deployment (at least back then) they have to report at 2am (because leaving at a normal hour would make too much sense), then they spend about 3 hours on the parade ground: standing at attention, piling their bags, and other things I can only see, but not hear while sitting a few yards away in the car. The wives and families all wait….well many did. Some went home and back to bed (probably those who had done it several times before). But a lot of us waited in our cars, huddled alone under blankets that were too thin considering this was California.

Then about 5am Andy came back to the car. He had 5 minutes to say our last goodbye: “Don’t cry (slim chance of that), I’ll be back in a few months, don’t watch the news, I love you”. That was it: 3 hours of waiting, one short exchange, then it was over.

I drove to Shelly’s apartment. I crawled into bed with her and we cried. We talked about all our fears and held each other, which I never would have done with someone I had traditionally only known for 6 months. You make friends fast in the military. Three days later Shelly would be on her way back to Texas. Eric and she had put most of their things into storage before the guys left and her dad and brother came to drive back with her.

That is what most of the wives’ did – moved back in with parents – to save money, to have support, etc. Strangely it was the Snipers’ wives who mostly all stayed. And fortunately for me the Lieutenant’s wife scheduled monthly get-together and sent regular e-mails to us all so we felt less alone. Her husband was able to e-mail her several times a week and call every week or two. Contrast that with Andy who I received about three letters and two phone calls from in 9 months. But at least someone could tell me that he was still out there somewhere in the world.

I chose not to live on base. I was only a mile away and could get on and off easily, but I liked having our separate life in town. Before the guys left, we moved from a large two bedroom outside of town, to a thumbnail sized studio two blocks from our favorite breakfast place, 5 blocks from the train that took me to school, and 7 blocks from the beach. It was perfect. When the guys left, I was lonely, but I had my own things: work, school, etc. Thank god for those.

The first month went okay. I wrote to Andy about 5 times a week. Every other week I would put together a box of stuff to send: copies of Penthouse, tiny bottles of liquor, roll of chew, beef jerky: only the necessities. Anyone who tells you deployed troops want toothpaste and deodorant is a fucking liar. I poured my heart into the letters, telling him how much I loved him, how I was fine:

Marine Wife Training Seminar Item #1: Don’t Concern Your Marine With Anything Back Home, Let Him Know You Are Fine So He Can Focus On His Job. If You Are Not Actually Alright, Here Is A Binder of Numbers to Call for Help and the Respective Reasons You Might Need Help. Reason #1: You Can’t Feed Your Children, call _….

The first letter I got back from him arrived weeks after they had left. It started out “Hi Baby, Hope you are doing well. Keep the letters coming. Here is a list of things I want to do to the truck when I get home…”. Men! It was a comic relief though and I started to settle into what life would be like for the next 9 months.

I didn’t watch the news, I clung to the statement “no news is good news”. I would know before it was released on the news. That is all I knew, but watching the news wasn’t going to help the situation I knew that. I cringed at the site of dress blues on anyone within eyeshot of me, convinced they had stumbled upon me at the laundry mat on a Wednesday afternoon to give me the news. Like we all had a GPS tracker in our arms where they could find us at a moment’s notice. Every day when I closed and locked our door I thought “please don’t let today be the day, as long as today is not the day I can keep going”.

As news from the Lt’s wife came in, I started to relax. All was well. They were meeting the locals, having tea, all was good. Fantastic! What was I so worried about? Silly me.

April 6th, 2004 – The day I was so worried about arrived. Just because we weren’t in California didn’t mean we weren’t both thinking about it this year. I turned to Andy and asked how he was doing. He responded solemnly: “this was the day that we put 12 men into a body bag….that was the first time I had ever done something like that…I remember feeling [His] boot laces as we carried the bag and realizing he wasn’t coming back out”.

How do you come back from something like that? I have no idea, but he did….parts of him did. I am thankful every day, whereas I am sure there are days he wished he hadn’t.

…..perhaps to be continued

Be Intentional….Be Content

On my first day back to work, I asked a couple of the ladies to go to lunch. I hadn’t caught up with them for a while. One of the girls was talking about how she was going through these really interesting changes after deciding to participate in Lent this year. She wasn’t participating in a religious manner, it just seemed like a good time to do some introspection. So she decided that for Lent she would give up her cell phone and all social media outlets (facebook, pinterest, instagram, etc.). She went all out even turning OFF her cell service.

We talked about the changes that she already felt and the reasoning behind her doing it in the first place. She said she is such an extrovert that she noticed she spends a TON of time using all of those “crutches” rather than being present in the moment.

What she has noticed most is that she is much calmer and content. One day she was waiting for a friend to meet her and ended up spending 30 minutes just observing her surroundings and thinking, where typically she would be spending that time on her phone not seeing anything or anyone around her.

I notice that is how our “phone/social media” culture is evolving. People don’t sit places and just relax anymore. Being alone can feel awkward, jumping on your phone and calling/texting/facebooking helps quell that awkwardness. I know that I’ve fallen into this abyss.

My first couple of weeks of maternity leave I was on my phone practically all day, reaching out to friends, looking stuff up, etc. Then it occurred to me “hey stupid, look down! Your baby is growing up right under your nose, be present, be intentional”.

I think we can all learn from my co-worker’s experiment. Put down the phone/computer/ipad/etc. Connect with your surroundings, talk to a person nearby rather than text a friend, just sit and reflect, or use your imagination (remember that thing we used so much as a kid? I miss that thing). Perhaps it would reduce the “island” feeling that I sometimes get while being surrounded by people. That’s my new goal. Be present, be intentional, be content.