Twenty-seven years ago today…

Not my school’s cap, but you get the idea.

May 17, 1984.

Three grueling years of education at the Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing in Philadelphia, PA has come to an end.

I remember going to our graduation breakfast in the hospital’s cafeteria that was put on for us by the school’s alumni association. We excitedly – and nervously – donned our white graduation uniforms, along with our new white shoes and stockings (can’t have scuffs, dirty laces, or runs today!) and walked as a group of 21 soon-to-be graduates to the breakfast. Upon entering the room, I think we all caught out breath in our throats: The sight of the tea roses as table centerpieces was trumped only by the starched white caps with wide black bands sitting at every place set for us. The alumni rose and applauded us as we walked in and took our seats. I honestly don’t remember much about the rest of the breakfast because I was too busy staring at that cap…MY cap…I know they gave us a necklace with a porcelain rose in the center, a pen and pencil set, and a year’s membership to the NEH alumni association.

We spent the rest of the day getting our yearbooks signed, cleaning out our dorm rooms, visiting with classmates we knew we’d not see after this night ended, visiting with our “little sisters” and wishing them luck over the upcoming year…and looking back at 3 years of our lives that we alternately loved and hated. We hated the monthly Wednesday 0500 fire drills in the dorms when we had to be at clinical by 0700 and we were up all night doing care plans, often not rolling into bed until 0200. We hated doing care plans, drug cards, and dissecting our formalin-soaked cats (poor babies). We loved gaining confidence in clinicals as we gained knowledge from the classroom. We loved that we actually had time to sit and talk with our usually elderly patients. We especially loved looking at the freshmen and junior classes, who looked at us as “the lucky seniors” with our two navy-blue bands on our caps. Surely we didn’t ever look as scared as they did! We loved some instructors, feared others, and hoped that still others would retire before our “little sisters” had to suffer through their senior rotations or classes with them. We loved our profession despite the weekends, holidays, and odd hours we knew we’d have to work.

Now we’re lining up in the dorm’s main lobby, the juniors and freshmen students wishing they were in our spot. Little did they know that we were probably scared to death. After tonight’s graduation ceremony, we’d be graduate nurses waiting to take our state board exams. What if we failed?! What if three years of hard work went down the drain on our first try at the boards?! What if we – God forbid – killed someone with a medication error?! I think we imagined every kind of nightmare while we waited for our “Parade of the Roses” to start…

…and now here we are, walking down Allegheny Avenue to the church where we’d be having our graduation ceremony. Since most of our patients were from the neighborhood – and frequent fliers to boot! – they were out in force waving, cheering, and calling out their best wishes for us. We carried a half-dozen tea roses in an arm bouquet, our caps proudly on our heads, our uniforms standing out white against the blue and white of the students who walked behind us. Filing into the church, we sat up on the alter. We sang a couple of songs really badly (we were never known for our singing anyway), listened to speeches, and were suddenly being called up for our diplomas and school pins. Awards were given out, the alma mater was recited, the school song sung, and suddenly it was over. Maybe 90 minutes max and we were finished.

No more dorm-mates. No more text books. No more Sunday night shifts in the library. No more commiserating with classmates about a rotation, an instructor, or a course that was vexing us.

We were graduates of the Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing. Alumnae. Former students.

None of my instructors are teaching any longer. I’m not even sure how many are still alive. The school has changed and they no longer wear caps. Times may change, and I may change fields within critical-care nursing, but I my heart will always be with my school. Here’s to the NEH SoN Class of 1984, wherever you are!

R&R Has Come and Gone

RRI’ve decided that I hate R&R, but more about that in a bit. I drove up to Atlanta on 12/26 to pick him up rather than have him spend overnight in a hotel because his connecting flight wouldn’t be until the following afternoon. Upon arrival, I found that his flight got cancelled and he was in Germany. Talk about deflating my happy balloon! I found a hotel room and spent the night, planning on being back at the airport by 1100 the next morning. We traded emails  to keep each other updated, and I resigned myself to having to wait one more day for him to arrive.

My phone rang the next morning at 0715. His plane had arrived and he was in the USO lounge. So much for me getting to meet him at the head of the Transportation Mall to greet him. So far, nothing was going as planned. Omen, perhaps? I told him I’d have to pack up, wash up, and get dressed. I think all he heard was, “My hotel is about 10 minutes from the airport”. I got to the USO lounge about an hour later, so excited to see him. All I wanted to do was hug him. He looked at me, looked pointedly at the clock, then took his time packing up his laptop and other stuff he had out. After shouldering his bags, he just walked past me out of the lounge towards the escalator. I will say that he looked awfully hot – all that PT paid off nicely. 😉

I seriously considered driving him to Camden, SC at that point and telling him to find a ride back to Atlanta when it was time for him to return to Iraq. No “hello”, no hug, nothing. I might as well have picked up a stranger. Fine. I can play the game. The drive back was strained with polite questions. “Do you need to stop?” “Are you hungry?” “I have to stop for gas. Can I bring you anything from the store?” One word answers usually were given back. We stopped in Macon to get him some lunch and so I could put gas in the truck. When I got back in, he tossed – yes, tossed – a package into my lap and mumbled, “Happy Anniversary”. He bought me a necklace while he was in Germany and it is lovely! I was surprised that he got anything at all, and while I was touched at his choice of a gift, I felt a pang of disappointment that it was literally tossed to me. Oh well. Since I wasn’t expecting anything at all, it was a nice surprise.

After he had a couple of days to decompress, I suggested we go down to Jekyll Island and sit on the beach. I took my “Journal of Tears”, intending to write in it while he did whatever he felt like doing, even if that meant sitting in the truck sleeping. We walked the beach for a bit, then sat down to listen to the sound of the ocean. On a whim, I handed him the journal and suggested he read it carefully. After about 20 minutes, he said, “I had no idea. I never meant for things to get this bad between us.” For the first time since he got home, he wrapped his arms around me and let me cry. We talked about everything, and while it’ll take awhile for us to get back to where we were before October and November, at least he had a better understanding of my side of things. Things were more relaxed after that day. We visited his cousins in SC. We did a whole lot of nothing at home, and I went on job interviews. He was happy to hear that I got hired and would start work shortly after he returned to work.

All too soon, it was time to take him back to Atlanta. The drive, which normally feels like forever on the way to the airport, went much too fast. I felt like I couldn’t let go of his hand, and I think that was irritating him a bit ’cause it was time for his head to get back in the Iraq game. The USO said I could go with him to check in for his flight, and that I could get a pass to go to his gate. When it came time to check in for his flight, the USO volunteer had me line up next to Tony. As we walked with the rest of the soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen, I was moved to tears by the response of the folks in the airport. Not only did they applaud us as we walked past, they wished the guys and gals Godspeed and good luck, admonished them to come home safely, and a few women walked next to me saying that they were thankful for men like my husband. That was probably the most emotional walk through an airport that I’ve ever had.

We got to his gate and I found myself hoping that his flight would be cancelled. No such luck, but he was delayed by a few hours. Because Atlanta had had a bad snow and ice storm the day before he was due to leave,  he was worried about me driving home after dark on the sure-to-be-icy roads.  He walked me back to the concourse food court, hugged me for what seemed like too short of a time, even though it wasn’t, and told me to drive safely. I watched him walk off to get something to eat. I knew he wouldn’t look back…he never looks back, says it’s easier to say goodbye that way. But I watched him until I couldn’t see him in the crowd any longer, then made my way back to the main terminal and out to the truck.

Why do I hate R&R? Because it’s like sending him off on a deployment all over again. I know he – and the rest of our military – need the time away from theater, need the time home. But for me, and for other wives I’ve talked with, it’s incredibly hard. I was used to having him home, sleeping beside and waking up next to him…having him reach for my hand or slide his arm around me as we walked through the mall, the Commissary, or while out with his cousins. I got used to his laugh, to doing his laundry, to making – and serving – him dinner again. By the time I was used to him being home, I had to take him back. Nothing in the world sucks more than that…not even sending him off in July, and trust me, that sucked!

I’ve started my job today, so that distracts me somewhat. I still come home to an empty house (sorry, kitties, but you’re not Tony). I make dinner for myself. I wait for him to email me or call and let me know he arrived back at Camp Ramadi safely.

I wait for him to come home to me, only this time, I won’t have to send him back after 15 days.

Ambivalence

ambivalentTeeDecember. Five months gone, almost 6. I should be happy, but I’m too busy crying. Our disputes over finances have gotten worse…to the point where he no longer calls me. Facebook messages consist of messages like, “Would you care to explain this transaction now?” or reminders about how much money I cost him that he could be saving instead. I asked him if he was going to ask for a divorce and he seemed shocked. I asked him if we should go to see the Chaplains for counseling when he came home for R&R and he didn’t know how to answer. He still says he’s “deeply hurt” and “won’t resolve anything over the 2 weeks (he’s) home”.

Wonderful.

I was so excited to have R&R coming so that he would be home…He’s reduced me to tears so often that I forget what it’s like to hear him laugh, to get a compliment from him, to hear him say he loves me. I’m to the point that I feel like he should make plans to spend his vacation with his family in SC because if all we’re going to do is argue – or worse, if all he’ll do is ignore or avoid me – then he need not bother coming here.

I want my husband back. I know he’s been working hard on his promotion boards, and on his Soldier of the Quarter and related competitions. He’s assured me that I’ve already added to his stress. Gee, thanks for that, ’cause it wasn’t my intention….maybe you should thank your “friends” who suggested to you that I was cheating on you instead of remaining faithful to my marriage vows. Yeah, go thank them for putting that shit into your head ’cause I sure didn’t.

I’m exhausted.

I’m lost….nothing I do is right in his eyes.

I hate this.

Four Months Down

November.  Not even half-way through this deployment. Thanksgiving came and went without any acknowledgement on my part. He warned me that he would change “somewhat” while he was deployed, but I had no idea just how much.

We’ve been arguing almost daily. Facebook messages are terse if not outright angry on both sides. He says he “doesn’t waste energy” getting angry but he sure could fool me. He’s angry that I’m not working yet. He’s angry that 80% of his paycheck goes to me every month. He’s angry that he’s not been able to save money or achieve his savings goal for this deployment. The more he interrogates me, the more upset, angry, and hurt I get. He’s never tried to find a job in a small, tight job market. The Army is his full-time job. This area isn’t Atlanta and it sure isn’t Dallas. He doesn’t want me to drive more than an hour to work; he doesn’t want me working at Walmart. He’s not keen on me taking a waitress job. Well, he can’t be upset with me for not working and then try to tell me where I can and can’t work.

I hurt. I knew we’d eventually have an argument about something, but I honestly feel like he doesn’t trust me. He maintains he’s not comparing me to his first wife, but again, he could’ve fooled me in that regard. I have to justify almost every purchase in our joint account. I feel like a burden. He – or his “friends”, whatever they are – decided to insinuate that I was stepping out on him and he chewed me out royally on the phone on Thanksgiving Day. Gee, Happy Thanksgiving. He says he’s hurt and that nothing will be resolved any time soon. Does he have a clue how much he’s hurt me? He claims he has no idea where my anger is coming from. Really!? He’s never wrong, but I always am.

I’m tired of crying. I’m tired of feeling like it’s just not worth getting out of bed in the morning. I’m tired of being treated like his first wife – and he’s talked about her enough that I know how little he trusts anyone with his money.  I’m tired of him talking to me like I’m some slacker soldier under his command.

I’m tired of feeling like a bad decision instead of his wife.

depression2

 

 

I’m just so very tired.