I scribbled purple waves into my notebook and tried to ignore the touchy-feely couple to my left. The husband’s thumb rubbed circles on the back of his wife’s hand while she caressed his neck. I distracted myself by scratching big, angry circles over the waves I originally drew. My husband was seventy days into his second deployment at the time. Only two hundred days to go. Only.
The speaker at the front of the room wrapped up his portion of the meeting to mild applause and handed the microphone over to the next person on the agenda: a military family life counselor. (As with all things in the military, this one comes with an acronym: MFLC.) MFLCs rotate through units for months at a time and provide free counseling to soldiers and their families. It’s a great service, and something I’ve taken advantage of on more than one occasion.
The current MFLC for our unit wore his striped polo shirt tucked into his jeans and belted. Not five seconds into his presentation, he was gesticulating wildly, moving around the room, and serving up something similar to a religious sermon. Despite the MFLC’s ability to enthuse with the best of them, I zoned out. He was preaching to the choir in my case, and I was more interested in thinking about what drive-thru I was going to hit up for dinner on the way home. Half of the page in my notebook was purple by the time he said something that drew my attention. The MFLC did his best to recall a quote from General Marshall, “Imagine that your husband is a kite. You, you are a kite’s tail. People think you just stand by your husband and look pretty or that you follow him around. Really, you direct him and help him fly higher. The kite needs its tail.”
Mrs. Touchy-Feely nodded to her husband and he smiled back. They were apparently in silent agreement that he was a high-flying kite and she was the ever-important tail. Turning my head a little this way and a little that, I caught glimpses of others nodding along, rapt in the metaphor. Had someone added a “hallelujah!” shout from the back row, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
No offense to our very passionate MFLC or the late General Marshall, but no thank you. I am not a kite’s tail.
I realize that what was being offered to us was a somewhat progressive pep talk. Though people joke about the old adage, “If the military wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one,” it feels true more often than not. No one consulted me when we were sent to live in a tiny town with no jobs in my career field or when eight months later we had to move again. My thoughts are worth less than a penny when it comes to determining how often I’ll find myself living alone and for how long. My husband’s job dictates the arc of my flight. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any control.
In A Christmas Carol, a crotchety Scrooge traveled back in time to take a look at his first employer, the jovial Fezziwig. Scrooge wistfully recalls that Fezziwig “had the power to make us happy or unhappy…” I take it upon myself to be my own Fezziwig. I won’t give the Army that opportunity. If they want to send us somewhere remote, then I’ll use it as an opportunity to catch up on my reading. If they want me to move internationally twice in one year, why, that’s the chance I was waiting for to toss out my old junk. If they want to send my husband away again, it’s a lesson in resilience.
It’s not all reactionary. This year we finally have some glorious stability. (Well, other than that pesky deployment that popped up with ten days’ notice, but that’s par for the course.) We’ve got shallow roots planted at our current duty station, and I managed to find a solid job. Then I took it upon myself to quit. I didn’t like my job, but I could have toughed it out or sucked it up or been a trooper or made it work or every other platitude out there. For days I agonized over quitting, telling myself that I should suck it up, but I’ve spent plenty of time being unhappy at the hand of someone else. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice any more of my time to it. I hustled and sought out other opportunities and I fought for something better, something that makes me happier. The Army didn’t require it of me, it wasn’t the result of trailing behind my husband, it was one hundred percent the sole, scary decision and hard work of Amy.
Being a military spouse is a huge part of my identity; I so enjoy the many things that come with that title. And it may be a compliment to say that I support my husband (I’m pretty good at it), to pat me on the head and proclaim what important work it is, but I cannot and I will not allow myself to be relegated to the role of a kite’s tail. I am more than that.
I am a partner, I am a friend, I am a lover, I am sticky-note obsessed, a runner, a reader, a chips and salsa eater! I am an individual.
I am my own damn kite.