I was very nearly an army girlfriend. Thankfully – and I don’t say that to belittle those who are, it’s just not a lifestyle I want for myself – T chose not to continue down that path.
But the army still holds a sort of fascination for me. I often come across blogs written by army wives/girlfriends and devour them for reasons I can’t quite articulate. I guess I admire them, while thinking “I’m glad that’s not me”, because I couldn’t handle the separation. I recently dealt with one of the defence spokespeople regarding a feature we were running on NZ troops in Afghanistan. He was pleased to hear about it; he said there were a lot of army families out there who were “hungry for news”.
I know there are many people out there in relationships with soldiers. I can’t imagine how hard it must be.
I can’t imagine being apart for months at a time, with only the occasional letter, and having to hear about events through the mainstream media. When T was down in Waiouru, and then Christchurch, I got letters from him basically every week. That wasn’t too bad. Being stationed in a whole other country though… it just wouldn’t be that simple.
We had been together for about two months before he left. He was in training for six months. I went down to visit him a few times, and it was always so horrendously awkward. I didn’t know how to act around him, having not seen him in so long, and having his family around whom I barely knew.
I loved his letters. It was like an old fashioned courtship. I still have every single one, including most of the envelopes they came in, because he often wrote little quotes and sayings on the back of them. He also misspelled my name on lots of the early ones, which is sort of endearing. Sort of.
It sounds stupid to say, but I became extremely emotional during that time. I don’t really know why; maybe it was the isolation, who knows? I never used to cry at soppy ads or tragic movie endings. Now I find myself leaking tears at any remotely sad TV show. And when I watched The Perfect Storm? Or the Green Mile? I bawled for about twenty minutes straight.
Shortly after he was first approved for unemployment, WINZ tried to send him on a short army course. (I think it’s pretty much what the TF [territorial forces] goes through for their training). He explained he’d already been through much, much more than that. Which of course begs the question – why leave?
For me, I would’ve said (aside from obviously despising the regimented routine) not wanting to die in the line of duty. For him, it was more like not wanting to be trained and paid to kill others.
His stint in the army still provides endless conversation fodder for him. And sometimes it is tempting – cheap housing, albeit in the middle of nowhere, generous retirement, steady job.
But the army life isn’t something I want, and I’m glad I don’t have to be the one to make that choice. I remember how hard it was for T to readjust to civilian life when he came back to Auckland. Not just in terms of the weather, and clothing, but being around people – SO many more people – and living daily life. The stress manifested itself physically, and it was weeks if not months before he got used to the routine and could sleep and go out normally again.