So, I had my book launch event on Armed Forces Day! It was huge success! I wasn’t completely ignored! I got to sell lots of copies of the book and also meet so many people with great feedback and positive things to say. So thank you to all who came along….
I also met many current and former military wives who praised the book which was lovely. One of the older ladies said that she didn’t know how my generation of military wives did it with Afghanistan. She was what she called a ‘peacetime wife’ and it was hard enough then! Before I had the chance to explain that I don’t focus on Afghanistan in my book she was gone; into the crowd clutching her copy of ‘Warrior Wives’… and I was left feeling like a fraud!
I felt like a fraud because I only did ONE tour of Afghanistan. It was a tough, arduous, terrifying experience. The wounds run deep and if I’m honest I am still licking those wounds which is why I skim over that part of my story in the book…
Let me try and share some memories from that tour: November 2008 Hubby had been gone approximately 8-10 weeks (I lose track of time!) The phone lines and email service had gone down, which by now I already knew meant a fatality… so I waited! Like every other wife/girlfriend whose partner was serving. Watching the news or making sure you can hear the radio in every room… waiting desperately to hear the horrifying, cold, formal words ‘Next of Kin have been informed.’ … because then you know it wasn’t a knock at the door meant for you. Sometimes the waiting, with a constant knot in your stomach would go on for hours, or days, not knowing if every unknown car you saw drive into your street, every ring of the phone, every knock at the door would be the one to break your heart!
Then, when you finally hear those words, you release the breath you didn’t realise you’d been holding for the last two days! And for me, it was ALWAYS with a sob and sudden, hot, fervent tears for the families that had received that knock. Families, wives and girlfriends that I didn’t know – but who would always be much more to me than just ‘Next of Kin.’
So, November 2008 I’d sobbed my tears for an unknown family and continued to check my emails waiting to hear from my husband until 1 am. I went to bed – nothing. I got up early – nothing. I went to work. (Or rather my body went to work, I was ‘present’ – but I wasn’t really present). I came home from work, I burnt a microwave pasta (how? I don’t know!) … and still nothing!!
Eventually after I had gone to bed for the 3rd day in a row not hearing anything. I had a phone call. It was late and there was always a slight delay on the line, so I knew it was him:
“Babe, thank God you’re ok! I’ve been worried sick!”
A long pause… too long! Finally his voice, thick and strange sounding. “It was …” his voice broke as he told me the name of his friend who had been killed. My husband has had a long career and unfortunately this wasn’t the first time he’d told me of a friends death – either in combat or accidents. But I’d always been near him before, or at least seeing him within a few days.
I didn’t know many of his friends on this particular tour because he’d changed units right before the deployment. But I knew of this lad, I knew of the family he left behind. The tears I’d shed the previous evening were not for an anonymous family and those tears quickly burnt my eyes again.
The silence hung between us. I didn’t know what to say. ‘Sorry’ was just not enough. So I cried. and I told him I loved him.
“I can’t talk anymore.” He said “I just needed to tell you I was ok. I love you too.” and he was gone. The dial tone resounded deafeningly in my ears.
I couldn’t reach him, I couldn’t comfort him, I couldn’t be there for him…. and he didn’t want me to. He needed to get his head together, keep his focus and get on with the job at hand. There was no rest. Barely enough time for a quiet prayer for his friend before he was back on the front line himself.
I sat at the top of my stairs listening to the dial tone and sobbing my heart out. In pain for him. In pain for myself. In pain for the family of his fallen comrade. Stroking my pregnant stomach and wondering if I would ever be able to reach my husband again.
I know he shut me out because he needed too, but it still hurt….
A few weeks later (I always count down deployments in weeks!) I was sat on my sofa, eating a giant bag of Doritos – I was pregnant, and shamelessly giving into cravings, watching X-factor. Another ‘vice’ I could happily indulge in without Hubby’s moaning from the other sofa about the ‘crap’ I enjoy on tele (whilst he secretly enjoyed it himself!) The episode did a ‘special’ on Help for Heroes and The Royal British Legion, and they featured a mini film on Mark Ormrod – the Uk’s 1st triple amputee.
You can see it here
I can honestly say this was the first time I had even considered the possibility of injury. Not because I was naive, or ignorant, but because I couldn’t. I couldn’t cope with thinking about that – the implications were too huge for a pregnant woman to comprehend. But seeing the reality on the screen in front of me was impossible to ignore. I bought the X-factor single, but could never listen to it, or watch the series again. I’d wait until he was safely home, moaning by my side about my trashy choice of TV before I could watch it again!
Afghan was hard and there were many more memories like this; many that I am still not brave enough to face or talk about. I guess as I said – I’m still licking my wounds… and I am one of the lucky ones!! My husband came home to me. He came home and he wasn’t injured. I can NEVER FORGET how lucky I am!
And I only did this ONCE!!!!!!
I did it once for 6 months, 6 years ago and the memories still hurt. The pain runs deep…. There are friends of mine who had to repeat this fear up to 3 times!! 18 months of their life spent in this constant state of panic and apprehension. My children weren’t born when Daddy went to Afghan, they have no memories of who he was before that time. I know people felt sorry for me during Afghan – who wouldn’t? I was alone and pregnant whilst the love of my life was fighting on the front line. But I didn’t want sympathy- then or now.
I was angry about Afghan for a long time. Or at least I thought I was, until I reached out and went to a coffee morning with other military wives and realised that I wasn’t angry about Afghanistan at all! -I was angry about all of it!! The lack of control I had over my life, and the situations I found myself dealing with. Moving 5 hours away from everyone I cared about to spend 60% of my time apart from the person I’d moved to be with….
In the process of learning to be strong I had put up walls and got confused and angry. I didn’t want to be a bitter, angry wife or mother. So I made a choice then, I decided to let it go….. Writing it down, making friends, sharing our stories was all part of that healing journey for me.
Being a military wife is so much more than JUST the Afghan’s! They are hard, there’s no denying that. But people can recognise that is hard. But the bits you don’t see are just as hard. The phone calls from ship, that you’ve waited all week for, to then have intermittent signal, (“Hello? Hello? Babe, is that you?”) the parts of the call you can hear interrupted by a sodding unintelligible Tannoy announcement and then having the call cut short for some unexplained reason, and having nothing but next week’s call to look forward to. The times when they are given a ‘shore draft’ or supposed to be ‘home’ but they spend most of it halfway across the country “on course”. The times that people don’t understand, because after all “we knew what it would be like when we married them!”……..All equally as challenging in their own way.
But the most important reason of all ~ My book isn’t about having people feel sorry for me, it’s NOT about saying how hard it is!
It is about celebrating the good parts of our life. The relationships that are unbreakable! The brotherhood and sisterhood of serving your country – whether on the front line, or in a supporting role at home. The sacrifices from Afghanistan should never be forgotten, but they are already talked about. There are countless emotional movies about it – all of which reduce me to a blubbering wreck, and I didn’t want people to be reduced to a blubbering wreck with ‘Warrior Wives’ – I wanted them to come away feeling inspired, as I was inspired to write it.