When I arrived for my Sophomore year of college, my friend from the mentioned she knew of a Marine who lived on the third floor of our dorm…
I had a giant luggage trunk in my car, one of those retro-classic ones that you see in movies, which, while it was cool, was totally impractical and forced me to ask for help every time it needed to unload it. Or, I would take out my things, bring them in, and return to lug up an empty trunk… which, in retrospect… really defeated the purpose of the trunk.
Either way, the Marine seemed like a better solution than carting my lingerie and winter sweaters in pile by pile up to my room. He seemed nice, funny, and most importantly, was willing and chivalrous enough to carry my heavy trunk with only slight winces of pain as he reached the second floor of my dorm. Like the good damsel in distress I was, I flirted and joked with him and accepted his invitation to watch a movie later in his dorm room. Yes, cliche, but true story.
Upon arriving in his awesome 15’ by 10’ cell room, I recognized some religious icons that were the same of my faith. An obscure faith to begin with, so I was even more excited to meet someone who had the same faith, or semblance of faith. Years and years later I’ll never forget our time together, filled with all the ups and downs of life.
One of the biggest trials we’ve faced was our first deployment together.
He was headed to Iraq, back when Iraq was a thing, and was in a FOB (squabble of a fortressed position where a truck brought them a 7/11 worth of food once a week). I thought my life was tough: I had the man I loved in harms way, and I was home crushing my grades just being the best person I could be.
My senior year, I lived in an apartment on campus with three other gals. One of the girls had just spent a summer abroad and met her great love in Ireland. She turned out to be one of those gals who could turn every conversation back to her own love. I specifically remember a running joke that you could say something as unequivocally bland as, “I had an orange for lunch,” and her response would invariably be some deep sigh followed with, “My boyfriend LOOOOVES oranges.” Well, as if you didn’t see this coming, my boyfriend being deployed and hers being in Ireland caused a blow up when she said something to the effect of, “I know the pain you feel having a boyfriend deployed, mine is gone too.”
Oh, my seething and raw emotions just wanted to scream and yell, “My boyfriend is getting shot at, and yours is sipping coffee at a cafe,” or, “Yours can call, mine gets an email from me every few days…” or most likely, “Shut up b****, you have no idea.” However, realizing that I had to keep living with her, and this wasn’t the end of the semester or the year of me living within door slamming distance, I decided instead to vent to my father about it. And in true fashion of my dad, he responded, “So, what I hear you saying is that someone tried to reach out to you and form a bond and you thought you were too good for her pain.”
“Yeah dad, I am too good for her pain.”
There is a big problem with the constant comparison with others, and it starts when you decide your island is so much bigger than someone else’s.
And YOU decided THEY can’t build a bridge.
Maybe it’s time to dig a bit on your island with some humility and make a welcome landing for their bridge rather than dismiss their experience.
Maybe instead of saying, “You don’t know my pain,” I could have tried to understand hers and realize both of us were experiencing stress and difficulty in our own worlds.
Far too often among military significant others it becomes a contest of whose pain is worse… my deployment was longer, or my family wasn’t supportive, or my husband was in combat… but would it not serve us better to focus on the similarities rather than the differences. I’ve also seen that far too often, the measurable aspects of a separation mean nothing in relation to the “difficulty.”
In honesty, a 2 week separation can break you more than a year long deployment, depending on your situation and your support network. Do you have friends who understand, a tribe, a community of neighbors and friends? Or are you alone or feel isolated? Did you suffer trauma or loss, or was there a long-term stress that became unbearable? When we start belittling others for something as immaterial like deployment location or length we miss the point, every separation is different for every person.
What in the world would a gal whose husband was on that deployment say, one that was having a child, or one whose marriage was suffering, or who didn’t get to welcome her Marine home? Was my pain not good enough for them just like my roommate’s pain wasn’t good enough for me? What would I give if they would let me on their island for just a bit, to know what their island is like, to prepare and maybe to help them on their island.
What if they could make a landing for me?