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Absence makes the heart grow fonder. We all know the cliché, and as a military spouse, I've heard this hackneyed expression ad nauseam throughout my husband's deployments. It's the rubber-stamp response from well-meaning people who want to offer comfort but have no idea how to do it. Whenever I hear the phrase, I nod and smile, appreciating the sentiment, but secretly wondering how true these words are. Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? Or does absence, according to a lesser known cliché, make the heart grow fungus?
Case in point: During a recent conversation with a co-worker, I learned she was a fellow member of the military-spouse club whose husband was deployed.
"When did he leave?" I asked.
"This morning." Her response was as nonchalant as if I had asked her when she last brushed her teeth.
"This morning! He left this morning?" I was shocked. I can't recall another military spouse as calm, cool and collected on departure day as she was.
"Oh honey, I'm not new to the rodeo," she explained, as if I was the one in need of reassurance. "This is deployment number twelve. I was ready for him to leave again."
She was only on Day One, and her heart had already grown fungus.
One of the hardest parts of deployments for military spouses is loneliness. We're expected to carry on our daily lives without the one person with whom we want to share our lives. We're forced to find that delicate balance between keeping our love alive and warding off heartbreak. We miss our husbands, but if we preoccupied ourselves with how much we miss them, the loneliness would render us nonfunctional. Maybe the only way we can achieve that balance is to numb our hearts with a healthy layer of fungus.
When my husband was deployed, I constantly fought the push and pull of my heartstrings. At first, he was always on my mind. I replayed our happiest moments together as I drifted off to sleep at night. I flipped through photo albums, touching the images of his face in the hopes that I could actually feel his lips upturning in a smile. The more I thought about him, however, the more alone I felt. Therefore, I allowed the fungus to breed as a way to temper the acute longing for my husband's presence.
The fungus granted me tunnel vision. The framed pictures of our whole family scattered throughout the house no longer reminded me that our family wasn't whole. The closet where his starched uniforms hung neatly in a row no longer reminded me that their owner wasn't wearing them. Even the extra large space in my bed ceased to remind me that I had no one to reach for at night. Thanks to the fungus, those loneliness trigger points faded into the cloudy periphery. Out of sight, out of mind.
Call me apathetic, but the fungus-growing defense mechanism helped me through the wistful days and the restless nights of deployment. Every now and then, I'd scrub the fungus off just long enough to conjure up our wedding day or our last date before he left. But after the brief trip down memory lane, I had to let the fungus cultivate again. I still missed my husband, but I had to find a way to carry on without him.
So does absence make the heart grow fonder or fungus? When it comes to deployments, I think it's a combination of both. The fungus makes the absence more bearable until our husbands return home and we can wipe our hearts clean to reveal a shiny new coat of fondness. At the end of it all, we've gained a greater appreciation for our love, our marriage, and the life we've built together. As long as we give our hearts a routine cleansing upon the completion of a deployment, I don't see anything wrong with embracing a little bit of fungus.
Freelance writer, teacher, mother of two, and military spouse
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Does Absence Make the Heart Grow Fonder or Fungus? »
Riding the Pre-deployment Roller Coaster »
Reflections of a Military Spouse »