Time to Say Good-bye
Bubba wasn’t married when he entered the Navy, but some of his shipmates were. He had the opportunity to meet a group of the wives when the Captain invited the families of the crew to come aboard for one last visit before the ship deployed. Brad introduced his wife, Jenna, to the sonar crew. It was then that Jenna caught Bubba’s eye. He knew she was married to Chief Brad, but Bubba just couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was tall and tan from being in the California sun. Her miniskirts showed off her slender tan legs and she blushed when Bubba told her how nice she looked.
Bubba and Jenna quickly became friends. It was a friendship she desperately needed because she did not talk to the other wives. It was not Brad’s first deployment and she needed someone to talk to about her feelings. Even though they just met, she felt Bubba was one she could trust. She knew he would never betray her confidence. She bent forward toward him and began to talk.
She told Bubba that “being left behind meant you had to take care of yourself. There was no one to depend on, no one to call for help and no one to help if you got ill. The other wives struggled to survive and most of them did so alone. The sailors don’t realize how difficult it is for their loved ones.”
Jenna continued to tell Bubba what a struggle she experienced on the day of deployment and throughout the cruise. He was amazed and never realized the effect on the family.
After all, the Navy’s retort was “if we wanted you to have a wife, we would have issued one in your seabag.”
Bubba tried to imagine what it was like to be so alone. It brought tears to his eyes and it made him appreciate the fact that he was single. Bubba listened as Jenna continued.
She began by describing her day. “A typical day was rising at four a.m. The kids are were early risers and no matter what time they went to bed; they would be up at four a.m. Deployment day was always different – they were still sleeping. Of all the times for them to decide to sleep in, it was today! Their routine was to get up at four a.m. and play! What do you expect from two boys one and a half and two and a half years old?”
“Wait, why weren’t they up? She would worry something was wrong since this was out of the ordinary. She would investigate their room to check on them. Whew! They were just getting up. Now the day begins.”
She thought to herself, we need to get in the car and leave or else he’ll miss ship’s movement.
She continued telling Bubba,” It’s that time when the ship deploys for six months. It seems that the length of the deployment always starts off six months, but I’ve never experienced a Western Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment that was only six months. They always add a few more months on and it becomes a nine and one-half month deployment.”
The Vietnam Conflict was raging, and the ship will be assigned its duties off the coast of Vietnam.
I better get dressed to get him to the pier, so he doesn’t miss ship’s movement. This is the part of being a military wife that is difficult. Families weren’t supposed to be separated this long.
“I am on the verge of tears, but I know that I can’t cry now. It would upset the children and him.”
“Can’t cry, can’t cry! I can take it –living in a strange city alone and away from my relatives. This isn’t the first time I’ll be facing the next tour all by myself. It is this part that I find so challenging. The military pay is very low. I am constantly trying to balance things because there is little or no money.”
She tells Bubba that, “Family and friends are few and far between. It’s just the three of us and the dog.”
I say to myself, “Okay, put on that happy face. This is difficult on everyone. Yes, even the dog is stressed as he senses something strange is going on but doesn’t know what it is. Maybe I’ll find another wife from the ship who will become a good friend.”
Bubba looked at her as she continued. “It’s time to go. We all get into the car (except the dog stays home) and we drive down to the military base. We arrive on the pier – the ship is tied up awaiting the command to deploy.”
Jenna continues, “Brad gets out of the car and gives me a brief kiss (the ship was waiting, and he must go). He walks hastily to his home for the next nine and one-half months. The kids are fussing and wanting daddy back already. They don’t understand; they are just too young.”
She looked at Bubba and continued, “I’d cry, I don’t cry, just pull away and don’t look back. Hell, it’s four forty-five a.m. and I’m heading back to our home by myself, alone with the kids. Try to think of something happy. This is my life!”
“This is so difficult, but many wives have gone through this before me. We are married but spending more than half our married life separated by an ocean and without any communication,” She said as Bubba listened patiently.
All he had to do was look at the pain on Jenna’s face and he knew how difficult it was for her to endure.
“In the 1960s, it was very expensive to place a call from abroad,” Jenna continued. “The only way to communicate was via mail. Our communication consisted of writing letters back and forth each day and anxiously awaiting the mailman’s delivery. The poor mailman – if he didn’t bring mail from your spouse, you would practically attack him.”
She told Bubba that she would scream, “you must be mistaken – no mail! It’s been two weeks – how can there be no mail??? Let me see that mail in your hand – I know there is a letter there for me, right?”
She continued, “as the mailperson left my house, the feeling of being forgotten came over me. Why didn’t he write? He knows how much I need to have that connection? How the hell can you depend on someone to answer questions thirty days from the time you need the answer?
Bubba just looked at her and listened. “I would think to myself don’t think about getting mail now, just get through the next eight hours and you are on your way! You just need to take one day at a time.”
The kids are down for a nap and it’s quiet in the house. The neighbors aren’t interested in knowing who lives next door to them. There’s no comfort there, just solace and loneliness. This is San Diego and military men and their families are not favorably looked upon. The Vietnam Conflict has the country divided. Protestors march to “stop the war” while others just quietly sit and let the world go by. A military wife doesn’t have the freedom to voice her opinion of the war – her job is just to keep out of the limelight never voicing discontent with a war that has torn this country apart.
It is like the truth hits me square in the face. This is the somber truth confronting most Navy wives. I am alone one more time while her husband is off on a ship that will take him to many exciting places and visiting countries most Americans never have seen. I must face the perils of being married yet living as a single woman with children to take care of all by herself. This daunting truth takes its toll on me.
Bubba quietly listened as she continued. “The quiet is numbing. Feelings are bursting to come out, but I know if I start to cry it will be hard for me to get control of my emotions again. The tears swell at just the thought of being alone raising two boys by myself. I bury my head in my hands sobbing quietly so I don’t wake the children.”
She catches her breath and continues, “there’s a tap on my knee and when I pick my head up out of my hands, I see a two and one-half-year-old standing there in his BVDs stroking my shoulder and telling me, “don’t worry mommy, I’m the man of the house now and I’ll take care of you”.
“His words bring more tears to my eyes as I tenderly cuddle this innocent child who thinks he is a grown man!”
“Making it through the first day is always the toughest, she tells Bubba. “Then making it through the first week becomes a challenge.”
She continues, “No communication so I try to build my day around anything else but watching and waiting for the mailman to deliver letters from my husband.”
“Oh my god, don’t attack the poor mail man! No, you’re not going to jump on his back and pull his satchel off his back. He’ll think you’re a lunatic if you do that. He doesn’t understand how desperate you are to get a letter – just one little letter,” she confides to Bubba.
Bubba looks at Jenna and listens to her every word.
“Despite the loneliness of not having the physical presence of a husband, I discovered a way to create a stimulating life to enrich both me and my offspring.”
As time passes, Jenna tells Bubba that she realizes that “I must settle into a routine and provide the boys with some stability. I found that San Diego has many parks to see. The library is free and there are many books to bring back home. I can keep the children occupied and busy. Each day gets easier even though this life was one I would not have chosen for my family.”
There is one nagging truth that he defends that I cannot dispute. “It’s those damn benefits! That’s all he talks about – “just think when I retire, we will have health care for the rest of our lives. It was true and she knew it.”
She tells Bubba that finally, “It’s time to face reality and to realize that I must act like a mature woman with a job to do – raise the children! I face the facts and unwillingly transcend from the pitiful lonely wife into a responsible adult.”
Bubba was moved to tears as he listened to her story. He wanted to take her in his arms and tell her how sorry he was for all she endured. His urge was to wrap his arms around her, but he knew that as a married woman, his advance would be shunned upon.
Bubba left Jenna alone and headed back to his ship. How sad it is for the families of the sailors onboard. He was grateful he wasn’t married yet.
Jenna sat in her apartment alone with her two babies. They were watching their favorite cartoon and enjoying every minute of it. Riiiinnnngg – it was the telephone ringing. It shook Jenna to the core as she tried to figure out who would be calling her. “Hello, hello,” yelled Jenna into the receiver.
“Jenna, it’s mom.”
“Mom, are you alright?”
“No, Jenna. I hate to break this news to you but dad had a massive heart attack. He didn’t make it.”
“Oh my God,” screamed Jenna.
“Mom, how are you?”
“I’m a little lost right now. I know you can’t come home to Minnesota, but I will keep you posted. The funeral will be in three days. Dad wanted to be buried here in Bemidji.”
“Oh mom, I’m so sad. I loved dad so much, just as much as I love you.”
“Mom, keep in touch with me, please.”
Several months went by and Jenna’s communication with her mother led her to believe that her mother was lonely. Jenna was her only child and now she had no one close by.
Jenna decided to call her mom with a plea. “Mom, I’ve been thinking. You’re alone, I’m alone. Would you consider moving to San Diego? No snow to shovel, no cold weather and you’d be near me and your grandchildren. Well, mom, would you think about it?”
Two months went by and Jenna received a call from her mother. “Jenna, I have some news for you. I sold my house and I’m moving out to San Diego. I’m so excited.”
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