She used to be my best friend.
Here to talk to, laugh with, enjoy good times.
Someone I cherished as a part of my life for so long it seemed like forever.
The two of us exchanged email nonstop, initiated conversations over the phone that often drifted far into the night. Discussed in detail the best – and sometimes the worst – intimate details and moments of our lives.
We literally shared everything.
Mary and I were so close that we understood the countless conflicts and challenges of military life as two women thrown together from different parts of the country nearly as easily as we exchanged secret tips on our favorite barbeque recipes.
We even mingled our despair in an openly shared bushel of tears a time or two when the moment we were caught up in couldn’t possibly get harder to bear.
Then, poof…she was gone.
Four months shy of three years filled with emailing, phone calling, laughing, crying, just plain living and sharing our lives as military spouses.
Whenever I reflect back on the closeness we shared the memories that come to mind first aren’t focused on an unforgettable bond between two women that grew more cherished with time. The memories instead center on a meaningful friendship that abruptly and painfully ended.
It comes, it goes. So rarely does it last. The military is a fertile breeding ground for fleeting relationships. We learn to enjoy what we can, while we can. When it’s over, we have no choice but to heave a regretful sigh and move on smartly.
You know how it goes: One minute, you’re having the time of your lives together. The next, transfer or discharge looms heavy on the horizon and you’re suddenly saying goodbye. Or not saying goodbye, as in the case of my friendship with Mary.
When her husband’s transfer took her and their two children to recruiting duty in Louisiana, we vowed that, no matter what, we’d stay in touch:
“Email me as soon as you get settled.”
“Of course I will!”
So much for good intentions.
Apparently, Mary’s friendship was left behind in that government-sponsored move right along with her natty old couch and boxes of unwanted household junk she’d deposited on the curb. As hard as I’ve tried to make contact with her since that morning when she left Norfolk, I haven’t heard a single word from her since.
Moving on, military-wise, has always seemed to be the logical conclusion to every beautiful relationship that’s ever managed to affectionately wiggle-worm its way into my life. After all, people come, people go. It’s a cold, hard fact of military life.
Trouble is, it’s never been that way to my heart.
My heart doesn’t understand cold, hard facts. It only knows how good it feels to share a big bucket of popcorn with a close girlfriend while watching the season’s best “chick flick” in a dark movie theater. It remembers driving giddily down I-64 through the driving rain to do some extravagant Christmas shopping together for our kids.
Uttering the classic, “I-know-how-you-feel-but-the-two-of-you-will-get-through-this-together-I-just-know-you-will” mantra-like pep talk at two in the morning when a close girlfriend like Mary is halfway through a lengthy deployment and has foolishly engaged in a long-distance argument with the military man she loves.
I still find myself reminiscing about the many military wives who were once very close friends. How in the world, I’ve often wondered, do we allow friendships this precious to drift from our lives? Why is it that so many – too many – of our most meaningful military relationships are inescapably sacrificed this way?
Chances are, you already know the answer.
It seems far easier for the majority of those who transfer or clutch their military service discharges in hand with their hearts completely turned toward the future, making empty promises as they go to sidestep painful, loose emotional threads left behind. They simply disconnect from the past, recognizing these relationships served their purpose and don’t have a role to play in terms of the new lives they face elsewhere.
How shallow is that, I used to think.
I’ve since realized it’s nothing short of sheer emotional survival when you find yourself forced to physically come and go according to the immediate needs and demands of the military coping with our migratory lives as “military issue” personnel.
You learn to connect and later separate, very much like scissors skillfully cutting a deliberate, straight line through an expensive swathe of rich cloth in the process.
If there’s one thing I’ve discovered over the years, it’s that no matter how strong the potential is for us to get hurt by these fleeting relationships we pour our hearts and souls into, they’re still well worth the effort.
We inevitably learn from them, grow from them. We may at times become cynical, even momentarily hardened by them, but they still teach us something critically important.
Bottom line, we need each other. And we always will.