When my husband and I first got married many (27) years ago, he was in the Marine Corps. We went from college to Quantico, Virginia where he attended The Basic School, also know as TBS. They loved their little abbreviations in the Marine Corps. They loved many things. I went there a naive college graduate and I left there…… Well, I won’t ruin the surprise for you but I left with some good stories.
One of them is about my dog eating the Marine Corp’s bed. Well, he didn’t eat the WHOLE bed and he didn’t actually eat it as much as he pulled it apart and left it lying around the room. He was so PROUD. Let me backtrack a little here.
I have immense respect for the Marine Corps and for all branches of the military. I appreciate all the sacrifices members of the military and their families have made and continue to make for this country. I saw first hand at least part of the sacrifices my husband and other men on that base made for our country and that was during peace time.
And here is it, I was in shock for most of the time I lived on that base. It was a culture I knew little to nothing about. When we crossed the main gate at the the Quantico Marine Corps Base no one told me that we were traveling back in time. No one told me that on one side of the line it was 1984 but on the other ,on the base it was 1950. NO ONE FUCKING TOLD ME! That is my point.. Someone could have warned me. Then maybe it would not have been suck a fucking shock. I don’t think it would have helped me…… AT ALL, but the information would have been nice.
I had just spent four years working my ASS off to earn a college degree. My husband and I both did. We put ourselves through college. We both came from poor families and we put ourselves through school, with loans and working while going through college. We did not party. We did not have the time or the money. I was going through my radical feminist bitch phase then. I was so completely out of place that it is only funny now, twenty some years later.
I was in SHOCK I tell you, every and I am not making this shit up, EVERY time I met a woman she almost immediately asked me if I had children. The shocking part is coming up. When I told her I didn’t have children, she then asked me if I wanted children. What the fuck? I was so shocked that I answered it every fucking time! It was like this horrific ritual that we had to go through, this conversation, with every new woman I met and I was fascinated and horrified. It was like watching that bloody, twisted, car accident on the side of the road with body parts everywhere. I didn’t want to look, but I….had…..to. Every. Fucking. Time. The conversation went like this.
Strange New Woman. Do you have children?
Me. No I don’t.
SNW. Do you want children?
Me. Yes, I do. Later on. ( I added that last part after the second or third time I was asked. Me, thinking, I am only 24, AND SO ARE YOU. What the fuck?)
SNW: Well, do you LIKE children?
Me. Yes, I do. ( Me, thinking, What the fuck, did my parents talk to this woman?)
Usually at this point the fact that I worked (GASP! Seriously they were shocked and many of them were my age! I tell you 1950!) would come up. I probably brought it up. I can’t remember. The woman would ask me where and I swear I was not trying to shut down the conversation but IF I had been, it would have been a brilliant strategy. It was also true.
SNW: You work?
Me. Yes, I do.
SNW: Where do you work?
Me: I work at an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Eventually the woman would make an excuse for why she had to go anywhere else and she would go there.
So this is how I spent many of the little gatherings that as an officer’s wife I was obligated to attend. Does it sound like fun to you? Because I was tortured, tortured by this, I tell you. I have always been an introvert and I was pretty shy then and these conversations……. Holy Crap!
Then I met Jill. Jill was also married to a Marine Officer, also twenty four with no children and no immediate plans to have any. We were two women who had been having this conversation for a while and then we met each other. We had so much fun together after that at the other women’s expense as we tried not to get our husbands in to much trouble. I’m not saying it was the right thing to do. I’m saying it was fun.
I remember a particular officer wives’ lunch where we arrived at a long table full of young very pregnant women. Jill said very loudly to me, ” Do you think it’s contagious?”
I responded, “I don’t know? Do you think it’s safe to sit down?”
The women looked around, confused and some of them looked very concerned. Jill and I laughed because we amused the hell out of each other. Then one or both of us explained we were talking about pregnancy, since they were ALL pregnant and we didn’t want to catch it. They didn’t think it was funny but we did and that is all we cared about. We did not make any new friends that day or many others. We were not making new friends anyway, to be honest.
These women were of a different breed. Many of them grew up in military families. They knew what they were getting into when they married their Marines. As the adult I am now, I understand that. I could not even begin to understand that as a newly married, newly graduated college student who just wanted to work and use my degree. I married my high school sweetheart who decided to become a Marine. These young women and I were from different worlds. We may have all been college graduates about the same age, but we thought differently. We saw the world differently. We acted differently. I did not get those women and they did not get me. They knew from the moment that they stepped on base, that their time there was a political game meant to advance their husband’s careers. I didn’t understand that for a long time and I have always hated games.
My husband was doing something important. He was training to be a United States Marine. I was having lunch. I simply could not take it seriously.
The other wives often stared at me like I was a new and interesting, sometimes MILDLY interesting alien spieces. And I mocked them. You bet your ass I did, well Jill did and I backed her up. We were a team.
The General’s Wife had a tea, yes a fucking tea, and Jill and I went together. We ended up on the opposite sides of the room during the big reveal, THE TALK, that the General’s Wife, no I don’t even remember her name, gave to all of us young fresh officer’s wives.
I did not DARE make eye contact with Jill during that talk. It was too crazy and funny and I did not want to burst out laughing and get my husband kicked out of the fucking Marine Corps or whatever they would do if I laughed at the General’s Wife.
These are some of the words of wisdom she shared with us. I know she was doing her job. I know she gave some good advice but she was so obviously trying to train us to be good little officers’ wives, that I was having a difficult time.
She gathered us all in one large room of her very, very large, very tastefully decorated home and I still thank God or the Universe or whatever you are comfortable with that I ended up sitting behind her so she could not see my face.
She told us that we should fix dinner for our Marines every night and have it waiting for them.
Even then sarcasm ruled my brain and these thoughts ran through it. (Who is going to fix my dinner?)
She told us that they would often get home late, and even if the pot roast (Pot roast? Who the fuck is cooking pot roast?) was burnt, we should cheerfully warm up dinner and serve it to our husband.
In other words, she told us to be good little wives over and over in various different ways.
Then she told us if a neighbor, another Marine Officer’s wife, invited us for coffee, to make time to have coffee with them. She told us to make friends at each base because we would grow to depend on each other. My husband told me recently that during war time, this was essential while men were deployed and especially as women and families were getting word that their husbands were dead or injured. I felt like an idiot. As a young woman I didn’t understand this and apparently I still needed it spelled out for me as an adult.
So the General’s Wife gave good advice on this issue,for 1950, 1984,or 2013, the people on base stand by each other and help each other. They need each other and they help each other.
Then she told all of us that we needed to value and nurture the bonds with our husbands because our children would grow up and leave us. Here I looked at the women holding babies on their laps. I looked at the HORROR on their faces. Even me, the childless one, could not believe this woman was saying this to these young women I’d had no sympathy for until now.
I watched as the women held their babies tighter. The General’s wife did not seem to notice, or if she did, she just went on talking, giving everyone instructions on how to be the good officer’s wife. I wondered how many times she had given this talk. I wondered if she really believed everything she was saying. I thought she did and I was pretty sure she lived it.
That was her choice but I did not think I could. Hell, I was not living it as I sat there in that lovely living room. Pot roast, my ass.