It's been too long since I wrote anything. November is always a hectic, busy and stressful month. The holidays are coming; I'm preparing for yet another trip abroad for work; and we are juggling two stressful events: planning a military move for Sam, and planning a wedding that has just become a destination wedding since we will no longer reside in the city where we will wed.
That said, I realize that I am significantly less stressed when I write regularly in this blog. It's become a form of therapy for me. The same chronic issues with military life persist at a steady, low hum, so much a part of my everyday life that I almost never think about them unless I witness the horrified look on the face of some acquaintance when I reveal that I cannot contact my partner most of the time or that he might suddenly be unavailable for the holidays. Those moments are healthy; they keep me from thinking that this state of affairs is normal. Because it still frustrates just as much when Sam cancels at the last minute, ends up showing up at my apartment hours later than he originally planned, or announces he won't be around for Thanksgiving.
And yet. Something has changed. About a month ago, we had a major incident that changed the game. I got on an evening train to come spend the following workday with Sam. He had been unsure of whether he could take the next day off, but since he had had to cancel a day together the week before, I had my fingers crossed we would have time together. Yet that entire day before getting on the train, he had been unreachable. So as I headed to see him, I really had no idea whether I would or not. I was exhausted, sick of traveling back and forth and living out of my oversized purse with its change of clothes and toiletries. And I had postponed a major work meeting to take the day off to be with Sam.
So by the time I had boarded that train, I was both hopeful and pissed. Then when I was in the quiet car and could not pick up the phone, Sam called and left a casual message on my voicemail announcing that he would not be able to come home to see me during my visit--no acknowledgment of the fact that I had forcefully made time in my schedule to see him with no word from him that entire day as to the probability that it would happen.
I won't go into the massive meltdown that then occurred in the middle of the quiet car, but my rage and frustration was such that I let myself completely lose control, calling Sam back and ranting at him. I felt guilty, but relieved--the pressure that had been building up inside me for the past three years of his tour was finally released. Somewhere in my rant to Sam, I managed to communicate that I had had enough of him just letting cancellations and lack of contact with me slide with no attempt to make up the lost time and the inconvenience and frustration to me. It is not enough to say that he has a demanding job. If his job demands an extraordinary amount of me, then he should find some extraordinary way to make it up to me.
After we had a chance to talk calmly and exchange apologies the next day, Sam came up with a proposal: that he would call me from work each day, every day, to check in and talk briefly about how are days are going. Rather than me wondering when and if I will hear from him, I can more or less count on a phone call from him around midday, just to say hello. It has made a huge difference in my days, knowing that there is a moment of contact with my partner that I can count on, rather than the groping around in the dark of calling his cell phone and knowing that 9.9 out of 10 times, it will be off because he will be on the boat.
Sam has also made an effort to acknowledge verbally what it means to me to be cancelled on often. He tells me that he knows I have a lot of things going on in my life, and that it must be frustrating for me to make time for him and then not see him. This, too, takes the angry edge off of a frustrating situation.
I am not sure why we did not think about this before. My tendency is to go out of my way to try and accommodate people, especially men. It's not a quality I much admire in myself. I also think that these military men live in a culture that teaches them that their primary--maybe their only--sacrifice is to their country; and that family is the support structure in the background whose role is to be grateful and to help further their career. No one asks them to consider other peoples' time. But that kind of attitude amounts to dehumanization of service member's spouses and families. It is as if we are not people with needs, desires, and routines that matter in and of themselves. That's no way for anyone to be. I guess that many families are either so invested personally in the military mission so as to make the service member career their career; or they eventually shatter in anger. Sam and I will pave a different way. I am going to tell a story of a different kind of military family.