Wednesday, January 26, 2005

How do you say goodbye to a deploying solider?

What do you do when someone you love is going to leave for a year? And not for a semester abroad, but to a combat zone? So that means the whole “oooh, I can come visit you” has to be scratched. And he also won’t be eating tapas all day and enjoying Brazilian nightlife…nah, his daily activities will be a little more life threatening.

He’s going to be leaving towards the end of February. But I have known he was going to leave for about six months now. When do you officially stop living day-today life, and start mentally and emotionally preparing for him to leave, by doing things that “celebrate” his leaving, like having a “last” meal there and the “last” time going there?

It is extremely frustrating to me that when I tell some people that my boyfriend is in the military, something akin to pity crosses their faces. When they ask, “will he be going to Iraq/Afghanistan?” I try to hide my contra-pity for their naivety. The ignorance that so many people still have about the U.S. military and the current situation is shocking…but I have to admit, I used to be just as naïve. I respond with as much restraint as possible, that it is pretty difficult to find someone in the military nowadays that won’t be rotating over to the Middle East or Afghanistan sooner or later.

Then comes the question: “A whole year? How are you going to handle that?” Good question…but it gives me great comfort that hundreds of thousands of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, daughters, and sons, etc. have “handled” it before me. And why would anyone suggest that I couldn’t be as strong as them?

Even more affronting are those who ask: “Are you going to wait for him?” I mean, I almost have to laugh at that. Granted, we aren’t married, so we have nothing contractually binding us to stay together. So, in one way the question is founded, but in another way, it reflects a lot about those who ask the question. It doesn’t make sense to me, why someone would think it okay to break off a perfectly functioning relationship, just because one of the partners was going away for a set time. Basically it reduces the concept of a relationship to something based on physical presence, instead of something encompassing so much more. Also, my boyfriend is going away to perform life-threatening duties for the benefit of others. You can agree or disagree with the US involvement in Afghanistan or Iraq, but you cannot disagree with the self-sacrifice of the US soldier. How can anyone think I would want to break off a relationship with someone like that?

There are daily reminders now of his impending departure. The last-minute bureaucratic things he needs to tie up before leaving, the ever-growing pile of military issued gear in his apartment that he will be taking, and one of us starting or ending a sentence with: “when you are/I am in Afghanistan” or “get back from Afghanistan.” I have to fight my inner puppy, who wants to mope around with my tail between my legs, while he prepares. I have to respect the fact, that his position is a hundred times harder than mine. I am just losing him from my daily life…he is basically losing his daily life. Well, not losing it. He is trading it. Trading the freedom in of movement of being able to jump into his car and drive anywhere he wants for the restriction of life on a base, trading his own apartment including his bed and bathroom for a shared tent and communal facilities, trading home cooking for chow hall cuisine, and the list goes on. He is trading all this to do the job he has been training for. So, even though I may want to wallow about how much I am going to miss him, I don’t have the heart to. It would be extremely self-centered…okay, I lie…on occasion I wallow like a pig, but I keep it short.

To my surprise, I am also somewhat excited about him going to Afghanistan. I look forward to his emails describing his experiences there, the people, the sights. I look forward to his photos. And I would have to say, the thing I look forward to most, is meeting him all over again. After a year, he and I will both be completely different people and I look forward to the butterflies in my stomach upon seeing him again. Checking him over for new wrinkles, new scars, more gray hairs. To be re-introduced to that teasing twinkle in his eyes. Some ask how to keep the spice in a relationship: try a one year separation!

One day soon he will be getting on a plane that will be taking him to Afghanistan. Usually when someone you know is going to fly somewhere, you wish them a good flight. Somehow the flight doesn’t seem that important. Although, I will probably crack some joke along those lines, to make light of the situation. To make him laugh, to see that smile that I won’t see for so long, one last time.

I wonder what those last minutes of ours together will be like. Part of me will fight to pretend that this is like any other goodbye we have had up to now. I can pretend that in a few days, I will be seeing him again, and that way I won’t cry and turn into a basket case. But part of me will want to give the moment the honor it deserves. Acknowledge that I won’t be seeing this man for a long time, and yes, that this, without being morbid, is potentially the last time I see him. How do you convey in one goodbye so many messages: be safe, do a good job, I'm so unbelievably proud of you, I love you, I’ll miss you, I can’t wait to see you again, it has been an honor knowing you, and I will always cherish the time I have spent with you?

I hope to find the answer to that question soon.

18 Comments:

Blogger ac blue eagle said...

I was not in a combat zone, but my future wife and I were a part two years. We met at Ft. Devens (now closed) new Boston, Mass., went together six months--then bang! To Germany for two years. I saw her once on a Christmas leave, once when she came to Germany--and then it was a year before I got back.
Long time, but can be done. We've been married almost 40 years now, by the way. Long time.
Oh, and while I flew over to Germany--I came back on one of the last troop ship runs. Believe it or not, it was a Liberty ship from WWII that brought me back--along with like 3,000 other GIs. I swore I'd never get on another boat.
Your friend will have at least one leave, won't he? That will help. Shoot in another six months, it might be safe enough to go as a tourist to Kabul.
Good luck, though.

10:05 PM  
Blogger CaliValleyGirl said...

Hmmm...I've always wanted to see Kabul in the springtime...;-)

Thanks for the kinds words, as always.

11:19 PM  
Blogger The Girl said...

I think that people who are not associated with the military, especially the military of today, are not very aware of how their comments make people on the other side feel. My husband & I are facing our first PCS overseas, and we are going to Germany. Invariably, the first thing that comes out of people's mouths here in my little hometown is "well, it's better to be there than in Iraq or Afghanistan." The thing is, for him, I can say that it's truthfully not better. He has yet to face deployment, and feels like he is not doing his part (obviously, this is no choice of his own - he is in MEDDAC, and his MOS cares for the wounded Soldiers once they return home).

I am an Army bride of only a short time, but even if I were still just the Army girlfriend - I couldn't imagine leaving my Soldier. I can't imagine how people would just assume that you are going to break up because he is going to do his job for a year or so.

You will be in my thoughts & prayers. Give your Soldier a big hug from me & mine, and tell him we're proud of him. Tell him to give you a hug from us, also - because dear, we are proud of you, too.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Sminklemeyer said...

The time will fly by so fast and before you know it, he'll be in your arms again. Write him as much as possible and pray all the time if you believe in that sort of thing. but don't for a minute think that you could ever annoy him. a lot of soldier wives and girlfriends think we get tired of hearing from them. this isn't the case. we love the attention... it helps us get thru some crappy times. good luck!

12:09 AM  
Blogger B. said...

Thank you for this post. As a new Marine girlfriend whose loved one is leaving in a few months, I'm very nieve to what to expect, what to do, what he needs from me. The fears I had have been largely silenced by this post, and I'm going to bookmark it to re-read when he is gone and I'm having a rough day of it. Thank you again.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Tiffany Owen said...

My boyfriend leaves March 7th. I get "Are you waiting for him?" a lot too. Your blog was super helpful. Thank you.

5:04 AM  
Blogger KES said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and saw this post. My boyfriend just left for Afghanistan almost a month ago, and it's incredible how much of this post I can relate to. It gives me great hope to know that you survived his deployment and that the two of you ended up getting married and having kids. That is all I can hope for with my boyfriend. Thank you for this. It was definitely something I needed.

12:04 AM  
Blogger ange_mechant said...

Thank you so much for this post. My boyfriend leaves in 5 days for Afghanistan and I have to admit I've been doing a lot of the self-pity wallowing crap. You're right though, it's just selfish. And after reading this, I am totally reminded of the fact that it's not really goodbye--which is what he said to me yesterday--because soon he'll be in my arms again and I'll get to fall in love with him all over again...something I've already done twice and loved each time...thank you.

4:52 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

My boyfriend leaves this Saturday for Afghanistan. My father served 20 years in the Army, so I know a year will fly by. Only, this time it's different because I know that it's my boyfriend, somebody I've connected with on a deep, different type of level than my father. But my mother gave me one great piece of advice, "It's not good-bye. It's see ya later. Good-bye is permanent & you have to believe he will come back safely." So, just do all your normal things that would normally take place, you just won't have him there to join you & your friends & loved ones.

5:53 PM  
Blogger deimys said...

Hi I am also going through the same situation. My boyfriend is in the army and he will be deploying in may of next year. I also get those same questions...are you going to wait for him? what are you gonna do for the whole yyear? and honestly all I tell myself is that it is only one year out of our entire lives together so it cannot be bad. I encourage all the military girlfriends and wives to support their husbands and boyfriends and just enjoy the moments that you have together. Because although we never want to think about this part, we all know that one unlucky day they can come with the news of their non existance anymore, so what soothes me all the time is that is better to enjoy as much time together and to tell each other how much you love him.
I love my boyfriend to death and even though he has 2 litle ones with another person we make it work as great as possible. I dont and will not regret anything that I have done so far for us and his kids and I wish you the same. I know you love him, so the best is to enojoy yyour time with him and when he comes back, it will be like starting to know each other again but with love already.
I wish you good luck, and hang in there, i have faith that you can do great!

4:37 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

I want to thank you sooo much for your post!! My bf is deploying to Afghanistan for a yr and I've so far have been a mental case,but reading your words gives me hope.I now realize that his job is so important and I really don't need to put anymore stress on him by being all emo.Again thank you so much:)

4:25 AM  
Blogger Chelsea said...

I literally just found out that my boyfriend of 4 years is being deployed 3 months early and should be gone by the end of the month. After reading this I cried, not in a bad way though.

Thank You

2:52 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Prepare to see a whole lot of traffic to this post! I have a unit leaving shortly and will be sharing this with them and some former members on facebook.

8:03 AM  
Blogger angroe said...

My boyfriend is a Marine who just left for Afghanistan this week for 7 months. I am embarrassed to admit that I used to be one of those clueless people you spoke of. Of course I always respected service members but being close to one has really opened my eyes. I am so proud and honored to be his girlfriend. As for the waiting for him question...I respond that I have waited 29 years to find my soulmate...what's 7 more measly little months. Okay, I know they will be a bit longer than that...but I totally understand what you are saying! I loved your closing line...it is quite difficult to convey all of your thoughts into what has to be the most perfect farewell of your life. I will certainly keep all of you in my thoughts as these deployments approach. I am not going to lie, this first few days have been quite hard for me. I hope that by reaching out to others experiencing the same, will help me get through this!

5:34 AM  
Blogger angroe said...

My boyfriend is a Marine who left for Afghanistan this week. I am embarrassed to admit that before he came into my life, I was one of those clueless people. I mean, I always respected the military but never had an inkling as to how amazing they truly are. He will be gone for 7 months and when people ask if I am going to wait, I reply with the fact that I have waited 29 years to find this guy...what is another measly 7 months? Okay, I know it will not be that easy. Honestly, these first days have been very difficult. Does it get easier? I will hang onto the closing of your blog. How to create the perfect farewell to someone that you love and honor so much may possibly be the hardest thing to do. You get one goodbye, and it has to be perfect. Yikes! Just cherish every moment together. I hope to get through this by finding others that are going through similar situations for support. My thoughts will be with all of you as you prepare for this challenging time!

5:39 AM  
Blogger CuriousKelly said...

Thank you. My boyfriend has already left, and sometimes it's comforting to read post like these. My boyfriend is a Marine, and sometimes I do not get to hear from him for several months, which of course makes everything harder, but some how I live.

I still remember watching him walking away from me. Going towards security, leaving me. I didn't shed a single tear untill he was long out of sight, then one shed my eye. I told myself I shouldn't cry for him, because he will be home soon.

It's been eleven months, almost an entire year since I've seen him, and I've only heard from him maybe six times. Life as a Marine's girlfriend isn't easy, but you do what you have to for the person you love.

7:08 AM  
Blogger missinghim said...

My boyfriend left about an hour ago to Kabul and I am already missing him so much! Its nice to read things like this and remind me I am not the only one going through it. I feel so guilty feeling bad, its nothing compared to what they are going through. Your blog was helpful.. Thank you..

10:47 AM  
Blogger MHP said...

I just came across your post. I t really made me think. My boyfriend of 5 months is deploying in 2 weeks. I am not a stranger to deployment, however I am in a hard spot right now because i care about him so much, but he seems like he doesnt want me to "wait" for him. This term upsets me because in reality we are all waiting for something, and as you originally posted, why should you end something just because one is leaving. Well, he says he wants to do it on his own and just get away from everything, he also made sure i didnt think it had to do with me and that i shouldnt take it personally. I get that because it is his frist deployment and he doesnt want everyone worrying about him. Well thats definitely whats going to happen. This really hurts me because i feel like he doesnt think im important enough to hold onto while he is gone. This is me being selfish, but sometimes you have to be!! Lately i have all over the place with my emotions and i feel like i am going crazy. I am just confused and trying to figure this out, when i should be focusing on him. I know we will keep in contact while he is gone, i just wish it didnt have to hurt. I know it is for the best, but sometimes the best hurts as much as the worst. I have to accept his decision and make him remember how much i care about him. It's just hard.
My heart goes out to all families who have loved ones in the military or are seeing someone in the military. It is a hard spot to be in, but is worth while in the end. I will keep you all and your loved ones in my thoughts and prayers and wish your loved ones a safe deployment. Thank you for your posts, it really brings up some things i have been getting worked up out about.. and i am trying to let it all go..

7:40 AM  

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