I realized that while he left the military years ago, the military can not—and will not—leave him.
I had no intention of ever dating a military man. While I am in awe of the military spouse, I know myself well enough to know that I would have a significantly difficult time going about my day-to-day, when my partner and best friend is at war and in danger or deployed or involved in a risky training exercise. If I met an interested man who happened to be an active member of the military, that wouldn’t necessarily exclude him from consideration, but I would be hesitant to get involved on any sort of serious level.
And then I met my partner.
He served in the United States Navy for six years but had been out of the military for a significant amount of time before I sat next to him in on what would be our last first date. I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with devastatingly long deployments at sea or constant relocation so his military service wasn’t a potential hinderance, but a celebrated past accomplishment. I didn’t foresee his time in uniform as a consistently working cog in our future relationship but, then again, I had never dated a veteran before.
For someone who has never served in the military, it is difficult to fully comprehend all the complicated ways military service weaves into the very fiber of one’s being. Military members are broken down in boot camp and built up to not just be altered men and women, but trusted, forever soldiers. The training and the missions and the executions of both are so deeply engrained in our service men and women that, I swear, the marrow in their bones is altered. And it wasn’t until I started living with and had a child with a veteran of the United States Military, that I realized that while he left the military years ago, the military cannot – and will not – leave him.
I’ve learned that, when going out to eat, I will never again sit in a chair or booth that faces the door or entryway. He insists on occupying the spot that allows him to survey who is coming and going into the restaurant or bar or whatever establishment we might be visiting. He refuses to have his back turned and is constantly on somewhat of a “look out”, even if he’s in the middle of a double bacon cheeseburger and a pint of delicious beer.
I’ve learned that being on time is necessary and absolutely expected. Nothing upsets my partner more than being late for an engagement or dinner or pre-determined activity, and if he isn’t able to plan out the exact times we will be at specific locations – and the exact way in which we will make our way to said location – he’ll no doubt become frustrated and agitated. Everything needs to be in its proper place and at a proper time, including us.
I’ve learned that certain social situations will make him uncomfortable and nervous, although he will never show it. Large crowds make him anxious, especially if our son and myself are with him. Most everyone are considered potential threats and the consistent vigilance he cannot help but display can become exhausting. He won’t completely relax until he is back at home with his family, so big adventures to extravagant social functions are few and far between.
I’ve learned that while I am his best friend and the mother of his child and his forever partner, there is a closeness only he and his brothers in arms will share. I cannot compete or even come close to their kind of love, respect, and commitment, mostly because I have not earned it. They have trained together and bled together and cried together and celebrated together and done things that I cannot possibly imagine, all together, and that kind of bond is something only they can (and should) share.
I’ve learned that the knowledge he gained traveling the world is just as – if not more – valuable than the knowledge I gained in a college classroom. When someone claims the only people who join the military are people who are not smart enough to attend a university, I bite my tongue and squeeze my fists and think of all the fascinating, intellectual and educational conversations my partner and I have shared, all because he has seen the world and I have simply studied it.
I’ve learned that when my partner grows quiet and reserved and spends time on the phone, shaking his head and sighing, it’s because another former shipmate has died – due to drugs or alcohol or suicide – all because our government and our society and the very people who like to publicly celebrate the military a few days out of the year, neglect them.
I’ve learned that we are so quick to say we care about our military members and military veterans, but that’s a heavy dose of lip service followed by very little action.
And most importantly, I’ve learned that while I had no intention of ever dating a military man, I am so glad that I am, and I am so thankful that my son will grow up knowing that his father was a soldier for the country we call home, long after he took his uniform off.