Code Switching

by Lisa Stice

(poet, Marine Corps wife)

My husband’s difficulty in code switching between military-speak and you’re-talking-to your-spouse-speak simultaneously irritates and amuses me. I understand that some things, like how he measures time – 2200 instead of 10:00 pm – is so ingrained that I really should expect it to last the rest of his life. Plus, that’s no big deal to get used to, subtracting 12 is easy, and a lot of other countries use the same standard for referring to time of day.

When my husband says things like “roger” at the dinner table, then he sounds like a caricature from Gomer Pile or the character Mike Watt from the BBC series Spaced, and it makes me giggle. For those of you who haven’t seen Spaced, here’s a clip to give you an idea of what my husband sounds like when he comes home from work:


We meet Mike about three minutes in.

It cracks me up when I send a text or email saying, “On your way home, can you pick up_______,” and he replies, “wilco.” Still, those aren’t too crazy. I know what they mean, so I get that message that he understands and will comply. I’m sure there’s civilians who use the same terms or refer to dinner as chow or do some damage assessment after a storm, but few civilians would say, “I’m going to the head” or “Let’s deconflict this situation.” Is deconflict even a word? It’s not in my dictionary, and those stupid acronyms that my husband likes to throw around certainly aren’t either.

The acronyms are the worst. How am I supposed to know the foreign language of military acronyms? If we’re talking in person, I can stop my husband and say, “Talk like a normal person. BLT? What the heck is that? All I know it as is a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.” Or in back and forth emailing about buying a big ticket item, he writes, “You’re the CINCHOUSE.” I can write back, “I’m what?” and get the answer, “You know, Commander in Charge of the House.”

And because these things are just a part of his normal vocabulary, it doesn’t cross his mind that he should probably share the ones that pertain to me, like PCS. Not too long after we were together, I stopped by our bank (it serves military) to give them the paperwork they needed for my change of name. The employee asked, “Are you going to be PCSing soon?” That was the first time I’d heard that one, and I was too embarrassed to ask the meaning because she gave the impression that I should know the meaning of that letter combination. I just said, “I don’t know.” She gave me a folder just in case I would be PCSing soon, and then as I thumbed through the papers and packing labels in the privacy of my car, I put two and two together that PCS had something to do with moving.

My favorite, though, is when he emailed me a cryptic message that just said, “FYSA” followed with an attachment. Of course, he sent it in a brief moment at his office computer before he left for some daily training or meeting or something, so I got no response to my “What?” I was like, “OK, I’ll just do an Internet search.” My search came up with lots of things related to youth soccer: Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association, Florida Youth Soccer Association, Fluvanna Youth Soccer Association. The search came up with other things, too, that didn’t seem to fit the context: Funny You Should Ask and First Year Spring Admission.

So then, I refined my search to “What does the military acronym FYSA mean?” For Your Situational Awareness. To your wife? How about a nice, casual, personal “So you can plan ahead…” or something more along those lines.

Some years have passed since that email, and For Your Situational Awareness now is the first result for a “What does FYSA mean?” search. Maybe it’s because were living in a texting/Twitter world where people clamor for acronyms to pack in as much info into as few characters as possible – and the military has a lot to offer – or maybe it’s because military related answers are the most popular from cryptic emails and texts regularly sending thousands of mil-spouses to the search engines.


stice_profile Lisa Stice is a Marine Corps wife. It’s difficult to say where “home” is, but she currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog. She is the author of a poetry collection, Uniform(Aldrich Press, 2016). You can find out more about her and her publications at lisastice.wordpress.com and facebook.com/LisaSticePoet.

Absurdities of Deployment

1. Today, I paid a very nice babysitter $15 to take my sweet 2-year-old to the park for an hour so that I could clean the bathrooms uninterrupted. It was the first time I had been alone in my house in 3 months, and it was the most magical time I’ve ever had scrubbing Clorox into the grout around our bathtub.

2. In a ridiculous, essentially lazy iteration of Bowe Bergdahl’s father’s bearded vigil, I have not shaved my legs since Dave left.  I sure hope he appreciates this charming gesture, this affirmation of my devotion/sloth.

3. I’ve learned that there are some useful (if fairly pitiful) items available to a woman living without a man in the house. I may own two of the following three things:

The Jar Pop.

flying_solo2Mine is plain white, just FYI.

Jar Pop, you are my man-hands — when it comes to opening jars, anyway. Sometimes there’s just a damn jar (pickles, it’s always the freaking pickles!) that resists all my other tricks: running the cap under hot water, tapping it with a spoon, wrapping it in a towel. There’s nothing more traumatic for my children than watching their five-foot-tall mother skid around the kitchen, gripping, swearing, rending her clothes, banging a jar all over the place while hot water steams up the sink, like some kind of ancient ritual of betrayal and despair.

Years ago, “Santa” (that savvy man!) gave me a Jar-Pop in my stocking, and now I can open any jar, any time, any place, all with a placid smile.

The Nik Nak. I bought this thing.

flying_solo3

Yes, I seriously bought this thing after seeing it in the Sky Mall (what kind of American buys things from the Sky Mall??!). I’ll tell you what possessed me: it was a bad sunburn on my albino back, the kind that lasts for days and makes you dance around squealing in the shower. My husband used to gamely slap some sunscreen on my back for me when necessary, but no longer, and we’re living in San Diego and the kids always want to go to the public pool for a swim. I can’t, as a decent woman, ask some stranger to rub sunscreen onto my person, and now we can’t enjoy the convenience of spray sunscreen any more, either. (Do they have to take everything from us?) So I  thought the Nik Nak might actually be a handy way to apply sunscreen to the unreachable regions — although now that I think about it, I probably would have been better off just tying some kind of sunscreen-soaked rag around the Jar Pop. Why am I not more resourceful?

Verdict: It works…..okay. Sometimes the wand flaps up on me and flings sunscreen around the room. I should probably have just bought a rash guard.

The Trader Joe’s Single-Serving Thanksgiving Dinner. Haven’t had to take this baby for a test drive, luckily — and, with three kids, it wouldn’t be enough for us anyway. But a friend once pointed it out in the “Fearless Flyer” and, honestly, there seemed to be nothing sadder than a Thanksgiving for One, a microwaveable approximation of our most venerated American meal: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing. The turkey comes in a bag and honestly looks like a silicone breast implant. Please don’t let it come to this for me.

flying_solo1

4. Final absurdity: When in a vulnerable state of mind, certain music will seem deeply apropos to your situation until you examine the words more closely.

Case in point: The song “Time to Pretend,” by MGMT, brought me to tears on evening not long after Dave first left. It was something about the rather moving little synthesized refrain at the beginning, and the opening line: “I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the time of my life.” Oh my GOD!

Turns out, the song is about becoming a rock star, moving to Paris, marrying a model, overdosing on heroin, and choking on one’s own vomit — not applicable to my own life in any regard. The only thing out of that list I can ever imagine happening to me would be choking on vomit, but even that will probably not happen.

Still, I like the song, and the words are bittersweet, which is exactly how I prefer ’em. They seem somehow applicable to having chosen a military lifestyle; something about the song got to me, anyway.

This is our decision, to live fast and die young.
We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun.
Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do.
Get jobs in offices, and wake up for the morning commute?

Forget about our mothers and our friends
We’re fated to pretend
To pretend

I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms
I’ll miss the comfort of my mother and the weight of the world
I’ll miss my sister, miss my father, miss my dog and my home
Yeah, I’ll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone.

There’s really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew.