How I Accidentally Landed in a Viper’s Nest

“Join the board,” they said. “You’d be great!” they said.

There I was, an innocent little baby-wife minding my own business when some of the more senior wives zeroed in on me and suggested I sit on the newly formed board for our Spouse’s Club. Sure, why not? I don’t have anything better to do and I was a little flattered besides. Of course if I were a of a suspicious mind, it almost seems obvious in retrospect; recruit the new and impressionable one with no social capital or ties of loyalty to challenge those in charge. Thank goodness the real reason I was nominated is because I’m such a charming and witty individual who brings so much to the table.

I don’t know how the situation is with all Spouse’s Clubs, but here at least it seems like jumping into a pit of viperidae is part of the job description of joining the board. Not even officially eased into the role and already I’ve been cornered with a round of phone calls from various people wanting to speak with me and clear the air and so many hurt feelings! Good lord, I haven’t been subjected to this much so-and-so-said since high school–and that was only hearing it second-hand from the popular girls who seemed incapable of airing their grievances in any other place besides public hallways (apparently I was never cool enough to have friends back-stab me first-handedly).

Maybe having missed all of this in high school and college with my own female relationships, I’m socially under equipped for navigating the adult world of inter-wifery-politics. At any rate, it makes me a bit uncomfortable as I attempt to find a safe path to plant my feet without squashing a viper or getting bit myself in the process. To make matters worse, I already bungled myself right off the bat when a mildly-lewd (but topical!) joke I made during a meeting was deemed Not Funny by a Very Senior Wife. Apologies for making you uncomfortable, Very Senior Wife, but I’m still going to chuckle at my own joke (hey everyone else laughed!).

It could be that I am simply “hyper aware” as my former therapist once put it, but growing up with a Borderline Personality Disorder mother tends to give one a crazy-radar as a consolation prize, and let me tell you, mine is starting to ping. Not full blown stage-5 blaring, but you know, a warning ping.

Here’s hoping I’m just “reading into things” (as my sister would say)!

Wait a Minute–I’m Married!

When I was younger I couldn’t fathom how someone could possibly cheat on their spouse. I held no sympathy and no forgiveness for such an act. Now that I’m married myself however, I can see how such a transgression can come about in more of a slippery slope fashion and less from cut and dry purposefulness. Admittedly it’s been difficult for me to shake the feeling of singleness so far, and this bothers me.

It’s easy enough to see why this is; not only have we been married for only eight months, but he has been deployed for four of those months. By the time he returns, we will have spent the majority of our marriage, literally half a world away. Prior to our wedding we weren’t even living on the same coast. Hell, we weren’t really even in a relationship. He and I dated seriously for two years, then broke up and spent the following two years in touch, but going our separate ways. After a few life changing events, we decided to skip the whole “let’s try being in a relationship again” stage and take the plunge. Basically, we went from broken up to engaged.

Do I regret this? Absolutely not. However, by the time we were engaged we were past the initial stages of infatuation that most couples haven’t quite left when the question is usually popped. We had all of that the first time around, but we were older and wiser when we decided to make our commitment and give it a second try. For me this was almost necessary because I could truly evaluate him as a person without getting caught up in the feelings of lust and infatuation one typically associates with love (new love in particular). I felt secure knowing that when the infatuation fades (and it will), I would likely not see him in a dramatically altered way.

When we had the chance to live together before his deployment, I felt married. My days revolved around him and we did things together. But then he left, and I felt a bit like when you date or you’re talking to a guy for four months and things just fall apart for whatever reason, and you carry on with your life. I guess too, being single was just part of my identity. I mean, I had practically perfected the art. I’m the chick who hosted annual “Cupid Castration” parties on Valentine’s Day and couldn’t get a prom date to save her life in high school. Even eventually moving to such a large place like NYC didn’t put finding new interested parties in my favor.

And with feeling somewhat like yet another potential relationship has dissolved, I find myself falling back into old single patterns of thought. Scoping out guys, feeling a pang of possibility when that guy I thought I had chemistry with ages ago sends me a casual message and–HOLY SHIT I’M MARRIED! RED LIGHT!

It’s like crazyville in my head. Maybe it’s because I clearly haven’t gotten laid in four months. Or maybe I’m just noticing all this because I’m ovulating. But I’m starting to realize just how much modern dating culture has infiltrated my brain and how difficult it is for me to deprogram. You always hear those horror stories about wives who cheat when their husbands are deployed, which somehow seems doubly wrong than regular cheating. It’s no wonder I’ve spent most of the deployment holed up in my house; I’m terrified of putting a foot out the door where there is easy access to a cornucopia of hot, single Marines!

And this is the stupidest part of it; where would all of that lead me anyway even assuming I was single? Nowhere, exactly as it has in the past. I would just end up repeating the cycle of briefly interesting someone for a month or less and having it fizzle away. This is why I got married in the first place; I finally had a really stand-up guy who I am attracted to decide that I was pretty much the best, and I would never have to endure that casual dating merry-go-round ever again.

Let me be clear, there is not anyone with whom I am “starting anything” or thinking about specifically or any of that. It’s just the awareness I’ve gained about “feeling single” and that I’m kind of scared about what that could entail followed to its logical conclusion. Your whole life you’re kind of conditioned to constantly be on the lookout for “that person”. But now I have to un-learn behavior patterns that have become automatic, because I found him and we made a commitment. Now what? How do I move forward in our relationship when he isn’t here for me to move forward with? I haven’t heard any of the other wives bring this up so maybe I’m the only one–but I can’t be, right?

My First Encounter with Rankism

When I first got married, I had some worries about cliquishness and rankism that I was loathe to encounter upon joining the milspouse community. From the way some bloggers and online communities talked, quite a few spouses seemed to have their feathers ruffled over spouses “pulling rank” on each other or exclusionary behavior. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I survived high school didn’t I?

I was relieved to discover that so far, almost everyone I met was perfectly lovely and nice. It did seem strange to me that socializing didn’t pick up much within our unit once the guys deployed, but I chalked it up to a combination of many wives living in the next town over, and another large percentage that simply went home.

For Easter I was invited to a brunch in the next town over. I carpooled with one of the wives in our unit, whose husband happens to be my husband’s boss. On the way over she talked about how it was important that I don’t “pass things on to my husband” that she might share with me or I might hear, because of our spouses working relationship. Well, that conversation was a little awkward because she continued in that vein for almost the whole car trip, but I did see her point. I do understand that between her and I specifically because of the boss/underling relationship we can’t be as open as we might like with each other, but that was never news to me.

Once we got to the house, I was glad to see that I had met almost everyone before at various events. In fact they were all people I thought I might like to get to know better. I was just thinking about how nice it was that we all could come together because I hadn’t seen some of them in a while, when a turn of conversation left my mind racing to figure out why I felt like a chunk of puzzle was missing. The group began discussing a low key “party” they were throwing for a friend of mine. Now this friend of mine is probably the only spouse I have seen consistently since I got here; maybe once or twice a week we’d get together. Needless to say, we were pretty clued in on what was going on in each other’s lives, so it seemed odd to me that this group of women was planning this party for her and I had not heard a word of it before now. I thought maybe it was a surprise party, but no, it wasn’t. And then they were talking about all these other get-togethers and times they had hung out and suddenly I had the strangest sensation of no longer being in the room anymore, but being rather like a light fixture or chair.

I realized they had been hanging out without me for months.

I took it a little personal at first. It became very clear that this was “their” group and they were very tight and not looking for any new members. It seemed that I had been invited as a kind of sympathy gesture, because I had no where else to be on Easter, not as a “hey we like you and would love to get to know you better” thing, which was what I assumed.

I was still trying to process everything on the ride home. I was still genuinely surprised about the fact that I had not been included in any of their past social events. Our husbands were in the same unit, they were deployed together, and we were all “on the same side of the fence” when it comes to general rank division. I was starting to think that it must be me. The wife of my husband’s boss took the opportunity again to reiterate the difference in position between her husband and mine, and their working relationship (which I previously acknowledged to her I understood) for most of the ride back. I thought it was a little unnecessary by that point. That’s when it dawned on me.

She was telling me that I needed to be socializing with spouses of my husbands rank.

I thought back to everyone present at the Easter brunch and sure enough, everyone in that close knit group was the same rank. I thought back to those wives I counted as friends within the unit, and they too were that same rank. With the exception of one wife who moved after the unit deployed, I couldn’t think of anyone I was friends with who was the same rank as my spouse.

This was not something I had previously considered. Yes, I have always been generally mindful of the friendship divide as far as befriending those on the same side of the general fence, but I kind of felt like beyond that it was overkill and kind of a non-issue. Especially because the rank difference is not even big. At my husbands next promotion, he will be the same rank as all these other people. It just seems overboard to me, especially during deployment.

I went home and decided that I would create my own group of friends. I asked my husband to send me a list of all married guys in his unit of his rank. The list was very small. As I scanned the names I became a little angry. I knew maybe two women from the list, and both of them had moved away for deployment. The rest I had never seen show up to any events. They either didn’t live here, or were the type that liked to stay away from spouse networking. Well, no wonder I wasn’t hanging out with the “right” wives!

Oh, the cherry on top is that after I got home, my husband’s boss’s wife bombarded me with several texts along the same line of what she had been talking about in the car the whole day, as if over an hour and a half in the car hadn’t been enough. I mean, I get it, she has a bit of a controlling worrier personality, but the whole thing just seemed very unfriendly even though I know she’s a nice person.

As for my friend, I didn’t say anything to her about it for a while because I knew she was probably in a tough position. As luck would have it, the topic naturally came about later and she admitted to me that she has been having a hard time not letting me know about the gatherings. You know, I get it. But the kicker is that she felt restricted because my husband’s boss’s wife had actually said something to her about hanging out with me! I personally feel like that’s going too far, especially when my friend’s husband is not my husband’s direct boss.

What I suspect is really going on is that her husband is complaining about my husband to her, and she shares it in her group of friends. This is nothing new. My husband is quite an acquired taste, to put it politely; I’m not stupid. I understand her need to vent to people for her husband, but I don’t know if her subtle attempts to diplomatically say “stay away from my friends” is the way to handle it.

I never interpreted choosing the right spouse friends as meaning choosing spouses of your same rank. Is she right or am I right?

Deciding on Housing

If you’ve received orders to move to 29, I’m sure by now you just can’t contain your excitement. 🙂 Of course the next thing to do is to find out what the housing situation is like.  I don’t have extensive experience in this department, but I will offer you what I know.

The decision to live out in town or on base is going to be determined by a couple things; 1. What is your personality? 2. Is he deploying? 3.  Are you able to find a job?

You might want to live on base if…

  • You have a lot of kids. There is just so much support there to help ease your load. Additionally, there aren’t a lot of options for daycare centers out in town, and most of the known reputable sitters seem to come from base anyway.
  • You enjoy being a part of the milspouse community and want to be active in your spouse’s unit. This was a big deciding factor for us to live on base. I enjoy being social, and when I lived in town I found that I was driving on base about twice a day for various meetings and social groups. I also like the idea of my friends as my neighbors, and don’t like to feel isolated.
  • You’re picky about the quality of your house. Before I moved here, I had heard nothing but horror stories about various base housing situations across the country and didn’t even think we would want to move from out of town. However once I got here, it became increasingly apparent that the best houses in 29 were on base! Officer housing, the new SNCO housing (all of Copper Canyon is beautiful!), and the newer enlisted houses (southern side of Adobe Flats) are all very nice. I would say with the exception of maybe the older enlisted housing units, you’re definitely not going to find anything comparable in 29. Many of the houses in town are poorly insulated, only have swamp coolers for A/C, and don’t have dishwashers.
  • Your spouse is deploying. This was another big reason why we moved. In my limited time here, it seems like 29 is rough not only on us, but on our spouses too. This place really seems to chew up and spit out SNCOs and up in particular, regardless of your MOS. My hubs was regularly putting in 12-14 hour days leading up to deployment, and I know some nights he was so tired he was tempted to sleep on the office floor. When we moved on base he really appreciated being less that 10 minutes away from home. Also, there’s a safety issue once he’s gone. My house out in town creaked and groaned to the point where you couldn’t tell if someone was entering or it was just settling. Certain locals are known for tracking houses of military families and breaking in to steal things once the spouse goes to the field, gets deployed, or the family leaves for the deployment. The area is also popular for meth houses. Of course you probably won’t find those until the police show up on your street, if at all.

You might want to live off base if…

  • Owning a home is important to you. The land and housing is cheap out here, so it might be a good time to take a risk, especially if you’re going to fix up the house and rent it out to other families once you PCS. 29’s main source of economy is the base, so as long as that isn’t going anywhere, I’d guess you have a good shot at keeping the house occupied for a number of years.
  • You really enjoy privacy and solitude. This is the desert. The silence is almost deafening at times, and neighbors can be spread pretty far apart. If that’s your idea of a good time, then you will definitely prefer living out in town.
  • You absolutely cannot live without being within a 10 minute driving distance of Walmart/Starbucks/Home Depot. Some people don’t adapt well to change, and for those people there’s Yucca Valley. Yucca Valley also has a Walgreens and a Rite Aid, instead of just a Rite Aid. If the amenities of the regular world are important to you, don’t even waste your time looking at off base housing in 29. Go to Yucca Valley; the area tends to be a little nicer housing wise, and you will be half way between base and Palm Springs. Keep in mind Yucca is about a 45-50 minute drive to base.
  • Having a job is a high priority. Again, live in Yucca Valley or as far southwest as your spouse will agree to add to his commute. The closer you get to Palm Springs, the better. The economy is pretty bad out here, and many spouses can’t find work. A high percentage of those who do have jobs seem to have been fortunate enough to get transferred from their previous work, and permitted to do a large chunk of it at home. Otherwise you’re competing with the locals for minimum wage retail or serving jobs.
  • You want to make money off of BAH. Of course, you will take a hit in your standard of living, but this can be a great way to compensate for the fact that you will probably not find a job out here. Shop around 29 and even Joshua Tree for cheap housing, and don’t tell them your BAH allowance. There are places around here that charge max BAH prices because they know they can get it. And let me tell you, I haven’t seen a house out here yet that warrants their advertised price of 1200 a month.
  • Power outages are a problem for you. For some reason, the base does not seem to be self sufficient when it comes to power (which is kind of scary to me). About once a month we will lose power for hours. These are not always pre-planned outages with warnings. I have lived on base for about 3.5 months and been through about 4 outages and only one was planned. It seems we get most of our power from somewhere in Palm Springs, but I don’t know much more than that. These outages mean things like no street lights or traffic lights at night, and manually unhooking your garage door so you can leave your house. Not to mention limiting opening your freezer/refrigerator. If your family has special needs, you can request a backup generator but I’m not sure about how long it takes to get one, or the process. When we lived out in town we only experienced an outage once, and it wasn’t more than an hour. Most of the other houses in town don’t seem to experience a power loss as frequently.

I guess that’s about it for determining where to begin your housing search. I will say that if you are not yet married but will be and want base housing, you are eligible to put your name on the list 30 days before your ceremony, and that will help you get a head start on the wait list. They give everyone out here a ridiculous estimation of 18 months for a house, but I’m calling their baloney. I would say average wait is about 4 months or less IF you constantly check in with the housing office on the status of your wait.

If anyone has any other questions, I will try and create another post later.

The Lifelong Learning Library

Today I discovered a great place to park if you are trying to access the Lifelong Learning Library on base. For the last week or so I have avoided dropping off the dvds I checked out on my first visit because the parking situation is so frustrating.

First of all, the library is located in a trailer-like skinny module that looks just like 70% of the other buildings on that street. Craning your neck to figure out which one is the library while driving and trying to avoid hitting Marines crossing the street, or cars backing out into the road, is super annoying. Second, the only real parking the library has is the few spaces directly in front of it–which means backing into traffic on the way out. Those are always full.

My first time there I circled around trying to find nearby parking and ended up going to the Hashmarks parking lot, which was pretty empty at the time. I then walked to the library, which involved crossing a street and trying to pick my way down a block filled with parked cars on the shoulder of the street (which may or may not be backing out), and no pedestrian path.

Long story short, if you park farther down and across the street at the old Exchange building, you can get pretty close to the library and save yourself some hassle (although it still involves trekking through sand and dodging traffic). I also learned that they can do inter-library loans with some Navy/Marine Corps bases, although the link wasn’t posted on the website. I found the link here if you’re interested in using it. I’m pretty excited about the fact that they let me check out past magazine issues! Hooray!

Marine Corps Ball 2012; Las Vegas

This year the birthday ball was held in Las Vegas again for Mr. Bloodstripe’s unit at Caesar’s Palace. Cocktail hour was fun, everyone looked beautiful, and before we knew it we were in the ballroom sitting at a table to watch the Marine Corps birthday message on screen. As the message progressed, punctuated by cheers and “‘rahs!” from the crowd, the good natured bantering at the screen took a turn for the worse as the camera panned to a Captain saying a few words.

Suddenly half the ballroom started booing, drowning out whatever she had to say. Some Marines chuckled nervously while others joined in. I was really pissed off. I glared at Mr. Bloodstripe, who was also grinning. “That’s an infantry unit for you,” he said by way of dismissal.

I could barely focus on the rest of the video because I was so mad. The boos weren’t because of what the Captain was saying–they started booing as soon as her face appeared. It was just because she was a woman.

I immediately thought about the female Marines in the room, and of the female officers in all branches that I know. It sucks that no matter how hard a woman works, she will never be recognized as a professional equal as long as a male pack mentality is around. As someone who tried for years to commission, I guess I felt it harder than most–I saw a woman who had to go through numerous hardships to get to where she was, only to be booed by her fellow brothers.

It’s true I’ve seen some nasty pieces of work in the military (women) and they ruin it for the rest of the unassuming, hard working women in uniform (do not get me started on General Petraeus’ trash piece, Paula Broadwell). It’s true that the existence of women in the military is more complicated than people on both sides of the issue make it out to be. It’s just sad that many Marines make a negative blanket assumption based on gender, and that such disrespect was publicly showcased at what is supposed to be an occasion celebrating a common bond.

Let’s talk about a palate cleanser; shopping with discounts! 🙂 if you’re interested on where to stay for the ball, my advice is to try the Flamingo. It’s just across the street from Ceasar’s (easily accessible by a pedestrian bridge over the streets) and way, way cheaper. We booked a room for 2 nights for $30, versus Caesar’s $100 per night (and that was with the “birthday ball special”!). If you book Flamingo’s through ebates.com you can get a small percentage of cash back. Also, if you check into the Flamingo on FourSquare, you can get a $5 discount on their buffet. We got lucky and bumped up to a full suite for free which included a jacuzzi! So yeah we really made out compared to Caesar’s.

However, if you have some cash to burn and have never been to Vegas before, Caesar’s is a great experience because it’s very new on the inside, has a little swankier lounges, and is connected to a giant shopping mall. I still haven’t figured out how to crack the eating for cheap code on the strip, so maybe that will be my mission next year.

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