Out of 3 daughters my father had, I was the only daughter who started out in civilian life and aged out before my dad retired from the Air force after 22 years of service. Dad went to boot camp the Monday after I was baptized at two weeks old. After that, all I knew was the military. We lived in 3 states and I attended schools in 2 different countries – Germany and the Netherlands. He started out life married to one woman and then divorced my mother for infidelity while he was away on duty at another base in Alaska while we lived in Nebraska. After those year, he became a different man : angry, distant and often depressed.
My sisters are blown away of how I remember the man my father used to be – warm, loving and affectionate. He was pretty happy when I was born – as he was when all of us were born. The sad thing is, he drifted away while he was still at home. I am still the daughter that is closest to him, who gets more of his honesty and his affection. I suppose it’s because he knows that I know the person he was.
I loved so many of the things that the military life gave us- security, new surroundings every few years, meeting people from all sorts of backgrounds and life experiences. My father made sure we were exposed to different people and that we did not grow up racist like some of my extended family. I actually used the German I learned in school. I ate and drank what was not available in the country of my birth. I got to see some of the things that are in the travel shows – London, Paris, Germany. I breathed the air and remember the scents of baking bread, the pine forests and the terrible bathing habits of people who visit the palace of Versailles. I can piece together a working framework of how to listen to language and get the gist. I see the nuance of different cultures. I learned to love where I lived instead of feeling homesick.
I still grew up lonely. I didn’t have many friends. I still do not. I am distant from my own family. I suppose it was from the fact I didn’t get the care and security from a loving family when I was in another country. They all lived somewhere else and my own mother lived with someone else. It felt like abandonment. It felt awkward and I didn’t know how to be anyone else. I grew up wild – even though I never did drugs or run away, I was angry.. I was cruel to my middle sister and other kids, I had sex before I was truly ready. I parroted the things that my father said that were sometimes rude.
When he married my stepmother I was 10, she was cruel to the point that I lost any sense of esteem I had. Before she came into the picture I was curious, finding my own identity, and okay with my feelings. When she arrived, she beat it out of me with her actions and words. I still weep a little for that child I was. I grew distant from my own extended family because of the shame I felt. She was worst when dad was on TDY. It was days even weeks of abuse that she told my dad that I caused. I thought it was my fault and I was broken – it was only half true,, I was broken because of her but it was not my fault.
I ended up losing my virginity, I suppose it was because the boy I did it with was the first guy to really pay attention to me.
I tried to tell him but he yelled at me, allowed for her cruel behavior to continue. He became stricter and colder. When she finally was found to have mental illness, he realized that most of what she said and did was not me but her. I was 15 when he saw her for what she was but he still is married to her this day out of duty. I sometimes feel like he’s waiting for her to die.
I spent the next 3 years away from her, first with an aunt and uncle while he was assigned back overseas and then with dad for my last 2 years of high school in the Netherlands. It was a time I could decompress but I was still unable to process what happened. I suppose it was because I felt I could not talk to dad. After all, he had grown distant. There was no other family I could turn to, I had few friends I could talk to and I was not able to feel close to them.
I am now scratching the backside of 40 and have finally found peace and self esteem this year. I am more secure in myself than I have been for years. I can trust myself more and the identity I had is now returning along with the happiness I felt as a child when I was exploring.
I am now in my second marriage which is also going to end in divorce, but you know what? I’m okay with that. The affection that I feel for myself, my body, and my mind far outweighs the need I once had to remain in deadbedrooms and distant men. I never wanted to be the person who got walked on but I ended up being that way to have the love I hoped I’d get. There are no more skeletons in my closet and I reach out to my family more. I have made a few more friends this year and have truer happiness than ever before.
I am also better at making peace with the things I couldn’t control. The Air Force life was good, when things were good. It was bad, when it was bad. I am gaining control over the things that I once was helpless against. I am learning to love myself truly and I am learning to take true pride who I am – a military brat, a woman, and a fighter. I don’t ever give up and that is what military life gave me – a fighting spirit, a willingness to go places I never been, and bravery in the face of adversity.