People often ask me how is it to be an army wife (colloquial way to address a lady married to a soldier). The answer is usually a ready-made one, for those who ask for the sake of conversation; for those who genuinely want to know, I really don’t know where to begin.
I think the most difficult part of being an army wife is the empty feeling of not belonging to any place. It’s like being in limbo or hanging mid-air, not belonging to the sky or to earth. I realized that when I struggled to answer a basic question asked by someone who didn’t know me. Perfectly legitimate question but it had no perfect answer.
I didn’t know if it would be correct to call my parents’ home the place I “belong” to, although I grew up there, did my schooling, got a job, and got married. Without doubt it is special, but after being married for 5 years I think it’s not selfish to want a place of your own, a house of your own, a place you call – home. We never stayed with our in-laws, although in our case the in-laws is sadly a restricted circle, but even if it were a full-fledged family of four-five and as many relatives as one could contrive, we wouldn’t have ever stayed with them due to my husband’s exigencies of service. The truth is, we don’t “belong” to either of these places.
We, in army, change our houses every two-three years, sometimes within 6 months. We strive, and often struggle, to make it as close to our idea of a perfect nest during that time. The houses, whether a palatial British dilapidated bungalow or a modern day sleeker flat, is lovingly decorated, every time. The trunks, sometimes nearly 50, are carefully opened and unpacked, each time. The huge gardens are always maintained, trimmed and kept anew. The pots and plants are bought and cared for in every posting, only to be left behind when the time comes. The anxiety mixed with untiring excitement for a new house never ends, no matter how many postings you have had in the past.
The ladies, army wives, stay by themselves half the duration but it’s still “home”; it’s home because for the time that we are there, we create memories. Even if it’s not a pleasant memory, it’s still a memory of a time spent together or time spent waiting for your other half – the time we were in complete and total charge.
Still, at the back of our mind, there is always a clock, running backwards. We know we would move soon. We are always aware that the time in this house is limited. The house isn’t “ours”, it’s borrowed. Someone else, a new family, would take over right after we vacate. Still, it is, in that moment – our home.
But the question is – Where do you belong to?
The locations will change, the houses will change, the addresses will change, the mobile numbers will change; what won’t change, are the people.
I belong to him and he to me. We belong to each other. We belong to each other when we look at the old 19-20th century houses with falling pieces of cement from the ceiling and exposed bricks and iron, and then get together, put our heart and soul to fix it, knowing fully well that we would leave it after a year or two. We belong to each other even when he is posted at a disturbed area, fighting for nation, while I sit alone in the ‘home’ we built from scratch only a little while back. We belong to each other even when I sit at my home waiting for his return, phone-calls, and living with a dread all the while. So, no we do not belong to the transient places that are our posting locations, but belong to the memories and moments we create all along.
And THAT’S the most honest answer I can give.