I am a reformed beauty queen. That’s right. Believe it. All right, come on now. It’s not that implausible.
The most significant thing I have to say about that misadventure is thank GOD there was no real internet presence in 1989. Otherwise my three-story hairdo might be all over the internet, lurking on some cached page of has-beens, or worse yet circulated with viral fervor amongst bored cubicle-dwellers with secret (or not so secret) queen hatred. I feel somewhat redeemed (very, very little) that winning the essay portion of the Miss San Diego competition paid for my first semester of undergrad tuition. I pretty much keep it a secret.
But the lingering reminder that I can’t seem to shake is that I have this eternal list of ”Miss Americas” circulating in my head at all times. This is a cornucopia of rehearsed responses that are just generic enough to still be charming without raising the ire of any sexually-oriented, socio-economic, or culturally-disenfranchised sector of society. In my royal prime, if I was asked any question, chances were I would have one of three answers at the ready. If I was feeling bold, I might even chose the quaternary response just to see if I could get away with it. Boobs could really go a long way back in the day.
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
This is exactly the kind of idiotic statement that makes me want to vomit on my own shoes. True, it has historic meaning. Dale Carnegie, Father of “How To Win Friends and Influence People” was the true genesis of that concept at a time when Americans were lucky to see a bowl of soup, let alone a fresh citrus fruit. But it has been so battered, sugared and fried by the cliché circuit that it’s little more than an eye-roller these days.
So I was considering pummeling some folks with citrus earlier this month on a couple of occasions, at the hands of well-meaning but oblivious family and friends. They often hand me the bowl of lemons: comments concerning Husband’s departure and absence. These are largely non-military folk who are concerned, but lack understanding. You know the ones.
My favorite by far is the email I received two days after Husband’s departure. It was about a little girl who attended “Bring Your Dad To School Day” alone because her father was at war. You read this touching tale and you anticipate the part where she extolls his heroic deeds, and the pride that swells in her chest when she thinks about his homecoming. Only in this sardonic version, the piece you don’t anticipate is that the father-soldier has DIED IN BATTLE and the little girl is telling the story of the day she’ll see her Angel Daddy in Heaven again.
Uh ………….. Really? Two days after Husband’s departure?
Sadly, I didn’t respond with lemonade. I blame it on my now well-documented taco slash violence phase of the Deployment Cycle. I really let the sender have it. Let me assure you, there was no grace and poise, no canned retort, no charming smile, and no cleavage whatsoever. I ultimately repented, if only to assuage my own guilt, and to her credit the sender of the email apologized profusely. But honestly.
And then there’s my brother, whom we shall call “Uncle Rockstar.” He was a Navy brat like me, so you’d think he would get this stuff. But you know, Rockstars are prone to artistic fits of drama. So upon learning of Husband’s departure, he asked a battery of inane questions without answers like “How will you do it? Aren’t you just dying? Oh sorry. Bad choice of words. But it’s F-ing terrible!” (Uncle Rockstar always throws in a gratuitous F-bomb. In fact, as I write this I’m realizing the potential source of Preschooler’s recent FARKisode). And then, Uncle R whips out the clincher: “I mean, how do you even think about the possibility of your husband dying? What if he doesn’t come back? Have you thought about that? I heard about this one guy who …”
Well, that’s just it guys. We don’t think about it. I mean, we do, sometimes, when it’s very very quiet. But not for long. We can’t. We just can’t. It’s a complete and total waste of hypothetical time.
This is where pie comes in. Isn’t this always where the pie comes in?
I opened a letter today from the local post of the American Legion. Around these parts, Legions are mostly full of old guys, so I think of them as the supporters of the annual rummage sale and the guys who pass out cute little ribbons in front of the old movie theater on Memorial Day. There’s no real active military installation out here in Portland, and largely, people just don’t understand. We know some Reserve and Guard families, but by and large we are a rarely understood breed in the city that provided a springboard for Ralph Nader’s vie for President, followed by one of the largest Obama rallies of his 2008 campaign.
And growing up in a Naval Aviation family, I know EXACTLY what kinds of support and services I’m missing out on as an IA spouse. Husband is an “Independent Augmentee.” That means he got plucked right out of a unit that stays home while he goes away. No wives club. No base. No Exchange or PX. No Commissary. No ombudsman or organized activities nearby. Just me and my two kids.
And, apparently, now, Post 44 of the American Legion. They asked to honor me with a Blue Star Banner. They called me “family.” They asked for ways they could help me, from yard work to babysitting. They want to send Husband mail, and care packages. Care. Packages.
And that sentiment, from someone who understands what it means, that brought a tear to my eye. I know, I know. EVERYTHING makes me cry. But I stood there in my kitchen reading a letter from a woman I had never met, offering to help me. And it touched me.
Why? Because, I have severe irritable soul syndrome over anti-patriots who merge political rhetoric with the sailors and soldiers and marines who support missions. And I have Myocardial InFARKshuns over the thought that Husband’s sacrifices are going to benefit people I will never meet. So when someone who GETS IT sends me a letter calling me “family,” it’s like God, speaking my name out loud.
It makes me not wanna vomit on my shoes anymore.
It makes me wanna take that bowl of lemons and make some freakin’ lemon merengue pie.