Wednesday, May 27, 2009

“We can survive functional illiteracy or shattered windows of vulnerability, but not the demise of The Decent Cup of Tea”

There's a military-related topic I've always wanted to blog about, but never have. Honestly, I have no idea why. So I'll do that now.

I don't think civilians have any idea how vulnerable military wives are when their husbands are away. We often have no family in the area and our husbands are gone for long stretches at a time.

When we had an exterminator come to our house during dh's first desert deployment, the exterminator looked at the photos on the walls and commented on dh being in the military. For a brief moment, I was terrified. Here's this stranger in my house and I'm one step away from letting him know I've been alone for months and will continue to be. I choose my words carefully and, while not outright lying, didn't mention the deployment and made it sound as though he was working at the local military instillation rather than carrying a full load of armor and guns in the desert.

I was sensitive to any sign that we were a military family. Anyone with even the slightest amount of common sense could put two and two together and figure out that we were defenseless and alone and would remain so for a long time.

Now, I'm a feminist. I don't need a man to take care of me. Still, when your husband is across the world, particularly when your husband is across the world and you have small children, you're left feeling very vulnerable.

I know many mothers teach their children to call 9-1-1, but there was an urgency and vulnerability to making sure my daughters knew how to call for help. Should something happen to me, the only way the world would know is if a set of toddlers could call for help.

When I went into the attic, I had to call my sister beforehand to let her know and instruct her, "If you don't hear back from me in 15 minutes, call to check on me." I sometimes wondered, if I got hurt, how long it would be until someone even noticed much less sent help. With three small children (at the time), that was far more frightening.

Another thing that leaves you feeling vulnerable is that you can't do anything for your husband. I recognized the signs of PTSD pretty early on in his last deployment, but there was nothing I could do. I tried every option I had, but in the military, there's a fine line between getting help and getting the spouse in trouble. Plus, even all these years later, PTSD still isn't taken seriously. I cannot tell you how many times I was asked how long we had been having marital problems during that whole ordeal. We weren't. It was the deployment that was causing problems. I can fix damn near anything, but when the higher ups choose to believe you're just a silly little dramatic wife, there's nothing you can do. You're a world away and completely helpless while you recognize the signs that your husband is morphing into someone very different. There's nothing you can do. Well, you can scream and cry, but you and your husband both are vulnerable to the system.

People have their own ideas about what it's like to be a military family. There's quite a bit of coverage on the news and in articles. Yet, I've never read anyone even touch on that vulnerability and that can be a very big part of the experience in oh so many ways.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I too have had to call neighbor to let her know I was going up a ladder, or when service folks were coming. It is scary realizing that if anything happened to me in a crisis, my kids are alone. I have had to teach them, and be sure they know, and drill them, on all kinds of safety issues, in case I am incapacitated. Heavy burden. Very heavy.
Also, the military really does need to step up to the plate on the PTSD issue!

Krissy said...

On a much, much smaller scale, I understand. Thankfully mine is not indefinite, but when dh is on night turn, I get... concerned - putting it mildly.

A local university hospital is doing a research study on veteran's sleep habits after a deployment. I know it isn't PTSD specific, but hopefully things will start to roll towards a consciousness of the price of war.

TheFeministBreeder said...

Can I just tell you that I personally have NO idea how military wives do it (or any wife who's separated from her husband for long periods of time.) I honestly can't stand it when he's reffing at night and I can't get ahold of him, and that's only for a few hours, so I can't even imagine parenting on my own for long periods of time. I really feel for you on that one.