Military spouses are prepared for almost anything — but not this
As my car wound along Lexington Street through the neat rows of tidy duplexes in Coddington Cove military housing community near Naval Station Newport, R.I., I breathed a long sigh of relief. I’d taken this shortcut to Home Depot many times before, but today it felt like therapy — a comforting and familiar routine.
I had just returned from a two-day apartment-hunting trip to New York City with our daughter, Anna, who was moving there to start her career. In 48 hours, we walked 16 miles, climbed 40 flights of stairs and toured more than 20 apartments. I was sore, tired and somewhat troubled by the whirlwind trip.
As a “seasoned” military spouse who moved 11 times in 23 years, lived six years overseas and traveled extensively, I considered myself a model of resilience, adaptability and grit. But New York City had jackhammered its way through my hard-earned calluses (literally … I have a blister the size of Fort Bliss on my big toe) and rendered me a pathetic jellyfish, quivering in fear among the shadowy depths of its towering and complex personality.
I was excited to experience Anna’s eccentric new locale, with only mild apprehension. I figured, how different could it be from Rome, London, Paris, and all the other cities we’d visited as a military family? As we’d done before, we’d figure out the subway, find our bearings, hit major landmarks and sample indigenous cuisine. Easy peasy!
Walking from our Midtown hotel the first morning, I was too distracted by interesting architecture, charming parks, gargantuan billboards, ethnic restaurants and fascinating characters to notice the city’s seedy underbelly. But soon, the wormy side of the Big Apple exposed itself. Several tiny apartments we toured in the East Village were filthy, with entrances wedged between noodle shops and tattoo parlors. Some had dank basement laundry rooms where rapists might lurk, and others forced tenants to patronize nearby laundromats where heroin addicts nap. In Midtown, I was shocked at what constituted an apartment bedroom: a “flex” space with just enough room for a twin bed, no closet, and if you were lucky to get a window, a lightless view of a brick wall.
The next day, we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, believing we’d find charming apartments among matcha bars and organic grocers. Our tour began at a bakery with massive wedges of sticky, nutty baklava, but then we saw six apartments, each one with its own appalling deal-breaker.
The last straw happened five feet from a train trestle so crumbling with rust, I thought it might collapse. “Don’t worry,” our painfully thin and jittery agent told us as we trudged up another grimy stairwell, “the apartment has noise-cancelling windows.” Minutes later, I looked out a bedroom window as a train rumbled by, mere feet from the sill. Not only was the noise deafening, I had to grab my chin to keep my teeth from chattering.
Back in Rhode Island, I shuddered at the memory of two dead rats (one flattened and displaying hideous fangs) among scattered garbage I side-stepped in Brooklyn.
Should I trust our daughter to live in a place that reduced me to a withering pantywaist? Had military life really “toughened me up”? Did I take safety, camaraderie and order for granted after 23 years of living in military communities? Does our daughter have the resilience to succeed in New York City?
Short answers: Yes, yes, yes and yes.
While military life forces military spouses out of comfort zones, it also coddles us with secure housing, safe neighborhoods and close-knit communities. Our children, on the other hand, learn from a young age to adapt to new and sometimes frightening situations. They know they might need to climb a few stairs, avoid the dark alleys and sidestep a scary rodent or two before they’ll learn the ropes.
It may be hard for a seasoned military spouse like me to admit, but my military child’s unique courage sometimes makes her better suited for “the real world” than I am.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.”