"Have I got a story for you..." This is what I'd hear whenever someone learned I was a writer. I would hear it from my husband, an infantry officer, or his friends newly back from a deployment, or his soldiers gearing up for yet another. That's what they all came home with, that's what they could offer up to barbecues and military balls, hunched over the warmish keg beer or toxic grog passed around from a huge silver bowl. Their stories.
Their spouses had stories too, not tales of chasing down insurgents through water-logged marshes or barricaded Baghdad alleys; no, the wives had very different tales of disaster averted, of fear and adrenaline. They recalled the dread of answering late night telephone calls, seeing an official car parked outside their homes, or a garish newspaper headline that mentioned their soldier's sector in Iraq.
I listened to them all. I laughed at the swagger of a Special Forces pilot trying to come up with character names for the hero he wanted me to create in his likeness. I commiserated with the spouse missing her mate on yet another anniversary, holiday, or kid's first birthday. I was living the life too, my husband and I stationed at Fort Hood from 2006 to 2009, during the "surge." Soldiers deployed for a year or eighteen months, spent a year "dwell time" at home, then deployed again.
My husband and I were at Hood for three and a half years, two of which he spent in Iraq while I drove down Battalion Avenue with a new baby seat filled with its bald and bawling charge, shopped at Warrior Way Commissary, volunteered with the Family Readiness Group, all the while avoiding war time news with its casual announcement of disaster and death that could wreck my life, my friend's lives, forever.
Spouses found ways to fill the slow-moving time. Single parents now, many juggled daycare with their careers or sold products from their homes with toddlers underfoot. They coached soccer, joined the PTO, went to church, mailed enormous packages of indestructible beef jerky overseas, took turns hosting pizza nights.
I wrote. Not the exact stories I had been told, those visions of bravado and misadventure belonged to the tellers. Instead I wrote fiction, short stories that tried to capture the whole wild spectrum of the Fort Hood experience at that moment in time, gleaning details from soldiers (how a goat looked trussed up in a butcher's glassless window in Baghdad, what the graffiti said in the Forward Operating Bases' bathroom stalls, things soldiers missed most when they were far from home) as well as from my fellow spouses (the anxious waiting for our soldiers to return that made our day-to-day feel half-lived and shadowy, the home videos we played over and over again so our kids wouldn't forget their daddies voices, the temptations that pulled us away from Fort Hood as well as the cement of friendship and commitment that held us close).
I wrote to distract myself from my own worries about my soldier; I wrote when my baby was asleep; I wrote because I was always writing something. I wrote these stories to offer a window into a gated world that felt the effects of America's wars every single day, where moving cars would stop at reveille each evening, drivers getting out, soldiers saluting and spouses with their hands over their hearts, listening as the trumpet played, all facing the flag as it made its way down the flag pole and was folded into night. I was there, listening, watching, waiting with the rest, surrounded by military families doing what they needed to do to get through the deployments. I wrote so I could understand the world I knew a little better.