Not a TV Husband

But Maybe She Wheel Not A TV Husband

When I got married at 19, I thought I knew how to “wife”. While my then fiancé and now husband and I had a good understanding about doing away with the traditional gender roles a husband and wife play, I didn’t know there was a poisonous thread of preconception I was trying to weave into our marriage. A preconception of what it means to be a bully in a marriage.

 

Growing up, I knew I was fortunate to have parents who loved each other. I saw them sacrifice for each other, spoil one another and love together. But I never saw my parents fight, for they preferred instead to fight quietly and behind closed doors. This wasn’t wrong of them and I don’t resent them for it; however, when I began seriously dating my now husband, I was very behind in knowing the loving way to argue in a marriage.

 

After my mother died, my models for marriage came from my friends’ parents and from movies and TV. Other friends’ parents didn’t make it a habit to argue in front of us either, so I unconsciously began learning patterns of arguing from romantic comedies and TV series. When I laughed along at the antics of Jill and Tim the Toolman Taylor, I unconsciously stored away the pattern of Jill’s to roll her eyes at Tim and for Tim to always admit that Jill was right in the end.

 

But Maybe She Wheel Not A TV Husband Sweet Plum Photography
Photo Credit: Diana Ratcliff, Sweet Plum Photography

Across television, these wives berate their husbands in the form of jokes, insults and passive aggressive teasing. There’s always something that the husband has done or said wrong and it is only the husband that is responsible for the wife’s happiness, with no regard for the husbands. The idea is that the husband should be happy that he has his wife, no matter what, and there’s nothing that she can do wrong.

 

Regardless of the two genders or two nongenders in a relationship, the idea that one person has dominance or authority over another should always be wrong. Women’s suffrage of the early 20th century in this country taught women that they have a voice and a right to be heard. But now it seems like the traditional idea is that there’s still one person in the relationship whose voice is quieted for the other to be heard.

But Maybe She Wheel Not A TV Husband Bruges Belgium
Waterways of Bruges outside of Brussels, Belgium

 

And I am guilty of repeating this mistake in my own marriage. Dusty and I have been married for seven years, five of them with me in a wheelchair and six years in the military.

 

While stationed in Missouri following our return from Germany, Dusty and I both went through a transformative period. For the first time since the accident, I was purposefully doing physical therapy just to stay healthy and not to continue to try to walk.

At this point we’d been married 6 years, together 8 years, and been together through family crises, my accident that left me a paraplegic, moving for school, moving for the Army, long trainings, long distance loving, and countless events that began to shape our identities. He learned how to dress me, stretch my hip flexors, stand by in case when I became independent, and how to be a soldier with a disabled partner. I learned how to be second to the Army in his time, yet feel secure that I was first when given choices. We grew up in our adulthood together.

 

Like young friends do, we also teased each other. Made fun of each other’s failings, jokingly at first but always with an element of our true feelings. Then it began to happen in public, at dinners with friends or with our families or even when meeting other couples for the first time. “Don’t ask Dusty, he can’t make choices,” I’d answer for him when friends would ask where to meet for dinner. Joking? Sure. Truthful of my own frustrations with some of his mannerisms? Yes.

 

And for the first six, Dusty simply absorbed this undertone of belittling and patronizing that I had brought into our marriage. And he took it because he too only knew that it was the husband that was wrong and was constantly needing to get his act together. It breaks my heart to know the man of my life and the hero of my story felt this way for so long. It didn’t matter how tirelessly he worked to make my life accessible, to tune all the kinks from my wheelchair whenever it needed it, to watch for mental and emotional roadblocks in our military life and prepare us for them; if I was unhappy, it was Dusty’s job to fix it. How miserable of a marriage.

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But Dusty went through a minor quarter-life crisis in realizing that he simply was not happy. He couldn’t put his finger on the reason, he loved his position in the military at that time, he was hiking and camping all throughout the beautiful Ozarks on weekends, he was enjoying CrossFit… but still he wasn’t happy. We prayed together, I prayed for him and he prayed. And God replied to me, through an article I found on Pinterest. (God totally talks through Pinterest, I’m sure it was His will that wanted me to turn into a wooden pallet sign label maker for our house). Reading through the article, it forced me to ask myself this question.

 

Would I want to be married to me?

 

If I was married to myself and played the role of Dusty, would I appreciate the things I said to myself? Would I want to have the responsibility that I’d just shove over to myself without another thought?

Of course not. I’d make myself miserable after a day. No wonder Dusty was unhappy. It wasn’t that who I am as a person made him unhappy or that he didn’t enjoy being with me or we didn’t love each other or anything in that thread of thought. It was the patronizing and belittling comments that had eaten away at his self-esteem, confidence and happiness with who he is. And I crumbled when I realized it had been my mouth from which those comments had come, no matter what my intention had been.

But Maybe She Wheel Not a TV Husband Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark

And so together we learned how to communicate both the negatives and positives of each other. We’re still learning how to build each other up instead of cutting away the edges we don’t like. And we’re going to be just alright. We have a foundation of communication that has carried us through my accident and more and now we rely on that to teach us how to fight fairly.

 

I urge new couples in a serious relationship to practice fair fighting when tempers run high and expectations are skewed. A couple that doesn’t fight could be pushing down the life force of communication that love between two people need. When I’m angry now, I talk honestly instead of passive aggressively belittling his choices and person. He feels affirmed that I think he’s the incredible, strong amazing man that he is when we’ve finished an argument and I feel the same from him. We now know what is a healthy conversation and what isn’t and that’s an education for which I couldn’t be more grateful. Because I’m not married to a husband on TV. I’m married to true person with a spirit like myself.

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Losing More than My Mother

Losing More Than A Mother But Maybe She Wheel Julia Rodes

 

 

A week ago marked the 10 year anniversary of losing my mother.

 

These past ten years of grief have shaped how I see relationships. I’ve fallen in love, made the lasting friendships that’ll stay with me, became a wife, a sister and an aunt. But in the first six years after she was gone, I also endured the worst experiences I know I’ll ever live to have. There wouldn’t be any waking up from experiences harder than assault, a traffic accident, a spinal cord injury, waking up to a paralyzed body. What I missed most in those moments was the ability to call my mom, have her take me into her arms and make it all better.

 

I’ve learned I grief much more than just not having my mom in my life; I also grief not having A mom in my life. Because when you lose a mother, you lose so much more than having that person. You also lose the security that a mother gives her child, the comfort that there is someone wiser and always available to help. When a daughter loses a mother, she loses the relationship between mothers and daughters AND she loses the security a mother provides her daughter. My mother surrounded, protected and loved, sometimes judgmentally or intrusively, but with well-meaning and adoring  intentions. I miss the person my mother was, but sometimes more than anything I miss knowing my mom would be there any time I needed her. And how I’ve needed her.

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I needed our mother-daughter relationship when I fell in love with a soldier and made the choice to be an Army wife. I needed the security my mother would’ve brought when I couldn’t pull pants over my paralyzed legs. I needed her smile when I embarked on mentoring other disabled people on traveling, a passion I inherited from her. I needed her wisdom in medicine to help me manage the chronic nerve pain. I needed her pride when I walked across the stage at my college graduation. I needed her for every milestone in my life and for the lives of my siblings and now her grandchildren. What losing her meant that she’ll never be there to see the adult she helped shape me to become. And I’ll never get to turn around and thank her.

 

In the Hindu religion, time is thought of differently. Hindu’s believe time is not linear like most of the Western world believes, where days and months march forward minute after minute. In Hinduism, time is cyclical and revolves through the four phases, or yugas, of Sat (or Krta), Treta, Dvapara and Kali that repeat themselves endlessly. Think the only period of awkward insecurity is when you’re a teenager? What if we revolved around a period of awkwardness in the circular time when we’re 15 and then revolved through time to again move through that phase at 24, 43, and 68 years old? What if I moved back through the childishly sweet phase of falling head over heels in love with Dusty when I’m 31 and 59 like I did when I was 17?

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If time is circular, then I will continue to move through phases where I have a mom and where I don’t. Her death is a permanent fact of my life, but that never meant my life would be absent of her presence. As I revolve around and around the circular timeline of my life, I’ll move through periods where her presence is so acute it’s as if she’s alive and then phases where her absence is like a widening void. It’s comforting to think that when I feel her presence, it may be because I’m revolving through a past time as a teenager or child when she was alive.

 

In the linear timeline of my life, my mother is gone and abruptly removed. But in the circular way of thinking, I both have a mother in one phase of a revolution and then do not in another phase. For fans of the Big Bang Theory, this is what I’d call my Schrödinger mother. In circular time, her presence will still be there at each milestone. Her absence will be felt but her presence will still be alive. I can have the relationship, but still have lost the realistic security. I can still look up and thank her.

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I am an overly fortunate person in that I’ve had multiple women step in and provide that missing security of a mother. Army wives all over the world have taken my husband and myself in to provide comfort and help during our crises, actions that I will not soon forget. Her fellow nurses were there when I fell in love and married my soldier, hosting bridal showers and hastily tying the back of my wedding gown so I could dance. The wives of Army chaplains were there when I awoke paralyzed, patiently explaining that everything would be okay while they fed and comforted Dusty. They were also there to smile with pride when I graduated college two years later. I have incredible, strong, and passionate women who have surrounded me and won’t be quick to let go.

But Maybe She Wheel

 

The cycles of grief have moved through me over the past 10 years and have subsided to echoing ripples in my day to day. She’ll always be painfully missed in my accomplishments, adventures and pitfalls and that’s when the waves will splash over my head. But I know now that she can be both present and absent, gone and alive, in the circular spinning of my life. I’ll be glad the next time I move through the phase where I can feel her presence again.

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Life on the RODES

But Maybe She Wheel Life on the Rodes

But Maybe She Wheel Life on the Rodes

To those who know us, our announcement about this next chapter in our life should come to no surprise.

 

We’re 26 and 28 years old. We were married when we were 19 and 21. I was injured in an accident and became a paraplegic at 21 and he was 23. We survived our first deployment at 22 and 24. We traveled Europe and Africa at 25 and 27. And now we’re saying goodbye.

 

There are several “checkpoints” in an Army career where you have the option of leaving service or diving a little deeper into the commitment, sacrifice and adjustments the Army life requires. In Dusty’s career, when we moved to Fort Leonard Wood, we were faced with another checkpoint. But there was a problem; for Dusty to continue with the Army, it would make my dream of going to medical school with the support and help of a present husband just a little harder. We prayed and prayed. God molded our hearts and pointed our feet towards the door. Our life has definitely shouldered too many struggles already. We don’t need to voluntarily add more.

 

So Dusty found an Army Reserve unit in Denver. I studied my butt off and did well on the preliminary medical school admission test. We sold our couches, dart board and donated boxes of clothes. I explained all the upcoming changes to Ethel. And then we bought an RV.

 

We’re setting out on a journey to wake up each morning with the only goal being to enjoy the day. We’re putting aside the constant race of getting higher in the career ladder, making more to buy things we don’t need and falling asleep each night just a little exhausted by the trivial fires that seem to be lit every morning. We have this next year before I know where I’ll be attending school and Dusty just has to drill once a month. We set up a home base in Denver, got a PO Box, put cars in storage and now we’re hitting the road.

 

There are more important things to spend the day with than the anxiety and ego that seemed to underlie the career focus our life had. So we’re shutting the door on those to instead embrace the beauties of the Western US and the happiness of the complexities of marriage. And Ethel, with her travel bowls and working vest ready, has been more than happy to discover this life with us. As long as her Kong is full of peanut butter, she’s a happy camper.

 

Wish us luck and please follow us along here as I write our Wheeling Diaries and more!

 

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Finding Ethel: Part 3, Lots of Laughs

IMG_20150602_1152151A service dog grows to become a companion unmatched in a person’s life. Ethel is quickly growing to be utterly invaluable in my chaotic day to day. Our relationship continues to shape into a bridge between us that I didn’t know I could cross. Communication is the key to any real partnership, every relationship book will scold. What I didn’t know was exactly how much little Miss Ethel could actually communicate to me.

 

I was quite unprepared the first time I heard Ethel talk to me. She stood and stretched and as she yawned, she yelled out a cross between groan and high pitched grumble. I turned around to stare at her, utterly amazed, to which she groaned loudly and flopped back to the ground. We had been together three weeks and I had no idea that not only did I have an incredible service dog, but she could also actually talk. Wasn’t a talking dog a dream I had as a kid?

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Now, she talks to me all day long. Since Ethel is convinced I am unreservedly incapable of going to the bathroom by myself, every time Ethel has to rise from a nap she expressed her opinion to me. When she’s especially comfortable on her bed, she’ll let out a deep rumble of appreciation. When I’m boring her to death with working at my desk, she’ll let out harrumphs of tedium.

 

“Okay girlie, I’m almost done”

Uuurrmmm grrummmm

“We’ll eat soon. Why don’t we find your bone?”

*Yawn* Yeeeaaaaaaammurrr ggrmmmm

“Ok, sounds good.”

 

And I talk back to her, telling her that no you can’t eat the frog we just found (she had picked a frog up in her mouth, hastily spit him out and made jerky shakes of her head to get rid of the taste. I had screamed.) or asking for her opinion on the shirt I’m wearing or whether or not she thinks we should go see the new Melissa McCarthy movie (we did and it was awesome). And to everything I share, she has a groan, rumble, grumble, yawn or the Great Dane version of an eye roll (where she lays her head down while looking up at me and sighs) in reply. I knew the connection between animal and human is a love like no other, but I didn’t know that connection could grow by talking.

 

And through our conversations, I’ve gotten to know some of the quirks and -isms of Ethel that make her so unique. Have you ever seen an animal as big as a Great Dane have the hiccups? Yes God, I’ll go ahead and die laughing. I once went through Starbucks on our way home from St. Louis and ordered her a puppychino, which is just a cup of their whipped cream. It’s a delicious treat and Ethel had been working all day with me at the physical rehabilitation center. She practically sucked the cream down and then promptly ripped apart the cup to get the last bottom lick. Now, though, every time I go through a drive-thru, she tries to stick her head through the drive side window from behind me and will usually scare the unsuspecting high schooler working. I’ve had a few meals dropped from this:

 

“Hi, your total is 5.4twent-YAH! That’s a HUGE DOG!”IMG_20150617_183613

 

Ethel generally doesn’t have an opinion about any one person that we meet, she’ll treat them as indifferently as anyone else. She’ll sniff them, maybe stand to let them pet her or rub her back, then walk away and not want to interact with them again. And then there’s Dusty.

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The first time she met Dusty, she and I had just been introduced and were “locked down” in the guest room for our first day together, which you can read about here. We had spent almost six hours getting to know each other when Dusty was allowed to return to the cabin and meet her. When he walked through the door, she jumped up on the couch and sat her butt on my lap to face the door. She gave a low growl, which I corrected, and resentfully let Dusty give me a kiss. By instruction, he ignored her for the first week while we trained and it was only after leaving the farm did they begin to interact.

And it didn’t go well.

Over a weekend we’d be going about our day like the typical married couple that we are. Dusty would lean over to give me a kiss or I’d lean on him on the couch and Ethel did not like this one bit. Every time Dusty and I would interact, Ethel would try to insert herself in front of my chair and block him. If he’d leave the room and then return, she’d stay lying on the floor by my chair but would give a low growl if he approached. And oh boy, if she ever thought Dusty was trying to make a move on me, I’d get a butt full of Ethel on my lap and Dusty would be dog-blocked.

Suffice to say, she can get a little jealous.

Both Kati and Meg assure me that this is a good sign of Ethel’s and my relationship. I continue to correct these growlings and Dusty comes home with treats in his pocket for their greeting. I tell Ethel all the time what a great guy Dusty is, but what can I do? Ethel’s made up her mind that I’m her person and no one else can claim me. How can I explain that I was the one to claim him years ago?

 

Photo credit: Braun Photography
Photo credit: Braun Photography

On an earlier post, I wrote about how Dusty and I met at camp and how we’d continue to write each other letters for years later. However, there’s only so much time that can pass before two people want to know where their friendship is headed. This is where we went:

 

He had wiped his wet hands on his pants. Again. He had flipped open his phone to check the time. Again. All around him the crowd was gathering at the terminal, awaiting the passengers to deload and meet them at the gate. He never saw any of them, but instead absentmindedly strummed a few chords on the guitar he’d been carrying around for the last few hours. “You sure she’s coming tonight, son?” the old man across the bench asked. He, like Dusty, had been here long before the rest of the crowd waiting for this plane to arrive. “I guess we’ll just see,” Dusty answered and flashed him a smile.

 

His fingers strummed along with the thoughts in his head as he put down the guitar and paced the terminal. My flight was late, coming from Boston where I’d been for a college visit He recalled the conversations he’d had with his roommates over the week I was gone; they’d been forced to listen to the song he was writing over and over again as he painfully worked through revisions. But it was finished.. and ready to finally ask me what he told me he’d wanted to ask years ago.

 

And then suddenly the conversations in the crowd grew into shouts of greeting as the other passengers from my flight met their loved ones. And suddenly, I saw him. My younger brother was supposed to be picking me up that night, what was Dusty doing here?

 

I saw him before he saw me and when he turned and caught my eye, his face broke out into a smile at my perplexed expression. I neared and he jogged to me. As he got closer, I could see what I thought was just shine on his face from the lights overhead was actually a sheen of sweat. His shirt had a faint hint of underarm sweat marks and I saw a bead roll down from his temple. “Hi!” he said brightly and before I could say anything in return, he enveloped me into a hug.

 

This was the first I had felt his arms around me as his girlfriend, the first touch we’d shared for over a year. The nights I had wondered what his chest would feel like pressed into mine flashed through my thoughts we lingered there, lost in this embrace. This first touch, this first time allowing ourselves to express our feelings towards each other in a physical way, was like had the same rush and delight that jumping into a pool on a hot summer day brings. It was purely delicious.

 

Photo credit: Braun Photography
Photo credit: Braun Photography

“I wanted to surprise you,” he murmured into my ear. His voice was husky and rich and I felt myself sigh even deeper into his shoulder. “Wait. One second,” he broke our hug and took my bags that I had forgotten I was still carrying. He turned around and I noticed that much of the crowd was still there, watching us. What was going on?

 

When Dusty turned back around, he had his guitar in his hands and before I could say anything, he strummed a few cords and in a soft, low voice, began to sing.

 

“Right about 26 months ago

Cute lifeguard atop her chateau

Bushy haired mower boy

Wind in his hair like a free cowboy

Couple of shots

A few starry thoughts

A fistfull of flour

Started something sour

A frozen pair of boxer shorts

Started a world of sorts

But it all comes down to this…desire…for a princess..

 

I felt myself tearing up. This song was about us. This song was us; the inside joke we shared of how I stole and froze a pair of his boxers as a prank and had the camp of 10 year olds sing happy birthday to him when I presented the iced yellow surfboard printed boxers to him over breakfast. The food fight with kitchen scraps we had where I took a mouthful of flour and promptly vomited on his shoes. The shots of Gatorade we’d take at night to rehydrate as we stayed up until morning laughing. He had written us a song .Our song.

“Sitting alone where I first found you

Sitting in the silence my thoughts they are few

Lying here on the green shag

I reach for the ashtray, take another drag”

I almost giggled into my tears. Dusty didn’t smoke but he had always loved the cowboy image and talked about wanting his own pair of boots and spurs. I imagine he was thinking of this cowboy version of himself in his song. The image of the aged green shag carpet in the camp guest house flashed through my mind and I saw us sprawled on the carpet talking into the night. The crowd had become a silent as an airport can be, people swaying back in forth in the arms of their own loved ones as they watched us. Two kids, about 7 years old, spun around in circles to his tempo. I felt tears begin to silently stream down my face.

“So much time has passed

Still my feelings they are steadfast

Now I must take my stand

… And reach for my fair lady’s hand”

And with that last lyric, he held the cord and stopped, his hand raised out to me. As the crowd waited with baited breath, I took his hand into both of my own and came into his arms to kiss him. My stomach cut into his guitar between us, but all I felt was the softness of his lips. My ears roared as my blood pounded as he moved his hand to my waist to hold me as tight as I always wanted him to hold me. For two years, every day at camp, every phone call, every letter, I wanted his arms around me and for him to feel every wave of how I loved him with a kiss. I melted and forgot about every other part of life as I told Dusty everything I felt and had always felt for him in this kiss, wanting to never let go. I told him how I was an idiot for not seeing how I felt about him sooner in that kiss. I told him how I loved that he wanted to go into the Army and that it scared me, but I wanted to join him for the journey through that kiss. I told him I chose him, I wanted nothing but him in that one, first kiss. I felt him move his hand to hold my cheek. The crowd cheered, but neither of us heard.10

 

I am Ethel’s person but we’ll come to an agreement someday where she’ll understand that Dusty is mine.

Luna Cave, St. Roberts, Missouri
Luna Cave, St. Roberts, Missouri

 

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