I saw the Morningside Post’s survey about summer love and thought I might share a story in greater detail than the survey allows, despite it not strictly being a summer love story.
We were married on 24 April 2014; at least, that’s what we told our families. In reality, we had married on 13 November 2012, in the county courthouse outside of a military base. I was preparing to leave for Afghanistan for a year, and only marriage would enable me to come home in the event of an emergency involving her, such as a car accident or sudden illness. The second wedding that we held in 2014 after my return was purely a celebratory pageant for our families. A week before our “official” wedding, we had also held a traditional tribal wedding with her family. She’s a daughter of refugees who left Southeast Asia during the cluster of wars in the 1960s and 70s. By the time we were married, however – no matter by which of the three anniversaries one defines it – we had spent more time apart than together.
We had met in Japan in 2009, where we were both stationed. She was a seasoned Navy nurse, and I was a brand-new officer straight out of training. It was less than a year after meeting that we parted for the first time. I deployed on ship for two 3-month stints (and jokingly never let it down that she, despite being a naval officer, never in her career stepped foot on a naval vessel except to help me carry my stuff to my room the first time I left).
We both left Japan in 2011, though she left six months before I did, having been stationed there longer. We agreed that we would both request orders to the same base, in the hopes of preventing an indefinite long-distance relationship. It worked, and I joined her in the States six months later. She then promptly got shipped off as an individual augmentee for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan (and never let it down that she went there before I did). A few months after she returned, I departed for Afghanistan – even to the same base where she had served.
So it went until we decided to resign our commissions. She left the Navy in 2013, and I left the military in 2017 to make my way here to SIPA. Throughout our initial relationship, relocations, deployments, and reunions, a gulf opened between us that now seems inevitable looking back at it. The separations and repeated euphoric periods of reunion had glossed over our differences and our basic unfamiliarity with each other. We pushed through it, though. I was more persistent about staying together and more optimistic about our prospects, convinced that our differences weren’t as deep as our similarities and affection for one another. I thought we could repair and build over our rifts and the resentment-filled damage they had caused – looking back, more so I wanted and felt that I needed to.
Our strained coexistence aside, in 2016 we decided to start a family. Our son was born on 16 February 2017, just four months before I would leave the military for good. His middle name is that of my wife’s father; his first name has no connection to either of our families. I insisted on not naming him after anyone in my family, and since his middle name came from my wife’s family, his first name would be completely new. I was determined that he would have a “fresh start” detached from the quietly bitter and sometimes turbulent life typical of a male member of my family. My grandfather grew up in Europe and, despite his devout Catholic faith, had joined the Waffen-SS during World War II, the experience leaving him broken, morose, and angry for the rest of his life. That’s the gift he gave my father, and my father me, and I have been determined to not bestow it on my son. My wife knew this of me and how my childhood and time in the military had mixed in me a concoction of stress, regret, and numbness that pervaded every aspect of my life. Seeing its effects on our relationship, she first demanded that I seek therapy in 2012. I refused – out of fear, pride, and stigma – foolishly convincing myself that I could manage my depression and anxiety myself and give my wife, and later our son, a happy life in spite of it. I was wrong, only realizing it though in the fall of 2017, after my hope that leaving the military would magically lift the weight of fear and bitterness off my shoulders was dashed by reality.
Because of my obstinance and delayed acceptance of the situation, by the spring of 2018 she was resolved to leave, to go back to her hometown to raise our son in a happier environment. They departed New York in June, after classes had ended, and after nine months of me maintaining at SIPA a façade of happy home life with updates on my son’s infancy whenever my friends at SIPA inquired (friends for whom I am and will remain immensely grateful). I have spent the rest of the summer getting used to an apartment that is now mostly quiet, without the constant background noise of my son’s laughter or crying, or his cartoons on Netflix. I am ashamed to say, however, that I don’t miss my wife much. I’m not angry at her, and I know she made the decision that was best for herself and our son. I don’t know exactly why I don’t miss her, but perhaps our time together had grown so cold and distant that her absence has not made much of a difference. I miss my son intensely, though, and I’m also grateful to my wife for allowing – and insisting – that I remain an integral part of his life. We FaceTime almost daily, and I get to see him laugh and play, while sometimes discussing with my wife the practical matters of the divorce ahead of us. In those times, I am also grateful to her for (at least outwardly) bearing no deep grudge against me, despite having plenty of reasons for doing so, and we are able to remain civil and relatively friendly with each other.
I imagine that my SIPA summer relationship story is less than typical among my classmates, so I thought sharing it would offer some perspective for others who may have experienced or will experience such ordeals in the future. Relationships do not go as planned – most of the time they go better than expected, as two people grow together and more deeply intertwined than they would think possible. But in those cases where they fail, I hope this story might provide at least a little calm and catharsis to those with such experiences. In sharing this account I do ask, however, that if the reader is able to infer my identity after reading this, that s/he forego any expression of sympathy should s/he encounter me in the halls of IAB or elsewhere. I’m not seeking sympathy, nor am I yet entirely comfortable receiving it. This discomfort is one of the several obstacles I’m seeking to overcome, and telling this story does help with some of them, so I thank you for reading.