The expected tributes and condolences poured out in the days after the untimely death of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. A true talent with an irrepressible personality, Hawkins seemed to be the golden every-kid, one who clearly loved his job and his life. No pretense, no preening arrogance. And as a guy about Hawkins’ age, I felt his passing a bit deeper than most.
Taylor Hawkins bore the weight of being ‘Dave Grohl’s drummer’ (for our younger readers or those who are not fans of rock music, Dave Grohl was the drummer in Nirvana, perhaps the most pivotal band of the last 30 years). However, despite his success, Hawkins openly admitted that, in keeping with his ‘guy next door’ likability, he wrestled with stage fright, even after decades of performing in front of massive audiences. How can you not relate to and appreciate such earnestness?
So yes, Hawkins’ and Foo Fighters’ music has been on heavy rotation since his passing. While my Foo favorites might be different from yours, there must be a few of their tunes that swell your heart or resonate with you. But as our family is in the throes of yet another PCS upheaval, one Foo song stood out, “The Best of You,” and one simple lyric captured the sentiment many of us have felt:
“I’m getting tired of starting again / Somewhere new.”
Goodness, ain’t it the truth. In our first couple of PCS’s, I willed myself to be open to adventure, new experiences, and new and exciting situations. We were lucky to have landed in areas radically different than either of us was used to. We got ‘Texaned-up’ on our first move and landed in Deutschland on our second.
My spouse’s first two tours afforded an uninterrupted parade of amazing experiences and fantastic people. Oh, the headaches that come with a typical PCS were a small price for the deluge of enthralling, life-affirming moments. But let’s all admit, my fellow seasoned spouses, that while you might love your mementos from an OCONUS assignment, eventually, many of them become dead weight come PCS time. At times, I’ve even felt them mocking me: “Ha! YOU’RE not HERE anymore!”
But a funny thing started to happen on our more recent PCS’s. I realized that the vigor and enthusiasm I tried to bring to each of our new duty stations began to show signs of strain. The cracks started appearing; the dam began to leak. I did a deep dive and concluded that this primarily stemmed from the fact that, wherever we went, there I was. Not some transformed me. Not some enhanced me. Not me after a Tony Robbins weekend of personal empowerment sessions. Just me.
I don’t want to be your hackneyed ‘grumpy old man,’ but I began to feel as if the enthusiasm I tried to bring to previous PCS’s had devolved into some flaccid, slumped caricature of who I used to be. Though not quite having fainted from exhaustion, the cheerier me wilted and the spry me sat himself on the bench. Now on the other side of an arduous cross-country move, I realize that marshaling the pep and optimism that worked so well to generate some personal inertia in previous moves has become … an ill-fitting costume feeling like saccharine gloss, reeking of contrived cheer and inauthentic enthusiasm.
It’s like Hawkins’ stage fright: from the time he hits the stage, he radiates rock righteousness. He might seem to be the very picture of hyperconfident, ‘visiting you from the heavens’ rock star. You’d never know he’d been throwing up from paralyzing stage fright 10 minutes earlier. How awful that must be to go through for an entire tour, especially when you’re hovering around 50.
Whether or not we admit it to ourselves, this is our burden. Not only a function of the 1,004 things you have to get done, a PCS often comes layered with a more subtle, insidious burden. The mountain of tasks associated with your average PCS upheaval is compounded by feelings of gloomy isolation and an unshakable sense of suspended stasis.
Why? Because not only do you have to grapple with the onslaught of tasks getting set up in a new location without your familiar network, you’re also laboring to kickstart your life and identity while putting on this transparently contrived mask.
It’s like when you can tell that your garden variety jerk is trying to be nice but whose flagrant insincerity only makes them more unlikeable. Whipping up that cheery attitude to forge a new identity and role becomes yet another ‘thing I have to do’ crammed into my schedule. It’s the exhausting bedazzling you’re forced to embroider on your PCS jeans, the sheen you’re applying on your PCS checklist.
Putting a cheery face on something isn’t unique to a PCS. We’re not always 100% on board with everything we’re always doing. Whether it’s a new job or a new friendship, or simply a day when we’re not feeling it, we don masks all the time. The capable and supportive Stepford spouse. The overly enthusiastic sports parent who delights in dragging their kid across town for yet another meandering practice. The hypereager job applicant whose only mission in life is to maximize the success of their organization and flatter the ego of their supervisor.
But this time, the mask seems heavier and more ill-fitting. More ridiculous. Like you’re the person at the gym trying to wear the fashion of someone of a very different age or body type. The actor playing a role. You jump off one hamster wheel of determined grit and sunny optimism and onto another. And it’s exhausting.
Like me, you no doubt have perused several of those ‘cheerleading’ military spouse articles, which aim to coax you to become your best military self, to set and crush goals. To live life like a boss. While I never question the integrity or the sincerity of my fellow military spouse writers, I know the demographic they are targeting – the newbie spouse, the young spouse.
We cranky and jaded spouses have been through the gauntlet a few times. Sadly, ‘age and experience’ doesn’t necessarily translate into ‘ease.’ You’d think that doing something, like PCSing, enough times would make you better at it. More efficient at transitioning households. More capable of working through ‘the checklist.’
Unfortunately, every PCS comes with its unique blend of headaches and inconveniences. For every hurdle, headache and heartache you expect, three more appear unexpectedly. ‘Expecting the unexpected’ morphs into, ‘What fresh hell do the PCS devils have for me today?’
You’re told to make the ‘best of it’ by being the ‘best of you.’ These thoughts read as an energetic call to arms to access your strengths and transform your life into what your new duty station demands of you.
But you have seen time and again that all the vigor and optimism you can summon doesn’t make that shit sandwich taste any better. ‘Bloom where you’re planted’ becomes ‘Doom…same manure, different pot’.
I’m getting tired of starting again…somewhere new. Check that: I am tired of starting again. But here we are again…somewhere new.Read comments