The first time it happened, we were getting ready to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVE TO GO TO FORT JACKSON ON OUR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY?”
Hell hath no fury like a woman whose husband is going TDY on their first wedding anniversary. After all, he’s a Reservist. Maybe Big Army hadn’t gotten the memo…he wasn’t supposed to be deployed 3 times and he sure as hell was not supposed to miss our first wedding anniversary. What cold-hearted bastard scheduled this?
Cynical as it may sound, after almost 13 years of marriage, dates have become arbitrary. Just another number on the calendar. Because most of the time, whatever we are celebrating will have to wait until some other day…when it isn’t a drill weekend, when we aren’t in the middle of a cross-country move, when someone isn’t sick, when we can be together.
Take, for example, Neal’s 40th birthday. He spent it training up for a deployment at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. If you aren’t familiar, Camp Atterbury is a wind-whipped, popsicle of a place (in March, anyway) along I-65 between Louisville and Indianapolis. It is, for me, most famous for its proximity to the Edinburgh outlet mall. The camp itself is known for training HET drivers and serving grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the cafe. (I’ve tried several times to replicate these at home and every one has been a failure. Edible, but not the crispy, gooey goodness of the Camp Atterbury version.) This is where Neal turned 40 and while we celebrated during his 3-day pass with Thai food and buying patio furniture at Sam’s Club, March 17th is just not the same as March 9th.
In 2005 and 2011, he was deployed on his birthday. I’m sure we probably talked that day or the next and I always sent him a fun box of Kentucky treats, but I didn’t get to do what I do best – try to squeeze as much of what makes him happy into one 24-hour period. Neal’s birthday has fallen on drill weekends, TDYs, and late nights at work. Sometimes we do get to celebrate the day of his birth on the day of his birth. But usually not and I’m learning that that’s OK, too. After all, we rarely eat out on Mother’s or Father’s Day because every restaurant is packed to the gills, so why should a birthday be any different? But we never skip it. Skipping it is not an option when you are married to me.
#39: Last birthday in his state government office
#44: It’s a boy! (Also, #40-43 were kind of a hot mess of deployments and TDYs)
#45: Scoring the box set of M.A.S.H. at Fort Lee, VA
#46: Polar bear spotting at the Louisville Zoo while stationed at Fort Knox, KY
#47: One more birthday at Fort Knox
#48: Fun with statues at the Kansas State University Gardens during spring break
#49: Chocolate tasting at Hershey Cafe while stationed at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA
#50: I dragged him to the Philly Flower Show and then we got stuck in the worst traffic trying to get to the Reading Market. Not my best move, but he got a cheesesteak and this AARP photo out of it. So, there’s that.
Today Neal turns 51 and, once again, I will have a blank spot in my March folder for his birthday. This morning, he and his unit will complete drills in the gas chamber and then head to the range for weapons qualification…because nothing says Happy 51st Birthday like Try to get this gas mask on before you pass out. But he won’t complain. He probably won’t even let on that there’s anything special about today. He will keep his head down, do his job, and fall asleep before his head ever hits the pillow. And, just like that, it will be March 10th.
Part of adulting is to keep being responsible, even when you want to celebrate the day of your birth by sleeping late, going out for waffles, catching a matinee, having tacos and tequila for lunch, napping until early evening and then going out for steak and cheesecake. Sometimes life stops just long enough to blow out a candle on a Kroger cupcake after lunch. Sometimes it doesn’t stop at all and you find yourself pushing mushy scrambled eggs around a plate after sleeping in a barracks with 75 other guys. And you wish that just this one time in 7 years that your birthday falls on a Saturday, you could be at home, having a cup of coffee, and a plate of pancakes with the whole day open before you…just waiting to be filled with an adventure. But you shovel in those mushy eggs, drink the tepid coffee, pick up your gas mask and keep on moving. Because there’s work to be done and today the world won’t stop to observe the day you were brought into it. Mission first, cupcakes later.