The Straddling the Line Recurrence

It’s been almost a year since my husband retired from the navy. A year of finally living in the same home. A year of coparenting and hardly cooking {the latter being solely for me}.

It’s surreal most times, living with your spouse, as if that’s anything out of the ordinary but in our case it is. Thirteen years of marriage with only two years of shore duty (that means he lived at home for a consecutive two years for those of you who didn’t know; hell, I don’t even know most of the time), six or seven deployments, and a duty station that averaged 36 hours at home a month when not deployed.

It’s blissful, being able to actually talk to your spouse in person and to hold his hand if you wanted. I could have conversations with him without pressing the “END” button. I could ask him to watch the kids, help me chores, and cook dinner without it being a joke– he could actually do it!

Even though retirement means little to no work for most people, it meant I could work more and nourish the career I put on hold off and on since we said “I do”. I could take long-term positions, one of which that has led me to a potential teaching contract.

Yet it’s also meant confusion in so many ways. R, like most retirees, is left second-guessing many of his decisions. Should I go back to college? Should I find a job? Should I find a contract job? Should I work? After two decades of being told what to do and how to do it, this 180 is a huge transition.

A huge transition of which I’m totally and completely supportive. I can’t and won’t tell him what he should do based on my beliefs and past experiences. I can’t and won’t steer him away from anything that inconveniences me. I can only listen as if listening was never part of my vocabulary.

As a chatty, sociable mother and teacher, I suppose my ego is tied to talking everything out and trying to find solutions but that is not what R needs. After a year I’m finally realizing this.

If R says his foot is bothering him or school is stressing him out, I can’t massage his foot nor can I give him advice on how to handle his calendar.

Nope. Can’t do that.

Let me tell you, that is excruciatingly difficult for me NOT to do those things. Even though that’s my natural instinct, that is not what R needs. There is no flow chart of what I need to do or say because there is no real plan to handle everything. I just have to turn off my voice box, listen, and listen for what or if I can help. And I’m quite angry about this.

No, I’m not angry with my husband at all. Perhaps anger isn’t the correct word.

I’m frustrated that I got my husband back with no assistance or guidance or even support on how we move on. Where do we go from here? How do we even recover from what we’ve been through? How does he even function now?

I realize this is the journey of many military families and yet now as a veteran family {if that’s a phrase; if it isnt, I’m making it a phrase}, it is that much more difficult. We live an hour from the closest military base when back in Virginia, we lived on base housing and could see the commissary from our second floor window. We live thirty minutes from the VA which is always crowded and almost impossible to navigate, especially for a veteran who’s anxiety and frustration levels are sky-high since the accident.

There were so many resources on base and in the hospitals where R was recovering. When R was recovering at the VA in Palo Alto, I asked for counseling for all of us. We got it immediately. As in, “Good afternoon! Great to see you again so I [family therapist] will take the kids and you go and see your husband!”

When I needed support, I went to my civilian primary care physician and she gave me a list of approved-for-insurance therapists. I called a couple of numbers and got no answer from one number, no returned call from another.

When I was younger, my family never saw therapists or had counseling. It took a lot of gumption for me to even admit this need to anyone let alone pick up a phone. Needless to say, I never called back. They never followed through.

My husband is a similar story. He always had easy access to whatever he needed. The doctors and physical therapists were in the next building, catering only to his command.

Now?

He doesn’t even want to bother with the VA. Who would he call? What would they be able to do for him? What number do we even call when after the second or third transfer to the “correct phone number” he has already hung up in frustration?

In so many ways, being a military family was so much easier than a retired military family. How do we navigate through this system? How do we get the answers we need?

How do we even know what questions to ask?

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The Wounded Warrior Reflection

I imagine it would probably be pretty hard to be married to me. Independent, bordering on stubborn. Ambitious, yet oddly lazy. Overscheduled, but naps when life gets too overwhelming.

Sure, the eye candy factor is there. (Heh.) Volunteering and work and kid activities are out of control but can you imagine being thrown into an instant family with loud (but awesome) kids and an eccentric wife who is constantly on the go?

R will be thrown.

He will be thrown back into our crazy hectic lives very soon. I’m afraid that somehow blogging about it will jinx the actual retirement date but how much worse can everything get? I mean, honestly, between his accident, recovery, therapy, a huge thyroid the size of Texas and he’s still fine.

What I cannot seem to grasp is how I’ll need to change.

I look forward to being part of a parenting partnership for the first time in God knows how long. I look forward to consulting with another adult about our dinner plans, sharing chores, and holding hands. I look forward to being US again.

I will probably forget to consult R about day-to-day things, about oh-by-the-way-did-you-want-to-go-to-the-gym-too, about what he wants our master bedroom to look like. In case you’re wondering, it looks like MY room with chick lit and urban fantasy novels strewn about along with my odd collection of tank tops for every occasion.

There will be a lot of things we won’t be able to do or do as long. Last time R was home, the kids had an amazing school event… but the crowd made him nervous and the trip to the zoo two days prior had made the pain in his left leg much worse.

Today for Mother’s Day, we drove down to Sausalito and was annoyed by marveled at the number of people on their bikes and walking the trails. I doubt R would be able to do any of that.

Professional sports games are out of the question. Never mind that he has never been a sports fan but hey, beer and nachos make everything better, right? No more cheap seats on the lawn for us; R would never be able to sit on the ground. No more stadium seats either as the crowd and noise would probably make him retreat to the car.

I always wondered how certain social situations affected him. He’s fine at parties. Our house, his friends’ houses, at the house of a relative’s… it is not a problem for him.

Last Christmas he tried to mail some packages to family in Utah. The post office in December? Hello? He said he could do it himself but I offered to come along. He didn’t decline. After a few minutes in that crazy post office, he looked confused and lost. I handed him the car keys and whispered that I’d meet him in the car.

But I’m sure that I don’t help matters either. I’m pretty short so I zip in and out of crowds pretty easily. Once I have my mind set on getting a specific size box on the other side of a crowded post office, oh, mark my words, I will have it in my hands within minutes.

He met some friends at a bar a few weeks ago when he was still in Virginia and he couldn’t handle it. The noise, the music, dozens of people all around that he didn’t know. He had to leave.

If I had been through what he had been through, I would have had to leave as well.

I’ve started to have brief conversations with the kids about what it’ll mean to have Daddy back home. Nothing scary, nothing odd. Just little suggestions of how our schedule might change, how we’ll have to help Daddy out a bit. I hate crowds myself which is why we’re that family that shows up early to events and appointments so we get good parking, we get there early, we get in first, no crowds, and most importantly, we leave first. That won’t be a stretch.

The other day after telling the kids how we need to help Daddy when he gets home, M said, “Is that why you always tell me to go with Daddy to the store?”

Wow. I never realized that.

R gets flustered easily and forgets words. Sometimes he even curses his TBI.

Sadly, sometimes I don’t always sympathize because not all disabilities are visible and I forget he has them. That’s something I need to definitely work on.

For A’s first communion, R baked a beautiful lemon cake from scratch per her request. He said the cake was magnificent, a fact I do not deny. However he was unhappy with the frosting, which was also made from scratch. He was up until midnight baking the cake and almost threw the entire cake away because according to him, the frosting ruined the cake.

“Why did you frost the cake then if the frosting was so bad?” I asked. “Why didn’t you just make another batch of frosting?”

He looked at me and sighed. “I don’t know. I guess I was so set on getting this cake done I couldn’t step back and NOT frost the cake.”

I know we’ll all need therapy. He needs to get back into a regular therapy session. I need to attend training on caregiving, on being the other half of a couple, and all of the stuff I need to know on patience and how not to roll your eyes when it seems like your husband is making excuses. Wow, I sound like a total bitch. Totally need therapy, I know.

I know we’ll get through this transition but it still terrifies me.

The Two Peas in a Pod Perfection

I got a second job.

I know what you’re thinking. Really? Married-single-parent, multiple pet owner, substitute teacher, volunteer of a million things at church and school just weren’t enough?

I guess not.

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So I’ve been doing this Other Job (which shall be known thusly because of my desire NOT to make you my customer of this direct sales company) for ten weeks and um, yeah.

I’ve got a team of five under me now. It got to a point where I was working so much that I am allowing myself one day off of subbing for every day I work the Other Job. Now I only sub 2-3 days a week.

I enjoy what I’m doing, the perks are great, and sometimes I do miss the high school kids.

But mostly I do it for our family.

My husband R is finally in his twentieth year of the Navy and he faces a number of choices on how he should go about leaving the service. His case is unusual (as many soldiers’ are) and there is not one simple road map he could follow.

Then again, there rarely is a simple road map any of us can follow, military or not.

I want to be able to say to him when he finally MOVES IN:

“Look, it’s your time now. I will go to work. I WANT to go to work. You enjoy your time AT HOME and WITH OUR CHILDREN to make up for lost time. Time we’ll never get back but we still have so much time ahead of us. (Or work part-time if disability benefits allow it, preferably somewhere nearby to save on gas and with a huge discount.)”

Last month doctors found a benign tumor on his right thyroid which explains why, at last fall’s Chief’s Ball he almost choked to death. His friends brought him to the ER and everything seemed fine. And usually it is.

But this was one of those rare cases that there was another cause. (And we both thought it was because, like most sailors, he ate too much too fast.) Had he left the Navy early right after the accident (which many friends and family still insist should have happened), I think it might have gone undetected.

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Next month he comes home on leave for two weeks. When he returns, doctors will remove that son-of-a-bitch-tennis-ball-size of a tumor along with that right thyroid.

I asked him to ask the doctors if he could keep it as evidence that there is indeed a tumor and that he wasn’t just going off to Mexico with his friends for a drunken weekend.

Doctors also found a cyst on his left thyroid. They’ll be looking at that (biopsy? taking it out?) in May also.

Baffling as it is, I wonder, Really? Surviving a terrible car accident that left you bedridden for two months and a wheelchair for four months, and with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury wasn’t enough?

Wow, we really do make a good couple.

Buddy and I made a cute couple at the vet today. I, erm, forgot to get him microchipped and registered with the city after he bit someone at the vet’s office last month… And I got a citation. Fixable citation! What’s funny is that the animal control officer apologized as she handed me the citation! Don’t apologize, lady! It’s MY fault!

Well, I didn’t exactly say those words but I was close.

I spent the day fixing my mistake and Buddy spent the day trying to sit in my lap!

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At Peace

When my mother asked me where my husband R was going last week, I told her that he went to a clinic in DC to evaluate his TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

My mother said, “He can’t have PTSD.”

What?

“It’s only for women.”

Huh?

“Only after they have a baby.”

After having a good laugh, I gently explained that that was called post-partum depression, something very different than post-traumatic stress disorder although you can probably get PTSD from PPD.

He’s still there now, amazed at the snowfall because he hasn’t lived in snow since he was in high school.

This stay, among the last few years that he has lived apart from us, is doing wonders for him. It is premature for me to share but I think he’s finally at peace with all of his ailments, his complaints, his chronic pain. Doctors are validating his experiences, his anecdotes of daily pain, his anxiety, his everything.

I can hear the sigh of relief from across the country.

I know him. He’s a good man. He has never been one to boast (quite the opposite of his spouse, heh), never been one to complain, and has felt guilty about his injuries because although they cannot be seen, he feels like he has to explain them all the time especially when a new batch of coworkers arrive.

He’s been talking with other soldiers who are going through similar situations.

This is exactly what he needed.

About a year after the accident, R told me he felt like he “owed” another deployment. He needed to go back for himself, for his friends who were injured, for his friends who died. Had he retired early, had he left the Navy early, had he done anything differently, he wouldn’t have arrived at this place right now.

He would have resigned himself to a life of regret.

Later he saw with his own eyes how much his command had changed since he last deployed. It wasn’t the same anymore. Many of his friends moved on or switched to different jobs. Later he realized regarding possibly deploying again, “What the fuck was I thinking?” Although we all hate that he is away, his geobachelor status forced him to find himself by himself without the distraction of a family because even though we may love our partners and families, they aren’t us. We need to know ourselves to be stronger in every element in our lives whether it is in our marriages, our families, or our professions.

How amazing it is for him to have the opportunity to learn more about himself, to know that his chronic pain is not in his head, to have doctors document his ailments both seen and unseen to the naked eye.

This hospital stay gives me hope that when he finally comes home maybe he won’t be as broken as I thought. He won’t ever be the same. None of us will.

But now we’ll at least have a map and a plan.

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The Connection Conundrum

My husband has been gone for over a week and the realization is finally hitting us.

We both have gone back to work, he at his command and me back to being a full-time mom, part-time sub, and now part-time direct sales saleswoman. That’s a whole other part of my life but I won’t try to sell anything on here. Navy Wife Chronicles is my therapy, not my sales pitch.

On Tuesday, I felt disconnected, overwhelmed, anxious. I had a lot of nervous energy that I was going to burn off playing Just Dance on the WII.

Then I got a call from R.

He had just hit a car.

He was looking for a parking spot at Naval Portsmouth hospital, circling the huge parking structure for at least twenty minutes. Anxiety. Overwhelmed. Perhaps a bit scared.

Feeling pressure to try to navigate the aisles crowded with monstrous SUVs as quickly as possible, he accidentally sideswiped a car and left a noticeable scratch.

He left a note with his insurance information, worried about being sued, worried about the insurance company raising our rates, worried about missing his important follow up appointment, worried that he was feeling so anxious.

Ah, that’s why I was feeling so anxious.

Do you believe in being so connected to someone that you can feel what they’re feeling, even thousands of miles away?

I didn’t but since being married, I do.

I knew there was something wrong on April 22, 2010 even before someone from his command called me. I woke up in the middle of the night, headed for the bathroom, and said aloud, “Something is very wrong”… even before I realized what I was doing.

Twenty-four hours later he feels better and worse. Better knowing that although the car owner called him and his insurance company, she thanked him wholeheartedly for leaving his information in the first place. Worse because now he has the flu.

Twenty-four hours later I feel better and worse. Better knowing that he’s better. Worse knowing that I can’t give him a hug.