by Mackenzie Jervis, Guest Contributor
Deployment, for a military spouse, usually means seemingly endless days at home, waiting for a phone call or a message. When my husband told me he’d be deploying I made a promise to myself that would not be me. I would not be that person holding onto my phone, counting the seconds until I got a few minutes of light in the dark stretch of my day.
I know myself well enough that I didn’t have high hopes for keeping that promise. I’m not the most graceful when it comes to handling emotions. I would be a hot mess for the coming months if I didn’t do something.
With this impressive amount of self-awareness I created a multi-month itinerary that would force me as far away from my comfy self-pity couch as possible.
I packed my North Face duffel and headed to Amsterdam. I walked the canals and visited too many coffee shops (where I didn’t drink coffee).
In Athens I met up with friends. We took boat trips out to the islands, visited ancient ruins, took pictures of stray cats, and drank too much wine. In Crete I woke up before the sun to swim in the cool ocean.
In Santorini I stayed in a dirty hostel with people I couldn’t communicate with. I walked around the island, sweating through my clothes by 10 a.m. I couldn’t help but picture my husband in even hotter weather, only in a uniform and on a completely different type of “vacation.” In Cyprus I escaped the sun by scuba diving on shipwrecks and spending as much time in the water as possible.
In Riga, Latvia, where my tanned face stood out in the crowd, the taxi drivers warned me what parts of the city to stay away from. In Vilnius, Lithuania, I wandered around hipster-like neighborhoods and stayed at a hostel where shirtless Turkish guys didn’t know the meaning of personal space.
In Moscow I met up with a group of travelers and explored onion-topped buildings and tombs of communist leaders. We visited tiny villages where old women took us into their homes to cook traditional dishes for us. We traveled overnight to St. Petersburg on creaky trains with stern-looking workers. We visited celebrations of the Russian Navy with fireworks, music and food. Men in uniform passed us in the crowd and I had to force myself not to think of my husband.
In London I stayed with a friend who took me to Sunday roast at the pub. I wandered around one of my favorite cities seeing sites that have always evaded me on my past trips like the Globe Theatre, Greenwich and Shoreditch. In Paris I ate wonderful pastries and stared at the Eiffel Tower.
In Puerto Rico, meeting some family, we went on a cruise, hopping around the Caribbean. I stayed in Puerto Rico after the cruise, lying out on the beach during the day and hiding away in my apartment at night to write.
There, in an empty apartment, with only frogs outside making any noise, I felt myself slipping for the first time since I set off on my journey. I counted the days until he’d come home, never knowing for sure. I forced myself not to think about it. The more I thought about his being away, the more it hurt, and more pathetic I felt.
In Nairobi I felt more isolated and alone than it should be possible in a city that size. I felt trapped in my hotel, the front desk women begging me not to walk outside by myself, insisting I find someone to go with me. But my partner, my friend, the only person who I wanted to be with me was so far away. But, ironically, not that far away.
We were on the same continent, separated by hundreds of miles of unpaved roads and completely different reasons for being there.
In Moshi, Tanzania, I glimpsed Kilimanjaro on my way to meet my climbing group. The next morning, we started our climb. For 5 days we’d hike for 10 hours, taking breaks to enjoy the view, having our lunch, or resting our aching feet. We’d eat dinner together in a tent, playing cards and telling stories.
Each night, tucked in my sleeping bag, away from the men in my group I would cry. I would read the daily emails I saved into my phone from my husband.
I’d cry because I was lonely.
I’d cry because he was thoughtful enough to know I’d need these messages to get me through.
I’d cry because the months felt so long and I’d been trying so hard to run from this exact feeling.
I was the woman I thought so pathetic, only instead of on my couch with endless hours of Netflix, I was in a tent on a mountain in Africa.
Summit night we woke before midnight and set off into the blackness. We weaved our way up the mountain and with each step, each increase in elevation, I grew more nauseous. In the glow of my head torch I followed the person’s heels in front of me. I was so tired, so weak, that the only thing on my mind was to force one foot in front of the other.
The sun grew brighter as we reached a plateau. The men in my group and I, after glimpsing the summit, nearly ran to it, energized by being so close. Our breathing was labored as we made our way around the crater. Our heads ached while we passed by glaciers. I thought I might be sick again while having my photo taken. But I had made it.
With my mind somewhat clearer, I looked across the horizon and wondered how far I could see. I wondered if I could see into another country or see all the way to his base.
This was my last stop, my last adventure and accomplishment before he came home. I was ready. I was tired.
I had spent the last few months moving from place to place, trying to fight the feeling of missing him. But I still missed him. I still wished every second that we were together and in some cases, my traveling alone only increased my wish to be together. I just tried, with my entire being, to not feel any of it.
It took me hauling my puking butt up to the top of Kilimanjaro to realize that it’s not the missing that’s the problem, it’s letting that feeling take over your life. Despite seeing amazing places and accomplishing bucket list tasks I had still managed to let that feeling overwhelm me, and drive me to fear sitting still.
Travel doesn’t solve problems. It won’t make you miss someone any less. I was still that person clinging to my phone, waiting for a message but I was doing it wherever I wanted to, instead of on the couch where I knew I would be miserable. But at that point in my life, that’s what I needed to do.
Hopefully when it’s your turn to deal with a deployment, you can do it the way that you need to. Whether that’s sitting on the couch with a box of wine within reach, visiting family, or running around the world trying to do as many things as possible.
Did you do something interesting or unusual to get through a deployment? We want to hear about it. Submit your guest post today.
Mackenzie Jervis is a writer and editor living in Texas with her husband, 2 cats, puppy and newborn. She has traveled to over 60 countries and writes about her life both at home and around the world at A Wandering Scribbler.