by Tamala Malerk, Guest Contributor
When I was shopping for a wedding dress, I tried on dresses ranging in price from $99 to $1,500. I have simple tastes and chose a $400 clearance dress, and upon my selection my sister looked at me and said
“you might as well splurge on a more expensive dress, you’ll spend more time with it, than your husband.”
At that time, I was 2 weeks into a 14-week separation, and over the course of 6 months I would only spend about 10 days with my husband.
Now that we are full swing into the military life, her statement does not seem like much of an exaggeration, with the 12- to 14-hour workdays, the almost weekly staff duty shifts and the constant feeling of being on-call.
Now I am preparing for a 5-month separation, where my husband will be halfway across the world, and this time I will not be surrounded by my lifelong friends and family.
Since my husband began this military journey, people have been giving me lots of deployment advice, both solicited and not, about how to cope with his being gone: keeping busy (the main one), along with only allowing small moments of sadness and embracing the happy moments.
What no one explained to me are the feelings, thoughts and things that happen in the period when you are both anticipating the deployment – the pre-deployment phase.
1. The deployment is the underlying topic of every fight and scuffle.
Yesterday my husband got frustrated at me because I was sealing up a return package with Scotch tape instead of packing tape. I couldn’t find the packing tape, and was just gonna have them seal it at the UPS store, but wanted to at least sort-of seal it.
Yes, we really had a 2-minute skirmish about sealing a return package. Both of us knew that it was not about how I was sealing a package. It may have momentarily confused him that I was not using the correct tape, but it was nothing that warranted an actual argument.
It was the same thing that has been eating at us for weeks now. I do not want him to leave, he does not want to leave, and nothing that either of us can do will change the fact that he is leaving. We both feel powerless.
Ninety-five percent of the time I am my normal self, but his anticipated departure has determined that at any given moment I am liable to start crying when something stupid reminds me that he is leaving. Even if it’s packing tape.
2. Sunday nights are absolutely the worst.
Most people settle into the fact that when they go to sleep on Sunday night that inevitably Monday morning will follow and the joys of the weekend are at their end.
The feeling multiplies when a separation is coming up.
We treasure every second we have together during the workweek, but that is only a couple of hours a day. We relish in Friday evenings where we get to stay up past 9 p.m. We spend Saturdays and Sundays doing new things and things we always said we would do. Then Sunday night comes and we relax, ultimately realizing we are one week closer to him officially leaving.
Some days I feel like Garfield wearing his robe, holding a cup of coffee, grumbling that “Mondays suck.”
3. That feeling of “hope” that the deployment will be canceled never goes away.
We arrived at our duty station in the spring. We were just settling in, when my husband comes home one Friday and says “There is a 90 percent chance that I’m going away this summer.”
He had to say 90 percent.
I swore to myself that 90 percent meant 100 percent. I told myself he was for sure going, and that I was going to prepare for this deployment.
Unfortunately, there is a little part inside of me that refuses to give up hope.
For a whole month, my husband would come home and say things like “well maybe they are changing it, maybe they aren’t” but I would not let him say anything definitely until he knew for sure (or as for sure as the Army can be).
We were deployment limbo.
My husband was on instructions to work as if there were 2 missions that were going to happen, one where he was going and one where his role would be at home. I told myself he was still going, but inside, no matter how hard I tried, the hope that he would stay was still there.
About a month and a half later, my husband came home with something definitive to say, “OK, so this is going to go one of three ways: one, we are leaving in the summer, two, the most likely is that we are leaving in the fall, or three, we are not going at all.”
My inner hope meter went crazy. Autumn sounded so much better than the summer and “not at all” sounded like Christmas decorated with unicorns.
Then a few days later, a Friday nonetheless (noticing a pattern?), my husband comes home and says, “I’m going to ruin your weekend.”
Needless to say, I told myself that I have accepted the fact that he is leaving, but I know that some small part of me hopes that he will come home and say that he is not leaving.
I was prepared for the “keep busys” and the “don’t let the sadness overcome you,” of deployment but nothing has prepared me for the stupid fights, the sad Sundays and the feelings of hope associated with this pre-deployment phase.
I try to remember what the underlying cause is when I see a stupid fight coming on. I distract myself as much as I can on Sundays and get as many cuddles as possible on Sunday nights. And as much as I know I shouldn’t, I do not give up on that little speck of hope.
I know not having him here will be hard and I want to enjoy this pre-deployment phase as much as possible.
Is there anything I missed? What would you tell someone facing the pre-deployment phase?
I am a graduate student studying history. I also write reviews and feature stories for the nerd culture website avntoday.com. My husband and I have a 6-year-old rescue basset hound named Otto Von Barkmark.