Jake is in Afghanistan, 7,000 miles away from his home in Lexington, Va. It’s his second deployment — he spent 18 months in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 — but his first tour since he and Jessie married. He left for training in March, when June was just 8 months old; he flew to Afghanistan in May. June turns 1 in a week and a half. Jake, who spends most of his nonmilitary life on his feet building fences and tending to horses, won’t see her learn to walk. The reality of this makes me want to cry.
Despite the presence of 90,000 U.S. servicemen and women in the Afghan region, Americans don’t seem to be doing much crying, or even talking, about the war. Just over a week ago, during President Obama’s announcement of a troop drawdown, I was relaxing in a U Street watering hole with two serious-minded Beltway journalists; aside from a text message from the White House urging me to watch the speech, the topic never came up. The next day, when I asked a friend and political analyst to describe reactions to the president’s speech, she didn’t know what to say.
“There really weren’t any,” she sighed. “No one seems to pay attention anymore, except for people with friends and family there.”
“No one pays attention anymore.” The same could be said about Jessie, albeit for different reasons. For her, avoidance of the reports out of Afghanistan is less about lack of interest and more about self-preservation in the face of crushing anxiety. She doesn’t want to know if Jake’s base was mortared or if a colleague was shot at: “I won’t be able to function.”
She takes the same approach to news about supposed successes, like claims of troop withdrawals or regional stabilization. Jake will be back next April, she hopes. That’s as far as she’s willing to go, because, she says, when you’re living it, “you learn not to listen too closely to what turns out to just be noise.”
Sacrifices to acknowledge
I’m hesitant to call Jessie a military wife. She is so much more — a writer, mother, daughter, sister, gardener, cook, friend. A former New York City magazine editor, she moved to Virginia a few years after meeting Jake while on assignment at a Montana rodeo (he used to be a cowboy). She paid her way through college, navigated the cutthroat terrain and low pay of the Manhattan media scene and somehow found time to create a vibrant social life. Even so, I think she’d agree that being married to an Army captain is one of the most demanding and rewarding roles she’s taken on, not just for the logistical and emotional challenges it presents (upkeep of an eight-acre rural property, care of a young child), but the reactions it inspires in others.