I’ll never forget, even after over two years have passed, the moment that I realized my entire life was about to change. It wasn’t when Justin picked orders for Gaeta, it wasn’t when when said “I do” or even when he proposed. The moment my world started shifting was during a phone call with him. I was standing in the side dining room at 12 West, just minutes away from clocking in for the dinner shift, when Justin called to tell me that he was put up for a transfer to the USS Donald Cook. The Cook, he told me, was set to move ports from Norfolk to Rota, Spain. Spain! I’m not sure if in that moment I fully accepted that he was handing me an invitation of sorts, but I knew that I loved him and that whether I went or stayed, I wasn’t going to be the same person anymore.
Fast forward, and the first scenarios played out. Justin proposed weeks later with a travel guide to Spain in hand, asking me to see the world with him. Sometime soon after our marriage, he picked his next orders to Gaeta, Italy, where we’re currently residing. Nothing about myself seems to be the same as it was that moment before I picked up my phone at the restaurant—and trust me, I’ve had a lot of time to think about who I am and where I’m headed and who I used to be. That’s what I’m choosing to take away from 2015…that no matter what happened or didn’t pan out, I’m different, my life is different, my marriage is different. I choose to see that despite any disappointments this year, change is good, because it means I’m moving forward.
Let’s look at the disappointments I’m referring to. I suppose the first and biggest disappointment of 2015 was the absence of my husband and, though embarrassing to admit, my lifeline. Justin and I are no strangers to long distance, since that’s how our relationship and marriage began, and a common practice for people married to sailors. However, I largely think we made it through the distance and minimum communication because we believed that his time on the Donald Cook would be the majority of our time spent apart. That was only six months. The yard period (which is when the ship is pulled out of water to be worked on) was supposed to only last seven months, but due to Murphy’s Law, lasted about ten instead. This yard period wasn’t in our home port of Gaeta, it was in Croatia, about nine hours and sixty gas coupons away.
At the time it seemed this separation was a huge setback in our marriage, because we thought we’d have time to actually live together before he went on another extended deployment. Instead, I found myself living alone, somewhat stranded on our mountaintop and feeling completely overwhelmed with domestic responsibilities and overall loneliness. There were weeks where I wouldn’t see another human, touch another human, or speak to anyone but my dog. Eventually I started to lose my mind and the sight of who I was, who I am, who I wanted to be. Meanwhile, Justin was working every day, stressing over money, over qualifying for gun quals and making rank. He was also making new friends, new connections, and making a new life for himself…without me. It was disheartening and frustrating and really took a toll on our relationship and my self worth. Eventually, thankfully, I made my own friends, my own connections, and started building my own life aside from him. I made friends I’ll keep for life, friends who quite literally kept me alive.
Through this, all I saw were my weaknesses. I wasn’t able to work, I made a poor dependent. I didn’t have enough motivation to force myself out of bed most days, I was always convinced I would fail. I haven’t learned Italian, driving in Naples still makes my neck and knuckles ache from the anxiety, and the weight I’ve put off for years finally starting creeping up to me. It took a long time to recognize my strengths, and I’m still struggling to give myself credit where, I suppose, it’s due. I can manage a household on my own, I can order a meal in Italian, and sometimes get my point across in an emergency in Italian (mixed with hand gestures). I’ve proved to myself that with a lot of discipline, I’m more than capable of a 4.0 GPA, and I’ve maintained just that. I’ve learned to (sort of) get over my anxiety about asking for help. The biggest, most important, and ongoing improvement I’ve noticed about myself in the last year is the ability to self-actualize.
When you’re alone most of the week and can’t talk to the woman making your coffee, when you’re meeting new people who don’t know that you ramble when you’re nervous and uncomfortable, or when you’re going to sleep alone every night trying not to revisit every encounter you had during the day, you’re forced to look at yourself full on. Every day, day and night, you are your own company, and so are your demons. I haven’t had the option of running away from my problems here—it’s too expensive at this point, with flights home ranging from a grand or more. There have been several months where we haven’t had a vehicle, so I haven’t even had the option of going out when things get to be a bit much to handle (we live on a mountain, so walking isn’t always a welcomed option either).
What I’ve seen in myself is this: I’m not a good person, I’m not someone you would always want to spend your time with. I talk too much, I’m not great at keeping secrets. I’ve become a bit neurotic about strange things and I’m way too overprotective of my dog. However, I’m sentimental and want to help people love themselves more, especially because sometimes I can’t seem to love myself. I like to think I’m always good for a laugh, whether it’s with me or at me. I like to think I’m a decent writer, and at some point I think I’ll be a decent mom. It’s easy to look over these things when you have a lot of distractions, but I’ve had none. And for that, 2015, I am thankful.
Along the way I’ve seen some beautiful and awe-inspiring things: the Sistine Chapel, which brought tears to my eyes; Lake Bled, where the water is clear as far as the eye can see; the most incredible mountains in Split, Croatia that we climbed and zipped down; buildings in Budapest that have stood the test of time and war. History books have been brought to life for me, and just about every experience has brought me to my (metaphorical) knees. I’ve begun to accept that if these monumental structures have lasted through centuries of strife and turmoil, surly I can make it through three years of being uncomfortable. Because that’s exactly what I would define this last year as: beautifully, simply, sometimes infuriatingly uncomfortable. I’m exactly where I need to be right now. To grow, to learn, to figure out who I am and what I expect out of myself and out of life, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.