I’ve run a lot of races in my lifetime. But there was one race I dreaded deep down in my soul: the Army Ten-Miler. I had already run 13 miles in a half-marathon, started a hometown running group, and coached others to meet their fitness goals. Yet, there I stood wishing I had better prepared. But it was too late and there was no turning back. Thank God I had the epitome of a teammate in my husband, Doug, who promised it would be our race, our pace. And I trusted him.
As we ran through historic Washington, I strolled down memory lane, thinking about all the races of the military lifestyle we’d run over the past 31 years, determined to finish together, no matter what. Who knew that we would be facing the most difficult race of our lives right after we exchanged vows and promised each other in our wedding song: “every little step I make, we’ll be together?”
We started that marathon as two naive kids with no idea what twists and turns were coming around the bend. I thought we’d start off fighting about how to live together. You know, the important stuff like the toilet seat, the toothpaste cap, and how to load the dishwasher my way — the right way. Instead, we were blindsided by trying to figure out how to live apart and how to deal with the realities of a war we NEVER saw coming.
With no email, social media, or cell phones back then, my best hope for talking to my soldier was catching his call on the house phone, which was rare and unpredictable. In the first six years of our marriage, we were forced to live apart more than we lived together.
So, we were thrilled when we could finally live under the same roof and do things couples do … like have children. We also bought our first house, by fax machine while he was in Korea, moved four times in seven years, earned two master’s degrees, and finally got to fight about the toilet seat, toothpaste cap, and the dishwasher.
Our next big race came when Doug neared retirement and we bought our forever home in Georgia. Our grand plan was for him to leave without us for his final two-year assignment while the kids and I established roots in our new community. Then, he would retire, come home, and we’d live happily ever after. Instead, he didn’t retire after those two years. The kids and I spent the next 11 years in Georgia, while Doug lived in some other state, and sometimes in a whole different country.
After all those years of hating that we were forced to live apart, here we were, choosing to live apart ON purpose, but FOR a purpose. We didn’t want our kids to move every year or two like most military kids. Our first child had already moved six times by the time he was 7 years old. Living separately was a choice, but that didn’t make the race easy.
In fact, it was an emotional roller coaster ride that our family took every weekend. Doug drove back and forth to home because we were hell-bent on being together as much as possible. At times, there were strained conversations and differing opinions about how the weekend would go.
For example, the minute Doug got home he walked through the entire house and every inch of the yard. This made me want to pull out my hair. Until one day I said, “PLEASE, NO inspections this week!”
He frowned, surprised. “I’m JUST trying to see what repairs I need to plan for, and which repairs need attention right now.”
“Really? Well, let me help you out. I need attention right now! To hell with the house. It’s not going to fall apart, but I might!”
My brutal honesty changed the whole course of that race.
The final race that took us into the homestretch was our time as honeymooning empty-nesters.
When our daughter started college, not only were the kids out of the nest but so was I. I packed up and flew the coop to Fort Hood. I admit though, I teetered back and forth between the absolute excitement of being with my husband again and being depressed about not being with my baby girl anymore. We’d been side-by-side. 24/7. For a long time. And then we weren’t.
Work and military events kept me and Doug busy during the week, and then we did fun things together on the weekends, like the Army Ten-Miler, with 35,000 of our closest friends, but running our own race, just as we always had. Over the past 31 years, we had completed every single mission. And even though his slowest pace was faster than my fastest pace, we were determined to run our race together.
As much as I dreaded the Army Ten-Miler like I dreaded each deployment and every move that kept us apart, looking back I know that being prepared was just a small part of our team’s success. The bigger parts of our success were how we defined it.
Being on the same sheet of music about how we would run our race; and making good on our promise to each other, in the wedding song we chose: “Every little step I take, you will be there. Every little step I make, we’ll be together.”
Pamela McBride, an Army spouse for 32 years, is dedicated to improving military family life and veteran and military spouse employment. She is a senior advisor to a director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in a federal agency. McBride has been a freelance writer for nearly 30 years, currently focused on telling her stories through personal essays. Last year, she and her husband returned to their forever home in Georgia.Read comments