I recently shared a letter to my husband. After some contemplation, I thought perhaps my story could help others in a similar situation, so her it goes.
I was 18 years old when I joined the Army. No one would have guessed that I would excel in the military, but I absolutely loved it. When I left for basic training, I had been seeing a sweet guy who didn’t understand the rigors of boot camp. When I couldn’t call him everyday, he thought that meant I no longer cared. He moved on and met someone else. While at the time, this didn’t actually seem to be too big of a deal, not long after that he was killed in a car accident in which he had been drinking and driving. When we were together, I wouldn’t allow him to drink and drive and I spent a lot of time later on wondering what might have been.
I was in my fourth year in the Army when I met the man I would later marry. He was cool, confident and honestly a challenge. I met him at an Army training event. He was a soldier too and at that point in my life, I had found that men who didn’t know that lifestyle, didn’t take kindly to it. I started believing that I would only ever be able to make a relationship work with a military man. In stepped, who I will refer to from here on out as J. He wasn’t the most attractive man I had ever met, but he had a certain charisma that I was drawn to. I was hooked. We began a long distance relationship, that started out very casual. He eventually moved to the state I lived in and even more, transferred to the unit I was in. We moved in together and since we weren’t in the same chain of command, were allowed to retain a romantic relationship.
In hindsight, I should have known it wouldn’t work. J wanted to continue with a casual relationship and even though we lived together, for the first year he wanted separate bedrooms. It was when a soldier from another unit started showing interest in me, that he wanted to be monogamous. After four years of cohabitation, the dreaded day came. I was called up for deployment to Iraq. This actually became more complicated in that our unit could only take so many people, and it came down to a choice between J and me. Even though J was a higher ranking soldier, I was the better soldier. Our commander chose me over him. This bruised his ego, though he hid it quite well at first. I left for Baghdad, and on that day, just before I boarded the plane, he told me for the first time in four years that he loved me.
J came from a family much different from mine. In my family we rarely go even a day without speaking to each other. We are close almost to a point of abnormalcy. J’s family could go months without speaking and be perfectly content. In seven years, I don’t think I ever heard them say I love you to one another. J used to tell me that saying I love you all the time, took away its meaning. So I made excuses for him, when in reality I’ve learned that perhaps he just didn’t love me.
When I left for Baghdad, J told me to do whatever it takes to get home. What happens over there, stays over there. Essentially he was telling me that he was going to cheat while I was gone, therefore so should I. Because if I cheated, that could assuage his guilt a little. I made him aware that I had no intention of doing so and that I would hold him to the same standard. It seemed to work. I didn’t hear about any behavior I would have been upset about. Turns out he just hid it well. It was years later when we were already married that I found out the extent of his betrayal.
I went to Iraq for a year. War is hell. That isn’t an exaggeration, it’s a fact. Iraq was 130 degrees, dusty, dirty, violent and lonely. It plain sucks. And yet, while there, I surprisingly had the time of my life. I met amazing people, had fantastic and terrifying experiences, and all-in-all wouldn’t change a minute of it.
Every Saturday night I would hike to the phones and call my family, friends and J. I kept in contact as much as possible and felt like J and I’s relationship was becoming more solid. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, or at least it did in my case. For him, his heart grew forgetful.
When I came home on leave for two weeks, I was ecstatic. I came home in winter so I was freezing to a point that the cold hurt my body. He had anticipated this and bought me brand new winter pajamas, a heating blanket and tons of soup and warm beverages. I wasn’t actually used to this kind of attention from him and basked in it for a while. I had chosen to come home for his birthday, which unfortunately made it so I returned to Iraq on Christmas Eve. I was content however in the arms of my bosom buddies in arms, so I didn’t dwell too much. Looking back I think of all the things I did specifically for his benefit and feel a twinge of anger for not realizing he wouldn’t have done the same. I eventually came home and was met by my loving family at the airport. My parents, sisters, nieces and nephew were there. It was almost perfect…almost. J wasn’t there. In fact we had already gathered all of my luggage and was heading out to my family’s cars before he showed up. My family was noticeably angry and I was noticeably embarrassed. There wasn’t much to be done though and I didn’t want it to spoil my homecoming.
It was about five days later that he informed me of why he was late. Five minutes before he was going to leave for the airport, he received his military orders to leave for Iraq in two months. I had just got back and he was going to leave for the exact place, right down to the exact base I had just come from. I looked at him and without missing a beat said “I guess you better process my orders too.” He looked stunned and said, “Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m not letting you go there alone,” I responded. “Ok. Well I guess we better hurry up and get married then,” he said. And that was how my proposal came out. Practical. Direct. And utterly devoid of love and romanticism. Lucky for him and unlucky for me, I was in a practical mindset as well and so my response was, “I guess so.” We had an actual wedding ceremony with the dress, the cake and the whole nine yards. I will say that based on how that particular day went, I really should have seen the future.
Five days before my wedding, I had an emergency appendectomy. My appendix was pulled across my stomach to avoid rupturing it. Between the water weight and trauma to my belly, we had to pin my dress to make it stay on my body. The day before our ceremony, J broke his foot in training. The awful August day was more than 100 degrees and we had an outdoor wedding. The whole thing was a disaster. After all was said and done we moved in to our new home. I had spent all my deployment money to put a down payment on our ranch-style home that I loved dearly.
And so once again I said goodbye to my family and friends and headed back to Baghdad with my now husband. Once again I look back and know in my heart, he would never have done the same. That doesn’t make him a bad person. All the people who saw me come back to Iraq after I had just left said they wouldn’t have either. All I could think though was if given the chance to follow the one I love anywhere, even to hell, I would do it in a heartbeat and those aren’t just words, because I did.
So there we were. J and I in Iraq. We were married before we left, so the Army graciously allowed us to live together in our one room CHU (containerized housing unit). These units were initially sent to Louisiana for displaced persons to live in after Hurricane Katrina…those people refused to live in them, so guess who they gave them to! Yup, when homeless won’t do it, the military will. And we’ll even be grateful for them. None the less, throwing a married couple in a 20′ by 8′ room and expecting them to live there for a year without killing each other is pure idiocy. I wanted to kill him for breathing my air on occasion.
Marriage counseling couldn’t begin to touch the problems that developed in our already unstable relationship. Turns out, having already been there for a year, had made me pretty much immune to the fear J was going through. I had already experienced all of that and come through to other side known to many in uniform as complacency. You hit that stage around month four and when you are on your second deployment, you don’t even have to go through acclimation anymore, you are already there, the minute your boots hit the ground.
My nonchalant attitude to danger, made J seem wimpy by comparison, at least in his eyes. No one else saw it that way at first. This added to the fact that the unit had chosen me over him for the last deployment only solidified his bruised ego. Then in addition, I’m pretty handy with tools and around vehicles, so when it came time to fix something or change the oil in the truck, people came to me instead of him. So along with feeling like a wimp with a bruised ego, he now felt unmanly. And rather than talk to me about it, he dwelled on it and became hostile. Even worse, I had made a name for myself while there the last time, so people knew me and they knew the dangers I had been in previously. So J would make up stories to make it look like he had been in dangerous situations. Turns out he wasn’t a very good liar, he always gets caught eventually.
All of these issues coupled with being in a war zone and housed in a room smaller than a college dorm, makes for a recipe for disaster. I feel bad for our neighbors, because it is likely we sounded like a Rhonda Rousey battle royale.
He’d tell me how awful I was for a man’s ego. How he hated being around me and couldn’t I make him look good just once. He pointed out that I no longer looked like I used to. I didn’t wear makeup and how all the other women in our unit were so much hotter than me. He would tell me stories, likely fabricated, about the women hitting on him so that I would get angry and be jealous. It was during this time that a young soldier in our unit discovered that when we head home, she would have no home to go to. Her father and mother divorced. Her mom, who had all her stuff, had put everything in storage and moved back to the United Kingdom, while her father left and moved on to an Indian reservation. J and I discussed it and offered her a room in our house when we went home. I will refer to her as D from this point on.
It was in our last four months of deployment that I was injured. I sustained injuries to my back, hips and leg. I gutted out the rest of the tour, popping ibuprofen like it was candy. Once in the U.S., it was discovered that my injuries were worse than originally diagnosed. I had dislocated my hip and two vertebrae in my spine, both had gone back in to place on their own, however I now had permanent cartilage damage and nerve stenosis along with some serious sciatica. The Army determined that they couldn’t in good conscience let me continue on in the military. The began the long drawn out process of medically discharging me from the Army. During this time I was in a lot of pain and after years of being a very active person, I was told by specialists that high-impact exercise was out of the question.When I was in college, I had a full-ride scholarship for track and cross country. I was told I could no longer even jog at this point, without causing further harm to myself. My metabolism was thrown off and I gained large amounts of weight in a very short time. I was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at this time. It manifested itself in multiple ways, but the two most apparent ways were via obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and insomnia. My insomnia was incredibly hard to treat as I experienced being unable to fall asleep and stay asleep as well as extreme night terrors. I tried every sleep aide in the book and it didn’t make a dent in the problem.
The OCD was apparently my mind’s way of controlling an uncontrollable world. Unfortunately, J found these conditions tedious at best and hell to handle at worst. I would spend hours cleaning one room. I’d scrub things until my hands were raw. He would come home, kick off his shoes in the middle of the floor, throw his jacket over the nearest chair and without further ado wreck the entire house, that I had just spent hours cleaning. At first, realizing my flaw in all of this, I tried to mitigate the situation by making it easier on you to keep the house clean. I bought a shoe rack and a coat rack and put them right next to the door. I got a little shelf to place your wallet and keys on. I moved the dirty clothes hamper out of the closet and into the bedroom for easy access.
The first day J came home to these items, his shoes and coat ended up on the floor next to the racks, wallet and keys ended up on the table and the dirty clothes ended up on the floor next to the hamper. I sat in the bath tub that night and sobbed. It hurt that he knew how badly this affected me and yet he continued to make no effort to help me. At the same time I knew that my OCD and insomnia was making me unreasonable. I hated him for his lack of concern and I hated myself for my inability to cope. I was fat, crazy and on top of it all, not even the Army wanted me anymore.
I decided to focus on my education, so I worked hard and completed a large portion of pre-veterinary medicine coursework. It was at this time that I needed to pick a specialty and go to a university. I did all the research and decided to declare in small animals. We would have had to move to be closer to the school, so I researched that as well and found a unit who would have gladly taken J. It was a larger unit, with more opportunities for advancement. I thought this would be perfect and it seemed like a logical step in not only my career, but J’s as well. I approached J with all of this one evening. He was emphatic and resounding with the “No, not a chance in hell am I moving there!”
I was distraught and livid. I lost it. I screamed, cried and ranted. I let loose all of the emotions I had tried to contain since coming home. Then in my own moment of self-doubt, I made a snide comment about his preference of D over me. Since she had moved in, I noticed a shift in the allegiance in our home. Originally D and I were besties. Going on trips together and hanging out all the time. Now she was spending a lot time hanging with my husband. They played video games together, went to movies and shopping excursions together. I told myself this wasn’t anything to worry about. They were just friends. But at that moment in our fight, I couldn’t contain the nagging fears that had been in my brain for months.
J was incredulous. He turned on me, letting out all of the thoughts that had been plaguing him the past few months as well. My weight, my OCD, my insomnia. He told me that I had gone from one the hottest women he had ever been with, to the ugliest. That our sex-life had gone from the best sex he’d ever had, to nonexistent. Without the Army, I no longer took pride in my appearance. With a final stab, he said I was no longer useful at anything, a failure at the life I was leading.
I couldn’t handle it so I asked for a divorce in the heat of the moment. He told me no, that we would work on things.
The fight ended there with both of us angry, hurting and in tears. We didn’t speak much for about three days. Then things went back to normal, me with my obsessive cleaning and he with his video games. D moved out shortly after and any discussion about moving for my school was dropped. I quit school and he actually started taking night classes.
Summer brought with it my actual discharge. I was officially out of the Army on June 1. I was in pain , dealing with my disappointments and I can admit that I was not easy to live with. J and I’s relationship hadn’t gotten any better.
D moved out. During this time, D found herself a boyfriend who happened to have joined the same unit I used to be and that my husband was still in. Her boyfriend, my husband and a mutual friend’s boyfriend all left on a mission to Wisconsin for three weeks. While gone, J called me the bare minimum of times without being in too much trouble. When he got back he made a confession. He told me that one night he and the other two guys met some women in a bar and went to their house. He told me that they all drank too much and they stayed the night with these women. “Nothing happened though, we just slept on the floor,” he explained. It wasn’t until later that I found out that this was a calculated move. He would tell me enough of the truth to make me angry, therefor less suspicious. He confessed to doing something stupid so that I wouldn’t suspect that he had done something even worse. This was actually something he did often. I learned that he employed this tactic a lot.
I kept quiet about the situation as I didn’t want to cause strife in anyone else’s relationships. D and her boyfriend broke up shortly after the incident and the other couple broke up later due to infidelity. It was through a conversation with the friend that I discovered that J didn’t sleep on the floor as he described, he in fact slept with two women that night and it was due to our strained relationship that I didn’t contract the STD that both J and my friend’s boyfriend picked up that night.
July came and with it the end of an era. My birthday is the 5th of July which is usually anticlimactic since most people are a little too partied out to celebrate. My best friend saved the day. She called J to ask if we could all go out to eat. Turns out he had forgotten my birthday so this was a stroke of luck for him. He didn’t get me anything and failed to wish me a happy birthday until dinner that night. I was miserable and gutted it out. That night I consumed enough alcohol to inebriate an elephant and cried myself to sleep. By this time, J and I no longer slept in the same room so he probably didn’t know any of this.
Two days later it was a Saturday morning. J woke up early and made my favorite coffee. He took my hand and led me on to the porch where we sipped coffee and watched the sun come up while our dogs romped around the yard. I was smiling and suddenly felt at peace. I had this feeling that we were going to be fine. That it was all going to turn around with this one gesture of kindness from the man I loved. J told me he was sorry he had forgotten my birthday. He knew he hurt me badly, but that this was what he needed to know what he wanted to do. “I want a divorce,” he said. “I realize that I forgot your birthday, which is a nearly unforgettable date, because I don’t love you anymore and I don’t think I will again.” I began to cry. I asked if he was sure and he nodded. I asked if he thought counseling would help and he said no. “When this is over, I never want to see you again,” I said. “I don’t want to speak to you, I don’t want to know you. I want you to fade away.” “I’m sorry you feel that way,” he said. I walked inside and packed my things to stay with my sister. I sobbed the entire two hour drive. When I arrived I went into the bedroom and shut the door. I curled up in a ball and didn’t move for five days. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep or even bathe. I wallowed in misery. I kept thinking “Who is ever going to love me now?” All the flaws he kept pointing out.
Our divorce took a relatively short time. It was final in one month and because we were military we weren’t forced to go through mediation counseling. He got the house that my money paid for. He got the car that he had bought me as a gift. I can’t say I got nothing. My family came to help me move and they were so angry that they packed everything they could even if I told them not to.
A week later I found out that D and J had moved in together. She was staying in my home, sleeping with my husband, driving my car and had been promoted into the position I used to hold in our Army unit. I had essentially been replaced. Each stab in the back pushed the blade further before twisting it in the end when they failed to pay their bills and got my car repossessed and the house foreclosed on. The final time I spoke to J, I asked him to promise me he would never marry again. He asked if it was because it would hurt too much? “No,” I said. “It’s because you are incapable of being a good husband. No one’s happiness will ever be more important to you than you own.”
Not too long after our divorce was final I got two phone calls that showed just how unfaithful J had been. The first was from our bank. J had defaulted on a personal loan. The loan we had taken out was supposed to be for repairs to our home after a particularly bad storm. We took out a $2,000 loan to make the repairs until our homeowners insurance kicked in and reimbursed us. I had signed the paperwork for the $2,000, he then added a zero on to the end of the total, so it turned in to $20,000. He had taken responsibility for the loan in the divorce, I am assuming so that I wouldn’t find out. Now the bank was trying to collect. That didn’t have an impact on me financially, however I had to sit down and think about where $18,000 went. That question was answered with the next call.
For quite some time after my divorce I wallowed in my own misery. The people who loved me watched me morph into someone they didn’t know. I was in pain and it projected into everything I did. Finally, my father had seen enough. He took me on a long drive and told me a story he had never told me before. It was about his divorce from the woman he had been married to prior to my mother. “I was married less than a year and my divorce was devastating,” he said. “I can’t imagine how you are feeling, but I know you are better than this. You are hurting all of us with this and it’s time to pull yourself out of it. You are stronger than this. I know, because I raised you to be stronger than this.” He was right. I got a job and excelled at it. I lost weight and worked on pain management. I worked on being whole again. A big part of that was keeping the promise to myself to not care what J was doing. I erased him on Facebook, took his number out of my phone (even though I to this day have it memorized). I wiped him from my life, even if I couldn’t wipe him from my mind. Initially I refused to go out in public, believing what J had told me, that I was fat and ugly and no one would ever love me again. I started dating again. That part was initially disastrous, but as time went on, I got better at it. I loved and lost and loved some more. Every one of those men was a step in the right direction. Each made me feel special and beautiful again. God bless all of those men who helped me bounce back, even if our relationships didn’t last.
My loved ones watched me slowly bounce back. Even when I’d cry my eyes out at a failed relationship, they saw a little bit more of my old self returning. One day my father once again took me aside for a talk. “Remember when I told you that I raised you to be strong?” he asked. “Well baby, that’s why you struggle with men. It’s because I raised you to be strong and that intimidates boys. Someday you will meet a real man who can handle you not being a damsel in distress. He will love that you are strong, independent and maybe a little dangerous. It won’t intimidate him, it will attract him and he will love you more with everything you are willing to do on your own. And when he does something for you, he will do it right because you will rarely ask him for anything. I raised a woman. I raised you.”
I’m now the editor of a newspaper. I live in a nice home that I pay for all on my own. I don’t depend on a man for stability or happiness. I do however have a wonderful man in my life. I don’t want to say boyfriend as that word seems too trivial for him. He is sweet and strong. Sweet enough to tell me I’m beautiful, smart and kind. Strong enough to love my independence and love that I work on my own car. He can’t understand not loving those qualities.
I still have insomnia and night terrors. When I know I won’t sleep, I kiss him goodbye and go to my house so I don’t keep him up. When I have a night terror he holds me and tells me it’s safe. When my OCD kicks in, he helps me clean, even if I just might come behind him and clean it my way.
He’s beautiful, kind, loving and strong. Strong enough for my independent, strong and honestly damaged self.
Will it last? I hope so. But even if it doesn’t, he too, will be one of those people who brought me back from the brink of madness.
It has been almost four years since my divorce was final. I am grateful everyday for my divorce. It was a stepping stone in who I am today. My ex-husband taught me that I am strong. Too strong for him. He taught me that I deserve better. He taught me that I am beautiful, in spite of him. I’m going to make it. He no longer has a say in who I am and he never should have. No one who truly loves you should want you to be anyone other than who you are. You will grow together and be better in an effort to please one another, but you will essentially love the person for who they are. I’ve hit every step of the recovery process of a divorce. Sadness, I felt swallowed by sorrow. Defeated and destroyed. Anger, I kind of wanted him dead. After seven years together, I could almost imagine attending his funeral. The anger at least cancelled out the sadness. Jealousy, I wanted to be 19 again. When I had the body of a goddess. I was 2 percent body fat and loved every inch of myself. I hated D for having that and I hated myself for not. And after all of it, the chaotic mixture of every emotion over and over again, I felt happy. Happy to be me and happy to be free.
I said this before, but it’s incredibly important to me and I want anyone who goes through anything even close to my experience to know it pertains to them as well. I deserve better. I am not perfect, I am never going to be a super model or win a Nobel prize, but I deserve love. I deserve to be loved with the same intensity that I love with. I have my moments when I sparkle and shine. I deserve a man who recognizes those moments and is proud of my accomplishments, not one who is jealous of them or feels like less of a man because of them. Every woman is a goddess and should never settle for anything or anyone less than what she deserves.
If you find yourself in the pain and misery that I did, embrace it. That pain will make beautiful. It will make you compassionate. It will make you strong. And someday you will find yourself exactly where you belong.