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Military milestones give spouse time to breathe

By Amy Nielsen

My husband and I marked two important rites in our path together this week - our 10-year wedding anniversary and his five-year retirement from the Navy. Both are milestones we both thought we would not make it to – for lots of various reasons.

We married after living together for two years, less than one week before he was to deploy on a nine-month sea tour, and days after his extremely contentious divorce was finalized.

He immediately called to schedule an appointment for us to get married. There would be no dress, no party, no family, just us - if they even had a date available.

We were in luck. The ceremony would be held at the court house at 10:30 in the morning, the only available timeslot, on October 31- ironic for a couple of hippy, practicing pagan, pregnant, military, late-thirties somethings that we were. It was absolutely perfect.

Only one friend could make the date. She arrived the next morning and we spent the day rifling through my rapidly shrinking wardrobe for something that would be fancy enough but not show off my growing baby bump too much. There was certainly no time and I was in no shape for a wedding dress. We decided that he would not wear his uniform, but instead the trusted khakis and white linen button down with loafers. Men – they have it so easy.

Upon arriving at the court house we encountered a huge media frenzy. We had no idea that the local

county official was having the opening arguments to his corruption trial the same morning. We were sort of focused on a few other things at that point. After making it through the extra metal detectors, we were going to be late.

We picked up the finalized divorce decree that had been keeping us from getting married from one

office and rushed through the building to the other wing. There we delivered the freshly stamped

documents to the nice clerk who helped us fill out our license. It took a few minutes to make sure all of

the boxes were filled out correctly as his divorce had become final so recently.

We waded somewhat more frantically back through the throngs of reporters, fellow lost court house

visitors, and local news junkies who seem to show up in the background of all live news reports. Arriving

in front of the judge’s door, we took a moment to breathe. I think it was the only moment we took for

the next 10 years.

I remember that breath we took so specifically. Just us. Breathing together, forehead, palms, toes.

The ceremony took all of 15 minutes. The judge said his bit, we followed along on the thrice copied pages he handed us after checking out our paperwork. We stood. He had a picture of Officers Obe and Eddie from Alice’s Restaurant behind his desk. His hand shook when he signed our license.

Afterward, we snapped a picture in the parking lot holding the document that would mean our daughter

would have prenatal care, housing, access to information about her Papa, and as I would find out,

Aunties and Navy Fairy God Mothers who would hold us in so much grace when I had no idea what to do

or where to turn in our very rocky first year.

As it happed, being Halloween, we tripped over a couple dressed as giant lattes outside a popular coffee

shop at lunch. We snapped another picture and now every year we find a franchise of

that coffee shop and make sure to have our latte. We hoped being lunch time that some place would be

able to accommodate the three of us for a fancyish celebration. Luckily our favorite date night place had

a spot outside on the oceanfront patio.

It was October - the beach was deserted, the waves were rolling hard and the wind was washing sand in

sheets across the expanse. It was cold. Lunch was silly and everything we wanted. We went out to the

boardwalk after and took one more picture next to the statue of Neptune. It is the only other picture we

have from our wedding day. I wore a green sundress with brown heels and my friend’s sweater when I

got cold at lunch.

Five days later, at some stupid hour in the fog and drip of a dreary November night, I delivered my brand

new husband to the Navy, the mistress that would carry him away from me and our soon to be born daughter for 8 months. The tour would finally stretch to nine and a half before he was finally home. We were never again a couple. He came home to a new baby girl.

The night he left was the last time we were just us. We took

one last breath. Just us. She kicked, the ship shifted, the steam vent whistled. He was gone.

Five years and a few days apart later, we celebrated the culmination of his 20 years of military

service in an equally strangely twisted and slightly off kilter day. On that day, while dressing our two

young children for the ceremony, I received a phone call from a well-meaning seasoned spouse

reminding me that while this was a very special day – it was the beginning of the 5 years until he

would be safe from the threat of post military suicide.

“Your job is to keep him alive for the next five years. Then you will be safe,” she said.

So this year, being special anniversaries of those strange and wonderful days, we decided to get some

professional pictures done and take that honeymoon/babymoon/post deployment moon/retirement

vacation we never were able to. It feels a bit like we took 10 years to get to the threshold of our real


I bought the big, white, poofy dress, busted out his dinner dress whites and the fancy kilt, and

took the pictures. Later this week we head out on a vacation just the two of us, for the first time since

we took that last breath on the pier 10 years ago.

It’s time to finally exhale.

For Military Spouses
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