by Anna Blanch Rabe, Guest Contributor
We have journeyed in and out, across the breadth and length of the state of New Mexico as the Trail of Tears (also known as Highway 60/84) has taken us north and south. We have explored the Sacramento Mountains, the artistic communities of the north, and the desert of the west. We have spent time along the eastern corridor traversing the Texas border for Palo Dura Canyon, Lubbock, Amarillo and Odessa. I have traverse the I-40 to Albuquerque to join in meetings and attend work conferences more often than has felt enjoyable.
We have marveled at the way the high plains sit above and the way it feels like a desert with its almost irrational heat and blistering cold. It is a forbidding place. Its people curl inward with deep roots.
It is hard to be an interloper; hard to feel like no matter how much you contribute to the community or give of yourself; you will always be new.
Hard, when even those who have been here for 20 years still feel as though they are looked upon as an outsider.
But to be an outsider is part of what it means to be a military family in the United States.
This is why military families often stick together socially; because this means you know longer have to answer how long you will be here or how you ended up here. To be together means leaving the outsider label to the side. As service in the military is now only something 1% of the U.S. population has any experience of, this sense of difference and isolation will likely only increase.
“Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”
– S.E. Hinton, “The Outsiders”
On the other hand, I often find the exceptionalism with which the military family community describes themselves to be jarring. Maybe, it is a hangover from the cultural shock of the American focus on the individual experience. The notion of the “specialness” of one life experience over another often has the effect of diluting the challenges that can draw people together and create the kind of community that I believe we all yearn for, and which enables the agency of the most vulnerable.
Please hear what I am saying, I am saying that certain policies do have a disproportionately negative impact on military families, and increasingly the research backs up the incredible economic and social impact – particularly of unemployment and underemployment of military families.
So there’s the central question: how do we ensure that military families are not punished for what is truly a life of service (not just for the member but for the whole family) while not further alienating ourselves from the communities we find ourselves, whether it is for 1 year or 20?
“We’re all we’ve got left. We ought to be able to stick together against everything. If we don’t have each other, we don’t have anything.”
– S.E. Hinton, “The Outsiders”
How do we tell our story, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism or exceptionalism?
The answer lies within the question: we tell our story.
We can tell it by the numbers or by sharing some of the everyday.
This is part of the everyday. Part of the story of our experience in eastern New Mexico (where we would not have lived these past 3 years if not for my husband’s service in the U.S. military).
New Mexico has a curiously clarifying effect. I have said that it is easy to see the forest (the big picture) when there are no trees. The sky often glimmers with pink, orange and greyish blues at sunset. The changeable winds bring the smell of cow manure to slam up against the post rain smell of new growth. Did I mention the smell?
Clovis has brought us a beginning. It will always be the first place we made our home as newlyweds, where we waited for news of my immigration status, where we spent many nights with neighbors who became more than friends, and where we struggled through the challenges of my husband’s schedule and work demands and discovered the need for better blackout curtains.
Clovis will always be where I learned that my grandfather had died; where I met my niece Emily (via FaceTime) as an hours old infant in my sister’s arms; where our older nieces E & C helped me plant flowers.
Clovis is where I have written grant applications, celebrated the victories of leading a community-based nonprofit, and cried about its challenges.
Clovis is where I have held friends’ babies, danced with toddlers (and helped with potty training), celebrated weddings with friends, and where we have cried with friends as they have dealt with devastating loss.
This is where there has been wine and cocktails, and where we have shared Sunday family dinners and weeknight meals. This home is where we have spent many nights apart as we both worked in our own ways to make the world a better and safer place.
“nothing can wear you out like caring about people”
– S.E. Hinton, “That Was Then, This Is Now”
We will be moving (the military calls it a PCS – Permanent Change of Station) in late July or early August.
Right now, we are in a state of overwhelm – we are trying to finish out our time here and our jobs here, well; trying to stay healthy and hold out until we can take a little time to explore New Mexico in early July; trying to sell one house, and working on buying another.
There is a great deal of adulting going on, and quite a bit of crazy making. You know, just the usual military family stuff.
“Writer’s were supposed to be a little crazy”
– S.E. Hinton
How are you telling your story as a military spouse? What is your story and what does your story say about you?
Anna Blanch Rabe is an Australian-born writer and advocate, who is also married to an Air Force officer. She has written for MSJDN Blog, Transpositions, and Englewood Review of Books. She works as the CEO of Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates LLC, serving nonprofits, social enterprises, and attorneys with strategic, digital, and narrative initiatives. You can read more of her writing on her blog.