Hello again. It's Sunday morning and I'm here blogging. Yawn. Good grief I didn't realize how much I liked my weekend breaks from blogging. So, in case you've just stumbled over here, I have joined the NaBloPoMo cult and we're blogging every day in November. For the weekends, I'll be blogging about what it was like for me as an Air Force Wife. Because as scintillating as my account of laundry day may be to some, I would like at least two readers for the weekend stuff.
I was a really bad Officer's wife at first. Like I said, I thought the whole Debra Winger/Richard Gere scenario was overly played out and certainly not my fantasy.
I remember early on at the first Air Base we were ever stationed at. It was a requirement for us to live on base in officer housing as opposed to in a home in the surrounding town. Not that the surrounding town, Mountain Home Idaho, had homes of any merit to offer. It was a one stoplight town. And you couldn't see the mountains. As a hospital administrator, we needed to live within five minutes of the hospital. We had just moved away from our beautiful new home in Vancouver, Washington, with rivers, parks, and forests a stone's throw from my front door. I was so proud of this house, the home that we made to bring our two girls into the world. Now, I was shuttling my babies to a post World War II track home on a dusty air base in the middle of the desert in Idaho. As we drove onto base for the first time I caught sight of a small but lovely colonial home. The shutters had been painted green, the yard was nice, and the surrounding homes looked similar. Whew. "Okay, Bob. Maybe I won't go totally postal here, at least the housing is nice. "
Nice for the colonels and generals. It was their homes I was admiring. As a junior officer we got to live in one half of an attached unit that was like two railroad cars laid end-to end. Each house had tiny windows cut high on the wall in each room, and the entire home was floored in old, yellowing linoleum. There had to be forty years of grime in the corners of each room, and it really was like living in a railroad car. Small kitchen/laundry room at one end, walk through to the living room/dining area, then down a tube-like hall with three bedrooms and an aqua-colored bathroom. It was an impossible design, made worse by aesthetics that suggested a Sergeant had designed it so that its owners could hose it down once a month for a good cleaning. In fact, I remember a relative visiting (many did over the course of our stay there) and she was so shocked at how my home looked that she blamed me. Oh yeah, good times. Because I drew up the plans for the house and then imported scads of desert dust to sweep in each day through the cracks in the windows. I remember being scolded for not cleaning under my refrigerator, or the disapproving hmms over my lack of window treatments. How could I explain that I couldn't bear to cover the tiny windows and impede any more light from coming in? That I was at the end of my emotional rope and that my daily dose of Idaho sunshine was the only thing keeping me from sinking into a deep depression and simply running away from a lifestyle I did not choose?
After a couple of months of feeling vury, vurrrry sorry for myself, I started to dig out. I was confounded by the wives that lived in my neighborhood, however, and I knew that what was working for them would not work for me. To my left was a neophyte bride who was married to a fighter pilot. She spent her days at home, waking at the crack of dawn to drive to the flight line and bring her husband breakfast. Then back at the end of the day when he had finished his sortie (flight) for some more refreshments. She and the other pilots' wives would dress up in their spouses' flight suits and practice silly cheers in the neighborhood park, so that they might perform for the men. They congregated separately, and also at the Officers Wives Club (now the more politically correct OSC for Officer's Spouse Club). I remember telling my neighbor that we were just in the Air Force for a few years so that my husband could get a lot of condensed, intense hospital experience and then take it back to the civilian world. You don't say that to most officer's wives. They are in it for the long haul, the brass ring being a full-bird colonel at minimum, maybe even a one star and the presidency of the Officer's Wives Club. You wore your husband's rank as proudly as he did, and to indicate a separateness from that was akin to high treason.
Then there was the "older" wife a few doors down. She was roughly my age now, somewhere between late thirties to forty, and she had - GASP - four children. I looked upon her as one might a specimen in a petri dish that has grown totally out of control. She was always neat, with a pressed campshirt and capris, and her four kids were mini doppelgangers for her and her husband. Buzz cuts for the boys, sensible bobs for the young girls. She was always busy, coming and going in her mini-van, unloading groceries and sports supplies, cooking or gardening. I could never understand why these women gardened in the homes that were so temporarily theirs. It wouldn't be until much later that I would learn to make the most of my present moment and not dwell on the negative.
The rest of Gunfighter Manor (the name of my new subdivision, as opposed to the old one: Fisher's Landing) was filled with women who, to a person, were members of the OWC and stayed home. Most had children, although there were several who did not. It didn't matter: Officer's Wives did not work. The enlisted side of the house, the vast majority of any branch of the military, had wives that worked. But not the officers.
So I went back to work.
First, I started volunteering. I took cases in the local town and cases from the nearest (and only big town in Idaho) city, Boise. I did home visits and case studies for children who were in protective custody so that I could help make a court recommendation for their living placement. To see all these children who had it so much worse than me, who needed a train-wreck like myself to help decide what would be best for them helped kick me out of my fog. I started to smile again. I placed my baby girls in pre-preschool offered by the base, and accepted the help of the base Chaplain's wife for their care when I needed to be gone. I was in no position to be a good mother to them, at home full time. I was saving my life.
Then I took a job in Boise, an hour and a half away, at a local women's shelter. I worked two fifteen hour shifts during the work week (5:00 pm - 8:00 am, so Bob was home with them) and then often all day Saturday or Sunday. I was on the mend. I was finding a purpose, and I was not feeling so out of control. Meanwhile, everyone in Gunfighter Manor had noticed.
Bob was approached at the hospital by the Chaplain. "Is everything okay at home? We hear that Jennifer has been working. Are their financial problems? How can we help?" In other words, what the feck is your wife doing having a life of her own and not supporting your career. This is the Air Force, dammit, and it is all about YOU.
A full-bird colonel's wife gently counseled me. It was my duty, she explained, to help raise Bob up so that he might fully do his job, to honor his rank and his mission to serve God and Country. Years later, after doing that very thing, I would receive an official commendation from the Chief of Medical Staff as being a "force multiplier" in Bob's career. But at that moment, I was finding myself and carving out something that I could say was mine, not something that I was dragged into. It furthered my rebellion, and I never went to any of the wives functions, never socialized with them, didn't attend any official base functions outside of Christmas, and basically solidified my position as pariah.
After a time, I applied for and won a coveted job at the Boise District Attorney's office in adult felony crimes. It was a full-time job, it paid well, and it meant extraordinarily long days with the commute. I enrolled the girls in the best private preschool in Boise I could find, and began my separation from Mountain Home. Soon after accepting the job, Bob and I were at the Officer's Club for a Christmas party and my beeper went off. I would need to leave to accompany a rape victim to the hospital. All the men at the table scrambled for their belts, who's beeper was it? I held up mine and said, "No worries, it's mine. Go back to your party." These men were dumbstruck. What the hell did I have a beeper for? Was my turkey done at home? The women either didn't look at me or looked at me with obvious scorn. Bad wife, their eyes said. I looked back at them, with their embroidered Christmas sweaters and their charm bracelets with charms indicating their husband's squadron (a silver flying eagle, or a plane, or the Air Force insignia) and shot them my own look right back: Spineless Sheep.
My final act as a bad Air Force Wife happened when Bob was TDY in Washington, D.C. I was on a lunch break at work and had decided to take a run through the tree-lined streets of the historic neighborhood close to downtown. I ran by a house that took my breath away. A house I had seen in my mind since I was a little girl. Turn of the century Victorian with relatively clean lines, beautiful yard, picket fence, lush trees, and on a street close to schools, markets, and town. It was for sale.
I bought the house.
After that, Bob was the one with the hellacious commute. I made Bob petition Washington, D.C. to extend his tour in Idaho so that I could continue my work. He was told it was career suicide. He did it anyway (and went on to win hospital administrator of the year some years later, regardless of the omen) and we spent our remaining time in Idaho in a happier state.
All because I was a bad Officer's Wife.