Friday, May 31, 2013

If you jump, I jump

What do you do when you’re twenty-four, and your twenty-seven year old boyfriend, who you have been in a serious relationship and living with for the past three years, casually mentions that he’s considering changing the course of your lives by joining the Army?

Well, if you’re anything like me, you immediately drop whatever it was you were doing and apply a strangely quizzical look to your face like a bad coat of war paint, somewhere between a “Woah, I just saw a ghost over there,” and “WTF is she wearing.” You know: the mouth agape, jaw hitting the floor, with the furrowed brow look.

Having that conversation, and many that followed, was much like being repeatedly hit on the head with an ACME brand anvil like our poor Looney Tunes friend Wile E. Coyote. And much akin to Mr. Coyote, I tried to persuade FM in every way possible, just short of using giant catapults with desert boulders attached or rope traps filled with a box of ACME explosive birdseed to snag his leg, that this was such a poor decision for both of us.

The subject waned for a while as FM continued to research his job opportunities, but the Road Runner always reared his obnoxious head, and FM began the process of speaking with recruiters and signing up for the ASVAB test. As I was feverishly trying to finish my Master’s thesis on Ancient Burials in the Mediterranean before the end of the semester, FM returned home with the news that he had scored in the upper 90th percentile on the ASVAB, and would thereby have his virtual pick of Army jobs. It took every bit of restraint to stop my brain from trying to add him to the body count in my research.

In the months that followed, we struggled. Hard. His decision to follow this new path, or calling if you will, took a substantial toll on our relationship. We often questioned what the future would hold for us; how we would move forward together since the prospect of marriage was not one that either of us was willing to consider at the time. I couldn’t understand why he was reluctant to keep looking for a “real” job with his BA in Chemistry, something closer to home that would give us the health benefits we so desperately needed and the income to pay down our ever increasing bills and loans. This career decision seemed like a desperate, final seconds, Hail Mary play when there was still ten minutes left in the game.

Thousands of questions began to flood my brain. I felt like an old computer with a faulty pop-up blocker. Random thoughts inundated my already taxed mental Desktop daily about how I could afford to live in our apartment without him, where I would be forced to go from here, how could I find a job, who would take care of FM’s finances while he was away, how much danger would he be in, where could he be sent, how long would we have to spend apart, and every other normal worry one might have if their partner was shipping off to an unknown location for an unknown period of time with and unknown return date. Please standby while computer reboots!

As FM went through Future Solider Training (FST) and his medical exams, we either hashed out our issues by getting progressively angrier at one another, or completely ignored the massive camouflaged colored elephant in the room. Soon enough, he had a ship date to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, some 1,600 miles away. Our personal elephant began to squat down on our chests as each day ticked off the calendar.

The unforgiving upstate New York winter roared, as we neared closer to FM’s ship date. We decided we would try to make the relationship work as best we could, even though we gained very little information or support as unmarried “cohabitating” adults. He would write and call whenever he wasn’t forced to clean the barracks floors with a toothbrush while discussing different ways to make shrimp, and I would move back home with my more than grateful parents until Mr. Gump’s protégé was finished with AIT and we knew where his permanent duty station would be. We agreed to figure out the rest somewhere in between.

One of the most difficult things I have ever been asked to do is to consent to and support FM’s personal military mission. This is not something, in all of our years together, that we had ever discussed as being a part of our future, and certainly not a road I considered veering off onto at 25 and 27 years old. I struggled with many angry little red demons for a long period of time attempting to decide whether I would be able to bear this burden and be as strong as I know I need to be to keep cheering for team FM, especially if that meant eventually accepting Army wifehood in my future.

It was a very long time before I began to see any positives to a military lifestyle, and it still remains difficult, on some levels, to accept. But I employed a large crane, and finally, slowly, carefully, raised the elephant off my chest, because supporting FM’s ambition and trying to make the most of it was my job as his significant other, just as he supported mine to finish graduate school, and continues to support my decision to find my calling, even if that something doesn’t help pay the bills right now. Eventually, our terms could be “for better or worse,” so we had better accept the worse now and embrace the better that lies ahead of us.
I hope you can find common ground in your relationships as well, as difficult as it may be attain, because without fully accepting the conditions of this titanic life, you are surely setting yourselves up to sink fast. Remember, if Pvt. Rose jumps, Pvt. Jack jumps too!

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