It’s hard to speak ill about something millions of Americans are unfailingly passionate about. It’s even harder, much to their delight, when they all have guns. Up until about a year and a half ago, the military was something I had only glanced at from a distance. Growing up, it was a rolling Midwest hill covered with painted rocks that formed an American flag. It was the occasional yellow ribbon tacked to a neighborhood maple tree. It was a history lesson, my grandpa’s heroic yet crippling WWII flashbacks, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial I disinterestedly walked past on my eighth grade trip to D.C. All I understood was that I would never have to understand it. That lifestyle was for other families—not mine. I’d never have to watch my dad go to war. We’d never hang up any ribbons.
Can a 13-year-old materialize conclusions about war and death? Can anyone? Do words like “patriotism” and “honor” surpass insurmountable devastation? These are questions I grapple with, years later, as I undergo an emotional breakup with a soldier I’ve dated for two and a half years.
I’m not going to list reasons not to date a soldier. I’m not going to list why you should. But I do have a few things to say.
One of my coworkers called the military “the strongest form of peer pressure you can ever get.” I watched my ex-boyfriend regress from a spirited, hopeful, gentle force into something dismal and nondescript. The man with childlike enthusiasm for music, art, Buddhism, coffee and conversation became a uniform-clad shadow of his former self, jaded of all that is beautiful and carrying a “fuck you” attitude.
The change wasn’t sudden or gradual. It went undetected for so long. But the training grew intense. Instead of being gone for days, weeks. Instead of showing up at the airport jittery with butterflies to see me, hungover. I’d known him since he was a skinny little thing, playing ghost in the graveyard wearing a red bandana. Now, he was getting tattoos with people I didn’t know and forgetting to call me. He got deployed to Afghanistan in May. When you feel something slipping away, you hold on even tighter.
He came back for Christmas and I knew it was over. But the thing is, I still held. He was sinking the ship we built for us with such force as I refused to let it go down. I looked in his eyes as we sat in his car after the obligatory welcome home ceremony and dinner. I saw something I had never seen before in another human: nothing. Nothing was staring back at me with such force I had to suppress tears at the sight of such indifference. What I’m trying to say is, some can handle war. Some can’t. I’m letting go of your machine gun parts, your potent disinterest toward life and abandonment of your soul. When we decided to end it in our favorite café, after days of not hearing from you and making excuses for your absence at holiday gatherings, you said something I’ll never forget. “No offense, Isabelle—But I just don’t give a fuck about anything anymore.” There’s not enough paper in the world to scribble down all the beautiful things I hold dear. Before you date someone in the military, think about what you’re willing to give up. More importantly, think about what you’re not.