by Tamala Malerk, Guest Contributor
I have always been an independent person.
I babysat and tutored from my early teen years into my twenties for spare cash. I got my first official job at 17. You know those poor saps you see on the side of the road spinning signs, yeah, that was me.
I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree and got a job teaching high school. I was making a good salary doing something I love with benefits such as health insurance, retirement plan, paid time off, and let’s not forget the 6 weeks off for summer that I was paid for.
My husband upon graduating from college was accepted into the Army OCS program and offered an active duty contract. This was big deal for him. He had always seen himself joining the military and this was his shot to be a leader. There was no way I could tell him “no.”
When the time came to join him after OCS, I said goodbye to my coworkers, my friends and my family.
I also said goodbye to my full-time salary.
We decided that now would be a great time for me to go back to school and earn my graduate degree. I have always wanted to teach at the college level. I was accepted into an online Master of Arts program, but classes didn’t start for 3 months.
I spent my days applying for scholarships, job hunting and cleaning our tiny one-bedroom apartment. I have never lived in such a clean home in my life.
I was bringing in my teaching paychecks, thanks the whole paid summer thing mentioned before, but I still felt the need to contribute financially to our household.
I put my paychecks into my savings account and found myself in a position that I hadn’t been before; I was about to stop earning my own money. Even in college, I had always made sure I made more money than to just cover my bills. I am frugal person. I shop only the sales and clearance racks and secondhand stores, but I have expensive habits such as Starbucks, tattoos and yoga classes.
Now as a military dependent without an income, I hesitated to buy a new shirt because it was no longer just “my” money.
I gave up yoga although I loved it because I felt bad about the costs of the classes.
Let me elaborate by saying my husband never put me on any kind of budget, never told me it was “his” money, never said to quit anything; he was nothing but supportive of my decision to go to grad school full-time.
Still, I could not shake the feeling that I, a military dependent, was no longer independent since I wasn’t earning a salary.
He was constantly out in the field, so I spent my days brooding about my lack of job and waiting for grad school to start. Every time a bill came, I felt guilty because his salary was paying for it. Though he swore we were a team and that my education was an investment into “our” future, I could not get past the whole “his” and “mine” concept.
I felt like I was no longer the strong and independent young woman I had been; I found myself feeling like I was just a military dependent.
I was excited when I found a part-time job about 2 weeks before school started. Yes, going from $1,300 paycheck to less than $300 one was quite a hit, but at least I would be making my own money again.
As time went on, I busted my butt to get the best grades in college, worked my part-time job, spent every second I could with my husband on the rare occasion he was not at work and still managed to keep our apartment as clean as it was when I was not working or going to school.
I put it on myself to be the best darn housewife I could be on top of work and graduate school.
He worked all the time and I wanted to make sure that he had no worries at home. I found myself constantly stressed out and crying alone because I was ashamed when a load of laundry didn’t get done or I would get anxious about making the 30-minute commute to base to have lunch with him, because that would be time lost from working on schoolwork.
I wanted to prove to him, wait, let’s be honest — I wanted to prove to myself — that I was still a strong, and independent woman.
About halfway through the first semester I had a mental breakdown in my husband’s truck after a lunch with him on base. It was all too much.
I told him everything that I was feeling: how I was overwhelmed by everything and how for months I struggled with my loss of identity. I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Was I just an Army wife?
Did he think less of me because I was not a full-time financial contributor to our household income?
He reassured me that he did not think any less of me, and in fact appreciated everything that I did. He once again reassured me that we really were a team. He worked hard to put a roof over our heads and I made sure that there were groceries in the fridge, clean clothes for us and that while he felt the need to just dump his Army stuff everywhere, I went behind him to ensure that our apartment could not be mistaken for a surplus store.
He even suggested that I quit my job because that was the one thing that could be taken out of the equation without any real repercussions. At first I was really upset at that suggestion, because here I was complaining about my loss of independence and identity, and he wanted me to give up the one measly sense of independence I did have.
He then went on to really describe how we were partners.
He did not see me as his military dependent – he saw me as his wife, his equal.
He wanted me to succeed, not to be stressed. He did not want me to sacrifice my happiness. It finally hit me that this was my life partner and that when I agreed to share my life with him, I agreed to trust in him and his love for me.
Yes, he was the primary breadwinner now, but who is to say that one day I will not take over that role? Sure, our roles were not, and are still not the same, but they are what make our relationship and our lives successful.
I did not end up quitting my part-time job. Instead I talked to my boss about working a schedule with fewer hours and I started taking yoga classes again to help with the stress.
Since my mental breakdown, we PCSed and I left my job a month before our move so I could handle all the moving preparations and he could just focus on what he had to on his end. We moved to a new town, and just a few months in, I found myself packing up an apartment again because he would be deploying.
In about 3 weeks I start my second year of school. In lieu of a part-time job, I will be volunteering at the local archives – an internship that allows me to network and gain experience for when I am finally out of school.
I am still an independent woman, but now I have an awesome partner that allows me to be an even stronger version of myself.
I am an Army wife.
I am a military dependent.
But I am also a graduate student, a fledgling historian, a dog mom, a caffeine addict and an avid yogi.
I have found myself again.
Tamala Malerk is a graduate history student who spends her free time reading comics, drinking coffee, and freelance writing. You can read her comic books reviews and featured stories on AVN Today and follow the adventures of her basset hound on his blog Adventures of Otto.