Don’t call it sacrifice.
“The Army Goes Rolling Along” first played for Jay and me well over a decade ago. He in his dress blues, a bit loose and with few bells and whistles, I fitted in white satin, walked into the St. Dominic Parish Hall to the song that would mark so many moments of our married life. Fifteen years later, he in his perfectly tailored and fully decorated dress blues, I in a navy sheath, that song played for us one last time.
In that moment, I was overcome. Tears poured down my cheeks, surely smearing the makeup I had carefully applied for this occasion: Jay’s retirement ceremony.
“Stop it. Please stop it,” I thought to myself. “This is what you wanted.” Fifteen years of being his Army Wife had been tough. Too many goodbyes, too much limbo, too many vanished opportunities had led me to want this moment. One terrifying moment on July 22, 2015, had made me scream from the proverbial mountaintop, “No more!”
“I have MS,” he had told me. “Something called Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. The tests came back positive.”
“How?” I asked as the world around me faded; fingers, toes, limbs going numb. “Do you have a family history of that?”
“All they (the doctors) would say is ‘environmental factors in Iraq.’”
“The explosion in 2005?” I asked.
“That and others. Probably,” he said and stared ahead, looking at nothing.
The diagnosis answered years of questions. Chronic pain, fatigue, and a loss of coordination had cast a confusing shadow over him for years and seemed to be darkening. But those initials, MS, which required less than a breath to utter, brought a fear unlike any I’d had before that day.
After sitting stunned on our patio for several, long moments, I decided that this was what the years of being his Army Wife had prepared me to do. This was the big challenge we had been unknowingly readying ourselves for. The words new normal, medical review board, and retirement quickly replaced talk of missions, deployments, permanent changes of stations, and promotion boards.
But please don’t use the word sacrifice. I realized, as I stood next to him awaiting his final salute, “I haven’t made sacrifices the last fifteen years. I have honored our vows.” I reached up and hooked my arm through his, leaning on him in the very moment I thought he would be the one needing strength. After all, it was his career coming to an end, not mine.
That was the first moment I had given thought to what I was giving up. The sisterhood of wives who brought me through every tough week, month, year. The smile on a single soldier’s face as he accepts the first home-cooked meal in a month of Sundays. The exhilaration felt as that damn song played every time Jay stood among hundreds of soldiers on a field, tired, dirty, hungry, having just arrived home from months in the desert.
These were not sacrifices. These were dear friends and indescribable moments I will cherish for the rest of my life. These are the stories I will bore my son and my civilian friends with over the next fifty years. This is the proof that sometimes water becomes blood, and water can be thick indeed. These are the vows I took in October 2001, tested and upheld.
Those fifteen years are the sum of every morning, whether heartbreaking or jubilant, confusing or assured, on which Jay and I woke and silently renewed our promises to each other. I am so proud we made it, together, to the other side of this military life. I am dumbfounded, really.
I will miss it. That realization surprised me the most. I will miss the life.
Then, in a moment, with one final note, those fifteen years were done.
So, when I hear that song, years from now at some reunion or another, I won’t remember sacrifices. Instead, a little part of me will yearn to be that young bride bursting through the doors of St. Dominic’s Parish Hall, holding tight to her soldier’s hand, so proud to be a part of that song.
“For where e’re we go,
You will always know
That the Army Goes Rolling Along.”