Fish-infested Waters

I haven’t written much since my husband came home from the Middle East. Yeah, there was the rush from settling in after homecoming and the visitors and the family and the friends. And then there was Husband’s return to his civilian job and the whole readjustment-thingy. But really, it was the usual insanity. The real reason I didn’t write: reintegration sucked the whole living life out of me.

I really haven’t felt like writing about it. Or anything else for that matter.

Look it’s hard to explain if you haven’t done it, but when your lover first comes home from a long military deployment, and the shininess wears off, you start to stare when he’s not watching. I’m waiting to see if he unravels. And if he doesn’t, I might even pull on that dangling string.

I want to know if he’s here, with us, or still out there, in the desert.

Let me try to explain.

I spent most of my Navy Brat summers in coastal towns with beautiful beaches. I bounced around between Corpus Christi Texas, Orange Park Florida, Coronado California, and Honolulu Hawaii. I laugh when people ask me if it was hard being a military brat considering my residential repertoire. I often fall asleep to my wave machine and dream of beach memories.

In the absence of a “home town” that percussive sound is the glue that sticks my childhood together.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, I was a sunburned haole girl living in Hawaii. I had a hand-me-down surf board which wasn’t anything glamorous and I wasn’t any good at all. But we all had surf boards and bubble-gum scented wax, and we all had sand rashes on our bellies. And we had no idea how much fun we were having.

Somewhere along the way that summer I befriended a group of locals from Haliewa who convinced me to come surfing. And I found myself out on the North Shore with four Portagee boys who knew all the unmarked public access points to the hidden beaches along that coast. I went to some “secret beach” with them that summer, which still horrifies my father.

This was summer, so we didn’t expect big waves, but this day was particularly lazy, even for summer. We sat in a flat glassy spot in a neat line, the waves bunching up slowly and slushing out underneath us. We gripped the pointy points of our boards and dipped the backs of them into the water, our legs dangling down and swirling us around. As we talked we squinted for a set, shifting our gaze between the horizon and our own floating shadows on the sand below.

Suddenly the boy to my left pointed a sharp finger at the water, and I saw a huge dark black fish off my starboard side, its crisp edges contrasting sharply with the bright sand that seemed to glow underneath it. It jerked and flipped its tail, and the boy called “shark” much like a kid calling “car” in a street basketball game.

My veins popped and adrenaline made my ears swell with sound. My instinct was to practically climb inside of myself, sucking my limbs up tight. I laid still, keeping every body part out of the water except for my poor little fingertips, which I was forced to dip into the water in order to hang on and keep from plunging headlong into the ocean. I still remember the gritty wax against my cheek as I looked across at Portagee Bo, who had laid his own face down on his board sideways. He was looking into my eyes, just like a murder scene in a movie where the camera does a close up of a dying man as his eyeballs go vacant.

I remember the next moment clearly. I looked into his eyes, and I peed. I wondered if sharks could smell pee in the water like they smelled blood. And I wondered if Portagee Bo could smell pee, too.

Somebody finally got up the courage to look, and no more big black fishies were in sight. A small wave set of minimal worth rolled in, and we rode it expertly all the way to shore without putting a single toe in the water.


Flickr photographer: Slapshots

And that’s just like reintegration. You’re there, sitting on that surf board, not expecting any big waves and just enjoying the company. But soon the slush that comes along is disappointing and unsatisfying. So you start to spend time glancing at your own floating shadow, imagining that some latent PTSD is lurking below.I go back and forth between the comfort in knowing that PTSD would explain the gap between me and my husband, and the fear that it might not be the reason we are still so disconnected.

Some days I’ve curled up into a tiny ball and defenselessly prayed that I would not be fatally wounded by my own fear. I’ve instinctively sucked inside of myself and just waited for the bad feelings to go away. I’ve looked over at other spouses nearby and seen the vacant look in their eyes. And I’ve been too afraid to peek over the edge of the board. I have held every muscle in my body tight, trying desperately not to fall off. And I’ve been forced to dip my fingertips into the water, because it’s the only thing that would save me from making that fatal splash.

But finally, you garner the courage to look down into the water. You just can’t sit there waiting to be eaten by a creature that may not even exist. Nobody is coming by to rescue you. You have to be willing to stick your neck out and peer straight into the water.

So far, it’s empty down there. There’s my own hovering shadow, but no sharks. In fact, I’m aware there’s a very real possibility it was just a fish the whole time. And as time passes, I do get braver. I know this. I can feel it deep inside of me. Plus, there’s the fact that I haven’t peed myself in a very, very long time.


30 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Voices of the Year – BlogHer 2012 | Up Popped A Fox
  2. Ky Sims
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 10:49:34

    this almost made me pee my pants laughing as we are on 2nd pcs to hawaii by choice & are avid surfers…been in that position…& you are so RIGHT ! hubby has been home from “over there” since may 2011..and we pcs’d back to hawaii in sept..he really didnt have the chance in all the uproar to “wind down & reintegrate so to speak ” instead we are seeing it over here…all this time later..hes had a tough time..esp coming back to his job & island where we lived before the deployment..but at the sametime..the SURF is what saves us..its our escape & really IS his ! we surf those ” dont know dont go ” places too..& have funny shark stories as well…but yours really made me think YES its exactly like that ! so thank you ! 🙂


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  4. DogBoy
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 12:45:00

    Thank you for not peeing anymore.


  5. Gail
    Feb 15, 2012 @ 08:43:40

    Perfect analogy. I so love your way with words!
    Although my situation proved unique, the feelings that go along with the separation of deployment mixed with the uncertainties of homecoming and reintegration are still mutual. Thank you for sharing your stories with all of us. As I read the comments of others, I see the similar feelings come through that reinforce that we are never alone in our ‘situations’.

    Your absence here never went unnoticed. You have been missed. I am elated to see you back. I think of you often and pray for the health and happiness of you and your beautiful family. You are a very special woman with an amazing talent for the written word. Always looking forward to your next installment!

    Btw, I have to agree with Gaile… I LOVE the “I Heart LV” shirt idea!! I’ll be wearing mine here in CT and you’ll be bi-coastal! You rock, LV!
    Sending much love and hugs! God Bless you and yours.


  6. The DAD
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 22:46:59

    First – there are some things that parents should NEVER hear – like their daughter nearly EATEN by a SHARK in the waters off an UNKNOWN beach with boys the father had NEVER MET. Hmmm… AND, your early infection with the dreaded Navyeeze lingo disease was showing when you said… “off my starboard side.” Clearly a Navy Brat speaking. But then, there was the the time you watched an F-4 Phantom spiral straight upward in an unrestricted maintenance climb at NAS North Island and while your friends on the beach oooed and awwwed, your only comment was, “smart ass J.O.” Sorta makes the ‘ole man proud! NOT the part about the shark – that added a few more grey hairs to my already severely follicle challenged scalp!


  7. Lori Green
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 09:42:14

    I am glad you wrote this because it is important for people to know what reintegration is like. For us it was about 10 months before things started to click again and then he left again a year later so we will see how long it takes this time when he comes home in July/August. Those books they give us do not remotely describe that reintegration is probably harder than surviving the deployment. I suppose if you take their honeymoon senerio and tie it into it will be like two newlyweds who are slapped back together learning each other all over again and add all those annoying habits that each other learned to phase out over 10 years of marriage will surface as brickwalls to bust down might do some justice to what it is like.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Feb 11, 2012 @ 09:50:07

      Ah, so very true Lori (nice name by the way). There’s this great image about a rowboat that they gave at the Returning Warrior Workshop that I think so accurately describes reintegration. I may write about that, soon. But I don’t want to go too overboard on the water analogies. Heh. See how I did that, there. Overboard … heh … get it? Ahhhhh. Yeah.


  8. Kathy
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 18:46:39

    You need wine. And to wear a pretty new top. And the company of women. You will get it tomorrow.

    I need shave ice from Matsumotos. Dang. No idea when that will get here! Glad you’re back!


  9. Jenni Segura
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 13:58:41

    Reading your post today, made me start thinking about what I will be facing in October. Hubby has been gone since last May, and so many things have changed. I know exactly what you mean about coming home being the cure. It’s not. Thank you so much, for putting into words what so many of us are feeling, or know we will be facing soon enough. (((((((HUGS)))))


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Feb 11, 2012 @ 09:55:32

      Jenni, you probably won’t face it in October. I didn’t. It’s all just coming up now. But I love it when someone finds a phrase that sticks to their brain. “Homecoming is not the magic pill that cures deployment” was one of my favorite phrases in the post. I wonder if I’m allowed to like my own phrases? 🙂


  10. Marcie
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 10:58:34


    I am a new subscriber to your blog but I wanted to tell you that you have a great talent! Thank you for putting words to feeling that so many of us can share. While we suffer the first instinct is to roll into a ball and protect ourselves not realizing that the best we can do is open up. It is the exposure to the air that really heals the wounds not the darkness. In fact, the darkness allows wounds to fester. Thanks again for your insight and willingness to be vulnerable.


  11. Angie
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 09:31:38

    Reintegration has its own special bitter-sweetness when you’re nowhere near a base. Your words are so beautiful, I could see you both then and now as though I was with you.

    So mysterious when they stop doing stuff with you and calling when your guy comes back.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Feb 10, 2012 @ 10:37:32

      Right, I’m reminded by a friend whose son died that once a certain time period passes, people see you and think you’re okay, even when you aren’t. I’m not really that famous for suffering in silence, but I do tend to fake myself out from time to time. I’m learning to be more honest with myself.


  12. Sheri Allen Byrd
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 09:19:05

    want to lunch again? (after next week) I can sympathize at least, and maybe even usefully advise.


  13. Kim Miller
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 09:12:13

    You’re just awesome lady! Thanks so much.


  14. Trisha
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 08:16:52

    I only know that each moment can bring a miracle. Meeting you at the RWW was one of those moments. You are my hero today. Whether you are lying quietly in fear, paddling to the shore or awaiting the wave to carry you in, you are my hero today. Sending you love, respect and blessings.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Feb 10, 2012 @ 10:34:04

      Thanks, Trisha. it’s funny I just sent you a text message because I thought you might appreciate this post, and wanted to let you know about it for anyone else who is doing the reintegration thing. I had no idea you had already commented here when I sent it. I guess I felt your love, respect, and blessings. Right back atcha!


  15. Gaile
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 07:48:16

    Would you think less of me if I told you that I’ve been contemplating having a shirt made up that says “I heart Lori Volkman”? I hope not, because after reading this post I am SO going to order one! I just hope I don’t PEE myself while wearing it.

    Seriously, you’ve expressed something I’ve been trying to explain (or even understand!) for over a year now, as we struggle through our third reintegration. My husband has been home for 14 months now, and while we saw some major improvements at about the 8 month mark, I still feel like he’s not REALLY back yet. Any number of cliches apply to our situation, but my current favorite is a combination….I’m “walking on egg shells, trying not to rock the boat”. But sitting on a surfboard in a puddle of pee, hiding from a shark that MAY or MAY NOT even be there…..that actually gives my civilian friends & family members a great visual!

    So, yeah, I’m sharing this post. Right after I order my new t-shirt.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Feb 10, 2012 @ 10:32:03

      Oh Gaile, I think I need that t-shirt somedays. Thanks for reminding me I’m loved 🙂 I will say, the visuals work for me. My recent favorite, which I used a version of in this post, is the medical visual … “homecoming is not the magic pill that cures deployment!”


  16. Amy
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 06:07:49

    Ah, I don’t kow what to say. Any words I give would just seem too shallow for your situation. You have been missed. You have been thought of. You will be prayed for.


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