He doesn’t put it on often, although it always seems to be in bits and pieces around our house. And being in the National Guard, he only needs it occasionally. Once a month, though, it comes off a hanger: a hat with perfect creases, a pair of dirtied boots, t-shirt, socks, and this- his uniform.
I remember when the green tough box arrived at the post office that hot summer day. It had been sent home just weeks before he would be back. I lugged it up the stairs, and pulled out one ACU after another. There was a pair of winter boots. There was a fleece jacket with his name tape still attached. He had a quilt, neatly folded, from a church group who handmade blankets for his platoon. All of it had a musty smell of sand and sweat. I remember breathing it in, and wondering if that was how Afghanistan smelled to him every day.
One by one, I gathered an armful of uniforms, and trudged to the bathroom. They were so filthy with the dirt and grime that they needed to be soaked before they could go into the washing machine. I ran warm water into the rub, and watched as it slowly rose above the huge pile of clothes. I sat and wondered if every military spouse had the same emotions as I did as I went through that box. There was a kind of somberness to it all, as if I were entrusted with a deep secret. I thought to myself how strange it was to be washing the sand of war from his things.
When he puts it on for drill, I can’t help but think he’s handsome. After all, there is something to the cliché of women swooning to men in uniform. I can’t quite fully be comfortable, though. I think back to that moment. I see the water swirling around and smell the earthiness again, and all the memories of deployment come rushing back.
I sometimes wonder what people think a National Guard spouse feels- after all, we don’t live on a base, and we don’t see our spouses in PT gear every morning or uniforms when they arrive home at night. Instead, we only see that uniform on for drill weekends and deployments. The weekends are bearable for most of us. The two weeks of training once a year can be tough, but manageable. That isn’t all there is to it, however. They go to war, too.
And every time he wears his uniform, I remember.