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Month of the Military Child

Emily Carpenter, Junior Staff Writer

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This month signifies the heartache of the military child. The painstakingly long nights that are slept without their family to bid goodnight to them, the excruciating evenings at soccer practice glancing over at the spectator’s bench only to be greeted with a blank space that could be filled with the pride and endearment of your loved one. No one is ever prepared for the heartache that being a military child entails. Experiencing the agony of watching a loved one  disappear behind the terminal of their designated flight, clinging onto them like a lifeforce with tears threatening to soak their uniform, is a memory incomparable to any other. I first experienced this when I was around ten years old. At this age, I was fully immersed in soccer, approaching middle school, and happily welcoming the thought of being alive for a decade of twelve hour long drives to Disney World, a multitude diverse meals that graced my palette, and mornings waking up to Bisquick pancakes awaiting my consumption. At ten years old, you are under the routine of school and weekends lazily slumped in bed, innocently unsuspecting of any hardships ahead of you. I cannot recall the precise moment when I was told that my dad would be going to Cuba for eleven months, but I can assume that my parents probably nonchalantly informed me, as not to worry my vulnerable mind.

 

Nothing changed leading up to the day of departure, spare for the realization settling in as I watched my dad pack his belongings in his camouflage duffle bag that would serve as his only reminder of home for the next eleven months. We packed him comforting essentials, consisting of snacks that could withstand staleness and gift cards to Subway that would soon become a daily occurence. The drive to the airport was forcefully lighthearted, leaving a bitter residue in my mouth from the farewell that was inevitably approaching. Upon arrival, there was an unspoken agreement that stalling would be the main objective before my dad would stride past security, his figure growing smaller as he begrudgingly wheeled towards his terminal. Our time was minimal, and once we exchanged our final smiles that were tainted with old tears that were now resurfacing, the family that walked into the airport as a quartette was now walking back out as a trio. The next eleven months went by painfully slow, subtle items and mementos reminding me of the distance between my dad and home.

 

Counting down the days never serves as a resourceful comfort, but instead has you dwelling on the tiring weeks ahead before you feel whole again. Instead, it’s better to occupy yourself with reliable hobbies that contribute to your overall happiness. Even then, you realize that the small excursions to the soccer field, the journey to the grocery store talking about the concerns and triumphs of your life, the expeditions to parks filled with dandelions that whisk your wishes away in an array of cotton-like softness, all become bland and bleak to your once joyous spirit. I knew that my dad was having just as hard of a time adjusting to his new surroundings as I was living without his presence, but I couldn’t help but be selfish and want to go back to the conventional routine that you grew accustomed to, being warmly faced with the grin of my dad after school and conversing about the small accomplishments of my daily life. The same grin that eases my nerves loses its charm when it doesn’t quite reach the glistening blue crescents over Skype. The conversations vague and rushed due to poor connection, a constant reminder that nothing will ever replace the feeling of true and tangible interaction.

 

When my dad finally came home after eleven torturous months, I expected things to pick up where they left off. I was overjoyed with affection and admiration, exuding excitement for his safe and healthy return. I was never told what my dad did during his time in Cuba, there was a part of me that wanted to instigate some kind of conversation about it, however the other part of me was content with being unknowing of the gruesome details. I later was told about a disorder that my dad developed as a result of the trauma that caused him distress and agony. He acquired post traumatic stress disorder, or more commonly known as PTSD. The signs of this “disorder” are not outwardly expressed, but instead causes internal battles and isolation from reality. Many times this is developed as a result of severe stress and witnessing overwhelming, multitudinous amounts of violence. From how it is explained, it distorts your perception of the world, and there are many people or events that could trigger memories of their work in the military. For example, my dad becomes claustrophobic easily, feeling like a spacious environment is confined to the walls of a closet. Living with PTSD is like living life inside of a fishbowl. The transparency of your vision allows you to perceive the world in a way that makes you a part of the world, however the true sensations of the world around you become disillusioned and falsified. Watching someone that you idolize being forced to internalize their feelings because they cannot cope with confronting them makes you feel helpless and burdensome. My dad is one of many people who are forced to commandeer a disorder that they developed through orders that were not voluntarily suited to. Awareness and understanding of this disorder needs to be dispersed to the general public so that everybody can be prepared and knowledgeable on the logistics of what their loved one in the military may undergo.

 

At a young age, you are ignorant to the idea of putting your suffering into meaningful perspective, and the overwhelming grief that pains you cannot be processed and utilized as a strength instead of a hindrance. Now as a seventeen year old, I am able to look at my dad and comprehend his body language and monitor his patience, anxiety, and silence as cues to be relieved from a situation that involves triggering content. I commend my dad for being able to sanely redirect his thoughts into a healthy and stable mindset. Not everybody has the privilege of being able to do so, and the progress that my dad is making through persistence and dedication to leading a life that is conventional is arguably more courageous than what he actually did during his time in Cuba. This month may be about the military child, but should firstly be a celebration of the tremendous accomplishments of your loved ones in the military and the sacrifices that although brought grandiose stress on them, brought impactful growth as a family unit as well.

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Month of the Military Child