Okay, so Memorial Day itself doesn't actually make me angry. Quite the opposite in fact as I deeply believe our veterans need and deserve their day of honor and remembrance.
My problem is personal because I just so happen to have an Iraq war veteran as an ex-husband. Naturally, this colors my views. My ex and I had been together for six years before we got married. The reason he joined the Air Force Reserve at all was because 1) He had absolutely zero direction in his life and was working as a cook in a nursing home for like, the fourth time having left there on three other occasions vowing never to return. 2) His best friend was in the Air Force Reserves and loved it. 3) I pushed him to do it because he seriously had zero direction in life and sucked at everything. 4) Last but not least: 9/11 happened. Suddenly, the Air Force wasn't just a way to figure out how to be a grown-up, it was cool and important and let's face it, pretty fucking sexy. Oh like you don't like a man in uniform? Puh-leeze.
Anyway, we were married in July of 2004. During the first year of being married he continued his training, and nothing much happened. In October of 2007 we bought a house. He moved up in rank and security clearance and was offered a tour. In Alaska. We were thrilled thinking he'd dodged a bullet. However, being alone for five months in a new house was not exactly easy. I was working full-time and about to enter private practice part-time having passed my license exam. The home we'd purchased was a 200-year old farmhouse way out in the country. Very cool house, tons of property, way out in the middle of nowhere. But my friends and family, especially my sister, were amazing and spent tons of time with me doing all kinds of crazy projects to get the house in better shape. My uncle became the world's bravest pool man and actually opened the swamp in my backyard posing as an above ground pool. It was so bad I actually spent an hour scooping out the tadpoles that had taken up residence and bringing them to an actual pond down the road because I felt to guilty about killing them with chemicals.
Oh, and did I mention he had the world's worst credit so the entire mortgage was in my name only? This will matter later. He did, however, super pinky promise swear that no matter what happened between us he would never, ever walk away and leave me financially because it was such a big risk for me to take and that would be so wrong and blah blah blah....
Anyway, fast forward to 2008. We get the call we knew was coming and learned he would be leaving for Iraq just after the holidays for a three-month tour. His unit was medical so he would be on an actual USAF Base the entire time he was there. What we didn't know at the time was that base was actually largely comprised of a former home/palace that belonged to Saddam Hussein where his son had tortured the 2003 Iraqui Olympic soccer team when they failed to win and murdered several people including the head of his father's security, his father's food taster, and a security guard. (He served about 3 months in prison for that one, it's good to be baby king.)
At any rate, those three months were brutal. We had grown significantly apart in our relationship as a result of his constantly being gone (One weekend a month, two weeks a year my ass...) and my working like a maniac to build my private practice and get out of the clinic I'd been working in. By this time, my friends and family were used to my being alone out there in the woods and I worked so much and kept myself so busy, I didn't have a lot of time to reflect. Nonetheless, hearing Gatling guns crackling off in the background when speaking to my husband was surreal. Hearing his stories about having to unload the injured and KIA (killed in action) from the choppers was horrible.
Ex came home in June. The other times he'd returned home from tours had been hard but this was awful. He had PTSD and refused to seek help. He spent thousands of dollars - basically every penny he'd made - on random projects. He bought himself a piece of crap VW that was essentially a death trap. He spent every penny we had on toys and impulses and oh yes, by the way, he was unemployed when he returned except for his one weekend a month and occasional landscaping work for his dad's company. Because he'd quit the job he'd had before leaving instead of having them hold it for him.
At the end of summer, he finally agreed to seek help. But refused to see anyone in person and would only speak to a USAF counselor. Unfortunately all their services are phone based. At least, that's what he told me but I suspect that's bullshit. Anyway, he started talking to a "therapist" over the phone. Bit by bit I noticed how random the phone calls seemed and how long they could be - hours and hours. I asked him about it but he was extremely defensive. I guess because it's hard to lie about therapy to a therapist. Yeah, he sucked at it.
Just before Christmas we were done. He announced he was going to move out. I told him hell fucking no you're not doing this before the holidays. We agreed to live in the house but separately. Please believe me when I say, I was not overly heartbroken by the demise of our relationship. I was long over being in love with him and really only cared about him as a person. He moved out after New Years and went to live at his moms. Upon his move out he was quick to admit he and his "therapist" were in love.
Again, seriously, I didn't have it in me to process or care at that point. I felt relief that we had finally pulled the trigger. However, the financial stuff was still all in my name. Two days after the divorce was final, he moved to Arizona to be with his therapist girl friend. Six months later she was knocked up and they were getting hitched. Now to be clear, I did meet my current husband a month after ex had finally moved out. Just to be honest.
In weird and disgusting behavior news: I found out about eight months ago his father told everyone who asked about what happened, or even people who didn't ask, that his son the war hero had left me because I had sex with all his friends while he was overseas. That I refused to stop having sex with his friends so he'd had no choice but to leave me. So help me God if I ever see that man again... And btw - my ex had no friends. Seriously. He. Sucked. At. Life.
To make things extra awesome, I couldn't afford the house on my own. We had an uncontested divorce and I had trusted he would be good for his promise of helping me financially. I should probably have realized that wasn't going to happen when he continued to be an unemployed mooch. Sadly, I didn't. And two days after things were official, he was in Arizona. Unreachable. I was stuck with a house I couldn't afford or take care of. We were behind on the mortgage because of his manic spending sprees. So yep, I lost the house and had to file Bankruptcy. I never heard from him again. Until he tried to file "Innocent Spouse" with the IRS to get out of paying taxes we owed. I happily responded to that inquiry and the IRS told him to suck it. But guess who paid the taxes off in full? Yup. Even two years after the divorce this douche was still mooching off me and getting away with being an irresponsible asshole.
So with all the Memorial Day hoopla, it's hard sometimes to feel particularly grateful or proud. Being an ex-spouse to a veteran means nothing to anyone. But the truth is, we are the ones who were there for the shit and anyone who comes after us is getting a different person than whoever it was when we were together. I know a few other exes with stories similar to mine and it is really unbelievable to me how expendable we are considered. Never mind that we were the ones getting those phone calls, attending briefings, sending care packages and letters, hearing guns go off in the background, keeping up with other family members and spouses from the unit, answering questions from well-meaning family members, friends, and coworkers, and generally holding it down on the home front. Were my hardships the same as his? Of course not. But I feel like especially on this special weekend of the year, the idea that being a veteran automatically makes someone a good person. Never mind how they behave in the civilian world. I have a hard time with that and with the idea that none of my sacrifices matter. That I am a selfish bitch for even thinking that way. That because I am not shiny and new and I know the truth about him and his family my contributions count for nothing and I really should just go hide under a rock forever.
All I ask is when you thank a veteran - and you should at every opportunity you get, their service and dedication to your and my freedoms deserves a thank you and so much more - try and remember that he is a person. And people are innately flawed. He (or she) is not a perfect hero and more likely than not, they have a family - current or former - who served silently alongside him.