“If you could do anything — forget intelligence, physical skill, money, or talent — if you could do whatever you wanted and it would work, what would you do?” my mom asked.

I sat on the periwinkle painted iron gliding bench thing, the kind that leaves weird designs all over your thighs when you wear shorts in April because it’s Alabama and so hot you want to die. The screened-in porch creaked and expanded in the heat. I focused on the question and waited for God to tell me what I wanted to do if I could do anything.

“I’d join the army,” I said.

Really?” said my mom.

What?” said God.

I was eighteen, dreamy, unathletic, smart but lazy, and aside from a slight obsession with romanticized films and books set during WWII, had shown exactly no interest in the military. I’d been accepted to the University of Alabama and had no plan, but if we were dreaming here, I wanted to do something important. My ROTC experience was not a success story; I’m not a soldier, but I did marry one.

*

Memorial Day is NOT Veterans Day. Pity the fool who conflates them in the presence of a military person. Remembering the fallen is not the same as recognition of those who serve/ed. But is remembering the same as recognizing? I had to look it up.

To remember is to have an image in one’s memory while to recognize is to match something or someone which one currently perceives to a memory of some previous encounter.

the google

Back in 2003, through a confidence breach kerfuffle, I discovered there was another girl in the English department who had a soldier in Iraq. We’d been pleasant acquaintances before, but now I was at her apartment every few weekends and it felt so good to be with someone who understood the intangible stress of being separated from support. We had a short chat this week and I sent her a picture of my current Domestic Goddess situation.

“I’m like the Apollo 13 engineers over here. What can I make for dinner using… this…”

We had a good laugh over the contrast in our attitudes these 18 years, a million kids, unwanted moves, and husbands’ constant ailments later. “Remember when they were at war and we got all female and missing them? hahahaha!” We continued to snark and wax Army hilarious about how little we’re appreciated and how much trouble they are. And how sure I was that he has no such complaints about me, given how well I take care of him.

(See photo above)

*

The next day I read The Low Road by, another Alabama Years friend, Tommy Zurhellen. It’s the extraordinary account of his walk across America to raise awareness on veteran suicide and veteran homelessness. It’s not a diatribe; it’s not a political bombardment. It’s a conversation full of funny stories, heart clutch moments, and wild animal encounters. There are dogs. It’s inspiring, encouraging, and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Tommy wanted to make a difference, to shed some more light on a problem we love to talk about but don’t do anything that great to solve. Once the fighting is over and their bodies have been crushed and wrung out, their minds have been blown apart from fatigue, stress, grief, and frustration, and they get back to their family–who will never understand them fully– how are they supposed to be? And when things go wrong and they can embrace the suck no longer, who will help them?

*

During the summer of 2019, when Tommy Zurhellen was walking across America, I was moving overseas for the 4th time. I was not amused. I didn’t want to leave the country again, dreaded dealing with months of hotels and the race to find a house in the allotted 2 weeks, was discouraged at the health effects of months of restaurant food, and was stressing out over the British driving test I’d have to take. Again. On paper, we were pros at this. On Facebook and in goodbye meet ups we were the “lucky” ones. But if I may refer you to the 2019 Archives bar, you can read all about my feelings on the subject. SPOILER: No confetti will feature in those feelings.

My inner child most days

When I arrived back in England, the first person I invited to my almost unpacked house was a friend I’d had 12 years before when we were stationed here. Our teens had been infants. WE had been infants. She was at my table fifteen minutes before we were both snotty and sobbing. I’d no idea I felt so angry on behalf of my husband. Why don’t people treat him better?! Why don’t they try to understand what he’s been through?! He works so hard, puts up with so much! He’s so tired and broken and keeps going! He could use some recognition and encouragement… attention and appreciation… like…he gets at home…

(cough)

*

Folding laundry, I sneered at a long green drab sock. My people will understand: the socks never match. They’re never equally faded; one foot is always going to be lighter, more worn, closer to the edge. I plead with him every so often to just BUY NEW ONES. “But they’re perfectly good socks,” he’ll say every time. “No holes yet.”

What happens when there are holes? What if, one day, the obvious wear finally rips and he no longer matches who I know him to be? There’s no replacing. There’s no throwing away. I thought about fading socks as I picked up my kids from school and saw friends doing the same. We’re coming up on a long weekend. Longer for some than others. Most faces were happy, relieved the week was over and excited for plans. For some, the only plan is to be still; rest; recover; heal up for the next week of who knows what thrown at them. There’s no gear for this phase’s mission. They just have to put one foot in front of the other over and over until they can rest and repeat.

What Tommy did was extraordinary. What he showed me was even more so. I’ve never been interested in changing the world, but if I could do anything…I’d want it to be important… Right now, that looks like appreciating the worn out socks for all the miles they’ve travelled and the strength left in them to go still further. And if I’m feeling extra appreciative I’ll order pizza.

Read more about Tommy and the VetZero mission here! https://veteranzero.org

All net proceeds from this limited VetZero Heroes Edition will benefit Hudson River Housing’s VetZero project to help veterans in need and it includes exclusive features you won’t find in the forthcoming bookstore version.

2 thoughts on “In Which My Cooking Knocks Some Socks Off

  1. Christina, you brought me to tears. The worn sock- the worn soul. I don’t know what to say except feeling the pain for you and him makes me want to do something that honors the suffering you go through.

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