One of the best parts of military life is making friends with other families all around the world.
One of the worst parts is telling them goodbye.
And apparently now, with the school year coming to a close, Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season is upon us. (My very scientific method of counting the number of moving van pictures in my Facebook newsfeed — seven yesterday alone — tells me so.) Which means “goodbye” is a word our family will be using a lot.
And I do not like it, Mr. Bigglesworth. I do not like it at all.
Especially when it means saying goodbye not to those people who have no physical boundaries and stalk the vehicle every time they see it in the post housing carport (seriously, Jesus, why are you always moving the friends who let me get my groceries into the house before pouncing?!), but to the people who have held hands and heads up through the ups and downs of military life.
Last night, as I stood teary-eyed on the front lawn of my very first military friend (on the front lawn, not on the kitchen floor, because Superhero 1 and Superhero 2 were still fighting over Legos in the back seat of the car and Superhero 3 was generous enough to vomit on the last 10 minutes of the drive to said friend’s home — we love her too much to gift her with puking kids for all nine hours of her drive tomorrow), I hugged a woman who has been a part of my life since my very first month at my very first duty station as a military wife.
Laurie was my very first friend when I, in all my naïve 22-year-old glory, moved to Alaska to be with my husband after finishing my senior year of college in New York. And from the first time she came to our house and smiled as she graciously joined us for a gourmet dinner of pizza (ordering Pizza Hut for gatherings I was afraid to cook for was my newlywed superpower) and we read The Purpose-Driven Life together, we clicked.
We continued hanging out casually at church and FRG functions (this was before my days of speed dating friends and asking for their hand in military sister marriage on day 3) until the day after our husbands deployed together for what was supposed to be a 12-month tour to Iraq.
That’s when we, in our mascara-running mess, realized that we, two girls 3,500 miles away from family, would need real friends if we, two hot messes without support networks and Jesus, were going to make it through this deployment.
So we met for lunch, sobbed over salad (because I later discovered that this sweet woman hated pizza more than she hated deployment, and she only graciously ate it so she wouldn’t make a 22-year-old newlywed hosting a Bible study at her house for the first time ever CRY), and literally spilled all our deepest, darkest secrets.
And left that lunch forever friends.
In our 12 years of friendship, we’ve laughed together. We’ve cried together. We’ve spent countless morning hours sipping coffee and not enough evenings together sipping wine.
We’ve thrown each other baby showers (she threw me my first baby shower, and 10 years and several duty stations later, I threw her her fourth), prayed each other through adoptions, seen each other through deployments and walked through some of life’s toughest moments together.
When I delivered Superhero 1, Laurie was the first face to walk through our hospital room door … and the first one to hold my hand as I processed the news that doctors believed Superhero 1 had a syndrome.
For six long weeks, as my husband returned to war after his R&R and I became a worried, hot heap of post-partum hormones on the homefront, that woman loved on me, prayed for me, encouraged me and checked on me, until the day the test results returned — showing Superhero 1 was apparently just a “funny-looking kid.”
(Note to pediatrician who examined Superhero 1 — I realize “funny-looking kid” is apparently a medical term, according to http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/FLK. However, telling a woman who is in the process of being stitched up after 24 hours of labor that her firstborn child is an FLK and, since his parents are not FLPs in your estimation, he likely has a syndrome, is NOT the best way to make a great birthing room impression. Please grow some bedside manner. The end.)
And when we both received the news that, although we’d shaved our legs, hung our homecoming banners and stopped drinking from the milk jug after 12 long months of weekly deployment potluck dates, our husbands would now NOT be returning home for their scheduled homecomings (the Army needed to unexpectedly borrow them for four additional months), we cried together. Drowned our woes in Chowder House sandwiches together. And then held each other’s hands as we marched toward that homecoming ceremony, where we would physically stand side by side, just as we had throughout the entire deployment, to welcome home our heroes as they returned from their 16-month tours.
That’s why military friends aren’t just friends at all. As they walk each other through some of the biggest trials and triumphs of this life, they quickly become sisters.
Shortly after our husbands redeployed to Alaska, Laurie and I farewelled each other to head to new duty stations and new adventures in separate states on separate sides of the country. We continued visiting each other from Washington to Louisiana and Texas to Kansas as we had babies, lost babies and PCSed through each other’s cities throughout the escapades of military life.
And two years ago, these long-ago separated sisters belted out the most annoying, high-pitched yelps on the phones from Washington and Kansas as we got news that we would both be moving to the same duty station within one month of each other — something we’d been dreaming about for seven years.
For the last two years, we’ve gotten the privilege of doing life together again in person. We’ve taken advantage of coffee dates and pool dates and deployment sleepovers and girls-only lunches. Our kids, now a brood of seven total, have bonded, and we’ve treasured every minute of life together with our reunited gang.
Until last night, when we had to say goodbye yet again.
In my days as an amateur goodbye-sayer, I was a waterworks factory. Bidding farewell to the family parakeet was an occasion for tears.
But 12 years into military life, I’ve become a calloused old woman. I rarely cry at farewells anymore. Maybe because I’ve done it so much. Or maybe because I’ve also realized that in the military, it’s never really “goodbye” — it’s “see you later.”
It’s a small military. There are TDYs and out-of-state trainings. There are vacations and PCS moves where you can enjoy stop-bys while driving through. (We’ve stayed at Laurie’s house three different times while moving from one duty station to another.) I’ve been blessed to be stationed twice with some of my greatest and closest friends in this military life.
A new duty station — possibly one together — is always just around the corner.
But that is what makes this goodbye so hard.
This is the second time I’ve said goodbye to this special friend — but the first time I’ve been the one watching the moving van pull away. And this time, it’s not taking my friend to a new duty station or a new Army post — it is taking her back to her home state, where she and her family will retire after more than 20 beautiful years of military life.
There’s no chance we’ll be stationed together again. No chance we’ll run into her next time we’re tagging along for a TDY or an out-of-state training. No chance we’ll run into her at the post commissary. No chance we’ll enjoy another squealing phone call.
This goodbye is really goodbye (at least until I road trip stalk her during hubby’s next business trip).
And that’s what makes this one so hard.
Laurie, I love you with all my heart. You have seen me through some of my darkest (and most ridiculous) days — loved me through pregnancy and deployment extension temper tantrums. Held me when I wanted to quit, encouraged me when I wanted to give up. You’ve held me accountable to the kind of life God has for me, and your warmth and hospitality have always made me feel so welcome and cozy in your home.
Thank you for loving me. Thank you for putting up with me. And thank you especially for introducing me to early mornings, treadmills and coffee creamer.
My schedule, my legs and my children, now blessed by the gifts of morning caffeine, will never forget you.