May 30, 2005
I think about Mrs. Sims all the time. She and I weren't even that close; we went to dinner a few times together, but that's about the extent of our friendship. I hesitate to write about how much she is constantly in my thoughts because I'm certain there are people on this post she was closer to. I don't want her to think that I've become some zany stalker who's deified her into everything that Memorial Day stands for...but I guess I have.
Mrs. Sims is absolutely everything that an Army wife should be: gracious, humble, and dedicated. She remains optimistic and proud in the face of the worst experience anyone could ever have. And she's always on my mind. She's the first person I think of when I feel down or grumpy. She was the first person my husband and I thought of when our cruise tablemates were being obtuse. And she was the first person I thought of when I woke up this Memorial Day.
You see, the Memorial Day post I wanted to write is how much the Sims family is always present in our household. It took that photo of their son to get the words to come out.
I'm sure Mrs. Sims feels weird about the pedestal I've put her on. She's just a regular person dealing with an extraordinary challenge. I hesitated to write the post I wanted to because I don't want to exacerbate her pain. But I want her to know how I really feel, that to me she's everything that Memorial Day represents: the day when we remember those who gave up everything for our country. And I am keenly aware, every day, that CPT Sims gave his life for the very freedom I enjoy. I want her to know that I will never forget that, as long as I live. I never knew her husband, but I will never forget him. Even if she and I drift apart, I will remember the Sims family on Memorial Day and every other day for the rest of my life.
I will remember.
May 29, 2005
I've thought all weekend about what I wanted to say today, but in the end, my heart just doesn't want to articulate the words. I'm thinking them though, and I'm remembering today. And I'm grateful for every day I have with my own soldier.
This is a memorial to every soldier our post lost last year. I will never forget any of them.
JANUARY 2003 Its been couple of weeks since my reserve unit arrived in Kuwait, and weve just finished negotiating with the port authority to take over an abandoned building to serve as the administrative headquarters for our harbor security operation.
The building hasnt been used in several years, so before we can move in we have a lot of cleaning and repairing to do. Everyone pitches in soldiers and sailors, officers and enlisted work side-by-side to clean up over a decades worth of dust, grime, and general neglect. But despite all the activity, the hallways remain strangely quiet.
A yeoman is on her knees, scrubbing a particularly difficult stain in the stairwell. She decides to break the uncomfortable silence with a little bit of small talk. Whoever worked in this building before sure was lazy, she sighs. Who would spill a whole pot of coffee on the stairs, and not clean it up?
Everyone stops working, and stares at her.
What? she asks, looking around. What did I say?
Thats not coffee, one of her co-workers whispers.
Its not? What is it?
Apparently the room my husband used to email me from, the room I stared at whenever we had the chance to webcam, was awash in blood when the first American soldiers got there. My husband's camp in Iraq was an old Fedayeen camp.
We can hardly fathom things outside of our experience. A young American in the Navy would never imagine that she was cleaning up after a slaughter. I can't even begin to picture what a room covered in blood would look like. It's so beyond anything I've ever dealt with.
But it's so outside all of our realms. That's why when you do a Google Images search of Saddam+torture, you end up with photos of Lynndie England on the same page as a photo of "Saddam's henchmen amputating fingers". Torture is so far out of our realm that we conflate dog leashes and finger vises; most of us can't really imagine true torture. The Abu Ghraib thing is as bad as we get, but it's nowhere near as bad as things can get.
It's good that we live in a society where we don't have to regularly clean blood off of the stairs. But it sometimes prevents us from imagining that other cultures don't live with the naivete that we do.
May 18, 2005
The first thing that happens when you meet someone on a cruise is that they ask where you're from. This is the most complicated question you can ask someone in the military. Where are we all from? We started trying to simplify things by just saying we're from Missouri, but then we often ended up having this conversation:
Strangers: So, where are you all from?
Groks: Um, Missouri.
Strangers: Great. What do you do there in Missouri?
Grok: Um, well, we don't actually live in Missouri; we live in Germany.
Strangers: Oh...well, what do you do there?
Grok: We're there with the military...
This either led to awkward silence or awkward questions. Maybe we were talking to all the wrong people, but we didn't get the sort of insightful or curious conversations I was expecting. When we told our dinner-tablemates on the cruise that we were living in Germany with the military, we didn't expect them to virtually ignore us. We talked at length about their jobs and backgrounds, but they didn't ask questions about Germany or Iraq. When the husband and I went back to our room, we discussed how we had braced ourselves to answer all sorts of questions about military life and deployment that never came.
The biggest thing that I learned about myself on our vacation was that I found I really missed the perspective that military life brings. We deal with things that are so far outside of the civilian experience that everything else seems trivial. A military family would never ask someone where he's from, because we know how often that changes. A military family would never say that it would be terrible to live on St. Maarten because we've seen that the poverty and problems of Iraq and Afghanistan far surpass those on Caribbean islands. A military family would never complain about a five-hour plane ride because we've all seen the mothers traveling alone with three kids, moving them across the Atlantic to meet up with their soldier. And a military family would never ever say that working on a cruise ship must be one of the hardest jobs out there because they work such long hours and don't get to have any fun. (Seriously, we had to bite our cheeks to keep from laughing out loud at that one. If we could be so lucky to get "deployed" to a cruise ship!)
And military couples share one suitcase when they go on a 7-day cruise. I've never seen so much excessive luggage.
I found myself quite the fish out of water on this trip, and I longed to go back to where everyone understood us. I never realized how much the Army has become my comfort zone, and I'm quite happy to be back to where everyone wears BDUs.
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