By Laura Schofield
We were exploring a new-to-us museum at a new-to-us duty station when I first found the letters.
My kids were pressing every button they could find and using the microscopes to examine all the local wildlife specimens. My husband was watching an informational video, and I was wandering somewhat aimlessly. Tucked among the naturalist exhibits, there are copies of letters written by a military doctor’s wife just a few years after the Civil War ended. And I found this among the personal messages to family and friends: “I suppose this is as pleasant as most forts and I ought to like it for my life in all probability will be spent in just such places – but I don’t.” (*Jane Coues, Fort Macon Visitor Center, Emerald Isle, North Carolina)
I could have written those words, the one hundred and fifty years between our military spouse experiences notwithstanding. I do not know if Jane ever learned to love Coastal North Carolina. Maybe she did. Or maybe not. Because sometimes, duty stations are just hard. Difficult seasons of life can coincide with difficult duty stations. Operations tempos and command personalities and a million other factors can make what sounds like a fun place to live a challenge.
It is no secret that I was disappointed (to put it mildly) when we received our first set of orders to coastal North Carolina. We’re now on our fifth (and final) consecutive set of PCA orders here. Every spring, I watch the posts fly across my social media pages, asking about the pros and cons of this duty station or where to live at that duty station. Fellow spouses ask about traveling to this country or coming back from that country. They’re preparing their household goods for express shipments and non-temporary storage. And I’m still here, in this place I never wanted to come to and I certainly never expected to finish out my husband’s military service. I wanted to visit those far off places, those exciting duty stations everyone else seems to get. In our ten years of active duty, we have never even come within two thousand miles of a duty station we were hoping for.
Maybe this year you received orders you weren’t wanting or expecting.
Maybe the military is taking you farther away from family (or closer!), and that seems a difficult hurdle to overcome.
Maybe you know the unit your family is joining by reputation, and it doesn’t look promising.
Maybe the idea of packing everything up, again, and starting over in a new community, again, is just overwhelming.
Or maybe you’re staying while everyone else goes, stuck in a place you never wanted to come to in the first place.
If this is you, I wish I had a good solution. I wish I had sparkly red shoes like Dorothy, and obstacles would vanish like one of Glinda’s bubbles. I wish, out of all the hard parts of this life, living in a place you don’t want wouldn’t be something anyone has to deal with.
North Carolina will never be my home (although my children consider it theirs), and, at any point, if we had been offered the opportunity to move anywhere else, we would have jumped at the chance. I still roll my eyes at things that are so different from where I grew up. I still look for the brands and stores that I know from “back home.” But the bitterness has ebbed away. There are people I love here. I have favorite restaurants now and places to sneak away to when I just need time alone. It will be difficult to leave here and go anywhere that has rush hour traffic again.
I won’t tell you that you “ought to” like that new set of orders. I won’t tell you to look for the silver linings, or to buck up because it can’t be as bad as you’re thinking. But I will tell you: you’re not alone. Even if you never grow to love that new place. Even if you can’t wait to leave again. Even if everyone else seems to get to go exactly where they want (or where YOU wanted). I’ve been on that end. And even spouses dozens of years ago have gone through it, too. At least we’re in good company…