So this is what it feels like to stop holding your breath? I kinda like it…
A few months ago Clay realized that his State National Guard Awards Banquet was on the same date in February as (and three thousand miles away from) an important family function that we had committed to a year earlier. Here was my very first opportunity to attend an official military function (not counting his promotion/coming out ceremony), and now I was going to have to miss it.
I debated in my head about 30 seconds and then said, “My family will have to understand – I’m going to the Banquet.” (And to be honest, that important family gathering never even had a chance…)
My father didn’t understand. He had been active duty and National Guard and said he couldn’t see how something as minor as an awards banquet could be so important. He understood that Clay, as an NCOIC, had to be there – but there was no reason why I shouldn’t skip the banquet and continue as planned.
What he said: “I’ve been to so many of those things over the years, and my spouse wasn’t required to go to any of them. I’m disappointed.”
All I heard was: “I’m disappointed in you.”
And then a little switch flipped in my head, I went off with both barrels, and then hung up. Not exactly my proudest moment…
Once I had cooled down, he told me that he was disappointed that he wasn’t going to spend time with me – that’s all. So I told him that he had to understand that this wasn’t just some stupid party that I could afford to skip. I had to go. I had to go for me.
As the only out couple at Clay’s small base it felt like everyone would be watching to see how we would handle our first opportunity to mix with the straight couples. Would he dare bring me? Who would we sit with? How would the leadership react? How would we behave?
I told my father that I wasn’t Clay’s dirty little secret anymore and that I was going to every single function, large or small, from here on in. Nothing will ever make up for the things I missed, but just try and stop me from participating now.
“I had no idea”, he said.
We got to the banquet a little early and sat at an empty table. We were getting lots of looks, but it was hard to interpret them. Soon we were flanked at the table by two of David’s good friends. Then the 1st Sgt came to sit. Then the Chief. Then the Superintendent. Then the Family Readiness Coordinator. Then the Commander – all at our table, and there weren’t any pre-assigned seats.
And that was it. We laughed and ate and drank… and it was no big deal. I got hugs and handshakes, just like the other spouses. Clay’s leadership sent a very clear message: This will not be an issue here. Lead by example.
So now I breathe a bit easier as I think about going to the change of command ceremony or the upcoming Military Ball. Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Absolutely – but it’s for ME to knock off. The more I go, the more normal it will become, the more comfortable I will feel and the less nervous I’ll be.