By Amy Bermudez (Army)
“What’s that?” A scrawny sixth grade boy asked me in the middle of class. Don’t they always ask things unrelated to the topic at hand in the middle of class?
“It’s a pin,” I told him in my authoritative teacher voice.
“I know,” he rolled his eyes. “What does it mean?”
My hand instinctively traced the outline of the pin worn on the collar of my shirt. It’s a tiny rectangular flag, red outline on white, blue star in the middle, yellow ribbon at the top.
“It means that someone I love is deployed,” I told him, in a softer, less exasperated tone.
“Oh.” This answer seemed sufficient. But after a long pause he said, “What’s deployed mean?”
My heart swells and sinks at a response like this. How wonderful that this child doesn’t know, hasn’t been touched by the reality and pain of deployment. He’s so protected from it that he doesn’t even know that the word means. In the greatest irony of my life, I briefly wish that I was a middle school boy. (Don’t worry, it was very brief.)
And how lonely for me, and all of us muddling through deployments, that we can feel such weight and fear and struggle. Our pain invisible. This is why I wear the pin. I don’t want to be invisible. I don’t want to be a secret. Others can forget that somewhere many time zones away a soldier shivers in the dirt waiting for something to happen, waiting for nothing to happen.
In November my best friend flew from Texas to Tennessee so we could spend time together. We walked my dogs and watched Friends and went to a concert. We went to the Farmer’s market. It was what I needed. It was normal.
Walking between aisles of vacuum sealed tempeh and candles made out of wine glasses I got a text from my battle buddy, a coworker whose husband is also deployed.
“Did you hear what happened?” she asked
What happened was a suicide bomber in Afghanistan killing Americans participating in a 5k at Bagram Airfield.
I froze, standing still while peopled milled around looking at handmade crafts and raw milk. That was me one minute ago, shopping and happy and normal. The reality of war doesn’t stop. I felt sad and scared and overwhelmed. I swallowed my tears.
My best friend saw my distress. I told her what happened. My voice was too loud. People looked at me. My husband isn’t even in Afghanistan. My friend’s husband was safe. But other people’s spouses weren’t safe. They were injured. They were dead.
“Are you ok?” She asked me.
But am I?
Deployed means that everything is normal until it isn’t and I don’t know if or when, so I wait.
Deployed means I don’t know if the person I love is safe. I’m sad about spending holidays apart and sleeping alone each night, but I’m intensely afraid for his safety. He’s been safe so far, but safe is an illusion, so I wait.
Deployed means I am alone. Sometimes it’s a little alone, and other times it’s a lot. I have people who love me and take care of me, but they are all far away. I’m alone in this town and in my experience, so I wait.
Deployed means I am starting over by myself. We arrived here together only two months before he left. I’m trying to find my way at work and friends and I don’t want to be here, but my worries feel trivial in comparison to weeks without a shower or hot meal. I want it to be over, I want him to be home, and all I can do is wait.
I felt hot with anger when someone told me, “oh only 6 weeks left? That’s not that bad.” My smile tight, I changed the subject.
What I wanted to say was, “Would it feel ‘not bad’ if you had to spend the next 6 weeks without your spouse? Now multiply it by infinity, and take it to the depth of forever, and you will still have barely a glimpse of what I’m talking about.” Okay, so that last part was from Meet Joe Black (I have a lot of time on my hands to explore the recesses of online streaming), but I felt the chasm between us was so wide, military families and civilian families.
That same day my mom made almost the same comment about it being not much longer, but in the pause that followed she added, “But I know it doesn’t feel that way,” and I wanted to cry with happiness that someone, somewhere understood.
I am not invisible.
But to stay this way, visible, I have to tell my story, even the painful parts.
Like the fact that I haven’t mowed the lawn in too long. In my defense, I went from living in an apartment to living in a town with rocks instead of grass, to living in a house with too much grass while my grass-cutting expert is on the other side of the globe. I can never get the mower to start. I tried so long one day that I got calluses and started to cry before giving up.
Two lightbulbs in the kitchen need to be changed but I can’t bring myself to haul in the ladder from the garage and buy new bulbs from Home Depot. I know it’s not hard, but gravity feels so heavy, and I can’t imagine climbing up the ladder rungs.
I live in fear of the dashboard lights coming on in my car. I got a blowout on the interstate two days before my husband returned from his last deployment. I’m not sure what I’ll do if something like that happens again, only this time I’m stranded in a place with no friends, no back-up.
This is my struggle. This is my deployment experience.
This is me, no longer invisible.
Amy Bermudez is a teacher, writer, distance runner, avid reader, and blogger originally from Texas, currently stationed in Tennessee. Her husband serves in the Army.
She has written previously for the Mil Spouse Book Review’s “Homefront Journal” and has also reviewed several books, including We Are Called to Rise and Alice Bliss. And [this is yor Editor speaking], she may be one of the hardest-working military spouses I know (though she would deny it); I believe this is her family’s third long deployment just since the time she began contributing to this blog.