Saturday, August 24, 2013

"I want to cry because something terrible happened. And I saw it. And i could not see a way to mend it."

I saw a man commit suicide yesterday.  I cannot believe that is a sentence I can write.  He jumped off the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.  It was raining, and I saw a car off to the side in the northbound lane.  I was driving home from getting some random thing in Alexandria.  The car was all the way to the right on the shoulder with its flashers on.  I thought, 'they must not want to drive in the rain.'  Which I can understand, I often pull over when it's raining.  Then I saw this man.  I guess I should say young man.  He couldn't have been more than 25.  He was standing there in blue boxer shorts in the rain looking over the edge.  God.  I wish I could go back to that moment.  Right when I saw him.  Because I thought, 'he must want to go swimming.'  I can't believe that was what I thought.  He must want to go swimming.  The chaplain said that it was my innocence that made me think that.  I always used to think my innocence was a good thing.  With all of the horrible things that have happened in my life, to me and to others that I love.  I thought it was a wonderful quality that I could keep my innocence in the face of major depression, post traumatic concussive disorder, abuse, and just life in general.  But now I see that if I didn't cling to that, I might have immediately thought, that person is in pain.  Maybe then I could have done something?  I'll never know, because I thought he was going to swim.  All of this went through my head, 'oh he's pulling over because of the rain,' then, 'oh he's just going for a swim,' in the seconds it took for me to pull up along side him.  Then, as I got closer, I realized.  No.  This is someone who is going to jump off a bridge.  By the time I realized what was happening, I saw his legs going over.  The whole thing took maybe 20 seconds.  Just his legs.  And he was gone.  And I can't stop seeing it.  Over and over in my head, I see his legs.  That poor man.  He was so alone.  I pulled out my phone, called 911, but I just couldn't stop.  It was so rainy, and there were so many other cars, it wasn't safe.  When Ben came home about a half hour later, the car was still there, the lane was closed, and there were several police officers looking over the edge.  Up until that moment, I really thought that maybe I had just imagined it.  Maybe he was a bungee jumper?  I really didn't know.  Again, my stupid innocence.  But when he told me that the car was still there, I knew there was no hope.  It had been a half an hour.  If he had still been alive, they would've towed his car, and there's no way the police would have still been looking over the edge.
I know this isn't about me.  A family lost someone yesterday.  A man lost his life.  But I guess it's normal to personalize things.  The people I've talked to say its normal to be sad.  "It's traumatic," they all say.  And everyone says that if I had tried to stop him, he might have hurt me, or I might have tried to help, and he might have still done it and that would be horrible.  But I keep coming back to that place in my heart that is yelling, 'WHAT IF YOU HAD STOPPED AND HE KNEW HE WASN'T ALONE.'  And I really don't know if I will ever forgive myself.  I hope I will.  People who have lost close friends and family to suicide tell me that the self-blame goes away in time.  And I didn't even know him. It's not in the news, so the chances are I will never know his name.  I will never know his name, and I was the last person to see him alive.
Ben says that he wasn't alone.  He might not have known it, but he wasn't alone.  I was the person who noticed him.  And because of that, I called it in, and his family doesn't have to wonder what happened.  I mean, the man jumped into the Potomac.  If the police hadn't been notified when it happened, they might have just thought the car was abandoned, and the family would always wonder what happened.  So I guess there's that. 
I hope his family can heal.  I know time will help.  And knowing what happened will help too.  So on the very small chance that you're reading this, I hope you know that someone was with him for the last moment.  And that I'm so very sorry for your loss. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

"The day is here again, I can't remember every moment of that day, but I could remember when I first looked at your eyes."

I can't believe it's been five years since the day Ben walked into my life.  He just walked up, stuck his hand out, and said, "Hi, I'm Ben."  And I was done, I was his.  He doesn't believe me when I say this, but my first thought was, 'I'm going to marry this man.'  It had so little to do with the way he looked.  He was tall (I've always like tall guys), blonde (that was different than what I usually went for), I remember the way his green eyes just sparkled with humor and intelligence, and finally, he looked me in the eye, shook my hand firmly, and smiled with his slightly crooked, completely endearing smile that still gives me butterflies.  In other words, I thought he looked great!  More importantly though, he made me feel safe for the first time in longer than I could remember, and that was such a change for me, it took me completely by surprise.  And this is only knowing him for an hour.  To truly understand what this meant to me, you have to know a little about my past relationships.  Specifically the relationship I was still trying to extricate myself from on July 12, 2008. 
Before I go on, no, I didn't cheat on my ex with Ben, I had ended that relationship several months before, but we were still "talking."  Ugh, the things 23 year olds say to mask the fact that they do in fact care about someone else.  Sometimes I look back at that girl I used to be and just say, why?  Jeph (my ex), although I really should spell his name Jeff, because he changed that himself because he couldn't call himself P.H. with the old spelling, was much older than I was.  He was a high school drop out, a felon, and a deadbeat dad.  Oh yeah, I had it bad for the bad boys.  And yes, I knew all of this before I started my relationship with him.  I later came to the conclusion that he was a sociopath, but that's besides the point.  I won't get into the details yet (that'll be later), but suffice it to say, he was mentally, emotionally, and physically abusive, and I was with him for a very long two years.  I'll talk more about this is a different post, today is a happy day, and is the anniversary of the day my life went from pretty horrible, to amazing.
I had just moved to my first duty station, and I didn't know anyone.  My roommate seemed nice (I was right, she is amazing and I was later her maid of honor), my Navy sponsor, kind of like a big sister seemed sweet (again, correct assumption), and the area seemed pretty (totally wrong on that front, but you can't win them all).  My sponsor invited my roommate and I to a barbeque at her friend's house.  I have to admit, I didn't want to go.  I was still a bit gun-shy after the fiasco of my relationship, and I really didn't think any of these people really wanted to get to know me.  Luckily, my roommate convinced me I should, and we went together.  I remember it was so hot that day, it was the middle of July in Georgia, and I had just moved there from the Bay area in California.  I was totally unprepared for the heat.  So I immediately started drinking Bud Lite, and the host showed me around her house.  She showed me a shadowbox with a flag in it and a certificate that said this had been flown in her honor in Iraq, and she explained that her friend Ben had given that to her after he got back.  She showed me her bathroom, which had a shower curtain with the Texas state flag on it (seriously, people from Texas really like being from Texas, what is with that?) and she told me her friend Ben liked to use that bathroom because he liked "messing with Texas."  I laughed and assumed that they were actually an item, because why would a girl keep bringing some dude up if she wasn't at least interested, and she seemed to know too much about his bathroom habits.  After the tour, he came in.  Walked through the door, and walked right up to me, "Hi, I'm Ben."  I found out they were not in any kind of relationship, nor was there any chance of one developing, and I found out that I in fact was the type of girl who would make out with a guy at a party, the day she meets him, all he had to was call me cute.  We drank a bit too much, and I had him call my dad, the Masterchief, and talk to him, and I told my dad that he'd better get used to this one.  Ben asked me for my number, and promised to call the next day.  He texted while we were still on the way home, and he used the correct spelling of your and you're and there and they're.  The next day we went on our first date (Hellboy 2 and dinner), and three days later we were exclusive.  
People thought we were a flash in the pan.  That there was no way we would be able to keep the amount of passion we seemed to have for each other going.  A friend later said, "I thought for sure you guys would fizzle out."  This was said at our wedding (in a very nice, funny way).  People were wrong.  I can say right now I have more passion, and more love for him than I ever dreamed possible.  The cliche, 'you complete me,' isn't a cliche with me and him.  All of my faults and weaknesses, he not only makes up for them with his strengths, but he helps me to overcome them with his unending loyalty and unshakable belief in me.  Now, every time I accomplish something, and he tells me he's proud, I ask him if he's surprised, and he gives me the same look each time and says, "Nicole, I'm never surprised when you accomplish something, it's just what you do."  To know that someone has that kind of belief in me, no matter how badly I've messed up, gives me a strength I never knew I had.  When I met Ben, I didn't care about how I looked, I didn't wear makeup, I wore cargo shorts and t-shirts, and my hair was always in a pony tail.  Now that I'm with him, I truly care about how I appear, and not because I think he'll judge me, but because I have this confidence that I can be pretty, I can be fashionable, and I owe it to myself to look good (darn it!).
Of course, there are always two sides to passion.  We are so not perfect, and we have certainly not figured out all the ways to communicate effectively and sometimes we just need to retreat to our corners and be quiet.  We fight, and we yell, and we scream, and sometimes I order pizza with all of the toppings he hates and I savor it and call it revenge pizza.  There are times when I feel like I could seriously slap him (but I don't), and I know there are times he's wanted to slap me (he didn't, even though I probably deserved it).  But those times are few and far between, and getting fewer and further apart.  And here we are, about to embark on a new chapter in our lives.  We've moved to a new city, a new command, and he's about to start sea duty again.
I find myself feeling scared, but confident.  I know we're strong, but I think I'll always wonder if we're strong enough to make it through this much of a demanding schedule.  We'll always have things we need to work on, my temper is much better now, and he's so much more willing to accept that I need to lead sometimes, and this Navy life doesn't always give you enough time to work on those things before it snatches your loved one away again.  But every time he walks through that door and kisses me, and hugs our dog, and every time I look at him and see nothing but pride and love for me, when just five short years ago, I believe I had nothing to offer anyone, and every time we're just sitting on the couch, watching some ridiculous show I love, but he tolerates because I love it, I know that it's worth it.  It is so worth it.   

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Supporting Each Other

I've been reading about "support" a lot lately.  I'm a member of a couple of support pages on Facebook, and I've been talking to a lot of women through those pages.  There's something that's been bothering me about these pages, though.  On each one, the administrator deletes comments that are considered to be "rude."  I was even chastized by one administrator for a comment I made on a woman's post.  The woman was talking about her fiancee making decisions about his career without her, and that she "sacrifices everything and he never sacrifices," and went so far as to say, "if I was keeping score, it would be me- 50, him- 0."  That just did not settle well with me.  This life is about supporting each other.  We have to support our spouses when they're gone, and we need to support each other when we don't have anyone else.  That doesn't mean only say nice things to one another.  This woman was saying things that I have had experience with, and have been able to move past. 
Starting out in this life is difficult.  It can be so hard not to resent the one who gets to go away.  It sounds so glamorous doesn't it?  They get to go out on a ship, see all these foreign ports that we will probably never see, they get to leave all the daily stresses of life for months at a time!  It sounds wonderful!  They don't have to pick up the slack their absence has left us with.  We have these stretches of our days that used to have the person we love the most in the world and now they're filled with, well, either work or loneliness.  Most of us can't imagine twelve hour work days seven days a week, or hot racking with some smelly guy, or having to study for hours after work in order to qualify so people stop calling you nub.  Understanding these things comes from practice, from talking to our spouses about their deployments and seeing that while we might have it bad back here with all the additional work, they also don't get to come home at the end of the day.  And yes, they get to see all these interesting places, but most of them would prefer to see those places with us, not with some guy they may or may not like.  Now, there are arguments both ways about who has it "harder," but I don't think it matters.  Its two sides of the same coin.  The fact is, they couldn't do what they do without us, and we couldn't do what we do without them.
Back to the comments of this woman, I said something to this effect on the page, nothing offensive.  I talked about how we should never keep score in our relationships, especially when our spouse is in the military.  Not only is it not healthy, but it's not accurate.  I was immediately scolded by the page administrator, "only positive remarks," "be nice," etc.  That irked me more than anything the original poster could have said!  Be nice?  I was!  I was sharing parts of my life that were painful, in order to help this woman not go through the same problems.  It was the "only positive remarks" rule that really got me though.  We must be honest with ourselves and each other.  True support is not about being nice, it's about telling someone when their thinking is not right, and helping them to see that there's another way to go about this crazy life we lead.  In the course of my relationship, I have not been perfect, I have made mistakes and I've hurt my husband in ways only someone who really loves you can.  But each of those experiences has taught me more about myself, my husband, and how to be in a healthy relationship.  When I asked friends for advice, I didn't want them to just tell me I was right, I wanted them to tell me about their own experiences, to help me learn from their mistakes!  That's the thing all these support pages are missing, a true, honest discussion, of how to be in this kind of marriage.  I encourage anyone who reads my blog to write to me, comment, and as long as people aren't being unnecessarily rude or combative, I value the opinions of all.

Military word of the day:  Frocking
What it means                :  Selected for promotion, wearing the insignia of higher rank before the official date of promotion.
Where it comes from     :  When a Sailor was promoted, they would be informed via letter, and then would be taken off their ship to go to a new station.  This would leave an open space, and the captain would then promote the next in line to the newly vacant position.  The departing officer would give his coat or "frock" to his replacement.

Monday, April 15, 2013

“And one by one the nights between our separated cities are joined to the night that unites us.” - Pablo Neruda

My husband PCSed last week.  It's our first separation since before we were married, so nearly three years, and I thought I knew what it was going to be like.  I was so wrong. 
In the months since we decided that I would follow him two months after he PCSed, I was very cavalier about the separation.  I remember thinking and saying, "what's two months, we've been apart longer," and "we'll have Skype so it's not like we won't see each other."  Well I was wrong.  Not about those statements, but about the idea that because we've been through times where I only got 3 emails from him a week, or that in one year we were separated for nearly ten months.  I was wrong when I thought this would somehow be easier on us because this wasn't as bad as other times.
Ben has been on shore duty for three years now.  We're out of practice at this!  The last time he deployed, we were engaged, not married, we didn't have a dog, we didn't have a house, most of our friends were single, and I had a job.  Things are different now.  We've evolved into this solid unit and I don't know how to change again.
It's not that I'm not independent, in fact I love doing things on my own.  Taking myself out on a "date" once a month is something I look forward to.  Ben goes out with his friends weekly, they go to the bars, they go to the cigar shop (literally for hours), and I'm perfectly content to spend the evening or day by myself, knitting.  It doesn't bother me to be on my own.  What I was completely unprepared for was the emptiness of this house.  I just forgot.  Because when he's near the house is full of some undefinable energy that makes life...possible. 
I've become this person who loves to get things done.  I actually enjoy keeping the house clean, doing laundry, and all the little things that go into maintaining a home.  This was my first weekend alone, and yesterday I spent the day watching TV.  I can't remember the last time I did that, even when Ben would beg me to sit down and take a break.  I don't like breaks, I like being busy.  So.  What I've decided is that I need some goals to accomplish while we're separated.  Not because I have nothing to do and not because I "don't know what to do with myself", but because without my best friend here, I feel adrift. 

  • Goal 1- Lose another 10 pounds.  I've lost about 35 so far, and I have another 40 to go.  My issues with weight loss is an entirely different post.
  • Goal 2-  Learn how to make a food that intimidated me before.  I seriously can't cook rice, even in a rice cooker.
  • Goal 3- Take Buddy on at least one walk a day.
  • Goal 4- Finish at least two knitting or crocheting projects.

I think that's a healthy start.  These are things I really should have been working on before, but I think actually writing out goals helps keep things in front of you.  It can be so easy to say, why do I need to make the bed today, no one's going to see it, or I finally have complete control over the TV, lets watch that Teen Mom marathon!  There is nothing wrong with allowing  yourself a break, as long as the "break" doesn't become your life while he's gone. 

Military word for the day: PCS
What it means                 : Permanent Change of Station
Where it comes from      : It's an initialism, which is a type of acronym.  These are really common throughout the military, if you haven't already noticed.  There are a ton of things to do when you're getting ready to PCS, as soon as your spouse gets those orders, make sure you contact either the Family Readiness Group (FRG - see?  I told you!), or the Ombudsman to find out what you have to do, because believe it or not, there is a ton of stuff you can help with that will make the process easier.              

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Friendship isn't about whom you have known the longest. It's about who came, and never left your side.

I've been thinking about friendships a lot lately.  Things have really been up and down in that department for me for the past few months, and I've been wondering why.  I have some amazing friends here where we're stationed, as well as one or two great friends from back "home."  That being said, maintaining close friendships with other women has grown increasingly difficult ever since I went into the military.
I recently realized that someone I considered to be a great friend was just not who I thought she was.  It was very difficult, but I had to end the friendship after months of being shocked by insensitive, manipulative, and destructive behavior.  After making that decision, I started to look at myself, my friendships, indeed all of my relationships because I really wanted to figure out why this kind of thing keeps happening.  Is it me?  Am I the one who is hard to get along with?  Do I have unreasonable expectations for what I think a friend should be and do?  I look at Facebook, and all the people who still live at home are still friends with mostly the same people.  Okay, there have been a few additions, some subtractions, and some people are married or engaged to people I never would have foreseen.  By and large, however, most of the same friendships I witnessed as an outsider in high school are still going strong today.
One thing that makes friendships for those of us that are tangentially related to the military so difficult is that there is simply no time to build up that base friendship.  I know most our spouses have made incredible friendships through their time in the military, and as a veteran, I have first hand experience of how close shared service can make two people.  But as a spouse, we not only don't have that brotherhood mentality, many times there is actually some form of competition between us and the other spouses.  I don't think I'm wrong when I say that women are competitive on a level men just have no concept of.  It is one of the things that separates the sexes, and is in no way meant as a judgement of either men or women, it simply, is.  How many times have you looked at another military couple, and judged not only the way they deal with each other, but their children, and even their friends.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "I can't believe she does that while he is away, I would never do that to my husband," or, "did you see the way he just talked to her?  I would never accept that."  I'm guilty of it, most of my friends are guilty of it, and I've heard it said about me.  Yes, women are competitive, and it takes time to get past that initial sizing up, judgmental stage of acquaintance.  We have to see that the other person isn't all good or all bad through his or her actions, and as we get older, people become more and more complicated, and it gets harder to see all the different facets that are the makeup of a person.  As a military spouse, we simply don't have the time for that.  When you get to a new command, you're going to be there for about 3-5 years, and even if you meet someone and strike up a friendship on the first day at the new command, there's a good chance she doesn't have 3-5 years left there, if you're lucky she has two.  So you become friends, you hang out, and both of you seem pretty cool to the other one, and slowly, slowly you let that person in to your "sphere."  By the time something more than just drinking buddies develops, she might have a year left, so you try to spend more time together, and then it gets interesting.  She discovers that you get super upset if she doesn't call you at least once a day, and you discover that she doesn't have a problem flirting with other men as long as it doesn't go anywhere.  If you had time, you could possibly work through these issues.  You could see that it simply isn't in her nature to call as often when life gets busy, and then you won't take it personally, and you could show her that you really aren't comfortable with her behavior towards the opposite sex.  Sure, you might have an argument or two, but there would be time to resolve the issues if there is a genuine connection there.  Instead you are left with six months and those issues become huge because you don't have the years of friendship to fall back on to feel comfortable enough to confront the other about, and eventually you either have a huge blowup, or (more often) the relationship simply fizzles away and becomes the barest blip on the radar of your life.
A perfect example of this is what happened with my friend and I.  We were very close, even after her husband separated from the military we kept in touch on a weekly basis.  Then she went through major life changes and began to rely more heavily on me for my friendship.  At the same time, I got busier with school, work, getting ready for the move, and all the things that go into maintaining a marriage and household.  I wasn't as available as I had been.  Then we started noticing things about each other that neither of us were okay with.  I was really bad at knowing where my phone was or keeping it charged, so much so that she stopped believing me when I would tell her I was having phone issues.  She had a habit of getting angry with people who were only trying to help her.  We both tried to confront each other and maintain the friendship, but we just didn't have the foundation to make it through.  Perhaps if we had known each other since elementary school there would have been a future, perhaps we would've blown up a long time before.  I'll never know.  I just have that blip that I can look at sometimes and wonder, what if?            
This all sounds so dismal and hopeless.  But it's really not.  I do have some amazing people in my life.  My dear friend, Linda just got engaged the other day, I've known her since we were in fourth grade.  She was maid of honor in my wedding, and now I get to be a bridesmaid in hers!  Spring break starts on Monday, and three of my girlfriends and I are going to New Orleans.  In fact, one of those girls is someone I did not like when I first met her, but after allowing myself to get over that competitive b.s., she has become a very close friend.  Military friendships can be some of the closest that you can ever imagine.  Despite the fact that we spouses aren't actually in the service, we have our own sisterhood.  No one else will ever understand what it is to see the man you love walking away, knowing you won't see him for months, or possibly ever again.  No one else understands how hard it can be to have the strength our spouses need from us while all we want to do is fold under the pressure.  And there is no way someone can understand the terror you feel right before he leaves, and then right before he comes home again, how scary that can be.  Sometimes, the only thing we have is each other, and that can bring out the absolute best humanity has to offer.  I consider myself lucky to be one of you.

Military word for the Day:   Ropeyarn.
What it means                  :    Released from duty for the rest of the day, usually around a holiday, but the C.O. can grant it any time he wants.
Where it comes from       :    When the British Navy was out to sea, they would take an afternoon off usually once a week on Wednesday to mend hammocks, rope, and clothing from the yarn from their ropes.  It was a break from normal duties and chores, and became known as Ropeyarn Sunday (Sunday also being a time of rest).  So when your guy tells you he's coming home early because the C.O. granted them ropeyarn, greet him with all the mending you'd like done!  I mean, it's tradition!             

Sunday, March 31, 2013


Hi everyone!  Welcome to my blog!  My name is Nikki and I'm a Navy wife.  I'm so proud of my husband and all he does for our country, but I know making the transition from to military spouse can be a very difficult one to make.  I grew up as a Navy brat, and then joined myself, where I met my amazing husband nearly five years ago.  We're getting ready for our first PCS move together, and it struck me that this is very stressful for someone who has been through it multiple times, and I couldn't imagine what it must be like for someone with no military experience at all! Which brings me to why I started this blog.

I wanted to have a place for people to ask questions about military life, why your spouse can't always call, how to handle a long (or even short) deployment, should you move on base or take BAH and move off, and so many more questions I know so many people have!  I'll also include tips for staying close to your family that may be spread across the country, military terms and acronyms, as well as some fun DIY projects, recipes, and shopping tips. 

This is not an easy life, but it is so worth it!