Life is a Marathon

Or at least in our case, a 5K.

My husband ran a 5K last Saturday in Texas. He ran alongside other patients from his rehab hospital who like him, were wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many were missing limbs and getting used to their new bodies. I am quite certain that all finished what they started.

Needless to say, R is sore and developed a blister while running but at least he is still there and doctors and therapists can make suggestions or adjustments as needed. He’s got a week left there and it will be back to Virginia.

It will be a few months before R can fly back out to see us and as disappointing that may be, his flights back to California are numbered. One day soon he will be able to look at his airline ticket and it will say “ONE WAY”.

I am giddy with excitement. It may seem like a long way off and a year definitely is a long time. After eleven years of marriage, I look forward to sleeping in the same time zone, let alone in the same bed. I do anticipate blips in the adjustment period but eh, we will be fine.

Life may be a marathon and not a sprint but Saturday will feel like the longest sprint of my life. I was so excited to do a 5K last November and jogged the entire way. I signed up for another one for this Saturday. I know I have indulged this past Christmas season and have not been consistent with my running schedule unless running to the bathroom counts. In which case, I have that down pat.

All I know is that I signed up, I will start it, and I will finish it.

Juicy Couture, Nightmares, and Guilt

I woke up this morning feeling on edge. Then I remembered the dream I just had.

I dreamt that my husband was home. He was yelling at the top of his lungs and holding shopping bags, waving them in my face. I hung my head in shame and sulked. Busted. Caught red-handed.

I have a shopping addiction. I admit it. It’s managed by Nordstrom Half Yearly sales and staying out of the mall altogether.

I remember looking up at him in my dream as he reached into one of those shopping bags and pulled out a new baby blue Juicy Couture handbag (one of those trendy, fancy schmancy brands for those who are not in the know). He read the price tag to see how much the purse cost and I saw the vein in his forehead pulse in slow motion.

The whole time I’m thinking in my dream I thought I cut the tag off that new purse, why did I keep secrets from my husband? We’ve never done it before and ten years into the marriage, why start now?

My husband has always been honest with me. When I have a sneaking suspicion that a dress or outfit doesn’t look right on me (bloated, slight weight gain, whatever), I ask him if he thinks a dress is unflattering. He won’t tell me that I look like a fat cow but he won’t lie to me and say something looks good when I kinda knew it didn’t.

And I’ve been honest with him. When I was pregnant with L, R was home for Thanksgiving and went all out. Beautiful turkey baked to perfection with bacon dressing. Cranberry sauce. Homemade garlic mashed potatoes and gravy. But I didn’t want it. I didn’t want any of it.

“You don’t want to try my turkey?”

“Um, no.”

“Why not?” he asked. “It’s Thanksgiving!”

“I know,” I said. “But… um, it doesn’t smell good. I’m feeling kind of nauseous. I think the baby wants something different.”

“Oh… Okay,” he said. “What does the baby want?”

In the smallest voice to mankind, I said, “Chinese food.”

To this day, he won’t ever let me forget that I chose beef and broccoli over his turkey. On Thanksgiving.

But this is the kind of relationship we have. We tell each other everything.

Until now.

You see, I started this blog with the intention of sorting through the last year. I cannot recall how difficult it’s been for me until something triggers a memory. Little things send me back to a time when I’d wander aimlessly through the hospital, waiting to hear updates on the nine hour surgery to put the pieces of his pelvis back together. This chocolate croissant in my belly in front of me reminds me of the pastries I sampled at the different cafes at NNMC Bethesda. I see my husband’s ID band from the hospital every morning and every night. I keep it in the drawer next to my toothpaste.

I never told my husband I started writing about what happened. In the past few days, I’ve felt this inexplicable release and relief with every post I upload. I write about emotions and experiences that I’ve either minimized or never shared with anyone, let alone my own husband. I should have told him from Day 1.

I called him this afternoon to tell him about the blog and he was actually very encouraging. He’s read a few of my manuscripts in the past and I respect his critiques. He told me that he was proud of me. Then he told me that he had to tell me something too.

I wasn’t the only one with a secret.

He said, “I’m actually feeling really guilty right now. I feel like I should have been injured more.”

Huh?

It dawned on me that he was thinking about our phone call yesterday. I gave him updates about two guys who were in the polytrauma wing at VA Palo Alto. They were in two separate serious accidents with their wives and are still recovering. [To read more about these brave men and their awesome wives, see the Blogroll for the Ryes and Darlings.]

He went on, "Here I am, bitching about what I'm going through when those guys are going through all that. I feel like a little bitch."

I said, "But comparing all of these injuries you've seen is like comparing apples and oranges. You can't pick and choose your injuries. No one had a choice on how they were hurt."

He listened but I know he didn't hear me. He was only one month into his six month deployment to Iraq when his car rolled over. He knows that someone, one of his friends no less, had to take his place after he left. He is not allowed to deploy anymore but feels like he can do one more before his retirement in two years. On top of all that, he did not earn a Purple Heart for his injuries because the accident was noncombat related.

I know this guilt consumes him at times but I really try not to say very much, with the exception of today’s conversation and maybe a few other times just sayin’. I cannot disagree with him, be his conscience, or tell him how to feel.

And frankly, I don't want to. He’s a grown man. A Wounded Warrior. I may never fully understand how and why he feels the way he does. He may never either.

But I also don't want his guilt to define him.

So for now, I'll just be there for him and listen. We’ll share what we’re feeling and what we’re doing without judgment, without fear of being ridiculed, and without shame.

No secrets, remember?

Thank You For Not Leaving Me

I heard those two words a lot from my husband throughout our marriage. Thank you for getting me Taco Bell. Thank you for cooking (though that one was rare because I don’t cook). Thank you for getting me the new Stephen King novel. Really sweet nuggets of acknowledgement that he didn’t have to say but did anyway.

One thank you I didn’t expect, especially after the accident, was this: “Thank you for not leaving me.”

And he said it repeatedly.

To which I’d reply, “Why would I leave you?” Dumbfounded, of course.

Then he’d rattle off reasons why any woman would leave at this point in our relationship. “I’m broken. Look at me. I don’t even recognize myself.” Sure, he was banged up, physically and at times, emotionally. So?

“I’m useless. I can’t even help you with the kids.” My husband was bedridden for about two months and in a wheelchair for four. Um, you are supposed to heal right now and not worry about us. Besides, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left any combination of the children in his care for short periods of time, even when he was at NNMC in Maryland. In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do but I wasn’t gone that long and I left the potty-trained ones.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t have some dark moments since the accident. We did. Oh, good Lord, nothing harmful. Just really deep and sad insights about where he’s been, where I’ve been, where we’ve been as a couple, and where we’ve been as a family.

There was one time (oh, he’ll be mad if he discovers this blog) when he was still over at the VA in Palo Alto that shook me to the core. He was still in a wheelchair, still learning how to transfer from bed to chair and back and that day he was transferring to the toilet when all of the emotions building up inside of him exploded. One of the kids didn’t put on the toilet seat properly which caused him to almost fall. The kids and I were watching TV in his room when I heard a crash and an F-bomb. Okay, he’s a sailor. It was a string of swear words and a nurse that was helping him left in a hurry. Other nurses came to assist.

I asked what happened in there and he was still angry, still swearing. And I know it wasn’t anyone’s fault. No one had done anything wrong.

But I started bawling and the kids were looking at us with big eyes. Even now I can’t type this without blowing my nose a gazillion times.

In this moment, everything became clear. He’s here but he’s not. He’s been through something so terrible and so awful and so nightmarish; I couldn’t deny it any longer.

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My husband is a Wounded Warrior. He’s not going to be the same.

Ever.

I believe because of his stubbornness, his determination not to let this rule his life, he will try his damndest to keep it together.

Now if you know me personally, you’d probably describe me to be positive, funny, and extraordinarily beautiful (had to throw that last one in there to see if you were paying attention). I don’t wear my dark emotions on my sleeve. I tend to glean over scary details. But who wouldn’t? Self-preservation? Maybe. Still in denial? Perhaps.

I am sort of embarassed to admit that we went to marriage counseling after this while he was in Palo Alto but it was the best thing for us. The psychologist was a very sweet woman who baffled my husband when she suggested she take the kids for a couple hours so we could spend some time together and they followed her like Pied Piper. It was essential that we had someone listen to us and help us sort out emotions that were starting to bubble over.

He shared with her that he thought all the women he saw at the VA, spouses of Wounded Warriors or of TBI patients, were amazing. Their husbands, he said, were really lucky their wives were still with them.

Later I asked him, “Why wouldn’t they be?”

He said, “Most women would probably leave.”

I shook my head. “I think those women would have left anyway, accident or not.” Like when we used to talk about how he knew so many people in the military who cheated on their spouses. But I believed they would have cheated anyway, even if they weren’t in the military.

I have seen many spouses spend almost every breathing moment with their loved ones. They’d stay until a nurse or doctor gently suggests they go to their hotel rooms to get some rest. I met an Army wife in Bethesda who’s husband was wounded by an IED a second time, the first being only three years earlier.

Are these spouses amazing? Absolutely. Show me one that would leave at the first sign of hard stuff and I would bet my favorite Coach platforms that she was planning on leaving regardless. Just needed an excuse, that’s all.

So in case you were wondering, he still thanks me for not leaving. And when he does, I take a deep breath and say, “I’m not going to leave you. I’m not going anywhere.”

It’s time you met some folks I know

So I get a text this morning from my dear hubby:

“Ran 5K in 37 minutes.”

What the…? For those of you new to this site, let me hit the rewind button for you…

Here we are at the happiest place on earth, March 2010

A few weeks later, my husbad deployed to Iraq for a six month tour. Less than a month into his deployment, his car rolled over and crushed his lower body. I couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures of him the first few weeks after the accident. I don’t know why. I suspect I was still in denial and having photographic evidence would make it real, that this nightmare was a reality.

After a few weeks at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, he was transferred to the VA hospital in Palo Alto, California via Travis AFB.

My husband and our son M at Travis AFB. He was heavily medicated and doesn’t remember me taking this picture.

He spent about four months in a wheelchair. He’s with our daughter A in the courtyard outside his room. Both have a new set of wheels.

And look how far he’s come. Great job, babe! So proud of you!

Life lessons learned from my husband, #1-5

I know I’ve learned a lot more in the past decade but here are five lessons I can remember off the top of my head:

1. Every day is Valentine’s Day. Save the big gestures for big anniversaries.

2. Saying I love you is great but showing it is even better.

3. When in doubt, just listen.

4. If all else fails, just spoon in bed.

5. When you have kids, Date Nights do not have to be elaborate. Save money by feeding the kids a lot and send them to bed early. That way one of you can sneak out and get ice cream or Taco Bell, depending on who’s craving is bigger.