Tag Archives: PCS

Sharing Happiness

My phone rang this week, and for once, it wasn’t my kids or my husband or my mother or my carpool partner or my in laws or one of those pre-recorded doctor’s appointment confirmation messages.

“Hey Lisa, what have you been up to?” she asked. I was dumbfounded. I had not received a purely social call in months — it was as if I had forgotten what to do. My mind raced as I tried to remember how to engage in idle chit chat.

Why on earth is she calling me? I thought. I mean, we only know each other because our husbands work together, and besides, I’m new here, but  she’s lived here for years. She has plenty of other friends to call . . . there must be some problem.

“Oh, you know, the usual . . . busy, busy, busy!” I lied, waiting for her to ask to borrow money, or give her a ride to the airport, or buy overpriced candles for her son’s baseball team fundraiser.  

“Well, listen, I really need some exercise… would you like to go on a power walk or something?”

You’d have thought I was a double winner on the Price is Right Showcase Showdown by the way I reacted.

“Really?! Yes! I would love to! What time?! Where do you want me to meet you?! I’ll go anywhere! I already have work out clothes on, so I am ready to go whenever you are, so just say the word and…”

“Nine-fifteen at the Park and Ride lot on Wonderwood Drive,” she interrupted my pathetic ramble.

“You got it!”

I arrived twenty minutes early, and sat desperately waiting to spot her mini van. When she arrived, I bolted from my car as if it had burst into flames.

“Hi!” I yelled and waved across the parking lot, startling her out of her morning haze. For the next hour, we did what housewives do so well – analyzed, pondered, proclaimed, opined, pontificated, empathized, chastised, gossiped and even listened a little bit, all under the guise of exercise. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Back in the parking lot, my new friend suggested that we make the outing our new Thursday routine. I eagerly agreed, and nearly skipped back to my car with a goofy grin.

On the drive home, I thought, Finally, a real friend. I can’t wait for next Thursday. Boy, I wish we could meet Tuesdays and Thursdays. But maybe that’s too much. I don’t want to scare her away. Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I did come on too strong. I don’t remember listening all that much, actually. I think I did most of the talking. Why do I always do that? She was probably wondering whether I’d ever shut up. I’ll bet she will call and cancel next week because she thinks I’m an annoying blabbermouth….

I pulled into my driveway, put the car in park, and looked at myself in the rear view mirror. Not only did I realize that, on the walk, my bangs had fallen into that unflattering middle part that made my face look like a full moon, it also occurred to me that this had all happened before.

Suddenly overwhelmed with that bizarre déjà vu sensation, I tried to recollect the past. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that the internal conversation I just had with myself was the same one I had in 2008, 1998, 1996, 1994 and 1993 – basically, every time the military has ordered us to move.

After every move, I busy myself with setting up our new life – new house, new schools, new doctors, new dentists, new music teachers, new gym, new church, new pizza place, new routines — a daunting task which keeps me occupied for several months. But once the new routines are in place, there’s nothing left to do except live.

I don’t care whether you live in Poughkeepsie or Prague, boredom eventually sets in. You find yourself dawdling on the internet, throwing dinner together last minute, ignoring housework, and eating too much. You put on work out clothes every day, but never make it to the gym. You call your husband at work even though you know he can’t chat. You write long e-mails to friends from the past who are too preoccupied to write back. Even your own mother tries to get off the phone when you call, and your last resort, the family dog, has no good gossip to share.

You are bored out of your mind.

As I fixed my bangs in the rear view mirror, I remembered the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who disappeared “Into the Wild” (the name of the book by Jon Krakauer) to live free from obligations and relationships. After spending over three months utterly alone, he finally realized that he had been wrong about life all along. Days before he died of starvation trying to make it back out of the wild, he wrote “Happiness is only real if shared.”

Remembering the quote helped me understand why I always get a little pathetic every time we move, and although I’m in no danger of starving anytime soon (quite the contrary in fact,) I realized that everyone needs a good friend or two to nourish the soul.

Coffee, Tea or Turbulence?

“Coffee? Tea?” the lanky flight attendant mouthed from above my seat. I pulled my complimentary headphones off to tell her “No thanks,” but regretted the decision a half hour later when I started feeling like I was in a fruit dehydrator and the flight attendant was way up in first class, most likely serving some businessman his second glass of champagne.

My three kids and I were halfway into a nine hour flight, on our way back to the United States after a military tour in Germany. My husband was already at our new duty station in Florida, and was planning to pick us up at the Jacksonville Airport later that evening.

The military travel agency neglected to arrange for us to be seated together, and Luftansa merely smirked when I asked to change our seat assignments. From my isle seat in 29B, I could only see the kids if I stood up on my tray table and used binoculars, and even then I could only see the tops of their heads. Lilly, age 10 was at 39D, surrounded on either side by college kids. Anna, age 13 was behind Lilly at 40D, and my 16-year-old, Hayden, was against a window at 43A.

With four hours down, and five to go, I said a little prayer that there were enough movies and snacks to keep them entertained all the way home.

From my isle seat against the bulkhead, I was just a few feet from the only restrooms in economy class. Not only did I see just about every passenger on my side of the plane pull when they should have pushed the bathroom doors, I heard scores of those characteristic sucking flushes that makes one wonder where it all goes. A line started building up past my seat (it was about 45 minutes after the coffee service after all,) requiring me to sit facing forward for fear that if I turned my head, the tip of my nose might brush against someone’s hip.

A little while later I heard the clank of the lunch cart, and started getting excited. No, I wasn’t hungry. I’m never hungry during airline travel, perhaps because my intestines sense that I will be sitting for hours on end, and go completely dormant. So every peanut, pretzel, stale roll with butter pat, mushy noodle, and fruit gelatin square I consume lays in my stomach for the entire flight, completely undigested.

The back up of undigested material actually makes the flight even more physically uncomfortable, if that is possible, yet I get eagerly accept the lousy morsels offered out of sheer boredom.

“Would you like the Asian chicken or vegetarian pasta?” the voice from above asked. I chose the former, envisioning something similar to the Szechuan dish I like to order from King’s Palace when I’m feeling hormonal. A tiny rectangular tray is placed before me with a roll, butter, cheese wedge, a square dish with a gelatinous fruit dessert, and a foil covered container.

Peeling back the foil, I discovered that the “Asian chicken” looked nothing like my beloved Szechuan dish. I ate it anyway, savoring every mediocre bite, just for the entertainment value.

As I hunched over the sections of my little rectangular tray, I wondered how the airline chefs sleep at night.

The Indian businessman beside me was also hunched over his vegetarian pasta. His elbows were tucked compactly at his sides, his hands hovered over his tray while his fingers tore at the little packages, shoving tiny bits into his mouth while his eyes darted. It occurred to me that just about everyone in economy class ate in this manner. It was as if we were all a bunch of squirrels nibbling at our acorns.

After the trays had been taken away, I went back to find the kids happily engrossed in their seat back televisions. I decided to use the opportunity to take a little catnap.

I always envision myself cradled comfortably against my travel pillow’s C-shaped contour, but I inevitably awaken with my head fallen forward so I look half dead, or worse, cocked back with my mouth wide open. No matter which way my head falls, my spine is always compressed into temporary scoliosis and my rear end goes completely numb. I can feel new spider veins bursting forth on my thighs.

For the next two hours, I dozed uncomfortably, contorting my body into every imaginable position, every one seemingly more painful than the next.

I finally gave up on rest, just when the snack cart appeared. This time I chose the vegetarian pizza, which was a rectangular slab of dough upon which was smeared some kind of cheeseless orange sauce, and embedded with tiny fragments of vegetable material, to include a German pizza topping favorite – corn.

Soon after snack service, the airplane began its gradual descent and we hit turbulence. It felt like the corn, Asian Chicken and fruit gelatin were playing lawn darts in my stomach. I closed my eyes and reached for the armrests, awkwardly caressing the Indian businessman’s hand which had beat me to it.

I heard a commotion and opened my eyes to see the flight attendant grabbing paper towels out of the restroom. My brain quickly calculated probabilities and reasonable inferences, coming to the surefire conclusion that my daughter Lilly must’ve thrown up.

I craned to look back to her seat, and saw a college girl pinching her nose shut. Everyone was looking into Lilly’s row with a grimace. I waved to the flight attendant and pointed at myself as if to say, “Hi! Remember me? I’m the one who asked to be seated with my kids and was refused!”

It all worked out in the end. The college boy who was seated right next to Lilly and who got hit by “friendly fire” was quite understanding. We were able to get Lilly some fresh clothes after retrieving our luggage. And, best of all, Daddy was there waiting at the Jacksonville Airport as promised. Our family is finally on solid ground again.

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The Call That Launched a Thousand Tears

So, I called my husband the other day.

“Hi Hon, so what’s up?” I asked.

Now, before I go any further with this story, I need to set the scene:

My husband, bless his heart, has been at Naval Station Mayport on the sunny Atlantic shores of northFlorida, for almost three months. He went ahead of the rest of our family to start his new job there, and to live in the oceanfront base hotel, with daily maid service.

I, on the other hand, stayed in our stairwell apartment on Patch Barracks in chilly Germany with the kids so they could finish school. Our seemingly fool-proof plan included me arranging and managing our household goods move, the shipment of our dog “Dinghy,” meaningful travel with the kids at spring break, inspection and shipment of our minivan, checking out of military quarters, arranging hotel and airport shuttle, and other tasks associated with moving a family across the world.

As a military spouse, I am used to handling things while my husband is away, so I thought this little three-month separation would not be much different from the rest.

I was wrong.

When I made that fateful phone call to my husband, I had endured a grueling week of shocking school progress reports, driving around base for two hours in search of my teenage son who had failed to turn in his final Biology project, a malfunctioning oven and resulting visit from the grumpy German Fire Department, a broken dryer and resulting shameless display of underclothes hanging on radiators and windowsills, and lots and lots of overwhelming move details. I was out of patience, energy and dignity.

“Well, I rented a movie last night,” my husband responded, “it was no good, but I got another great pizza from Sal’s.”

“Oh, that sounds nice,” I offered weakly, wondering if the kids would be OK eating cereal again for dinner.

“Today, Dinghy and I needed a little change of scenery from our daily beach walks,” he continued, “so we hopped in the car and went to the Riverwalk area for a nice long run and lunch at an outdoor café.”

I had fallen silent, but my husband didn’t notice.

“The folks at the café were so nice and gave Dinghy three bowls of water to drink since it has been so hot and sunny here.”

I stared out my window at the dark clouds that hadn’t lifted in days.

“And after that we headed back here to the homestead for a quick swim and to watch some boob tube. . . .So what’s been going on there?”

I began, slowly at first, to relate the details of my agonizingly stressful week. My rant picked up speed, leading to some crucial information about our move I needed to go over with him.

“Ooo, hey Hon, can I call you back in like five minutes?” he said.

“Uh, sure,” I agreed, believing the delay to be due to some minor urgent matter relating to our dog. Our 110 pound labradoodle was prone to gulping water and then spontaneously vomiting it all back up on a whim. I wondered if that was the problem.

Five minutes later, I answered on the first ring.

“Hey, so what happened? Is Dinghy OK?” I asked.

“Oh, heck yea, he’s fine. I just had to run down to the beach real quick. Right before you called I had come up from the beach to grab another beer. I left my beach chair and book down near the water, and wanted to go grab it before the tide started coming in.”

That was all it took. The floodgates opened and a veritable tsunami sprang from my tear ducts. Within 10 seconds, I was a wailing, blubbering, snotty mess.

Stunned, my husband had nothing much to say, offering only, “Hang in there, Hon, you’re doing a great job.”

My husband and I learned a dual lesson that day. I learned that long-term military separations are so much easier for the spouse to handle when the service person is somewhere icky like on an aircraft carrier floating out in the Pacific, or living in a tent in some God-forsaken dusty hot climate, or at least behind a big metal desk working day and night to support the family.

My husband learned that, next time his wife asks him, “What’s up?” he should definitely respond, “Oh, not much, what’s up with you?”

The Stalkers Among Us

 

Beware: A menace currently prowls in our otherwise idyllic neighborhoods, threatening to infiltrate our lives and disrupt the social structure in our communities. Once these prowlers take up residence in our localities, we cannot avoid them. They emerge like swarming termites in search of fresh pulp to sink their pincers into.

These vermin are relentless. They follow us to school, they approach us in the commissary, they ring our doorbells.

Who exactly are these pests, you might ask? No two are the same, but they all have something in common: They just PCS’ed here and are desperately looking for new friends. Yup, it’s true. The Newcomers are here.

Every summer, military families pack up, vacate housing, and move on to their new duty stations. The rest of us wave good-bye to our friends and resolve to sadly but persistently plod along without them. Just when we think we are managing just fine in our established social circles, it happens: Throngs of new people move in, unpack a few boxes, then creep out into our neighborhoods to trespass on our social territory.

Truth be told, I was one of these pestering new people just a couple years ago. After saying good-bye to family and friends back home, we plunked down into Germany without so much as a familiar face to greet us.

Our first few weeks in the base hotel waiting for housing were surprisingly enjoyable. Like a little girl playing house, I challenged myself to come up with creative ways to make a family dinner in the room’s tiny microwave. I proudly served up canned soup and egg salad sandwiches made from the hard-boiled eggs and bread we had pilfered from the hotel breakfast buffet. I reconfigured the furniture to create a place the kids could make a fort. I memorized the unfamiliar TV channels while ironing all of our shirts, pants, and underwear.

By the third week, the novelty of our life at the hotel had worn off. I found myself chatting with the hotel clerk, the commissary baggers and anyone who got in an elevator with me, to combat the solitude of spending days with my suitcases and AFN.

After five weeks, we finally moved into base housing. I scanned the neighborhood for potential friends while walking the dog, taking the trash out, and schlepping the kids to school. I would make eye contact with those who looked approachable, and offer a friendly smile in an effort to initiate an interaction.

But for some reason, nothing seemed to work. In fact, I started to get the feeling that people were avoiding me. Women seemed to avert their eyes when I glanced at them. Moms pushed their strollers a little quicker when they noticed I was behind them. As I walked by the stairwell patios, groups of chatting ladies got a little quieter.

As desperation set in, I made some rash choices. Despite the fact that I have never really enjoyed the sport, I joined the Ladies Bowling League and paid for a full year commitment. I made a pledge to volunteer every week in my daughter’s third grade classroom without considering my general exasperation with other people’s kids. I promised to sub for a bunco group that was affectionately referred to as “The Screamers,” due to their habit of emitting blood-curdling squeals after landing any mildly-beneficial roll of the dice.

In the end, it was my dog, Dinghy, that saved me from total social ambiguity. A 110-pound “labradoodle” with an explosion of dirty blonde hair, he was far more popular than I was. Kids and their mothers stopped to pet Dinghy, which required some interaction with me. In due course, people realized that I wasn’t as nerdy and pathetic as I appeared, and I made a few friends.

Now, in the third year of our tour with more friends than I need, I see “The Newcomers” skulking around with that same pitiable look in their eyes that I once had. But do not despair, you throngs of pathetic loners, your time will come. Like the circle of life, these cyclical social stages are inevitable. For now, use whatever skills you possess – your kids, delicious baked goods, your irresistible dog – and one day you will be the one running from the stalkers among us. 

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