Part of the Navy Means Saying Good-Bye

Part of the Navy Means Saying Good-Bye

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

Part of the Navy Means Saying Good-Bye

Cherish your human connections: your relationships with friends and family.

Barbara Bush

For most military families, a moving van idling in the street is both a regularly occurring event and a dreaded sight. It’s daunting when the van is sitting outside your own house and men are carrying your dismantled belongings to the truck, but it’s downright depressing when the van is waiting outside the home of your best friend.

My best girlfriend moved last week. Darcy’s husband was transferred across the country to a new branch of service. I find this hard to believe, and it is difficult to accept that she is gone. But what’s confusing and sad for me is traumatic for my two-and-a-half-year-old son, Ford. For the past two years, he grew up with my friend’s children. Her youngest is just two weeks older than mine, and her eldest is four. I call them “The Crew.” They were always together, as good as second families for one another while our husbands were deployed.

Darcy lived three houses away from me. Sometimes, while our husbands were gone, I felt like I was back at college. I would run down the street in sweatpants, with a stack of DVDs under my arm, ready for a night of girl talk and movie marathons.

How many times did I dash between our houses for a cup of milk for a recipe or to cry on her couch? I cannot be sure, but I know it measured in the hundreds. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had worn a groove in the pavement between our two homes. She was my confidante, my buddy, the only programmed number on my telephone. She was even the one who drove me to the hospital when I was in labor with my second son. Without her, this street suddenly seems entirely too lonely.

For my son—who, in many ways, knew my friend and was around her more than he has been with his own father—she and her children were his world, his regularity. His daddy came and went on detachments and deployments, but the Joneses always lived a walk away. Now that they are gone, he is just old enough to understand we don’t see them anymore, but still too young to know what “moving” really means. Every morning he asks to go play with The Crew, and when I take him to the babysitter, he still thinks he is going to Darcy’s house. After all, that is what he did for the past two years.

The day my friend moved, my son and I walked down to her house to say good-bye. The furniture was already packed, and the rooms were empty. My son cried out, “Where’d the couch go? Where’s the table?”

As we walked back home, my son wept and I realized then just how crazy this military life really is. I can’t think of any other profession that allows grown-up families who aren’t related to become so close. The fact that military families endure so much together brings us closer and makes us family. Over the last two years, to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner or the Fourth of July without the Joneses was like ostracizing an aunt or an uncle or a brother. We had bonded in a way that is so unique to military families. We had bonded through hardship, tragedy and long, lonely months.

Yesterday, my neighbor across the street moved. Her family is civilian, and we were pretty close as far as friendship goes. Our children played together, and she and I had several lunch dates and movie nights. But her departure hasn’t affected me nearly as much as my fellow navy friends’. I never suffered through six months alone with my civilian neighbor. I never ran to her door crying or called her at two o’clock in the morning because I heard a strange noise in the kitchen. I never spent an entire Saturday with her; I never shared a holiday with her family. Monday through Friday, and especially Saturday and Sunday, my civilian friend had her husband and children at home.

With Darcy, my military friend, there were times when she and I only had each other. We’d sit alone on her back patio and listen to noisy neighbors celebrating the Fourth of July with a family picnic and fireworks. We spent Easter with our kids, hunting for eggs in my backyard. And at 5:00 P.M., when husbands and wives were rushing home to be together, she and I could usually be found yakking it up at the park, watching our children play and laugh . . . totally sheltered from what a “normal” family life is like.

This morning, my son asked, “Why did Darcy move, Momma?”

I paused, not sure how to answer in a way he could understand. “Honey,” I explained, “Darcy and the boys moved away because their daddy got a new job. They won’t live down the street, and we won’t go to their house anymore. Somebody new lives in their house now.”

I could tell that he still didn’t understand. But I couldn’t give him a better explanation. I don’t understand why the navy brings such special people in and out of our lives. I don’t understand why we have to leave a place just as soon as we get comfortable there.

What I do understand, and what my son will eventually realize, too, is that we never would have become this close with Darcy and her children if it hadn’t been for the military. And now, for the rest of our lives, there will always be a guest bed waiting for us at the Joneses’, wherever the military moves them next. And when we go there, we will always be welcomed. Like family.

Sarah Smiley

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