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Have you ever experienced a Jenga-style tower-crashing-down moment in your life? If you had told me on New Year's what my life would be like in just eight weeks, I would not have  believed you. To quote Clark Griswald, “If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now.” That was me, more surprised at what happened than waking up with my head sewn to the carpet.

Let me set the stage. On New Year's Day 2023, I lived in Iowa in a cute Folk Victorian home. I was happily-ish married. I had two dogs. My active-duty military husband, Eric, was deployed. He had left in the Fall, missing the holiday season and my thirtieth birthday. We were down to our last month apart. I couldn’t wait until he was back home with me. 

Just ten days before my husband was set to come back stateside, our senior pitbull mix, Bailey, passed. Her death wasn’t unexpected; she was fourteen after all, but it was sudden. The morning of, I rushed her to the veterinary clinic. I knew it would be my last day with her. Once there, I Facetimed Eric over and over again from the cold, sterile exam room, silently begging for him to pick up. Although it was nine in the morning my time, it was in the middle of the night for him due to the time difference between our locations. I knew he slept with his phone ringer off, but I kept calling anyway. I had to break the news to him, had to give him the chance to say goodbye, and needed his presence to make it through the next hour, even if it were just through the phone. By some miracle, he eventually picked up.

 It wrecked us both that he could only say goodbye over FaceTime. How do you explain to a dog why her daddy isn’t there in her time of need? Why hasn't he been around for the last several months? This was especially heartbreaking because Bailey truly was his dog. She loved me because I fed her and gave her the best ear scritches, but we all knew it was daddy who had her heart. I sobbed as I held her in her last moments. Needless to say, it was devastating to lose our dog mere days before Eric's return. I processed it by myself, he hid behind his work and extracurricular activities.

I felt so alone, and a bit traumatized in the days following Bailey’s death. Not only was my husband half a world away, but the military had moved us states apart from my family, closest friends, and support group. I hardly heard from Eric after Bailey's passing. I knew he must be grieving too. 

It was now just a week before he was set to come home. I had hardly talked to him at all. After days of clipped texts and no phone calls, I’d had it. He’d gone off golfing with his buddies and hadn’t bothered to check in or call beforehand. I sent a frustrated text expressing my loneliness and anger that he would rather golf with his buddies than check in on his wife, saying even a quick call or text would have been sufficient. He did not respond well. Emotions were high. We were both grieving, all made worse by being half a world apart. He became more distant over the next week, and I had a gut instinct that I knew why. I FaceTimed him and flat-out asked what was going on. He didn’t want to say, just wanted to wait until he got home. I knew where this was heading. 

“So what, you want to divorce me because I sent an angry text?” 

It wasn’t about the text. It’s never about the “thing” that sets an argument off, right? It was about forced separation, several months out of every year. It was being forced to live in a place that didn’t feel like “home”, away from my support system. It was conversation after conversation about how we can help each other feel loved/heard/seen yet never actually achieving to do so. It was having so much love and respect for one another, yet lacking in emotional intimacy. It was things always being good (fine), but rarely great. 

“Let’s go to couples therapy”.

We did. But it was too late. The damage had been done, and we both knew in our hearts that no amount of therapy would change who we each were at our cores. It wouldn’t change the difficulties of military life. By February 18th (our wedding anniversary), my husband had been home for a week or so. The mood in the house was somber. Rather than the beautiful reunion I had been dreaming of since the day he left, we had an awkward and forced homecoming. 

Have you ever seen the glass-shattering episode of How I Met Your Mother? The friend group shatters Ted’s image of his new girlfriend. They point out that she talks too much. Once it’s pointed out, the “glass” is shattered for Ted and he can’t unsee it. 

That’s what this situation was like for me. Once Eric alluded to divorce over FaceTime while deployed so soon after Bailey’s death, the ceiling was shattered. Decimated. He was right. How could I not have seen it earlier? I knew things could be better, but they weren’t bad either. I was mostly content to keep doing what we were doing, holding on to the thought that in four years he’d be free of his commitment and we could finally live out the life we’d always dreamed of. Sure, he had become more of a roommate-with-benefits than a true romantic partner, but was that really so bad? I knew he loved me, and we got along so well even if it wasn’t passionate. 

Well, that’s how I felt when I was still protecting him. Now I can see that maybe things weren’t so “fine”, after all. I had just spent the last several months alone, including Thanksgiving, New Year's, and my thirtieth birthday. This was our fourth deployment together so I knew the drill, but it was the first time he had been away for so many big holidays back-to-back. And before anyone comes at me for not appreciating his heroism in serving our country, let me note a few things. I have incredible respect for our military and the work its members do.  I've always tried to separate my husband from his career, meaning that I worked hard to not hold his time away from home against him. Also, in my husband's case (all military career fields have widely different experiences), deployments weren't like what you see in the movies. He wasn't in a tent in the desert, he was in a luxury hotel near the ocean. He worked three days out of the week on average but often ended up with entire weeks off. On his days off he'd go golfing, snorkeling, or hiking around the beautiful island he was stationed on with his buddies. I'm not saying it was always rainbows and butterflies, but he would say himself that the deployment was essentially an extended vacation with work sprinkled in. He had stated several times during our marriage that he would deploy all the time if it weren’t for me. 

Was I jealous? Yeah, sometimes. When it was negative thirty-five degrees outside in Iowa and our drafty old Victorian home couldn't stay warm, I would have killed to be on a tropical island. When a man ran a stop sign, t-boning my car which also resulted in a broken hand, I would have much rather spent the day at the beach than deal with that. I had given up so much for the military lifestyle. I gave up living close to friends and family, gave up what I thought my career would look like (due to military moves and his complicated schedule), and gave up any expectation of a typical marriage. I had given up these things for Eric. He picked his career, I just picked him. Yet my life was inextricably linked to and affected by his career. I was realizing that as much as I had given up for him, I wasn't getting much in return.

Needless to say, the cherry on top of an already shitty deployment was experiencing the loss of our beloved dog alone. While I was at the veterinarian's clinic holding Bailey in her last moments, over Facetime Eric told me that he was thankful he wasn’t there. He even considered not staying on the phone while she passed. It didn’t sit well with me, but I convinced myself (like I always had) that he meant well. I chalked it up to grief or his being in shock.

So, when Eric vaguely suggested divorce over Facetime, all the false ideals I had convinced myself of, the settling of it all, came crashing down on me. I knew divorce was the right option. I didn’t cry. I didn’t become angry. I actually… somehow felt free. 

Free of the constraints the military put on my husband and therefore me. Free of a relationship that although I told myself was fine, really wasn’t good enough. I knew I was meant for more, for better. 

That’s the story of how life as I knew it came crashing down in the first weeks of 2023. I am down to one dog (and what a perfect angel he is!), am currently packing up to leave Iowa, and will be legally single in no time. I went from dreaming of the day my husband would return from his deployment to dreading it. I removed my rose-colored glasses and am finally looking clearly at my marriage. I am setting myself free. 

Now what? 

Maybe I’ll have my own Eat Pray Love moment. Maybe he’ll finally meet a girl with big boobs. Whatever the case may be, I’m so excited to find out. Truly. I’m also scared shitless (I’m about to not have a job, a home?!) but more than that I’m ready to get out there. I’m ready to live life for ME on my terms. 


McKadee Douglass is a recovering MidWesterner who now resides in sunny Florida. She has been in the special education field for the last decade and is now transitioning into writing full-time. She enjoys writing from the heart about her own experiences, along with yoga, reading, and spending time with her dog, Dallas. 


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