Something strange happens when a regular goodbye turns into a military goodbye. When it no longer means getting a text when they get there, but waiting weeks for a letter. When airports become your worst nightmare at the beginning and your best friends at the end. Whether you are just a girlfriend and they are leaving for Basic for a few months, or a wife who is saying goodbye for a year, it will always be just as numbing when they walk away. Once they are gone, between the good days of Netflix and Chinese takeout with friends, and the bad days of wallowing in self-pity, we tend to pick up some common coping habits. We do whatever it takes to stay afloat until we can welcome them home.
We decide it would be easier just to camp out beside the mailbox.
Most rational people know new mail only arrives once a day, generally at the same time each day. However, when we are waiting for confirmation that the waiting and stress is absolutely worth it, rationality goes out the window. Checking the mailbox a minimum of three times a day seems to be absolutely necessary. Just one too-short letter is the only thing we need to make the entire day a bit brighter. Even if the letter contains a hundred things you really don't understand much about, or just a page full of upsetting news, seeing the words "forever yours" at the bottom puts you on top of the world.
We study like it's our job.
With a connection to the military, of any kind, comes a vast new set of rules, schedules, and vocabulary words. When we can't be in regular contact with our service member and there is practically nothing we can really do to help, besides be supportive, studying everything and anything becomes our connection to them. From acronyms to ball etiquette and what to write in a letter to how to behave when they are in uniform, we take it upon ourselves to learn as much as we possibly can. There is no shortage of information to take in, and we have more than enough time to do it.
We become best friends with complete strangers.
Whenever we hear a classmate bringing up the ASVAB, a man bragging about how proud he is of his son for moving up in rank, or the girl next to you gushing about the call she got on Sunday, our ears perk up. Words that never would have registered with you before, ring out loud and clear. It's as if we are tuned into a special station that everyone connected to the military is on. People we have never spoken to before are incredibly easy to relate to because of this simple connection. Striking up a conversation with strangers becomes one of the best parts of your day.
You honestly talk about nothing else.
Even though you are in over your head with work, school, bills, family, and friends, the only subject you ever want to bring up is them. Where they are, what they are doing, what they wrote in their last letter, what they look like in the morning, and a hundred other things no one else really cares to know about. You may not be trying to bring it up constantly, but somehow you find a way to connect them to any possible topic of conversation. This may start to grate on the nerves of some people, but hopefully those who know you can accept that you have become unbelievably single-minded, at least for the time being.
You are counting down the days.
Whether it's on your phone, on a calendar, or in a notebook full of hash marks, chances are good you are counting down each and every day until they come home. Some days are over before you know it, others take years to reach midnight. Either way, every day is one step closer to standing in the airport, and actually being thrilled to be there. Saying goodbye is impossible, and waiting is painful, but seeing them walk toward you will make up for every second of it