I learned to tell myself these words when I realized I was facing another separation from the man I love. It stirred up a million emotions, some that even conflicted with each other. When I married this soldier, I had no way of knowing how his frequent and long absences would affect me. After all, I had never really known anyone in the military before I met him. I also would have never suspected what he would teach me about patriotism, honor, courage, and purpose. Being a military wife “grew me up” through experiencing pride, fear, confusion, pain, excitement, frustration, constant change, and flexibility. These were not small feelings for me, but suffocating ones. Sometimes I thought they might take me down but God is still in the business of transformation. It was a harsh process for sure.
I had a difficult transition into the military lifestyle and in short order began to get my fists up about many of the things that came with being a military wife. Over the last 35 years I have learned to accept, and for the most part, quit fighting the challenges…although one remained that I wrestled with on an ongoing basis. I knew I married a warrior, but I didn’t get married to be alone. The absences, the time apart, the long and/or short deployment, caused an ache in my heart and many questions in my mind…why me? Is this fair? Didn’t he just get home? And worst of all, if he loves me how could he choose a career that takes him away all the time? Being in love with a warrior was the easy part; dealing with the loneliness was the challenge.
I attended countless kids’ activities as a single mom and heard comments later about my “make-believe husband.” I had several women tell me that they would never put up with the lifestyle. Some complained of how they had to be without their husband an entire weekend; until they remembered who they were talking to. I spent several anniversaries and many other holidays without him. A month or more went by without me actually hearing his voice. Anger sometimes consumed me about having to deal with too many decisions and problems without his help or input. I had to ask for help from other people when I didn’t want to or choose to deal with a catastrophe on my own because I felt I had drained others of their giving.
I once talked myself into asking a neighbor I had never met if he could try and fix my car, also a military family. We had a one-year-old and I needed groceries. My soldier was gone for weeks and we had no family within 1000 miles. It was one of the longest walks of my life as I crossed the street to knock on their door with my plea. I knew full well I would be stealing time from his wife and kids; theft in the truest, most painful form and the most personal to me. That is how desperate I was.
I fell into bed countless times from complete exhaustion after days of doing the job of two parents, coupled with the burden of worry and fear penetrating my heart. This does not compare to men who travel a lot for their job; the unspoken threat of life itself is a whole different level. Many of his absences included the added stress of not even knowing exactly where he was. They don’t say the toughest job in the military is the military wife for nothing!!! Special Forces marriages have an 85% divorce rate and it is obvious why.
Many days I chose self-pity and lots of others I chose anger at my husband or at the military. Some days my choice was anger at myself for thinking I could actually pull off this lifestyle with some sense of sanity. I asked the question, if not out loud, in my heart, “did he love his country more than me?” I fought and struggled and battled with this issue over and over in my heart and mind.
None of it ever changed until the day God asked me to look inside the heart of my husband and find out what made him click, how he thought and felt, and what made him want to be a warrior. Yes, I thought I already knew these things but it turned out I really didn’t. He had told me many times with his words and actions but I chose not to hear because my self-focus was making me deaf and blind. I had been told that marriage was about self-sacrifice but I believed I had sacrificed enough. Hindsight tells me that belief was proof I had missed the meaning of self-sacrifice. As I began to tear down my walls of hurt and listen without trying to add my own feelings, I started to see something I had never understood before. I began to sense the struggle that went on inside of him on a regular basis. I started to catch a glimpse of the things that tore at him and how he felt. I knew I would never know fully, but hoped I could understand enough to get rid of the lump in my throat that seemed to live there for days at a time. I started to ask him questions. I would tell what I thought he was feeling and he would confirm or deny.
I have always written poetry to express some of the most difficult things in my life and one night, while trying to sleep, words started coming to me to explain who this man was that I had married, the one with the wild heart. The one that I loved even more due to his nature, a man of men. A warrior torn in two with the fight inside his heart.
As I wrote the words, they came alive on paper. In the middle of the night, I finished the words and laid the paper where I knew he would see it first thing in the morning. He brought the paper to me and I could tell by the look on his face that I had hit the mark. I knew that I had made a huge step toward catching of small glimpse into him.
I wish I could say that I came to complete peace with letting him go, but that was not the case. I did however choose pride in him over anger about who he is. I chose to release him to do what he felt so called to do, over doubt about his love for me. I took the burden of my sadness off his back so he could actually manage the real one the Army had him carrying. And I chose acceptance of the struggle inside of me. I decided it was ok to struggle and that I could embrace the scars and look for the gifts they give. I learned to remind myself that while some others did not have to live with the challenges I did, they never got to experience the raw emotion of letting go of the one thing you feel you might die without and handing him to God. I handed him over every hour of every day. I still do.
My heart would have missed the exhilaration of touching the other half of myself after a long separation. I know now what a gift that was. My prayer is that the following poem inspires you on your journey to understand the wild at heart man in your life a little bit better, because after all….you married a warrior.
A Soldier has to have two hearts
To meet the call his life imparts
One for his home so far away
The other for what some dismay
His one heart loves so tenderly
A wife and kids who set him free
To do for his country what he should
But they would change it if they could
The other heart, it cannot break
For precious freedom is at stake
The mission runs this heart alone
And this it feels down to the bone
His two hearts fight inside his chest
Each one thinks it’s doing best
But war is all they ever know
Although they never let it show
For the man they live inside
Is torn in two by his own pride
To serve his country brave and tall
Yet keep his family through it all
One heart sacrifices all
The other answers duty’s call
But in the end, each heart will win
Both love of family and countrymen
Captain Fred E. Fichtner
US Army Green Beret
By Mary Fichtner