Many (many, many) years ago, as a bride, it began to slowly dawn on me that my life as an Air Force wife was going to be significantly different from my former life as a college student in North Dakota.
We were new to the service, living in Japan in a village just outside of Tokyo. My husband had his dream job–flying a C-130 into lands we had only heard of as kids. Our life became fairly routine, as he flew off to Bangkok or Hong Kong and I stayed behind with the other wives exploring the more exotic environment of Tachikawa village and learning the fine art of Japanese flower arranging.
Don’s trips were generally no longer than two or three weeks, and that time was filled with shopping, volunteer work and long evenings of bridge with women who had “seen it all and done it all.” I was the youngster of the group, and they loved to regale me with the adventures and misadventures of military life.
Inevitably, the day I dreaded came. Don got a mission to fly an aircraft back to the States and would be gone six to eight weeks. Eight weeks. I could hardly breathe. How could I get along without him for eight weeks? Who would start my space heater if it went out? Who would tell the Japanese gardener how to trim the hedge? Who would tell me everything would be ok when I was homesick?
After Don had been gone a few days, and I was still in my “I can’t believe he’s in the States and I’m not” funk, I was invited to play bridge with a new group of women. Captain’s wives. (My husband was still a lowly second lieutenant.). They all knew that Don was on an extended trip, and, during a break in the game asked how I was doing.
“Oh, I’m OK.” I said with as much sympathy inducing distress as I thought was acceptable. “It’s hard to have him gone so long, though.” There were understanding nods and some murmured encouragement. One woman in particular seemed very empathetic.
She was an older woman, her husband was a retired Brooklyn police officer who had been recalled during the Korean war and was staying in until he could retire. She looked at me and took my hand kindly in hers. “I know just how you feel, dear. My husband was gone three years during the second world war and it was very trying.” No one laughed out loud, but the smiles of my tablemates were hard to conceal.
It took me a nano second to realize that I had just been taught a valuable lesson. Embarrassing but valuable. No matter how tough you think you have things, there is ALWAYS someone at the table who has a better story than yours. ALWAYS. So suck it up, Buttercup, and press on.
That moment in Japan, with the Captain’s wife served me well for the rest of Don’s career in the Air Force. And it translates well into civilian life also. Even better, it is relevant to writing. When you tell your story, be the Captain’s wife with the better story. Don’t be content with an eight week trip—-hit it out of the park with a three year absence. Your book will be so much the better for it.