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

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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.

 

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

Wow has it been 10 weeks already?

Apparently it has. I have one chunky 10 week old baby and a full-on 3-year-old (as opposed to an almost 3-year-old, which was the case as of my last post).

I chose to take a brief leave of absense from blogging…not for lack of post inspiration, because believe me there was plenty to write about, there just wasn’t much time. Sure I probably could have skipped an episode or two of Dexter and written a post, but seriously I made it all the way up to Season 6 and shit is getting soooo crazy!

Besides watching Dexter (and you know eating Bon-Bons with my feet up all day) I also got a lot of shiz done. Thanks in no small part to my MIL, I was able to tackle quite a few self-inflicted to do items. Now my first maternity leave I would never have thought to make a to do list. I was content staring at Jack for hours on end and going for walks and what not. Not that I didn’t still do those things with Drew. It is just I also realized what an amazing opportunity I had (and most likely would never have again) of a huge chunk of time around my house to actually accomplish things.

Another big difference is I decided to sleep train right away with Drew. Not like “officially” sleep train. Just go with that whole Sleep-Eat-Play thingy-ma-bobber that I didn’t read about until Jack was almost 6 months old and then the whole – lay your baby down to fall asleep in their crib rather than hold them for all their naps thing….which I most definitely did a ton with Jack. I just couldn’t resist having him in my arms. Not that it is easy to resist having Drew in my arms and he definitely spent a nap or two everyday on my chest (listening to Dexter). But IF, and this is crazy, you lay your baby down for one or two naps a day, then you can use that 30-60 minutes to get something done! Can you believe it? if you told me 3 years ago I wouldn’t have believed you.

So anyway, I abandoned my baby in his crib for a couple of naps and was able to knock out a few items. Granted I definitely would have been able to do SOOOooo much more around the house if I had had 10 weeks off with no kids, but it was the best of both worlds really.

Another big difference is I was much more equipped this time to get out of the house fairly often. Don’t get me wrong, that first trip with two kids by myself was stressful as shit! But then I started giving myself pep-talks. Por ejemplo (the culture is back!): “you can do this Natalie, it’s just two kids, it’s not rocket science! who cares if you are wearing yoga pants, have throw up on your shoulder and look like you’ve been electrocuted (thanks for that extra touch hair!), gawddammit you get out there and see some sunlight!”. And it worked! I took the kids to the zoo (had my MIL for that one, thankthebebegeezus), we went to the park a shit ton (by myself woohoo…..breastfeeding when there is wind is really difficult, FYI), went fine dining….um okay it was McDonalds….don’t judge, there is a play area, went to the rich-folks mall (I got “dressed” for that one!)…also for the indoor play area (yes, play areas are the theme here – 3-yr-olds are insanely energetic), and IKEA, where we not only ate! but also walked through the entire store with zero incidents….well except for trying to get him out of the kids slide/tunnel area, but ice cream is an insanely successful bribery technique.

Why yes, I do bribe my kid. More now than ever….again 3-year-olds…insane. I am not proud of it, but bribery is sometimes the only way to get something done without wanting to stab my own eyes out from tantrums and whining…..gawd how I hate the whining! I bribe with episodes of superheroes; with apples/oranges/bananas (hahah suckah!); and when it is time to bring out the big guns, I go for the ice cream/fruit snacks/suckers/loose change/20s/small countries/whatever is necessary – it all really depends on the level of escalation we are talking about.

So in addition to outings together, I also tackled a few things around the house. We broke down and bought a new washer and dryer….I hated to spend the money (especially while on unpaid leave), but our dryer was eating, on average, one article of clothing per load. And that fucker always chose the cute stuff. Like the moose antler hat that went with Drew’s moose outfit, or the monster truck shirt that Andy had just bought Jack for his birthday. How did it always know?….how? Anyway, we’d been dealing with it for more than a year and then we realized eventually we would run out of clothing to wear.

Once the new washer and dryer was in place it was washin’ time! Ooooohhh yeeeaaaaaahh! I washed so much shit. It is amazing that adding one kid actually exponentially increases your laundry duty and not just multiplies it….little math sentence there for ya! You’re welcome. Also we bought a washer that has a glass window in the lid and I scoffed at the store “why would anyone want a window in their washing machine lid?…that’s so silly”. But let me tell you, that first load of laundry I stood there like an asshat watching that shit. The barrel spun around “assessing” the weight and size of the load and redistributing it evenly, then it started gently adding water while spinning slowly to soak the clothes equally (wouldn’t want any of those clothes to get wet faster than the others…there would be hell to pay). It also has a detergent and softener tray that you slide out and then the water that comes out is being sprayed through that tray, because again, you wouldn’t want to just dump detergent on top of your clothes and then have some clothes elsewhere in the load not get soapy to a correct proportion! Apparently washing technology has gotten cray-cray advanced! So there was washing.

Then there was organizing. I organized our walk-in closet and put together my first week’s worth of work outfits for getting ready quick. We cleaned out and organized Andy’s garage. I raked up all the weeds, leaves, and dog poop that accumulates when you are pregnant in the Fall and don’t want to do shit….besides the snow covers most of that up anyway. Winning! I filled 8 of those giant paper yard waste bags and I still have a lower section of the yard to work on!….ahem…I mean no, our yard was in pristine condition…forget I said anything. That was the back yard.

Then I built a garden/retaining wall in the front of the house (FYI this causes a few days of backpain….not winning), again raked and got rid of debris, and got our garden beds prepped for planting (which I need to do like this week!).

I managed to rotate Drew out of NB-3month stuff (*tear*) and into his 3-6month clothes…I still need to finish rotating Jack into more of his 3T stuff…although that skinny boy still barely fills his 2T pant waistbands….so might just be 3T shirts and 2T pants for a while.

The biggest feat for the 10 week period was that I managed to go get groceries, do some cooking (GASP! whhaaaaattt?) and keep the house reasonable clean (which is like an hourly effort with said 3-year-old).

Also I managed to throw him a small Monster-Truck-Themed birthday party, do some sewing (not as much as I had planned), painted a room and touched up some scratches…and where a 3-yr-old drew all over the walls with marker. Awesome. Did our taxes…figured out health insurance for the boys….lots of other crap too. You know life stuff.   

Now I know if you look back on that stuff you are like ‘Pshaw Natalie, I could get all that done in 3 days off!’. But believe me, when you are working with tiny sporadic spans of time and also getting nourishment in your face, going to the bathroom, and sometimes showering, that is a looooonnnnggg list of things for 10 weeks off.

There was a ton more I wanted to do, but I am just happy where things stand. So there, now you are caught up on the “what I did last summer on my maternity leave” and now we can pick up where we left off!