The Adventures of a Nomadic Navy Wife
This is a repost from an article I wrote back in the pre-kids segment of my life. It is still relevant today as I try to make the most of our adventurous lifestyle. This is one of my favorite pieces, I hope you enjoy it.
In the spring of 2006 my husband left for a deployment. It wasn’t our first, and it certainly will not be our last, but it was his final deployment before we became parents. I was able to take advantage of the flexibility of our before-kids lifestyle, and, among other things, I became a nomad, tried to read Hemingway and kept a journal. The following are excerpts from that journal. Please feel free to leave a comment and share your own adventures.
In March of 2006 my husband and I packed up our house near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and put almost everything we owned in a 20 by 8 by 8 foot container at a facility called the Storage Castle. Although the name conjures an image of an impressive, secure and slightly romantic destination, the Storage Castle was, in reality, none of those things. It was simply a maze of shipping containers surrounded by cinderblock walls in a shady part of Honolulu. There was a pathetic attempt at crenellations at the top of the wall, but the effect was underwhelming. Even after purging, as all efficient military families do before each move, everything did not fit. So we had an emergency garage sale, in the rain, the day before we moved. We made 50 bucks.
Being sufficiently uprooted, packed up and released from Navy housing we went our separate ways, as is the sea tour tradition. My husband left for his second Western Pacific deployment, and I packed up Dixie and the boys (our dog and two cats) and headed back home to Texas. I was sad to leave the natural habitat of the Hawaii navy wife. I knew I would miss my friends (those that hadn’t already moved on to the next port themselves), the island breeze, the beaches and the world’s largest navy exchange, complete with waterfall and escalator. But, I was glad to return to home soil, at least for a while. I did not plan to stay put for long. I was going to travel, have adventures, see old friends and broaden my horizons. I was also going to eat a lot of Mexican food.
I was going to be a gypsy, a nomad, a free spirit. I would be so busy with my travels, my projects and my goals that I wouldn’t have time to miss my husband at all. I wouldn’t miss his embrace or his smile, his jokes or his encouragement. I wouldn’t miss his cooking or his company at dinner each evening. I wouldn’t miss his snoring at night or his singing in the shower in the mornings. I wouldn’t miss him on our anniversary or on the Fourth of July. I wouldn’t miss his laugh or the way one piece of his hair always sticks up in the back. Nope. I was going to be way too busy to miss him at all.
The Flight – Why toddlers need their own seats
I always enjoy meeting other military wives. I love sharing stories and commiserating. Military wives are a resilient, self sufficient, determined, patient and considerate breed of women. There is, however, one brilliant exception to this. She sat next to me on my flight from Honolulu to Texas. I must give the poor girl some credit, and she was girl, a mere teenager actually. I believe she was nineteen. She was seventeen months pregnant and had the largest two year old I have ever met in her nonexistent lap. The only person on the plane who had it worse than me was the kid sitting in front of her. Monstro the toddler had one hell of a kick.
I had just said goodbye to my husband, put all of my beloved stuff into storage (including my little red convertible), and my slightly neurotic, more than a little paranoid but melt your guts cute golden retriever was in the cargo hold, probably foaming at the mouth and going into massive convulsions because I had chosen to move her with me back to Texas. For all of those reasons and a few others, I was a bit emotionally frazzled at this point in my new nomadic life. I was also not in the mood to hear this chick tell me how glad she was that Monstro was just under the age limit requiring parents to purchase seats for them. Monstro and I would have both been a lot happier if there had been just a little more room. It was a long flight home.
Goals – Becoming a Goddess
As all seasoned or at least partially rational military wives know, the secret to surviving deployment is to keep yourself busy. In order to accomplish this feat, especially before the arrival of one or more small military dependents, it is important to have lofty goals and an impressive list of projects. The opportunity for self improvement is many times overlooked by some spouses. Don’t just create goals to fill the time. Fill your brain, your soul, your pocket book or your bookshelf.
Filled with the enthusiasm of having six months to devote to myself, as soon as I got settled in my nomadic base camp (my mom’s house) I embarked on my first goal with considerable zeal and a great pair of black yoga pants. No, I did not actually take yoga. Even after living in Hawaii my legs were just too white to buy the tiny workout shorts. I was going to get in shape. I was going to wow the uniform off my husband when he got home. Since I hadn’t seriously undertaken any kind of physical fitness regime since prancing around in a sequin hat and fringe covered leotard in my high school drill team, I was a bit uncertain as to where to begin. So I hired Trevor. For the sake of my husband’s piece of mind, we will refer to Trevor as Jennifer, as I did in my emails to him regarding the progress of my goal of wowing the uniform off of him when he returned. Let’s face it, there is no need to tell your husband you paid another man to make you sweat until after he is home. Disclaimer: The author does not condone lying to your husband while he is on deployment unless it is specifically to conceal the gender of your buff personal trainer who you are NOT interested in and who is so not your type anyway.
So, I purchased a gym membership and six training sessions with Jennifer, the fantasy of becoming a toned goddess firmly entrenched in my imagination. In our first session I learned the elusive truth about weight loss. It sucks. It is painful, time consuming and difficult. The flabby, undisciplined goddess had a ways to go.
Less enthusiastic, but still determined, I set myself up a plan. I would workout with the weights (which Jennifer taught me how to use), three times a week and I would work up to running two miles four times a week. The latter was quite lofty since after my first attempt at running in the neighborhood my heart almost exploded inside my chest and my lungs almost burst from my throat. It would have been very messy.
Since I had one goal aimed at improving my body, I now needed a goal to improve my mind. For this goal, I joined forced with my very good friend Lisa. Several months before I began my nomadic lifestyle Lisa and I came to the conclusion that we were way too sophisticated, educated and intelligent not to have a vast knowledge of literature. So we formed a tiny book club. We took turns choosing a book and we would read and discuss. We already had Jane Austen and John Steinbeck under our belts when I chose Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. We chose not to be intimidated by the weight of the volume or by the masculine, contrite tone. I would like to stop here and blame this choice on my brother. Ernest is his favorite author, and he recommended this novel. Actually he recommended The Old Man and the Sea, but I didn’t want to read about a crazy old man and a fish, so I took his second recommendation.
Lisa and I both began our new selection before I left Hawaii. By the time I moved, neither one of us had been able to reach the second chapter. We were still committed to finishing it. Ernest is, by all accounts, a literary genius. We just hadn’t realized it for ourselves yet. We agreed to continue our book club and our current scrutiny of Ernest by phone and email. I took him with me on the plane, and after two pages of our hero trekking through the mountains of Spain, I was fast asleep.
Texas – Driving in a Straight Line
Perhaps I’m old fashioned. I like it when my husband drives. Perhaps my husband is just a really lousy passenger. Since during our stay in Hawaii I was a free spirited artist who shunned the nine to five lifestyle in favor of wearing my pajamas until noon and working way past my bedtime, I rarely drove more than to the store and back. Fortunately, I also had a girlfriend who drove a bright yellow SUV, and who was also a lousy passenger. So if my husband wasn’t home to drive, I was usually with my yellow SUV friend. Long story short: I didn’t really drive that much. I certainly didn’t drive long distances given that I lived on an island. So, setting out on my first drive through Texas was like throwing off a heavy overcoat I didn’t know I’d been wearing.
I didn’t have a car back home in Texas. I didn’t think I’d need one, I was going to be traveling, exploring… by airplane if I could help it. So when I decided to drive the two hours to Houston to see some friends, I rented a car. They upgraded me to a truck. I was happy.
In college I drove a truck. A small and (according to my husband) girlie truck, but a truck none the less. This was not a girlie truck. I don’t know anything about engines except that I am glad that I don’t have to know anything about engines. But I knew this was a big one when I almost zoomed out of control accelerating out of the parking lot. I never thought this would make me happy, but it did. I thought I was an “as long as it gets me there” kind of gal. I was wrong. I liked big engines.
It took me all of four and a half minutes to get to the outskirts of College Station, TX. State Highway 6 heads straight towards Houston, and my new, lean, mean, American made, could haul a boat if I wanted to haul a boat truckin’ machine left the city behind. After fifteen minutes of smooth, straight, well delineated, well marked, wide laned Texas Highway I realized I was enjoying myself. The Texas wild flowers were blooming with childhood nostalgia, cows in green fields zipped by on either side of me beyond the ever present barbed wire fence, the summer heat was still held at bay by the breeze, my machine hummed powerfully as we cruised, George Strait was on every other radio station I flipped through, and I realized I hadn’t driven this far in a straight line in three years. I love our move-every-few-years military lifestyle, but it was great to be home.
Guam – The Great Pacific Booty Call
Ah… Guam. I will start by apologizing to anyone from Guam. If you’ve heard of Guam, but aren’t sure you know where or what it is, I’ll enlighten you. Technically it is a tropical island southeast of Japan. You could drive the length of it in less than a half an hour if the main street wasn’t crowded with sailors and cheap tourists looking for the strip clubs, bored locals cruising up and down, half starved stray dogs, and crazy local election signs (think junior high student council elections but WAY more volume).
I arrived in Guam on a small Air Force Medical Evacuation plane. I knew it was going to be bad when the airman at the Space A terminal handed me a set of ear plugs and told me I would have to wear them for the whole flight. If you are unfamiliar with the joy of Space A, it’s kind of like gambling for the military traveler. You show up at certain Air Force bases, and you can ride for free if they have space on certain flights. It is a great way for military dependents, like me, to try and fly out to see our loved ones for an R and R port visit. This particular port call was in Guam.
I have heard that Guam has some of the best scuba diving in the Pacific. I have small panic attacks trying to snorkel. They also say that the deep sea fishing is amazing. I usually vomit on small boats in the ocean. Hiking might be fun, but there is this little problem with a certain brown snake on the island. Epidemic has been used to describe this problem. They have killed all the birds accept a few tenacious pigeons at the beach resorts. So, no hiking for me either. But, I didn’t really need any great activities like these. I hadn’t seen my husband in months… we had catching up to do.
Two days into our “catching up” a typhoon was spotted heading for Guam. The next day all leave was revoked. The day after that my husband’s submarine left the island to weather the storm at sea. All flights out of Guam were canceled. Ah…. Guam.
I spent the next five days at the Guam Marriot by myself. I never saw a single cloud or a drop of rain. The typhoon took a sharp turn when it discovered that it had accomplished its goal of interrupting my trans-pacific booty call. Typhoons love doing that.
I tried finding some good shopping, but after living in Honolulu I needed way more than the world’s largest K-Mart to impress me. Really, though, it is officially the world’s largest K-Mart. I went down to the beach, but got freaked out when a tiny sea creature tried to eat my knee cap. I tried to go to the movies, but since I didn’t have cash and the entire credit card accepting system on the island was down for some reason that day, I ended up back at the hotel. Which wasn’t so bad. By the end of the week the whole staff knew my name, I spent some of my husband’s well earned bonus at the spa, I figured out the best treadmill to use in the gym, and the pool had great lounge chairs.
So, I found myself stranded on a tropical island with time to kill, preferably by the pool. So, I took out Ernest. After months of procrastinating, I was going to tackle Hemingway. I ordered a tropical drink, slathered my alabaster skin with SPF 500 and settled in to read one of the classics. I fell asleep before I finished one page.
When the typhoon watch had passed and the Space A flights resumed I said good-bye to Guam and headed home. I found out later that my husband’s ship pulled back in a half hour later. My husband even rushed to the terminal to try and catch me. Ah…. Guam.
Japan, How to find your husband in a crowd
I like to consider myself a capable gal. I can move myself and my husband across the country and back again, even across an ocean. I can do my own taxes. I can explain the difference between BAH, SGLI, COLA, and PPV. I have a master’s degree. I manage my own freelance business, a house full of pets and an opinionated mother-in-law (pleasantly opinionated, of course) on a daily basis. I’m also fairly well traveled. But, standing in the customs line at the Tokyo International Airport, I was having a major confidence crisis.
The plan was that my husband, who’s ship supposedly pulled in to Japan that morning would meet me outside of customs. But, as any Navy wife knows, depending on the ship’s supposed schedule will get you into trouble. This trip, which had of course been planned at the last minute, changed three times and paid for by a bonus we hadn’t received yet was going to start out very badly if any one of the horrible scenarios I had playing in my head came true. Most of them had to do with me spending a week in Tokyo alone, lost and bewildered until a kindly old woman took pity on the starving American woman and showed me the way to the US embassy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that fresh out of College Station, TX. Japan, and Tokyo especially, are just so very different. The movies and the guide books don’t do it justice. It is another world completely; one that you can’t really grasp until you explore it yourself.
Armed with only my passport, a credit card and the name of our hotel, a million things ran through my head as the customs agent added a stamp to my collection. What if my husband’s ship never came in? What if we can’t find each other in this massive airport? Our cell phones don’t work. I don’t have any Yen. And the only thing I can say in Japanese is “Domo Arigato Mr. Robato.”
I’m already formulating a plan to get some currency, find a taxi, get to our hotel and call the CO’s wife back home for an update (and avoid the whole lost, alone and bewildered scenario) when the walls around the escalator I’m riding open up to a massivebaggage claim filled to capacity with travelers, strange Japanese advertising and piles of luggage. We are descending into a sea of waiting faces, some people are already waving at their friends or family members. I scan the crowd franticly, suddenly wishing that my husband had bright red hair. I don’t see him. Surely he hasn’t changed so much in few months that I can’t pick him out of a crowd? How long do I wander around the baggage claim waiting for him? How dare he join the Navy and force me to amble around foreign airports alone!
And then I saw him, a shabbily dressed white guy with a sea bag, standing a head taller than the people around him waving his hands enthusiastically and smiling the most wonderful smile in the whole world. He had rushed from his ship to the airport, which was a three hour train ride from the navy base, without even showering so that he wouldn’t miss my flight. He had already gotten local currency and arranged for transportation to the hotel.
I wonder if any of the well dressed, hurried, Japanese travelers went home and complained about the american couple in wrinkled t-shirts and travel stained jeans who stood in the center of the baggage claim and kissed for a solid fifteen minutes.
Tucked away in my backpack, Ernest didn’t get any reading time until the flight back where I re-read a page I had already read, then watched the in flight movies and doodled hearts around our initials on the napkins.
Ernest gets Read
After traveling with me to Houston, St. Louis, Guam, Atlanta, Tokyo, Honolulu, San Antonio, El Paso and Monterey, as well as a few little places in between, at the end of my nomadic six months I still had not accomplished my goal of experiencing one of America’s most beloved authors. I had not conquered Hemingway. Fortunately, neither had my friend Lisa.
Finally, after the joy of homecoming, the effort of relocating once again and finding myself pregnant and with my feet up a little more than usual I buckled down and persevered to the end of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece.
Now I can say, with confidence and a hint of literary snobbery… I’m not a big fan of Hemingway. I think I’ll go peruse the romance section of Barnes and Noble toreward myself. Maybe I’ll find a book about a cute Texas artist who falls in love with a sexy Naval Officer…. Oh, wait, that sounds kind of familiar.