Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Memories don't fade

There were a lot of Eliza's 'firsts' that Ed missed while he was gone. She was 10 months when he left for training, and 22 months when he came back. If you've ever had a kid, you know how much happens in that small time frame.

She began walking a few weeks after he left and he didn't get to experience her first steps. He did get to come home for 4 days between his training and deployment and see her though, which was such a bittersweet moment for all of us.

You can't really tell, but there's tears in his eyes here. He walked in the door of my mom's house and she shyly toddled up to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. It was as if the 2 month he'd been gone had never happened, except for the fact that she was walking to him instead of crawling, and could clearly say "Daddy" now. Her first birthday was shared through pictures and journal entries.

Her first word was 'dada' (of course- because my kids love me like that. Eliza called me 'Bob' until she was almost 2. I only wish I were kidding.) and I can still remember her watching the videos he'd send us; him sitting alone in the cab of his wrecker, talking to the camera as if it were us. The tears welling in his eyes as he'd tell her how much he loved and missed her. I have a video I took of her watching his video, and the way she smiles from ear to ear as soon as his face comes on the screen- the way she responds, as if he can hear her, and the absolute sadness on her fact when he waves bye bye at the end. Maybe it seems cruel to do that to a kid- and who knows, maybe it was. I was more concerned about her remembering him, her keeping his face in her head so she'd know who he was the moment she laid eyes on him at the airport gates. I just didn't want her to ever forget her daddy.

I remember how many times we said we were glad she was so young while he was gone because she'd never remember and hopefully walk away unscathed from it all. Boy were we wrong.

She found the pictures I had cut out and laminated for her the other day. Somewhere in the depths of her toy box, she dug them out and came running up to me. "Look mom! It's my family! I had these when daddy was gone being a shouldjur! When I was little, like Bubbins!" The kid is an elephant- she never forgets shit. I wasn't all that surprised when Orrie got a hold of one she left on the floor and she snatched it up, screaming "No Bubbins! These are MINE!" I didn't punish her for it. I understand her desire to keep something from that time as all hers, so I couldn't imagine punishing her. I just told her to keep them in her room where he couldn't get to them.

She watched that video a few days ago- the one of her when she was little, watching her daddy's video. Within the first few seconds of the video, I watched as a normally rambunctious, sassy three year old, suddenly turned into a somber little adult. Her face clouded over and she rested her head on her shoulder- and she watched it quietly. When it was over, she asked in a small voice to watch it again. I was so overtaken by how different she was acting, I told her no- it was the past and we didn't need to worry about that anymore. She didn't press me, but she also didn't act the same for the rest of the night.

As parents, we fuck up. We make choices we later regret. I worry a lot about how all of this is effecting her, and even if I don't give things like that video enough forethought, I hope it's not fucking her up too badly. I know that I don't have to do or say anything and she'll still remember, but I don't want to hurt her by forcing her to remember too.

Orrie's milestones are hard. He'll be 10 months old next month, so everything he starts doing from that point on is new territory for Ed. They're super exciting for all of us, but it comes with a bit of sadness, as Eliza perks up and asks, "Do you remember when I was little and did that like Orrie, Daddy?!" What's there to say? Lie and hope she doesn't remember that part, or tell her the truth and risk breaking her heart?

These are things they don't teach you in the Family Readiness meetings. These are the things that catch us by surprise every day. We're 6000 miles from Iraq, and yet we continue to live inside of it in the most unexpected of ways...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Whole lotta crazy.

There's a lot of crazy going on in this family- and sometimes, in the middle of all the craziness, you just have to stop and laugh...

Like my husband- and the absolute badunkadunk he's got going on. He'd make Beyonce jealous, ya'll.

Or the weird ways you'll find us sleeping- because laying on your back to sleep is just SO yesterday.

Our hairstyles are always bound to be found on runways across the world.

And sticking things UP your nose is not allowed- but on it? Eh, well...

Cute is just a way of life (all together now- awwww! ;- ) )

And sometimes.. sometimes Mommy needs a little more comic relief during the day then TV can provide.. and thus, you get this:

Whatchu lookin at foo? I'm 2 years outta the pen, kickin it for real, yo.

*ROTFLMAO!!* I need professional help, but that's ok! We all do around here!

(and for an FYI< the hat and the look on her face were all HER. I can't take credit for those, although I'm sure the 'crazy' genetic plays a role in there somewhere. )

SMILE! Have a happy Thursday!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Goodbye Uncle Sam, Goodbye.

Thankfully, neither of us really have an Uncle Sam.

The 15th came and went uneventfully (for me- thanks to a migraine kicking my ass) and it wasn't until Ed's aunt emailed me the next day did I remember that I had missed Ed's last day of being indebted to the Army. His contract with them was officially up that day, and I wish like hell we would have celebrated. Balloons, party hats, noise makers- something! But still, the ever so important face remains- he's out. A huge chapter of our lives has closed. Closed, but not forgotten or recovered from quite yet.

I don't know that many in the military would celebrate the day their IRR ended (at least not that they'd admit- there's some kind of weird stigma attached to leaving- you have to be unhappy about it or else that somehow translates into you not feeling like your time in was 'worth it' or 'meant something'...) and although I'm sure it's slightly bittersweet for Ed, considering there's admittedly a part of him that would go back there in a heartbeat if it weren't for me or the kids, he's said he's glad to have that part of his life done with. There's a lot of healing left to do now.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's less then a week until Ed's IRR (Inactive Ready Reserve- he has to serve 2 years after his active commitment to the reserves is over- which started in October when he was over there) is officially over. Six days until I never have to worry about the words "Stop Loss" or spending another year alone with (now two) kids.

Yes, I'm counting down. I can't help it. I'm not entirely sure my psyche can handle going through all of that again.

Recently, I met a girl who's husband is currently over there for his second tour- and they have three kids. He's active duty but she stayed around here to be close to her family. When I mentioned how I couldn't do it again, she smirked and made a snide comment about how it's not really THAT hard. I had to stop myself from saying anything else, because I know how hard it is to be actively in that position. You can't even begin to admit to yourself how hard it really is alone, or else the cracks will start to grow and the fear of breaking completely apart is palpable. I don't envy her, as much as she may have looked down on me for admitting that deployments suck and I never wanted to do it again. I don't find it a lack of strength, but an honest realization of what a deployment totally encompasses- there's SO much no one told me about this journey. And I'm still learning more about it by the day.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

If something should happen....

Two years ago today- this was the post on my private blog:

Ed's convoy got hit by 2 IEDs today.

And when he was messing with the second one, they started getting shot at.

He's fine, thank god, and he's hyper and excited because it's the first real combat he's seen. I dunno. I guess you would get a pretty good high from surviving trying to be killed...

Killed. Fuckin' eh.

I knew *something* had happened... he hadn't called all day and hadn't been online.

And as superstitious as it sounds, I knew because 2 of my analog clocks stopped around the exact same time today- 1:50. I'm not sure if they stopped in the AM or the PM, but they stopped... And when I noticed it, I knew. I didn't know what I knew, but I knew.

I wasn't walking around with a heavy weight in my stomach, so I knew he was ok. But I knew *something* had happened.


I don't know how I feel about all of this.

It's late, I'm tired- and the benedryl I took to help me sleep is coursing through me, making it impossible to think clearly. Now, if only I could get my haywire mind to just shut up and let me sleep.

I'm numb. The benedryl or absolute gut-wrenching denial? Not sure which... I'll sort it all out tomorrow. Tonight, I thank God he's still ok, and I try and get some rest... *sigh*

There was always that innate fear that Ed wouldn't come back home to us. As a mechanic and wrecker driver, he was often out of the wire, riding with a Explosives Ordinance Disposal team.. they're pretty much the crazy bastards that drive around actually LOOKING for IED's to detinate or disarm before some unlike guys (or civilians) come along and find them. They call it "Route Clearance"- I call it 12 kinds of crazy, but whatever.

That day, he was on a route they often took when one of the vehicles in the convoy was hit with an IED (sometimes they find them by default.) Ed's job was to jump out of his wrecker, hook up the blasted vehicle, and tow it back to base to either be fixed or used for parts. On the way back to base, the convoy hit yet another IED and another truck was blasted. Thankfully no one was seriously injured (MRAP's rock. Seriously.) but as he was out trying to hook up the second vehicle to his truck, a bunch of guys in a truck came by shooting at them. It was dark out, so all he could see were the pings of metal on metal as the bullets hit the truck around him. He downplays it and says it was nothing- he didn't even get a scratch.. but I look at him and wonder how he could think something so.. immense.. could have had absolutely no effect on him.

He made it back into his wrecker and realized as soon as he got in, that the lights on the blasted vehicle were stuck on, and made them a giant target for the guys shooting at them. So my ever-so-intelligent husband jumped back out of his truck, into the middle of this fire fight, and used his wrench to break the lights out of the truck. He barely remembers it- he was going on nothing but his gut instinct and adrenaline, but the guys in his unit recommended him for a medal for it.

He calls this ordeal the one thing he did over there that really 'felt like war'... he always says something about how he's not a 'real Vet' because he didn't see the action that some of the guys, like Infantry, have seen over there. I tend to think that no matter what you do over there, you're still over there, and that's a damn sight more then most people.

I hope he knows how proud of him I am.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Story of Us

Marriage isn't something I entered into lightly. Even though we married at the courthouse with only our closest family and friends in attendance, I've never seen us in terms of a 'shot gun' wedding. I was never one of those girls that spent hours dreaming about her wedding day. I could probably count on one hand the numbers of times I'd ever thought at length about my wedding before it happened. So I don't feel as though anything was lost in the execution. Everything with our story has been different, why not that as well?

Ed and I met online in spring of 2005. Yes, on a personals site. (I can hear you all chuckling now.. it's ok; it still makes me laugh too. ;-) ) Neither of us were into the bar scene, and both were in college at the time. He was spending his week in the dorms at a college about a two hours away from where I lived and went to school, and then driving home on the weekends, which was just thirty minutes from where I lived. The first night I met him in person, it was on a whim. My friend Sam and I were headed out for a night on the town, and he just happened to be going to drill that same night at a nearby town. So, on the spur of the moment, we swung into his unit's parking lot and I can still remember it so well. I was so insanely nervous to meet him. We'd had a good connection on the phone, but I wasn't entirely sure how it would pan out in person. As he came towards the car with his cap pulled down tight and his BDUs swooshing, I couldn't stop looking at him. Under the streetlights, his eyes were a beautiful green. He looked me straight in the eyes, smiled in a way that just melted me, and I knew then, I believe, that my life had forever changed, even if I didn't consciously realize it at the time.

I remember the moment I realized this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with... after a few months of dating, we were headed to visit his grandparents, and we pulled behind a car with the license plates "RS JS", with an older couple inside.. I just assumed it was both their initials.. and before I realized I had even said it, I heard myself say, "That's so silly- couldn't they come up with something a little more creative? I don't want to do that when we're old and married- I still want to be a little fun with it." And right there, I stopped. Without even realizing it, I had begun envisioning a life with him that went far beyond the few dates we'd been on.

We now have two beautiful children, more memories then I could ever fit onto a single blog post, and a life together that, although at times stressful, isn't something I'd give up on.

Something I have always loved about Ed is his ability to bring me outside of myself. Even if he doesn't believe it, he's one of the few people I've met that could ever make me stop in my stubborn-ass tracks and make me actually realize I'm being stubborn. He's also given me a stability that I never really knew existed. We aren't drama, we aren't crazy out there insanity. We're quarky, and yeah, we fight.. but a lot of what we do together.. works. I don't think I could have found someone who gets me as well as he does. Most of the time, we found ourselves saying the exact same things at the exact same time, or needing nothing more then a glance between us to know what the others thinking. That's a dance you perfect over time, and it makes me happier then I ever thought possible to have that with another person.

It didn't take me long to realize that Ed's a different kind of guy. He's not typical in any respect of the word. He communicates a whole lot better then any man I've ever met, and even if our communication is skewed sometimes, at least he tries. Before Iraq, he was super in touch with his emotions. He had no issue saying, "I feel this way..." and there wasn't room for wondering or questions. It was one of the things I loved most about him. He doesn't do football or sports. He loves guns and things that explode. His brain works in this way that never fails to amaze me (engineer anyone?)... And as hard as these last few years have been, I haven't fallen out of love with him. Not once.

When I met Ed, I knew I had found someone extraordinary. I knew I had found someone special. I attribute that to a big reason why things are getting better between us. Because unlike so many people I know who promise to change and never do, Ed's always been exceptionally good at keeping his promises. And even if it took something really bad happening (I'll go into detail about it eventually.. I'm not quite ready to yet since we're still working out the kinks, and I find hindsight's always a lot more clear the farther you get away from something..) at least it's happening. At least he's working hard to change what needs to, and become the man our family needs him to be. Don't get me wrong, he has his faults- just as I have mine- and things aren't always peachy and great. But, when I count my blessing, I definitely count him twice. ;-)

No, Ed's not the man I fell in love with 4 years ago. I'm not the woman he married 2 years ago. We've lived, experienced, and become different people over the course of this war, and we're working hard to find each other again. It's not about changing- because you're always going to change. It's a cycle that you just have to accept, and realize that even if it's hard now, it will get better in time. But BOTH people have to be willing to make it better, and BOTH people have to realize that the bad comes with the good, and if you just hold on a little bit longer... it gets better. It does get better.

Love is just lust in disguise, and lust fades, so you damn well better be with someone who can stand you.
-- The Story of Us

Monday, September 14, 2009

"The sunsets over there are so beautiful."

We haven't passed a single sunset (seriously- no exaggerating) since Ed's been home where he hasn't said that sentence. It's not that I don't want him to talk about his time over there, but sometimes, it's just so hard to know he's thinking about it so often. I do love that he's open enough with me that he tells me when Iraq crosses his mind, but at the same time, it hurts because he's flat out told me- if it weren't for me and the kids, he would have already re-upped and offered to go back. That's a hard thing to hear, as a wife. That the person you spent a year longing for and wanting home is more comfortable in a completely different continent in totally different circumstances.

I've accused Ed of being selfish because of that. To me, over there is something he longs for because all he had to worry about was himself. I know this sounds crazy to some people, considering the type of worry (Am I going to get hurt today? Am I going to die today?) isn't something most people prefer, let alone envy someone else for... but war is different. War is a constant adrenaline high, where your body and your mind are constantly 'on alert' and ready for anything. I can only imagine how boring this life we lead here must seem after all of that. But I personalized Ed's comments and felt he just wanted the freedom of only having to worry about himself back. Two kids, a house hold, money, work- it's all boring, crappy life. A part of me understands his comment, and another part felt slighted for it.

It's hard for people who haven't been through it to understand (what in life isn't that same way?) but imagine spending a year of your life away from your significant other, and all the changes that would have to come from that. As a wife and mom, I became the HMFIC (Head Mother F*(&^&@ In Charge)- I made all the decisions for myself and Eliza, and had no one else to consider. We had our little way of doing things and I became so used to doing it MY way that once Ed came back into the picture, I didn't even realize I wasn't considering him in the family choices anymore. As much as he had changed, so had I. And, in the same breath as him saying he wished he were back there, I found myself wishing he were too. Now don't get me wrong, I didn't honestly want him to go back, I just had no idea how to deal with this new person who had returned, and he was in such a bad place mentally that all I wanted was the stable, selfish, easy life Eliza and I had created for that year. I suppose, when I look back on it, Ed and I had imagined each other and the life we would lead when he got home as something completely different from reality. But, that being said, had we not have illusions of each other during our time apart, we may have had a lot more issues while he was gone. Sustaining a marriage from thousands of miles away and ultimately not knowing what the outcome would be, is undoubtedly one of the hardest things we've done.

Little did we know that it was just the beginning of a very long, very hard road towards some semblance of normalcy...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Our little secret

Sundays were always the hardest days for me while Ed was in Iraq. I could say it was because of our weekly devotional church meetings where we'd gather with friends and family to pray and worship. But, we're not religious and have never been to church together. I could say it was because of lazy mornings spent lounging in bed until noon, but you already know we had a 10 month old at the time, so that wasn't even a probability. Or maybe it was cheering on our favorite team together during Sunday Night Football. However, we're not sports fans at all, and I'm not sure either of us really understands football anyways.

No. I can't say any of that. Because the real reasons Sunday's were hard was simply because of a site we'd come to love together. Postsecret.com isn't a well kept secret on the internet- millions of people go there every Sunday, just like Ed and I did. But what I loved were seeing the new cards each week together, seeing each others reactions, and spending time talking about the ones that really hit close to home or really made us cringe. It was something we did every Sunday morning, like most people read the newspaper or go to church. There's no greater way to delve into the unknown about each other then other people's secrets.

I'm reminded of this because it's 2AM and Postsecret has been updated, but I refuse to look at it. Ed's currently laying in bed snoring and not once in the past year and a half that he's been home have I looked at it that site without him.

It seems simple, and it seems silly. A website updated once a week. How stupid can you get? But, it reminds me of a time when I looked at it alone every Sunday and had to wait until he got back from a mission to talk to him about it- which may have been that evening, or a week later.

We used to always say we would work so hard to make sure we didn't take each other for granted again after he came home. That lasted all of about 2 months. Once you get back to real life, all the things you learned over the course of that time takes a backseat to the here and now.

That doesn't mean I'm not occasionally caught off guard with a deep pang of remembrance, which makes me regret all the more that I can't remember more often what that year apart felt like. Sometimes, when I least expect it, I'm reminded how lucky I am that at least he's here to share all of this with- even the extremely bad shit.. at least he's here.

"I want my daddy back..."

This is something my daughter says almost every day. It's something we've never really given much thought to since he's usually at work when she says it, and it's normally right about the time she's getting in trouble for something. It wasn't until she started obsessing about where he worked- pointing out every building we passed and saying it was his place of work, and making up these elaborate stories about daddy shooting water guns, when we realized that maybe, just possibly, she remembers his year long absence from our lives.

Eliza was 10 months old when Ed left for Iraq. He wasn't able to be here for her first steps, her first birthday, her first surgery (boo ear tubes!)... Thankfully he was here to witness her first words (Dada, of course) but other then that, most of her milestone were caught on tape and shared through this wonderful thing called the internet. Thank jeebus for all this newfangled technology.

Anyhow, being that she was just shy of 2 when he returned (she's 3 now), we hoped she wouldn't remember it. I have no idea why we thought that because of course, our child is an elephant and can recite to you everything she did 3 Tuesdays ago. She totally got that from her dad because heaven knows I can't even remember what day it is half the time. I think this is both a good and a bad thing. Good because hopefully she kicks ass in school- bad because of things like this.

When it really hit us that there was more to this work/daddy/home obsession (yes, we need hit with a fire truck before we notice the most obvious crap) was when I was watching a video made for the Cold song "When Angels Fly Away"- which is very military and the video was a tribute to fallen soldiers. The first thing out of her mouth was "That's a soldier like daddy!" She definitely remembers the fatigues. Then she said, "I want my daddy back." I explained to her that he wasn't over there anymore, that he was just at work and he'd be home later that afternoon. She seemed noticeably relieved at that, but was still on edge while the video played and pictures of other soldiers came across the screen.

I wonder if she'll always remember, and I worry that it's somehow going to effect her in the future. Ed and I have talked about the whole "How is this going to effect her on a Freudian level" type of thing- will she have a fear of abandonment? Will she just remember subconsciously and will it effect her in the future? Given that neither of us has psych degrees (though I will say, that year I majored in psych made me a pretty decent armchair shrink if I do say so myself ;-) ) we won't know until we get there. But for now, we just give her extra hugs, make sure she knows everything's better now, and we look toward the future as best as we can. We can't change that year- we can't take it back or erase it. So, we do with it what we can and push forward, fixing the breaks as they happen. I will say, that's the one thing the military has helped with, even though it hurts sometimes, it's pretty damn effective. The "Suck it up, Push the hell on" mentality... it sucks, but it works.

By the way, we did take her to his work to try and appease her worries a little, and since he's an AutoCAD drafter for a small company, they didn't mind her checking it out. It seemed to help a bit, but now she just thinks he shoots water guns at computer screens...?? Welcome to my life.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What is frago/changeo?

I asked my husband what military lingo made the most sense to him given our circumstances- and the first words he said were "Frago" or "Changeo" and he said because it means: "they screwed up and now everything's up in the air and no one knows what the heck is going on because the unexpected happened"... that's the best way I know how to put this site- and ultimately, our lives.

Frago and Changeo both are milspeak for "a change of mission to reflect a change of circumstances"

To me, those two terms suit the past 3 years of our lives quite well. Even though I grew up with a Vietnam Vet father with 20 years in the air force, and a brother in the service for 18 years already and also a vet, I've grown up a civilian in more ways then not. So don't worry about getting lost in all the military lingo- I know very little of it, but what I do know of it can help to sometimes convey more then civi-speak. I apologize for the explanations after every bit of lingo- but I don't want anyone to feel lost in the maze of acronyms.
I'll be going into more detail over time about everything that's happened, but I always find a short bio nice to start off.

My husband, Edward, was deployed to Iraq in May of 2007. Our daughter was only 10 months old at the time. We had only been married 3 months before he left. He served as a Combat Engineer Mechanic in Ramadi, Iraq for a year as their wrecker guy. He spent more time out of the wire (off base) then all the guys in his unit. So he was there for all 3 of their IED (improvised explosive device- a really freaking big bomb meant for vehicles) hits. Thankfully, everyone survived all of them, and they came back with a full battalion alive, although a few were badly hurt.

The thing we didn't expect, and that the military doesn't tell you- is that the war doesn't end when your soldier gets home. You can't just leave it behind and you can't just 'get over' it... There is no 'readjustment period'- the 6 months to a year that they push on you before 'everything gets back to normal'... Normal ceases to exist. What they don't tell you is that no matter what your solider endures over there- however little or however much, they WILL NOT come back unchanged. No matter how much they tell you they're still the same, no matter how much you want so wholeheartedly to believe it- it's impossible. You don't live that life for a year plus and not come back deeply changed.

This blog is about our journey as a family, struggling to get back to some semblance of ourselves after Iraq. We're still in the midst of it all, so I'm not doing this as having 'been there, done that'- but I do hope this helps at least another family member who's struggling to get through this same time period, or maybe hasn't even gotten there yet. There's so many things I wish I'd have known.
I hope our story at least sheds some light into some very dark corners...