When I tell my friends that my father is in the military, I think they get a loose sketch of what that means in their head.
They see a collage of what is shown in the news: camouflage jackets raiding Afghanistan, families reuniting with eyes full of tears and "welcome home" posters splattered with clever slogans and messy puff paint, a stoic man with nerves of steel. They see perfectly polished boots, a folded flag, a brotherhood, or stories their grandfather told them of Vietnam. They see a blurry glimpse into our lives, like peering through the window of our house, an incomplete image.
But they don't see what I do.
They don't see the living room in the morning with one less person in it. His coffee mug missing from its usual spot in the kitchen cabinet, leaving a gaping hole.
They don't see how relentlessly indestructible a military wife's spirit is. Her freshly moved-in home still wholly unfamiliar, her family suddenly turning into a single-parent household at any given moment, her parents and friends typically too many hours away. Her being is strong enough to continuously bestow unconditional love to all she meets as she carries the weight of four lives on her shoulders.
They don't see the news like we do. They debate about government shutdowns without acknowledging that means service members are going without pay for months at a time. Families are skipping meals so a powerful man can have a wall built on the border their father is currently away protecting. To us, it is no debate.
They don't see the moving, the emotional toll it takes on kids who constantly think short-term, who say goodbye as soon as they say hello, who have an identity more complex than the English language has adequate descriptions for. How our words stumble over each other when we are asked the unusually complex question, "Where are you from?"
But most of all, they don't see our secretly incredible community.
They don't see the web of families I know sprawled across the country in Rhode Island, Missouri, Virginia, Alaska, Alabama, California, and Puerto Rico, their various strange accents and unique family culture a dissonant harmony reflecting the places they've inhabited.
They don't see the special bond between military wives when their spouses are gone. How, without hesitation, they rally around each other to support even the newest members of their community.
They don't see my childhood friends that I met playing hide and seek around buoys or riding bikes between massive ships and barbed wire fences. The light gray scent of our youth that one can only know if they have walked the halls of a military office space. The nights we spent falling asleep in booths while we watched Disney movies in the mess hall.
They do not see these things when I tell them my father is in the military, but when they walk through the halls of my home I hope they spot the remnants:
The empty space, waiting for a coffee mug,
The news turned loud, my mother staring intently,
The boxes in the garage to soon pack our life into again,
The pictures of friends scattered across the world assembled together on the fridge,
The bottle of wine sent as a condolence gift,
The ever-lingering scent of a uniform in my parents' closet,
The pride in the cadence of our voice as we speak of the military culture and country we've dedicated our lives to.
I hope their mental sketch merges into a picture, and that they can somehow glean an understanding of the unique circumstances people like us grew up on.