There are few things in this world as depressing as becoming a statistic. I haven’t taken the armor out of my vest though, like CPT Whiteback did in 2003 when he received his Dear John. So I got that going for me. Which is nice.
I don't get it. I really don't. Just this week a friend whose judgment and compassion are absolutely stellar, stared me down when I expressed my displeasure upon hearing a woman had left her wounded soldier-husband in the middle of his suffering. She said I couldn't begin to imagine the strains, but the line that finally made me relent was her reminder, "She's very young." True... and the whole situation has been even more hellish than is "normal" for wounded couples.
But then I think of teen wives, such as Josie Salzman (just turned 20), who have come through these things with flying colors--after getting suddenly married on his pre-deployment leave--and are still holding up amazingly well as the aftershocks rumble through their lives.
My mother suggested that maybe these girlfriends (and wives) just really don't understand what a Dear John letter does to a deployed soldier, especially one in direct combat. Maybe they don't. Their men's hearts break like any other man's, but it's more than that. For soldiers all too often, the soft and loving arms of their girl is the singular ribbon that connects them to Home and Real Life... the thread they hang onto when it seems there is nothing but the insanity of war... the warm light that promises a return to Normal someday... the thoughts that soothe a troubled mind... the literal strength to do what must be done.
I’ll keep those jaded words tucked away in my personal ramblings, where they belong. The juxtaposition...between three years of sunny memories filled with smiles and laughs and a cold, empty combat outpost at 0-Dark-Thirty in the middle of freakin' Iraq...
I'll never forget reading a Ranger Instructor who wrote that almost without fail it was the men with a significant other or a beloved mother who made it through the toughest and darkest parts of the training that pushed them beyond their previous limits--it was she who inspired him. Soldier lore is full of stories of men who got absent-minded, "careless," or "unlucky" after receiving a Dear John letter.
And yet the girls keep doing it. I don't get it. I really don't. If you have loved someone, don't you care about his health and safety even if you don't have the hots for him anymore? If you've discovered you don't really love him "that way," after all, can't you control yourself until he gets back so that at least he's not in danger of getting his head blown off after you break his heart and rummage through his psyche? If you got drunk and turned stupid, is it important for him to know about that while he's on the other side of the world and living in mortal danger? Shouldn't that be your version of "embrace the suck" as you live with your guilty feelings rather than unburdening them onto him when he has more important things to worry about... like survival? I've gone years without a man at my side. Surely you can go up to 18 months; spend some time learning to live with yourself instead of attaching to the next thing with a Y-chromosome that turns your head.
You get to sit stateside and cry about a relationship gone sour. Maybe "cocoon" yourself for a few days, go out and get plastered with your girlfriends and begin to wash away the pain and regret. He doesn't get the option. Instead, he has to find a way to pick up the broken pieces and try to clear his mind... because he's got a patrol in two hours, his brothers are counting on him and people are going to try to kill them.
"Appallingly self-centered" is about the nicest adjective I can find to describe girls who do this. I openly acknowledge: I don't understand... not one bit.