If there’s one thing you’ll rarely experience in the military, it’s monotony. Jamie’s career in the Army has allowed us to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, often back to back to back. I’ve always said that the good times are really, really, really good (they have to be for anyone to choose to stick out the bad parts), but the lows can knock the wind out of you.
Instead of feeling emotional about leaving our active duty lives behind, I’ve instead felt nothing but excitement and gratefulness, while also feeling more reflective than melancholy. Excited for the brand new chapter we’re going to start as a family, immensely grateful for how the last decade has shaped us, and reflective about what a wild ride it’s been.
I’d love to share a few brief summaries of stories where I was feeling “all the feels”, both high and low. A few minutes ago I quickly jotted down a bulleted list of memories where my emotions felt off the charts in one direction or the other. I’m sure if I took a couple days I could probably come up with a really long list, but I wanted this post to be full of the moments that immediately came to mind; the stories that left such big impressions on my life, that I’ll never, ever forget how I felt while experiencing them.
We got married in January 2011, and he deployed to Afghanistan three months later. I was still living in Alabama with my parents while working as a teacher, so Jamie and I spent every weekend together during those few months in between.
One weekend he drove down to see me about three weeks before he left, and for some reason I become completely overwhelmed with fear that he was going to die in Afghanistan. I remember sitting on my bed in my room, still wearing my professional clothes from school (I included this detail because I can still distinctly remember what I was wearing), while he kneeled in front of me, and I just hugged him and sobbed into his shoulder for a good 20 minutes while he talked me off the ledge.
The war was extremely intense in Afghanistan during that time, and we were losing a lot of soldiers.The reality of his departure and his mission hit me like a ton of bricks that day, and I think I needed to get out that emotion in order to power through that final “anticipation” period before he left.
When they lost soldiers
Jamie’s task force lost six soldiers the two days before my sister’s May 2011 wedding, and Jamie looked several of them in the eye before they went out to do that mission during a brief he was apart of. He actually took a picture with one of them a few days prior, which is the last picture of John alive. I remember laying in my parent’s guest room talking to Jamie as he was falling apart on my sister’s wedding day, while everyone on the other side of the door was celebrating and getting ready for the wedding. I wanted to be so present for Jamie but so present for my sister, and I tried to do both. That was a rough one; still is sometimes when we talk about it. So many realities of this war people don’t realize.
Our reunion at a hospital in Germany
I flew last-minute to Germany in October 2011 to be with Jamie for a small, unexpected procedure he had done. He was exhausted from his travel, and I was exhausted from traveling and trying to find him all alone in this foreign country without cell phone service for either of us. Long story short, I tracked him down at the hospital, and I sat in the waiting room for him. When he finally came out I bolted to him and hugged him and cried. In hindsight, we both felt like big goobers because everyone around us probably thought we were crazy, but after six months apart as newlyweds, it was a euphoric feeling to feel him and have him in my arms and know he was okay.
That horrific sound of a car door slamming
Most military families know how the notification process works incase your loved one is KIA. I knew it would start with a knock on the door. I remember sitting in my living room feeling elated that Jamie was only three days away from returning from his first deployment, and I heard a car door slam so loud that I was sure it was in my driveway. The only windows to the front of my house were in our guest room, and I remember my heart stopping and running to the guest room to look out the window in fear, like I had done dozens of times throughout the last 10 months.
Sure enough, it was just someone parking in front of my house to visit people across the street, and I remember feeling numb as I walked back to the living room. I’ll never forgot that feeling for some reason. I knew Jamie was just hours from getting on a flight to come home, and I realized that that was the last time (for a while) that I would do that routine run to the guest room window. No more of that. He’d be home and safe soon. I didn’t cry. I was just numb as I thought about how unnatural it was to live that way – in fear – for so long every time I heard a car door slam in front of my house.
When he told me he was leaving again
About nine months after Jamie got home from his first deployment, he was selected to interview as a General’s Aide. Neither of us wanted this because it meant he would go back to Afghanistan for a year, so he didn’t pursue the opportunity quite as hard during the interview (one of the reasons was that we were considering starting a family soon).
When his superior got word of how Jamie’s interview went, he was furious. He selected Jamie to interview with another General later that week, and told him that he better not screw it up (but the words he used weren’t quite as nice). I was nervous about it all, but Jamie said it was a long shot that he would get it anyway. A couple days later, I pulled in the driveway from work, and Jamie pulled in right as I was getting out of the car. I was confused why he was home earlier than expected, and when I asked him why he was home already, he just said we needed to talk.
I immediately knew he got the job. I started somewhat laughing (that kind of laugh where you’re asking if this is joke) and saying a lot of curse words (also not super characteristic of me). I couldn’t even cry. I was just in shock as we stood in the driveway together. I then got so angry, threw him my phone, and told him to call my mom and tell her the news himself. I wanted her to know but I couldn’t bare to talk about it. After that, we bolted straight for a Mexican restaurant to laugh, cry, and mostly curse over queso and margaritas.
That memorable birthday…
I was six months pregnant on my 28th birthday, and Jamie had been deployed in Kuwait for three months. I had plans to go eat a birthday dinner with a couple friends that night, but that afternoon snow swept in out of nowhere, making it really gross (and somewhat dangerous) to be outside. I remember the wind was horrible as well, and I hated for my friends (and some of their kids) to get out in that. We agreed to postpone dinner, which wasn’t a big deal to me.
But then I remember sitting down on the couch around 4:30 and feeling so sorry for myself. Jamie had missed most of my birthdays throughout the last few years, he’d already missed our anniversary (again…) earlier that week as well, and I remember tearing up as I scrolled the internet trying to figure out what Hadley and I could have delivered. Jamie was already fast asleep in Kuwait and had no idea what a crappy birthday I’d been having.
Out of nowhere, our MOPS advisor Linda called and asked if she could take me to dinner. She and I hadn’t spent any time together outside of MOPS before, so I was floored by her offer. How did she know to call me? Just three weeks prior, her newborn granddaughter had passed away, but in Linda’s own season of grieving, she and her husband thought enough to take me (and my big pregnant belly) and my two year old daughter out to dinner. She had no idea how much her generosity and kindness meant to me and how perfectly timed her phone call came. About a year later I sobbed at a MOPS meeting as I told her just how much that meant to me. She was an absolute angel during a very difficult deployment day!
His homecoming from Afghanistan, round two
Seeing Jamie march in proudly after completing his second deployment was incredible. I couldn’t wait for him to see my pregnant belly for the first time (I was 38 weeks large and in charge). He must have touched and looked at my belly for 10 straight minutes as our photographer hung back and took pictures. Everything was right in the world during those few moments. He was home from one of the most dangerous countries in the world, we hadn’t seen each other in eight months, and I wouldn’t be giving birth without him.
The brigade ball
I didn’t attend my first ball until five years in, but it was worth the wait! It was for the whole brigade, and the head of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (highest ranking military officer) was the speaker (his son was a major in Jamie’s brigade). While listening to his incredible and humorous speech, I remember looking around at the 1,000k+ people around us and thinking about how they understood us. They got us. All of these spouses around me? They were gearing up for a nine month deployment too. I felt oddly so comforted and proud in that moment that our family was apart of something so great.
An unexplainable meltdown
The meltdown of the century came during Jamie’s third deployment. I was seven months pregnant, and Hadley and I were spending a gorgeous spring Friday afternoon at the park with our best friends. All of a sudden my friend’s husband pulls up to surprise all of us since the park was on his way home, and I remember seeing his son bolt for him. They laughed and played and had so much fun, but that site was akin to a dagger through my heart because I wanted that kind of joy so badly for Hadley.
She hadn’t seen her dad in four months, and she and Jamie were missing out on so much joy together. I went home that night and sobbed my guts out. My mom was so confused as she tried to comfort me on the phone about why this one tiny incident set me off. I didn’t really understand it either, but I remember so clearly how truly sad I felt that we still had so long to go before we’d be whole again. This situation had little to do with my friends and what I saw that day, and EVERYTHING to do with the fact that it was nothing more than the straw that broke the camel’s back at the halfway point in the deployment. I wanted what everybody else had, which was to have my family whole.
An airport reunion
And finally, picking Jamie up at the airport three days before Sadie’s birth was a very emotional moment for me. I had been so convinced for so long that he probably wouldn’t make it home in time, so having him walk through that jetway at the airport and into our arms was a surreal feeling. I had multiple people offer to come take pictures or just come to help me out with Hadley, but I was so emotional about the whole thing that I didn’t want anyone around. I just wanted Jamie. In hindsight, I wish I had pictures of that moment, but at the time I just didn’t want that. Deployments are SO hard, and to have your person in your arms is a feeling unlike any other. For me, they’ve always rivaled the happiness I felt on my wedding day or the moments I first held my daughters. They’re unbelievably blissful moments.
Thanks for reading through and sharing in these memories with me. <3