Murphy's Law for Military Spouses
I like to think of it as Murphy’s Law for Military Spouses: when our spouses are away, everything that can go wrong, likely will. The dishwasher breaks, the car gets a flat, the kids get the chicken pox, the dog rips a hole in the carpet – and all at the same time, no less. You name it, and there is a military spouse who can top it with a tale of her own.
Just the other day I was on the verge of a meltdown over an unfortunate combination of events when the humor of my own self-pity occurred to me. My husband hadn’t been away from home twenty-four hours, and as I sat on my sofa, out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash scurrying across the floor. As I turned my head to investigate, I laid my eyes upon the most enormous and repulsive bug I’d ever seen and gasped in horror. I jumped to my feet, my heart racing, and tried to decide exactly what I was going to do. Call me old-fashioned, but I consider the eviction of such unwanted tenants a task far better suited for my husband than me.
Ten minutes later, I found myself frustrated and worn out from unsuccessfully chasing this insect-rodent hybrid with a rolled magazine in hand and more scared of it than it was of me. I know this because it would taunt me by pausing briefly as if to instigate me and then bolt on an unpredictable path each time I took a swing. Eventually, it ran behind a piece of furniture and out of sight for good. I eased my way back to my place on the sofa certain it might show its gnarly little face again at any moment.
This incident alone would not have been enough to make me believe the laws of nature were working against me, but this was just the cap on a day full of fun little surprises. Earlier that afternoon as I jumped into my car to go pick my son up from preschool, I was stunned to find it wouldn’t start. I had just driven the car thirty minutes earlier, but suddenly when I had somewhere important to be and my husband was in no position to help, it was dead as a doornail. A new battery, an alternator, and a week in a much too compact loaner car, and I would eventually be all set. The only other time we have ever had a car break down? His car, another alternator, and he was deployed, of course.
After making other arrangements to pick my son up that afternoon, several attempts at jumping the vehicle, and transporting it to the repair shop, I finally made it home just in time for one of the bulbs in our family room’s recessed lighting to blow out. Clearly, a blown out bulb is no tragedy. In our house, however, it has become almost comical that bulbs decide to meet their demise each time my husband leaves home. And not just any light bulb. No, a simple lamp would be too easy. It’s always the lights that are irritatingly just out of reach (and of course, would be no problem for my husband at 6’6”) that require me to drag out the ladder. The bulbs that really seem to have their lifespan in sync with my husband’s detachment schedule are the outdoor lighting over our garage and every recessed light bulb between our kitchen and family room. And let’s not forget those hallway ceiling lights that also require unscrewing and detaching the bulky globes just to change the bulb. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly capable of changing a light bulb. The irony of their timing just never ceases to amaze me.
So when my friend, the insect-rodent hybrid, decided to play his game of cat and mouse with me that evening, it was just the finishing piece of a perfect day to finally make me laugh out loud at a day full of these little quirks of fate that had occurred yet again when my husband was away from home. None of this should have surprised me, you see, because this type of evolution happens each time he is gone.
One time in particular that always echoes in my mind was during a deployment. One night precisely at the moment my head touched the pillow after a long, grueling day at work, the smoke detector in the hallway outside our bedroom began chirping. Low battery – of course, why not? I lied there for about five minutes convincing myself that I could fall asleep and deal with it in the morning. As the minutes went on, however, the chirping seemed to only grow louder and louder. The idea of me drifting off to sleep in spite of this noise was becoming highly improbable.
I was too tired and too lazy to get a ladder, so I grabbed the chair from our home office. I was equally lackluster in my desire to go downstairs to get a new battery. Instead, I thought, I’ll just take out the old battery and change it in the morning. It couldn’t chirp if there was no battery at all, right? Wrong. Still unwilling to fetch a new battery, I buried the smoke detector in a pile of laundry, surprising even myself at the extent of my laziness. Finally, silence and a night of peaceful rest.
Fast forward twenty-four hours, at nearly the exact same time the next night. Just as I laid my head down to sleep, there it was again – more chirping. Only this time, it was louder, more intolerable, and entirely impossible to ignore. It couldn’t possibly be the same smoke detector as the previous night because I had changed that battery in the morning. It quickly occurred to me that this new chirping was coming from the smoke detector in the very room where I was sleeping. And this time, the solution wouldn’t be nearly as easy as the previous night because this smoke detector was firmly affixed to the uppermost point on our 15-foot cathedral ceiling. So there I was at midnight dragging a 50-pound Little Giant ladder up the stairs just so I could get some sleep (which prompted a mental note: Must get a lighter ladder. Insult meet injury.). It is worth noting here that no smoke detector has ever chirped since that day when my husband is home. Like our light bulbs, those pesky little batteries have clearly worked out a deal with my husband to only die when he is hundreds of miles from home. Clearly, there is a conspiracy.
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to deal with everything from firing and suing a negligent home improvement contractor to fixing a toilet that overflowed enough to flood a bathroom and leak through to the floor below. For all of these unexpected episodes, however, I’ve learned not to sweat the little things and try to find humor in even the most unexpected inconveniences. Sometimes that’s not so easy, but I have to remind myself to not let these things ruin my day. Otherwise, my life would be far more stressful than I think I could handle. As military spouses, we all live with the fact that we have to deal with these hassles on our own much of the time, and often times the “when it rains, it pours” philosophy certainly applies. It’s how we respond to them that ultimately determines how we let these events affect us.
And so, now I simply wait for the next time my husband is away and what adventure next lies in store for me. For now, I must get the ladder. There is a light bulb to change.
Casey Spurr is the Southeastern Virginia Chapter Director for Blue Star Families. Her article originally appeared in The Flagship on October 28, 2009.