The Wife - The Navy Years

Right after we graduated college, I got commissioned, and we got married, I began my career as a Naval Officer. I already knew I was going to go to Nuclear Power School, so I managed to scam a late class and got stashed (that is, given a temporary duty assignment) at Naval Reactors in Washington, DC. You want a cool way to start out a marriage? Imagine having no school loans to pay, on your own with the love of your life in the big city, AND making enough money to pay the bills while living decent. That was us. You know you're jealous.

The first two years of our marriage we moved every 6 months. First to DC, then to Orlando, FL for Nuke School, then to Saratoga Springs, NY for Nuke prototype (learning to operate an actual nuclear power plant), THEN to Newport, RI before finally getting to my permanent duty station in Virginia Beach. If you think that's a lot of moving, it is. Luckily the Navy paid for professional movers to pack and unpack us. We got so good we would beat the truck to our next destination by a day, find a place to live and have a lease (with the exception of VA Beach where we bought a house) and tell the movers where to go so it was a door to door move. We would be totally unpacked and settled in the new place within a week. As I said, we were pros.

But I don't want to dwell on the actual Navy stuff, though there are many stories I could tell. I want to focus on the Wife. Let me tell you, she was a real trooper and changed a lot in those first few years. In high school, she was the introverted type. In college, she started to come out of her shell. In the Navy, she broke the thing open and stomped on the bits.

First there was all the moving. She got a new job in just about every location we lived, with the exception of Saratoga Springs. The area was just too small. She found a temp assignment in Glens Falls, but that was a bit too far. Actually, Saratoga was hard on her in a few ways, but more on that in a minute. This woman managed to get herself from our apartment in Alexandria to the US Tax Court where she worked on a weekend by car, when she had only ever been there by bus and subway. THEN, she managed to find her way home, not realizing when she set out that you can't just backtrack the way you came in. Granted, she got a little lost and had to double back, but she made it without a map and without a cell phone to call home. All in all it was a idillic time as we worked all week then spent all weekend seeing the sights. We even got to spend our first Christmas Mass together at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (a totally cool church, google thier website) for Midnight Mass.

In Orlando, she bonded with some of the other wives and kept me sane during long hours studying. I had to study at the base because all the materials were confidential. So I'd put in something like 9 hours for class, a few hours before and after class on weekdays studying (usually an hour before and 3 hours after). I'd put in 6 hours Saturday and 8 hours Sunday. It was the equivalent of getting a Masters Degree in Nuclear Engineering in 6 months. Plus she worked! She did a good job taking care of me.

As I said, Saratoga was a little tougher on her. We became very close with a lot of the guys in my class. Including some Navy football players. We had them over for dinner one night and man could they eat! But when I started prototype, it was 12 hour shift work. 12 hour days, with 7 days days, one day off, 7 days nights, 2 days off, then 7 days overnights, 4 days off. Can you say never home? The only time we ever did anything was on the 4 day break. Usually horseback riding lessons or walking around town. Most days I worked there wasn't any time to do anyting. So she was a bit lonely. Luckily it didn't last too long.

Newport was another blast. School was cake. The officer's club was right on the ocean. Several times we had to drive my buddies cars back to their place cause we were the only sober ones. We spent our 2nd anniversary by doing a dinner train thingy. It was a 5 course mean on a train ride up and down the coast. We sat with a couple that had traveled to places like Egypt. It was the coolest dinner date ever. We had some drama during that time too but nothing worth writing about. Still, those first two years were the best. Good pay, no responsibilities but learn, and I was home.

I reported to the USS Bainbridge in September of 1991 and deployed to the Gulf one month later. Welcome to the real Navy! The Wife got a cat the first week we were living there. We went to the Animal Shelter "just to look" and walked away with a cat. And that cat has been her pal (at least as much as a cat can be while trying to kill you) ever since. I've got pictures of the Wife lying on the couch in a fetal position with her feet under her (she said it's comfortable) with the cat asleep on her back. That was the time she grew a lot. Since I was gone for six months, she learned to do a lot of things on her own. Like change the oil on the car, reset breakers (hey, my guy Navy buddy didn't know how to do it!), mow the lawn, you name it. Total solo.

We didn't have kids during this period, mostly because we didn't want to have any right away. By year 3 of my naval career, I knew I was getting out and we didn't want to move with an infant or toddler so we waited until I got out. The other thing I remember most about that time in VA Beach was running off for the weekend. We always loved DC. So I would come home on a Friday and say, "Let's go to DC for the weekend!" We'd pack an overnight bag, leave some extra food and water for the cat, and off we went! No longer!

There are many good memories from those days. Mostly the fun of being together without any one to look after but each other. We both grew up a lot in those 5 years and were very happy. Then I got out, we came home and started over. And that's when things got rocky.


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