I remember the heat. That’s about all I was concerned about in May 1995, in Austin, Texas. Of course, my hair should be perfect (in its fancy 90s style); my makeup needed to be on-point; hopefully, I wouldn’t have any issues bustling my wedding dress at the reception.  Looking back, I have zero idea what I was thinking! I was marrying my high school sweetheart, the same weekend he became a Marine and graduated college (I would graduate two years later).  As a fresh-faced 21-year-old, full of hope and promise for the future, I was only excited about life.  We were on the cusp of so many adventures, experiences, and exciting changes. What could be better?

It’s now 2022.  This month, my husband will quietly pass 27 years of active service. Military retirement is upon us this fall.  Looking back over almost 3 decades of military life and 14 relocations, I am often overwhelmed by the many experiences we have endured, individually and as a couple.  There were joys, absolutely!  Two beautiful children, a grandchild, more friends than I can count, guaranteed health insurance, a steady paycheck, and amazing experiences across the United States and overseas – these are a few of the many blessings I count. Of course, no life season passes by without its fair share of tribulations.  These included losses of friends due to combat, suicide, and divorce.  They included “growing up pains” – my husband and I had to learn how to grow up while simultaneously managing to raise a family and “adult”, not always easy!  Moving 14 times may be exciting to many, but to me, it was very hard. For my children, who both had to change schools multiple times, it was hard…often, devastatingly hard.  There was trauma. There were tragedies.

Living as a Marine Corps spouse through 9/11, the Iraqi invasion, then Afghanistan, and many other deployments in between, plus numerous evacuations for hurricanes (including Katrina), I often don’t remember who that spouse was – the spouse who was given kudos for being “strong”, the spouse who is known as “the good wife” by my mother’s best friend, the spouse who raised two young children while simultaneously working full-time and running interference for other spouses, the spouse who survived on margaritas, Mexican food, and friendship, the spouse who watched the government vehicle creep slowly through our neighborhood during the Iraq deployment, knowing it was a notification for someone and praying it wasn’t for me.  Who was that? How did I get through all of that? Could I endure all of that today? I’m not sure, but what I am sure of is that I have to give a lot of credit to my tribe for my survival – my fellow Marine Corps spouses who walked alongside me.  I give credit to the “older” spouses who provided guidance and calm direction.

As a “mature spouse”, I recognize that my perspective has changed from that day back in 1995.  I’m no longer as confident that life will bring only happiness and excitement; I am not as fearless as I was about the impacts of war; I am hesitant for my husband to travel, knowing that our lives have morphed into this massive investment of love and time; I am fearful for my kids and the instability of the world, and I understand that there are dangers everywhere.

BUT, while I may now more fully recognize that life itself is difficult, painful, and challenging, I also more fully recognize that I have the power to create my own instances of happiness, joy, and fulfillment. I have embraced the concept of vulnerability and understand that I am enough.  I have learned how to become more resilient and how to address my insecurities and anxieties. I have learned how to love deeply, while simultaneously understanding that loving deeply may one day likely result in great loss. I have learned the power of leaning on my friends who have walked this life with me. I understand that my power as a Marine Corps spouse, as a woman, as a mother, as a friend, and as an employee is all within me.­­­

Shelley Rodriguez currently serves the warrior community as HOPE’s Director of Clinical Case Management and as a social worker, using her medical background and her experience as a military spouse to provide a unique perspective to help our warriors get the care they need.