Being married to a former Marine has it's challenges. Being married to a former major, in my opinion can have a few added challenges. When my husband left the Marine Corps, he also left behind the responsibilities, title and in a lot of ways the respect he had worked his entire career to obtain. The way he saw it, he had to start from scratch and we both knew that was going to be a hard pill to swallow. We also knew his adjustment period back to civilian life was going to be long and it for damn sure wasn't going to be easy. As with most Marines, my husband was less than willing to admit he was anything but "good to go" and that his baggage from five tours of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan was nothing more than what was contained in the black footlockers housed in our garage. Personally, I wasn't buying it. But Marines aren't generally known for admitting to their emotional needs. To put it in layman's terms -- they aren't a real touchy feely bunch.
While we were tackling the realities of Major Dave becoming Mister Dave virtually overnight, we were also helping Mr. Dave deal with the fact that his broken spine now required a surgically implanted device to help him remain upright. Although doing very little for pain management, it helped manage it enough to maintain a semi-regular lifestyle. Along with extremely strict medical restrictions came an intense battle that now ensued each day between the major and I. True to his military nature, he insisted on "sucking up the pain," "not being weak," and "not letting his team down." No matter how much I begged, no matter much I pleaded, he could not accept the fact he now had physical limitations that altered his life significantly. The more I persisted, the more he argued against his restrictions.
We had recently moved to a remote area of the Mojave Desert, deciding to take a one year sabbatical from the noise of modern life. With the nearest hospital an hour away and his doctors at our VA hospital 3 hours away, my concerns were not unfounded. We had already been told that another surgery could actually render him paralyzed. However, as I berated my husband with my usual lecture one afternoon while watching him suit up in his black sweats to go for a run in the 101 degree desert heat, it hit me. I began to listen to the words coming out of my mouth. It was at that moment it occurred to me that my constant reminders to give his "Devil Dog Super Strength" a rest was probably doing more harm to his ego than actually giving any help to his back. This was a problem and a solution he was going to have to figure out on his own. This was something personal. I needed to step aside and let him work this out in his own way. I needed to let him take the lead just like he always had. Making life and death decisions are what Marines are trained to do and this was not the time for me take that away from him - especially when those decisions affected his own life.
Over the next few weeks, his hours spent outside were growing longer and longer. I had silently noticed he'd traded in his dark and punishing outdoor wardrobe for something a little more appropriate. He had stopped coming back pouring sweat and seemingly in silent yet complete agony. I also noticed that his small Camelbak had begun disappearing along with him. Finally I asked him, "Where have you been going?" In an usually upbeat tone, he explained that he had found a small desert mountain just a few miles up from our house with a trail someone had blazed up the side. Fighting back the urge to explode into a long winded soliloquy about how great I thought it was, I just listened as he told me all about how much he was getting out of the slow, easy hikes to the top where he could look down at the vast, peaceful desert below. It gave him a place to calm his mind, he said.
Eventually that bike we bought but never used even made an appearance. He dusted it off, pumped up the tires and took off down the road with little explanation. It became as much of an escape for him as the mountain. I just smiled as watched my Marine ride off. I have no idea what he thought about out there and to be honest, it's really none of my business. He has shared a lot with me about his experiences at war and what it means to be a Marine. But I think there are some things in life you really just have to be a part of to understand. I'll certainly never know what it feels like to be part of the warrior's club. I'll also never know what it feels like to be my husband, to be a Marine, or a disabled veteran. But I do know what it feels like to be the wife of all three and I'm damn proud to hold the title to each. I'm also a wife who knows when to keep her mouth shut and let the desert do the talking for me.