My boyfriend, Marvin, woke me up yesterday like it was Christmas.
“You haven’t said ‘happy birthday’ to me yet!” He exclaimed, a 25 year-old man with the look of a child in his eyes.
As any US Marine Corps girlfriend knows, November 10th was the Marine Corps birthday. I still haven’t gotten over the weirdness of the fact that every Marine thinks the Marine Corps birthday is also his or her own birthday, too. Apparently, I missed out on that lecture in my military girlfriend class.
Today, the day after, is Veteran’s Day, which marks a long weekend of pride for members of the armed services, and an even longer one for members of the Marine Corps. Before I began to date Marvin, I did not realize that veterans were not all 80. Now I veteran girlfriend, I have been through three years, three moves and one heart-wrenching deployment.
And I’m beginning to now understand what Veteran’s Day means.
Veteran’s Day means that not everyone gets to celebrate Veteran’s Day. That is to say, not everyone has lived to celebrate it. I know that Marvin has seen more than many young men his age, and I know he thinks of the people who have gone before him when this day comes around. Though the holiday meant nearly nothing for me before meeting Marvin, now it is everything.
In a world that is quick to take in bad news, Veteran’s Day allows those who have gone through the horrors of warfare to take a step back and remember. They remember eating MREs (“Meals Ready to Eat”, which are nutritionally fortified food substances that can basically last years in their plastic wrapping) on the dusty floor of a tent in 20 degree weather, hearing the gunshots of their friends (or, worse, their enemies) whiz by. They remember finding colleagues who they had trained with, grown with and respected, laying lifeless in combat, or, in many cases nowadays, by their emotional torment and their own hands. They remember how it feels to wake up in the middle of the night and pray for morning to come.
When Marvin came home, I didn’t know how things would be for him. I didn’t know if he would cry, if he would have nightmares, if he would be angry. When some of his friends came home, I could see faraway looks in their eyes, like they were temporarily disengaged. Others, like Marvin, came back as if they had gone on a trip to visit their cousins, with no air of anger or loss at all. For each returning veteran, it was a toss-up. For the family members of the returning vets, this meant that there was really no way to adequately prepare. Because you had to prepare for everything. You prepare to talk, but you don’t push them to share. You cook their favorite food, but you freeze it so they can eat it when they want to. You make decisions so they can relax, but you try to leave things open so they can do what they want. You pack your bags to travel, and you rent movies to stay home at the same time. You try to be the all-encompassing giver, and you try not to scare them away.
Though Marvin and I aren’t married, I am proud to identify as a military girlfriend. We unmarried partners don’t get the housing allowance, or the insurance, or the healthcare, but we still cry and worry like anyone else when they’re gone, and celebrate when they return. In current times when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has finally been done away with, the experience of homosexual partners (whose marriage is not recognized on military bases — though I know that will change in due time) will be louder and the knowledge of their own experience more common.
Veteran’s Day speaks mostly to our servicemen and women, but it also speaks to their family members who support them for months of deployment and the country that they fight for through it all. On this and all days, let us take a few minutes to reflect on the horrors of warfare, and our mutual hope for peace.
Our politics around the world are different, but as long as there is a military there are people who will be asked to serve in it. Let us say “thank you” to those who volunteer themselves for something that I would never want to do myself.