Right before I married Brandon and became a military spouse, I knew a girl who was going through her then-boyfriend’s first deployment. This was in 2007 and the war was different- terrifying with many unknowns. Her boyfriend deployed to Iraq and because he was in the reserves, they didn’t live at an army installation. Therefore, she didn’t have the support of the fellow wives and girlfriends who were going through the same deployment.
She and I were very good friends. We had many meaningful conversations. Only, we never really talked about how she was doing with the deployment. There were times when I intuitively felt her struggling hard, but I never took it upon myself to crack that protective shell she hid herself under to talk about the serious stuff.
On a few occasions, she lightheartedly asked me to stay with her in the house she and her boyfriend owned because she didn’t want to stay there alone. I never stayed in that house with her even when she asked me more than once. Here’s a quick little red flag friend tip: If your close friend is asking you about something or asking you to do something more than once, chances are she has something else on the forefront of her mind and it’s a silent wave of the white S.O.S. surrender flag without the drama of crying hysterically for help. My friend’s invite was casual which never lead me to believe that she was hurting, but in hindsight, I knew she needed someone to be there. I missed the silent surrender flag. She needed a net. She needed me to be that net.
This past month I was smacked upside the head hard with the reality of needing nets. I got very ill while Brandon was in the field. Field training is used to simulate a combat environment in order for them to practice missions. In other words, no coming home at night. No coming home on weekends. He's away from home the complete amount of time until field training ends.
Nursing myself back to health was slow and difficult without the other parent to care for my two wild children. My time in sickness was ugly and brutal on me physically simply because I was alone. No husband. No net.
All I kept thinking about was how I wish I had a group of women here in town, in my neighborhood, who all looked out for one another. I’m not talking about casual neighbors or the emotional net I receive from distant relatives and friends. I’m talking about a close-in-proximity, close-in-emotional support group of women who all know when to dig a little deeper to crack the shell and yank us out of the hell we’re in to say, hey, I know you’re going through a really shitty time right now. I’m going to cook you dinner and give your kids a bath. You go sleep. And then I would say, yes. Because I would know that she is my net and she’s catching me before I faceplant into some awful, cloudy depressed state. And I would say yes because I am also there, swooping in to catch her, too, on those tough days.
Active duty military life isn’t always easy because we move so often. Even after we build our net, it’s again time to move across the country. Those walking in my shoes could argue that the FRG (family readiness group) is that net, but let us be honest, it’s not. The FRG is a military designed group of women who, more often than not, is catty and impersonal. If you need help with your kids due to sickness, you feel like you’re being hugely inconveniencing.
I actually had a lovely FRG leader when Brandon was deployed to Afghanistan who made it more personal, however the tainted FRG stigma was still there. During our year-long deployment, there was only one – one – woman who asked for help with her kids due to sickness. Is that because the other women (myself included) felt they couldn’t rely on the FRG as a support group and created their own personal net? As a whole, the FRG is not a close-in-emotional support group of tight-nit women. And that is really what we all need – military or not.
In my experience, every single woman needs another woman to share her life with – someone to say, you’re human. You’re an imperfect human, like the rest of us. Now come, let’s do a little retail therapy, put the pieces of our soul back together, and move about our life.
And so, I guess I’m asking you to reach out and find your net. Or be a net for someone else if she needs it without making her feel obligated to return the favor. I have no real regrets in life, but I do rethink some past decisions I’ve made over the years. And I wish my memory reel shows me camped out at my friends house back in 2007. I wish it shows me being that person for her when she asked me to stay. More importantly, I wish my memory shows me having the courage to just do it without being asked. I wish I had the nerve to show up with chick flicks, wine, sushi and enough clothes for three days. In hindsight, I would give her all of my undivided attention by listening to her deployment struggles even when it was completely foreign territory at the time, since that is what a net does.
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