Sarah Smiley May 15, 2006
They were sitting beside me in the cement waiting room of a navy branch clinic. They were talking to each other and smiling, so I knew they were newly married.
Now, I know what you're thinking: “Sarah, that's so stereotypical, jumping to conclusions and assuming that they are newly married simply because they were talking to each other and smiling. I mean, why didn't you assume something more obvious and reasonable, such as that they were boyfriend and girlfriend?”
Oh, well, that's easy. The young man dressed in an olive green flight suit couldn't have brought his girlfriend into the clinic to be seen. She would not have had an I.D. card.
So, there I was reading a wrinkled and torn pamphlet about prostate cancer, while they held between them the ends of a brochure about their medical benefits. I was alone (Dustin was probably home with the kids or something), and they were huddled so close you'd have thought they were sitting in a teepee. I should also point out that the girl wore a fresh, coordinated outfit that not only looked clean, it looked ironed, too. I was wearing sneakers with no socks and a red baseball cap, because I don't get dressed up for a Step-throat culture.
Then the girl walked to the receptionist's desk to check on her appointment time.
“Last four?” the receptionist said.
The girl looked confused.
“Last four of your husband's social,” the woman said.
The girl turned around to her husband, still waiting in the chair, and said, “What's your social security number, Honey?”
Right then, there was absolutely no mistaking -- they are newlyweds. You can't be married to someone in the military for too long before you know their social security like you know your own shoe size. In fact, I know my husband's “last four” better than I know my own.
All of which got me thinking: just like there is a point at which a woman can no longer hide her pregnancy, there comes a time when a woman is undeniably a military wife. When is that point? It's different for each person. Sometimes it even happens over night, while you are unaware. But eventually, we all suffer the same fate; we wake up thinking, when was the last time my mother wrote my address in ink in her address book?
You might also realize you're a military wife when...
• The site of US GOVERNMENT on your caller ID no longer freaks you out
• All your husband's fresh white underwear has his “last four” stamped on the waist band
• You know the smell of JP-5
• You laugh at Top Gun. Even harder at Tom Cruise as “Maverick.”
• You know that APO isn't a type of dog food
• Your husband's best friends have names like “GULA,” “Wookie,” “Rat Boy,” and “Dancing Bear.”
• Suddenly “GULA,” Wookie,” “Rat Boy,” and “Dancing Bear” seem like affectionate nicknames. (Although, probably not to your civilian mother.)
• You've had five different jobs in four years.
• You've had five different addresses in four years.
• You've had five new best friends in four years.
• Luckily you've had the same husband for five years, but you haven't seen him in three.
• You know that “Haze grey and underway” is not a song by Neil Young.
• When your husband announces he's going to use “the head,” you no longer smirk and think, “About time...but I'm still smarter than you.”
• You realize that when your husband is on “cruise,” he won't be dining with the captain of the Love Boat
• Similarly, you realize your junior husband won't be dining with any captain.
• You know that your husband will eat in the Mess Hall, and you think that's right where he belongs.
• And last, you definitely know you're a military wife when you're sitting in a waiting room without your husband and you're not the least bit jealous of the girl who doesn't know her husband's “last four.” (Even if she was thinner and had better skin.) Because you know, without a doubt, that she's got a lot to learn and a long way to go.
About Sarah Smiley
Sarah Smiley is the author of Shore Duty, a syndicated newspaper column that reaches more than 2 million weekly, and of the memoir GOING OVERBOARD: The Misadventures of a Military Wife (Penguin/New American Library).
Sarah has been featured in The New York Times Magazine and Newsweek, and on ABC's Nightline, CNN Sunday Morning, CBS The Early Show, Fox News Studio B, and MSNBC Live.
Sarah's life rights were recently optioned by Kelsey Grammer's company, Grammnet, and Paramount Television. A half-hour sitcom based on her columns and book is now in development for CBS.
Read more about Sarah at www.SarahSmiley.com.
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