Friday, April 17, 2009

Sixteen years later…

anniversary card

Today I’ve been married for sixteen years. Here’s the card my husband greeted me with this morning. Isn’t it cute? He’s pretty funny, that one.

I’ve been thinking about writing a short memoir-y piece about these sixteen years.  You might not guess, but most of them I’ve been what’s called a “military wife.” And I had a fiction writing instructor tell me I should write about it—that this was “my material.”

Is he right? Is this my material? 

I didn’t intend to marry into that kind of life.  In the 1980s, long before we met, my husband was signing on to protect democracy, and I was writing term papers slamming American policy in Latin America. It was my job (at twenty) to prove how bad our government was, how war-mongering, how imperialistically arrogant.  I’d grown up in that kind of family, you see, the daughter of left-leaning teachers and do-gooders.    

My husband’s story was different. The first thing I learned about him—way after college was over—was that he shared my love of literature.  After that, I noticed  he was cute, and had really nice legs. Soon after that I learned that his father had been a prisoner of war for six years in Vietnam. I was intrigued.  In that sort of icky way that makes you want to look at pictures of a natural disaster. I think it was the fiction writer, the historian, in me.  If nothing else, his life was different than mine, and I always loved a challenge. 


He was different, and it wasn’t just his history.  On our second or maybe third date he told me more of his story. His mother had had affairs when his father was in prison—with very high-ranking government men who made decisions that affected his father.  When his father came home, broken, his mother divorced him. My husband had seen his father taken away from home in a straitjacket. And other things a young boy shouldn’t see.

He’d been six years old when his father’s airplane was shot down.  He was twelve when his father returned. The youngest of three children, he was the only boy, and expected to be the “man” of the family at age six. When the father came home, his children barely recognized the changed, frightening person he’d become. 

Many years later, shortly before I met him, my husband’s mother died of brain cancer. Long divorced from my father-in-law, she never remarried. She loved the arts, fine food, nice hotels, liberal politics. I feel an affinity to her even though I never met her. I think, uncomfortably, that we are also similar in temperament. I think my husband married his mother.

But this was all to come. When he told me about her death, over pizza one night, he said, “I’d wake up sometimes at night and my pillow would be damp. I told myself that was probably normal. Probably part of loss.”  I sat rooted on the vinyl seat wondering how he could so understood the human psyche when I’d spent enough to finance a small country on self-help books and therapy to learn what he’d just said. He was unlike anyone I’d ever met.









His military career nagged at me, but in those days, nearly thirty and biological clock ticking, I looked for what I wanted to see.  I found the crucial things: deep integrity; values; kindness.

Being a pilot seemed, at least, adventurous. He’d traveled the corners of the world (and he had the t-shirts to prove it). It mattered that he wasn’t the kind of pilot who bombs or shoots, but rather carried cargo—humanitarian as well as military. 

I constructed an imaginary limbo-wire under which I slid him because he was this kind of military guy, and not that kind of military guy.  It was a very naive test to use, and I came to regret it.  I had no idea what marriage to any service member would be like.  

Still, much later, after years of tears and anguish over issues of war and peace, and living rather miserably on an Air Force base, and having a baby there, and after two years’ separation for a war—after all that, I came to believe that if my country has to have an armed force, I would like people like my husband to run it.

If I’d known then what we were going to go through in sixteen years, I might well have faltered.  But I’m sincerely glad I didn’t.  If I wanted adventure, I got it.  If I wanted to grow and mature, I got that opportunity too.   Did I say I wanted a challenge?  I got it.   And I got love.  We suffered a lot.  But I think, maybe, that’s what love requires.   


Stephanie N. said...

You got me. Reading that teaser involved lots of sighs and gasps at my computer screen, and left me wanting to hear more. You have a strong writing style, and your material, your life/love story, sounds like the stuff that great novels are made of.

Sparkling Red said...

Happy Anniversary! 16 years is a big accomplishment. Your stories are rich and full. It's good that you have been able to find the best in them.

materfamilias said...

As someone who never expected to be married to a "senior bureaucrat" (a pretty reductive term, turns out!), I appreciate your take on marrying into the military -- if someone's got to do this important job, it might as well be someone I love, respect, and trust to do the right thing. Happy Anniversary, and may you have many more!

Susan B said...

Happy Anniversary! It sounds like you've worked through quite a lot in those years, and come out stronger as a couple for it.

The Clever Pup said...

woohoo. Happy Anniversary. A great love story. Congratulations!

The WalMart Vegan said...

Happy Anniversary! Ah the tales we could share. Isn't it amazing how opposites can share and bond so well?

Profoundly Superficial said...

Yes, SallyM, the memoir is definitely your genre. Thank you for an extraordinary piece of writing.
PS I want more!

Kayleigh said...

Happy anniversary!

And wow, wow, wow -- that is definitely your material. So compelling, so interesting and well told...I want more!!!!

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed your post today. We are-who we are, because of the life we have lived. The experiences we've had and the people who've touched our lives. They mold us. With out those we wouldn't be who we are today.
Happy Anniversary!

Ingrid Mida said...

What an incredibly rich story of love that has endured the trials of life. I admire your honesty and the courage that both of you have. Happy Anniversary to both of you!

Eleonora Baldwin said...

I'm weeping. Reading your beautiful post left me wanting more. Your story is like a great epic novel: romantic, full of moral (and matrimonial) challenges, war, courage, controversy, endurance...

What a lucky man you have beside you. And sir, I don't know you but you've hit the jackpot with this lady here.

Happy Anniversary, both of you!

This gave me a chance to know you a little better, and you have no idea how honored I feel to be here. You definitely want to be a memoir writer, I am sure of it because it is something you do effortlessly and with style.

I see many similarities between us. Isn't this blogworld bizarre? It attracts alike beings naturally.

I'm so glad I found you. Ciao

drollgirl said...

wow. this is an incredible story! i am so glad that after all this time you feel you made the right decision. relationships are SO HARD and a constant test. but you have a good one, and i hope you hold on tight to him.

and may you have the best anniversary imaginable.

i am so happy for you!!!!

p.s. i have an ex that is a captain and he spent much time away. it was brutal and i knew i couldn't handle that kind of life where we were apart 6+months out of the year, if not more. you are a strong woman!

mati said...

wow,indeed you do have a novel within you for sure- regarding a perfectly appropriate subject for this era-where so many families are dealing with the ongoing realities of service to their country! This was a fabulous post from the heart and inspires me to re-affirm my understanding of marriage!

Someday I will share the details about my sweet hubby! Happy Anniversary to you from France and so happy to have your recent comment ! ps I will research that photo for you-

Jennifer said...

I have tears in my eyes, Sallymandy. Your writing is pure - which to me means strong, true and real in the large sense. You put it out there in a straightforward way and let us listen.

Duchesse said...

I was touched by your memoir, and celebrate with you the anniversary of making the leap... for marriage is a leap of faith, and endurance contest and a testimony to love.

Jean said...

Sallymandy, what a beautiful and compelling post about your marriage. I loved reading it. Thanks for sharing it with us.

The Renaissance Chick said...

First of all, congratulations on the 16 years of marriage!

Second, I respect you for balancing your love with your convictions!

Third, thank you for sharing this beautiful,ever-changing love story!


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SeeSpotRun said...

What a cute card! Enjoy the beautiful weekend, SALLYMANDY


Pyzahn said...

So many aspects of your story were sad, but at the end I couldn't help thinking how fortunate you two are. You found each other. You love each. The relationship brought challenges but also a deep bond that not many people get the opportunity to experience.

You have discovered the sweetness among hills and valleys. It's wonderful that your husband is open enough to share the dark parts of his life. Most men won't tread on such emotional ground.

And together you have transformed it all into a richly textured life together.

Continued happiness and blessings to you.

Maria Killam said...

Love that story and the way you wrote it. A relationship that you work through inside of communication is so worth it!

Working Mum said...

A heartfelt story. Many newly married women should read it, it what's marriage is about.

On the other hand, I married a football obsessed husband 16 years ago and I still don't understand it!

Cynthia L. H. said...

Happy Sixteenth Anniversary! And many more!
I think that the sentiments expressed by Pyzahn capture the essence of what I want to say to you. Underscore what she said.

Gal Friday said...

Missed this--sorry.
Isn't it amazing how certain souls *find* each other?
I think this is a lovely tribute to the man you have made a life with, and I want to express my wish that you and your husband have many more happy years together.

La Belette Rouge said...

What a beautiful exploration of your inner travels together. I loved your sharing of how in your 20's you created a self that was incongruent with military man and then when you sat in the car with your soon-to-be husband and he surprised you with his honesty and vulnerability how you created a new narrative that allowed you to marry your military man.

I get this image of you as "Reluctant Military-wife" and not reluctant to the man but to the identity. It seems that is a story you have to tell but I don't believe that is your only material. I have had teachers tell me that my infertility is my material and I bristle at being defined and trapped in only one topic. Just from the short time on your blog I see you as multi-dimensional with lots of stories to tell. Really, a beautiful and tender post.
Happy Anniversary to you and your husband.xo

Mervat said...

Happy anniversary. This was an honest, open and beautiful tribute to your sixteen years. Thank you for sharing this. May you have a wonderful next 16!

Jean said...

Such honest and lovely insights to your marriage, dear one. Thank you.

May you be blessed with more love in the years to come.

sallymandy said...

Everybody, I'm so sorry I'm not responding individually to you all. I did it last night, took a lot of time, and for some reason, that post didn't take and it's now gone. Wah.

I thank you all for your kind and supportive comments. Because of them, I'm going to do more of these posts in the future. What a wonderful way to dip one's toe in the water with a creative idea. You're the best.


Penney said...

Happy Anniversary! This was so touching and very special to share...

Jennifer Campaniolo said...

This is an amazing story and will make a great nonfiction/memoir/personal essay should you choose to write it.

I've always thought it would be tough to be a military wife. But I also think it makes you more capable of making friends because you're used to traveling and living in different places.

I do hope you write about this.


Lucy said...

What a touching story...there's so many facets to you Sallymnandy! Happy Happy Anniversary!

It's men like your husband that keep us all safe and sound. I'm very thankful for that. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful lovestory:)

Zuzana said...

This is a beautiful post, a poignant tribute to true love. You have experienced what most of us only dream about.
I have no idea how I managed to miss this, the hopeless romantic that I am. Ah, yes, now I know, it is because I spend that day with my love.
My belated very best to both of you.

Patsy said...

Sallymandy, I just don't know where to start. I will have to write an email. There is just too much, and observations about life and life as a couple, and life that you live as part of a couple, and how everything changes.


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