Thursday, May 25, 2006

TV Timebombs: the emotional battlefield of ER

Who knew watching the television could be such an emotional minefield. I don’t mean an accidental channel surf passed Steel Magnolias, although it does make me cry every time, or even a flip past the news, with all it’s death, depression, and destruction. I’m talking about the programs that are much more mainstream; the most dangerous ones are the ones that hit you unexpected.

The latest installment of “your life is fodder for prime time’s sensational heart wrencher” was last Thursday’s ER. My husband was gone for a month of pre-deployment work-up training and I was about to treat myself to an early night when it came on. My finger was on the off-button, but I just hadn’t quite pulled the trigger yet, when a young female doctor, still in her pajamas despite the midday light pouring though the shutters, is crying. Still unawares, I figure her boyfriend left her for a man or she’s pregnant and hasn’t told the father yet, or some other trite trauma. And then, just as I raise the remote to turn off the ‘drama’ in my life, whuh, a punch to the gut. Two men in full-on dress blues, sparkly gold buttons and spit-shined shoes, asking for Mrs. X to tell her of her husband’s untimely expiration. Just like that, there it was, for the pre-bed time entertainment of millions, is my worst nightmare. Cut to next scene – her handsome young doctor husband is cruising around in the back of a truck, donning his deserts, flack jacket, Kevlar, all the right goods, when his convoy found a buried blast of scrap-metal death.

One person’s entertainment is another person’s emotional minefield.

I have no doubt that there have been many storylines that have made me laugh, or cry, that I turned off, and tucked myself in to, falling right asleep feeling tired and entertained. Take Steel Magnolia’s – I love the movie - but I bet there is a mom out there that can’t stand to look at the cover of the movie, with it’s singly white magnolia stem, because it reminds her of the daughter she lost. I can’t blame anyone for making entertainment out of my deepest fears, out of our troops’ trials and tribulations, hey, I even commend the industry for reminding the public that there is a war going on. But just this once I wanted someone to realize that this is my life, those are my deepest darkest secret fears, and you got to warn a girl before you blitz those images of bursting roadside bombs and pools of our men’s blood.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Prepare or Pretend

When you have something difficult coming up – do you mentally prepare yourself for it? Or, do you pretend it’s not happening until it’s right up on you? Some people are pretenders; they figure there is no point in wasting time feeling sad about something that will happen whether you want it to or not (not a bad motto for a Marine Corps wife). But I’m a preparer – I find myself a little bit glum every day in anticipation of d-day (deployment-day) and struggle to conceal a lower lip quiver the night before each training expedition; but when it’s go-time I am ready, I’ve ‘dealt’, so I hold my chin up high, blink the tears away from my uncooperatively welling eyes, fan off my flushed red face, and keep on moving on.

Now that my husband is gearing up for his second deployment, I find his frequent training workups are like an emotional pre-deployment bootcamp for the USMC wife. I don’t have the motivating luxury of a Gunnery Sergeant yelling at me to give him twenty, but there is a nagging, perhaps equally intimidating voice in my head snarling “if you can’t handle this, sweetheart, you don’t belong here with the elite.” Each week that his platoon is in the field is a little challenge for me to harden up and train for their next stint in (we won’t call it “the $#!t”, we’ll call it…) “the show.” He’s just left for a month to Mojavi Viper and I feel the dull ache of the slowly severing strings of attachment, the very ones I so recently fostered back to full vibrancy. Just a few winks ago I was carefully re-forging these precious connections between us, giving up the survival skill of living alone, scattering the extra pillows across the floor that I no longer needed to block off the chasm on the left side of the bed. But when you only have a few months to complete the full inter-deployment cycle, a few weeks makes all the difference

Now homecoming is over, we’ve passed the summit for reconnecting and, whether we are adept at pretending or not, we are now racing back down towards the base camp of deployment. But I’m training along the way – I learn to stay connected to ‘us’ while slowly re-working the inner calluses of independent ‘me’. I don’t know how to pretend that he’s not leaving, that I will no longer need to make weekly runs to the commissary to buy full-fat ice cream and cases of high-calorie coke, and so instead I tighten up the tummy muscles, take the occasional five-star slap his training-induced absences serve me, and prepare myself to go it again on my own. I’m dedicating a new award to myself: this year’s USMC femme-solita.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


(For "nasty civilians" like myself, that means Standard Operating Procedure)

Every time I find myself living alone, in a new country, new city, a new school, a new job, or just a new situation I have a few rules I force myself to follow - it's my SOP. These may or may not have helped me snag my husband, that hunky devil dog, but to survive your first year away from home, a flock of foreign faces, or a husband’s deployment, here are “the rules" laid out in my SOP.

- Say yes to any and all invitations extended. Feel a little too tired to meet a new acquaintance out for a drink? Not an excuse; put on your party pants and drive on down to that new watering hole because they may not ask twice.

- Buy a few books that have been molding on your 'must read' list. Somehow watching TV makes you feel like a lout, but engrossing yourself in a novel transforms you into a well-read, self-satisfied, interesting intellectual.

- Learn the language. Spanish, Italian, military acronyms, business lingo – it’s hard to feel comfortable when you can’t understand what’s going on around you. You can’t follow the SOP, much less write your own, if you don’t know what an SOP is!

- Take on a challenge and accomplish something brand new. Sign up for the grad-level art class and prove to yourself you can be a confident corporate by day, and a veritable Frida Kahlo by night; register for a marathon and conquer twenty-six-point-two miles worth of pain, doubt, and depression.

It’s this last rule that brings me here. I’m not sure if documenting my thoughts during work-ups and my husbands upcoming deployment is a lesser or greater challenge than running that hilly long race in Seattle’s November rain. But here I am – clamoring for the catharsis of accomplishing a new feat - conquering the barriers of language instead of the physical pain of mere lactic acid.