Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Navy lesson #1: Consult Locals

Being a Navy wife means you spend a lot of time alone, away from your husband. I can divide my husband's Navy career into two distinct parts- before and after kids. The first ten years of his Navy career we both worked a lot- money was made, graduate school was completed, and while he was busy working obscene hours, I gradually began to find my way to tolerate living with someone who had only a little time to play. New friends and new places meant that I discovered new interests and had new things to share. I would jokingly call it "research" and then use the experiences to decide what to do when my husband could come along.

Not long after we got married, we moved from Florida to the Puget Sound area near Seattle, Washington, a new place far from family and old friends. My husband, in the throws of a Family Practice residency, worked 36 hour shifts for days on end- all he had to do was sit down and he would fall asleep. I worked twelver hour shifts at the local hospital, but I would find myself with a day off and no one to play with. By fall when the grey permacloud arrived, I was sleeping all of the time- as a Florida girl, I was used to sunshine.

I had been warned about the "rain" in Seattle, but no one mentioned the darkness that defines the seasons from October until July. My husband was too exhausted to say much, but he did notice what we had for dinner. It went something like this, "Cereal again?" Rousing myself from the couch, I wiped the drool off of my cheek and said, "Mm. Milk and cookies for dessert." I always had a batch of chocolate chip cookies in the freezer. Dessert does nothing for my husband, but at the time it was just about the only thing I could cook, well, bake so I kept them in supply. When spring came and the sun breaks occasionally happened and the daffodils popped up here and there and then the tulips emerged, it slowly dawned on me that I was sleeping my life away and so like a bear coming out of hibernation I realized I had to get busy.

Being newly married, it was also the beginning of the time when you spend each other's money and make decisions for the other person with or without their input. I was a woman at the edge- I was either going to fall off the cliff or claw my way out. I bought season tickets to the Seattle Opera- by buying the tickets I knew we'd have to make time for it- along with tickets for a few plays and some other concerts. I committed us not knowing how we would find the time to break away. Bremerton is an hour long ferry ride to Seattle and that is just the ride across the water. But those tickets led us to jump some hurdles. My husband generally slept in the car while we traveled to and fro; sometimes we both slept through an event, but we went, and gradually life was about more than work. We found our more curious selves again- the part that is fascinated by a story or a song or put off by people wearing fleece at an opera. We were still tired and worked too much, but at least we had some new ideas clunking around in our heads.

The next winter we took up snow skiing- you drive into the mountains and, most importantly, up and out of the permacloud into bright light being reflected off of the snow. I had skied once before in my life so this was a painful new sport, but it was what the locals told me I had to do to thrive in the local environment. Seeing that my first fall/winter/spring go around had a tinge of seasonal affective disorder, I started asking every local I encountered, "How do you survive the winters here?" "Skiing" was the repeated response. So we went.

I watched many a sobbing child "pizzaing" their way down a mountain trailing a ski instructor with envy- children with their low center of gravity can easily stay on their skis even if they do cry and feel a bit afraid; they ski perfectly. I bruised body parts, kept a dry eye, and stuck to the green slopes, but I was awake, outside, and basking in glorious light. I filed away the idea to ask the locals sooner how they deal with local idioscencrecies.

I never went skiing without my husband, but as I came out of the fog of that first winter, I learned the importance of art, outdoors, and beauty in my life. Getting the gumption to go on adventures with or without my spouse came from realizing how vital it was to my mental and physical health. Inspired, I had an awareness of my need to get out daily, and to be sure it included sunshine when possible. From the Seattle area we were sent to Bahrain, an inland nation in the Middle East, the sunniest and hottest place I will ever have lived. I'll save that one for another day.