It’s Fleet Week in Seattle, or whatever the name is for not only Fleet Week (that’s Navy), but every other military branch, as well. Military Week? Sounds dull, probably correct? Whatever it is when the Blue Angels zip low over my office every day and just about make me shit my pants?
Currently there are some naval ships docked where the cruise ships usually depart, and if I wasn’t so long out of the military lifestyle, I might be able to tell you what kind of ships they are. But I am so long out of the military lifestyle. Ten years ago this month, actually, an anniversary that never even occurred to me until I saw those ships yesterday. So about ten years and a handful of days ago, I called a naval base and asked to speak to the person who would become my ex-husband and told him that he had to stop by the apartment that night to take care of the hamster, because I was leaving California and never coming back. I had The Cat in the car, so that’s why I couldn’t take the hamster. No, I don’t remember why I was an adult who owned a hamster.
If you’re new, you should know that the person who would become my ex-husband knew good and well that he was going to become my ex-husband, and he was just as aware of the reasons for this (the short, non-detailed list includes adultery and stealing six grand from my bank account). So please don’t think I was being insensitive a decade and some loose change ago, okay?
If you’re old (and most of you are), you may share a small cheer with me now, in celebration of my having left him in the first place and our terrific friendship together since. You can also shake your head in disbelief that I was ever married to begin with, and let me tell you, you are not alone. I do the same thing every time I bother to remember it. Aside from loving the hilariously true label of divorcée, it baffles me that a) I was ever suckered into that to begin with, b) nobody had the stones to try and stop me because, and I quote, “you always seemed like you had your shit together,” and c) at one (very low) point in my life, I was assured that I would always have to be married to that person because not being married to them anymore would mean that I had been wrong and also my family would be disappointed in me.
Obviously, I eventually got over that last part. Much like when I admitted to my family that I was an atheist who gave money to Planned Parenthood every year, admitting to them that I didn’t want to be married anymore wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it was. I’d even started laying the groundwork for them months before I got taken for six large. I was visiting St. Louis and riding around with my dad when I saw some For Rent signs in front of some flats. “I’d like to have a place like that when I move back someday,” I told him.
“What do you mean, when you move back someday?”
I took a breath. “Well, I can’t stay in California. I need to come home.”
“Erin, you can’t stay married and be in different cities. It doesn’t work like that.”
I shrugged. “Well, it would be fine with me if I wasn’t married.”
I didn’t tell them about the adultery (his) and the lying (again, his) and the stealing (his his his) had yet to come, but at least the secret was out there. I did not want to be married anymore. I did not want to live in California anymore. I did not want to be connected to the military anymore, because in addition to feeling as though I was trapped in an airless marriage, I also felt trapped by this idea of an institutional juggernaut behind him. Not so much for the warfare capability or anything (I mean, I wasn’t married to a Marine), but because the military is also a community, and one in which the participants feel inextricably linked and fiendishly devoted.
When you are associated with the military, you have to be keenly aware of your behavior. You have to observe a pecking order, even amongst other wives. You cannot say shitty things about George W. Bush. And you know that no matter what, as a dependent of someone who is in the military, no one who is also in it will have your back if you leave. Divorcing a member of the military is like being excommunicated from a church you don’t particularly want to attend. You can’t go to the bank anymore. You can’t shop on base. You can’t even get on base, at least not back then, at least with no kids and so close to 9/11. Even getting anyone at the base to admit that my soon-to-be ex-husband was there when I called sobbing after I saw my bank balance was a chore. It is its own little world and once you declare yourself an outsider, you are well and truly out.
Not that I’m complaining. I could have joined the military, and in fact my mother strongly suggested it when I graduated high school, about a year before 9/11, which she does not like me to bring up. But it was not the place for me. I’ve said before that if you’re capable of joining the military, doing your job, completing your service and emerging as a well-rounded and contributing member of society, then you have my highest respect. I was simply not the ideal candidate. I was not the ideal dependent, either, because there is something inside of me (my parents might call it a “bad attitude”) that instinctively bucks against the structure and discipline the military provides, and by extension, attempts to impose on the spouses of its members. So I knew that once I was out, I would be out. I knew that I couldn’t expect anyone I knew to still talk to me, and that the military would likely do whatever it could to keep me from getting what I was owed by one of its members. I knew it, but I wanted out more.
Which was actually fairly easy for me, far easier than it would have been if I’d married, say, a cop. Because as much as it sucked to leave California with a week and a half’s notice with no money and a decimated credit score, how much more would it have sucked to stay in the same city where my ex was still supported by an infamously protective organization of pseudo-military force? Depending on how acrimonious the divorce was, how supremely would that have sucked?
I thought about this after seeing the ships in Elliott Bay yesterday, and about how, ten years before, I’d just landed back in St. Louis, completely broke, clipped free of the military complex, and with absolutely no concept of where I’d be in a decade. In some ways, the past ten years have been incredibly hard. In others, and I say this as a person with the forgetfulness of ten years behind them, it hasn’t been too bad. As with almost everything, I suppose that it could have been worse, and for that, at least, I am thankful.