NEWSWEEKS’s recent cover story on marriages between Iraqis and Americans, prompted me to take another look at relationships and war. I called upon my good friend Jim, a fellow Marine Reservist who served with me throughout two mobilizations.
I saw many relationships between Marines and their significant others fail in dramatic ways. One Marine was told by his fiancée at our welcome home ceremony from Iraq that she’d been cheating on him the entire time he was deployed. The wedding was off.
Jim and his wife, Erica, college sweethearts, were among those couples that made it. They remained together throughout Jim's two reserve mobilizations, and were married in 2006.
What follows is an email interview with Erica about her relationship experiences during the deployment. In the next few days I’ll be posting my interview with Jim.
S.H.: You became engaged shortly before Jim deployed to Iraq. How did the deployment influence your decision to do this?
ERICA: My initial reaction to him asking me to marry him was, "I don't need a ring to wait for you.” I thought that may have been a big reason for him to propose. His response to me was, "I know you don't need it, that is why you are getting it."
His deployment didn't make my decision, I knew forever that I wanted to marry him. I think the deployment did determine the timing of our engagement though.
S.H.: In the days leading up to Jim’s deployment, what types of conversations were you having about your relationship?
ERICA: Honestly–it was all business mostly. Finances, things that he needed me to take care of after he left (school loans, credit cards, banking info). Of course, there were many conversations about love, and future, but mostly we tried to keep things as normal as possible prior to the deployment.
S.H.: Describe your last words to each other before deploying.
ERICA: Well, the first time he deployed [to Camp Lejeune, NC in 2002] we hugged, kissed, and he turned on his heal, walked away, and didn't look back. The second time he deployed [to Iraq in 2003], I wished him well, told him I loved him more than anything–not to worry about anything at home, and I left. I couldn't watch him walk away from me a second time–it was too hard.
S.H.: What was the first night like alone, after Jim left for Iraq?
ERICA: There was a lot of crying, and I remember waking up a great deal during the night. To be honest, I think I kept looking for him.
S.H.: What were the hardest moments for you while he was gone?
ERICA: Graduating from college without him. It was the biggest milestone of my life, and he wasn’t there.
S.H.: Did his deployment affect your daily routine, and interactions with other people?
ERICA: Yes–especially in the beginning. I lost some friends because they weren't going through the same thing as me, and they just couldn't hear it anymore. I did talk about him quite a bit, and my fears that he would get hurt.
S.H.: What were the phone calls home from Jim like?
ERICA: Well the first one I wasted because I cried the entire time–but the next few calls were wonderful. Very chatty, and personal. You really loose a lot in letters. Nothing was greater than hearing his voice those few times while he was overseas.
S.H.: Did you ever talk about your relationship with girlfriends/spouses/fiancés of other Marines?
ERICA: Yes, and most of us are all still great friends.
S.H.: What were things like between the two of you when he returned home?
ERICA: When Jim first came home we went away for a few days, which was amazing. I had felt more in love than in the beginning of our relationship. I was finally at ease–and slept better than I had in months!
But after we got back, and things were starting to resume what was supposed to be "back to normal", things became a little strange. I really thought that it was going to be an easier transition for him coming back home.
He really seemed angry, and he carried himself around with that sort of angry attitude. We fought a bit more than we usually did too. I had graduated college while Jim was away, and moved out of our home, and took a job back in New York–so nothing was really the same at home when Jim came back, nothing was how he had left it. I really think that made the transition more difficult.
I would say it took a few weeks, or a month, for him to be back to himself, and for our relationship to get back to normal.