When Goodbye is not “Goodbye”

IMG_5408I’ve had to say “goodbye” a lot in life for forever, I’m sure a lot of us have; for me, to several friends who have disappeared way before their time, or to family members who have lived a full and happy life. However, once you have attached yourself to the military—be it signing on the blue line or on the marriage certificate—you begin to see goodbyes a little bit differently. Commands usually have a two to three year commitment, so depending on when you show up to your new command and when you leave, you will have to say “see you next time” to more people than you care to keep track of. Some of it becomes routine, but other times it takes a piece of you with them.

My first “see you next time” was in Rota, Spain. One spouse had adopted me when I flew in, not command sponsored, and made sure I stayed awake through my jet lag. I resented her for it at the time as my eyes involuntarily drooped shut for hours, but I thoroughly appreciated her the next day. Through her, I met my next great Navy friend, who we crashed with for two months in Spain. I feel she tolerated me at best, since I’m a bit much to handle, but I hope she knows that she did more for us in those two months than we could ever repay. When my time in Spain came to an end, I had to give teary hugs to the two women who shaped my time abroad and guided me through the hardest stages of my marriage.

A few months passed and we found ourselves abroad again, this time in southern Italy. It was a hard time for me, because the reality of “this is not a three month vacation, this is my home for the next three years…and I have to do this alone” crashed upon me just a month after landing in Naples. Lucky for me, a wonderful human being lived just two doors down, and with her came her group of other wonderful women who adopted me as their own. Meals weren’t ever for the single parent or solo spouse, they became a family meal, regardless of the missing dad and husband at the table. Shopping days never had to be ventured alone, and birthdays and milestones never went uncelebrated thanks of these very special people I’ve had the privilege of meeting.

But like all good things, these adventures weren’t forever. Contracts come and go, and new commands are assigned, which leaves the spouses of service members in a limbo of happiness, relief, and sadness. Living in Italy hasn’t been easy in the slightest, so leaving means convenience of drive-thru’s, 24-hour grocery stores and pharmacy’s, alterations to your restaurant meal and variations of dining possibilities. However, it also means less opportunities for travel (i.e., Christmas markets up North, Kiel week in Germany, summer haze on the Lidos or spring in Spain), few options for excellent wine, and fewer excuses for wine and/or nail nights. Once back in the states, the chance for “normal” friendships that don’t include conversations over the ship’s schedule, when the yards will be over or how many times you showered during an Italian summer, are like candy. Believe me, on the outside, we’re all celebrating for the family that gets to head back to the states. Then again, on the inside back in Italy, we’re mourning.

Finding a friend in a small community that speaks the only language you speak is hard. Finding a family within that community is rare—I think few of us are lucky enough to say that we were a part of something so great. How many other people will understand your rage after an hour of traffic in August or that gypsy that just wont get the hint until you love tap them with your bumper? The amount of tears (drunken or sober) I’ve shed on humid patios in the last year are embarrassingly immeasurable. We’re all living the same life and the same hell, and still we’ve found reasons to laugh, to smile and to put pants on at least three days out of the week. For that, I cannot thank my Gaeta family enough.

So let’s not say “goodbye”. When your time comes and we all say “Eat Chick-Fil-A  for me!”, this is not to say we will never see you again. After all, this is an extremely small Navy. Road trips will happen, and your couch will be imposed upon. One of us will get an itch to be abroad again, and there’s a great chance that another got sucked into another round of sea duty on some obsolete, foreign base. Or, best case, maybe our spouses will end up in the same command down the line, and we can relive the drunken wine nights when we should have stopped two bottles ago, but what’s the point? Until then, friends, you will be in my heart with every uncorked bottle and every overspent shopping trip. “Goodbye” will never mean what it’s supposed to mean, because I won’t let it. So, until next time, I’ll see you later. Cheers loves.

Rachael Clemons
Rachael Clemons