Us Army Wives
"And you?" Claudia-Joy asked.
Jackie felt the dread plummet through her. She? How was she? She was... she could be doing better to be honest but she couldn't say that. But Claudia-Joy had asked a direct question and they were all waiting for her answer; Roland, Roxy and Denise. So much harder to dodge. So she lied. She forced a smile. She said she was fine. She wasn't sure she was. She wasn't sure she had a choice. Kevin had told her a few weeks ago they were headed back to Afghanistan and she could not relax since hearing the news. He said they could go any time and he wasn't sure for how long or in what capacity. The stability of her life could drop out from beneath her feet at any moment. That was far too vague for Jackie to be able to handle properly and she knew she was slipping, cracking around the edges. But so far, with so many other distractions, she was able to plaster, plaster over the cracks, plaster on a smile, plaster over that wound. She took a shallow but steadying breath, tried to relax her responding heart and told herself that she would be fine. Fair warning was a blessing and a curse. Yes she knew ahead of everyone else that the 81st Airborne was due to deploy again and that meant she had more time to prepare, and more time to fray.
Conversation moved on quickly. Roland talked about the Burtons. Roxy announced she was pregnant. With twins! As they were leaving Denise told Claudia-Joy she was glad she was home; the 'safe and well', though not voiced, was certainly implied. And oh god. Jackie suddenly realised. She knew that the spouses of these people, these people she was starting to tentatively feel like were her friends, would be leaving. And she couldn't say a thing. She quickly walked away, her heart pounding again.
The house seemed so huge and silent today. Jackie hung up from leaving a message on her daughter's cell phone. She was just checking in to see how she was but Sophie had not answered and so Jackie went outside to where there was a least birds and life. The sun was bright today and the garden green, lush and alive, a patchwork of colours over the yard and porch. Jackie felt the need to fidget. She wasn't going to be able to sit still. She needed to keep her hands busy. She picked up the small brown watering can from the corner of the porch, where it was discreetly tucked away and filled it at the kitchen sink. Back out on the deck she started to pour, doling out a little sustenance here and there. Poses and pansies. Whites and purples. Simple and sweet.
The call of a cell phone ringing cut the still air and distracted Jackie from her distraction. The device was on the table and she smiled as she saw the caller ID. "Sophie," the delight was evident in her voice. Someone to talk to. Here was someone who needed her. "Thanks for calling me back." And her timing couldn't have been more perfect. Jackie really needed this. The unravelling halted, quivered, stalled. She told her daughter about Kevin being in Washington (again) for the weekend (the entire weekend). She suggested they fly down to see him together. Then maybe a little mother/daughter shopping was in order, and she could show Sophie around the post there in Charleston. The words soothed Jackie as they came out of her mouth, the pictures forming in her mind; already she was starting to feel better, less edgy, less like she losing.
"I'm sorry Mom I have choir this weekend."
"Oh choir." Of course. Choir. The excuse was legitimate but it still left Jackie feeling a little hollow; shot down. She offered to go and see Sophie sing the next time there was a showcase and Sophie distractedly answered 'sure' before obviously talking to someone else nearby. Jackie startled. Who was that?
"Sorry Mom I have to go. I'm in the middle of something."
"Oh you're with friends?" Jackie assumed, wondering if she would be corrected. Friends. Boyfriend? What was she missing out on? What was her own daughter keeping her in the dark about? Why was it people never told her anything? She wasn't fragile. She wasn't brok... She wasn't.
"Yeah friends," Sophie agreed. "Unless it was important?" She meant whatever it was Jackie had called about and Jackie quickly corrected her.
"No, no, we'll talk another time," Jackie told her with a lightness in her tone that was almost overkill compensation for the crush she felt at the rejection. But she had sold it well because they hung up without more and a wave of unease settled against Jackie's sternum. Sophie had to go. She had a life. Friends. Things to do. She didn't need her old Mom hanging around. Jackie reached down to the pot of flowers in front of her and caressed them. The flowers weren't helping either. The patch started to come away.
And then, perhaps, some good fortune. Jackie saw Michael's truck pull up at the house next door and she hurried down off the deck towards the Holden's. Michael headed towards her, and for a second Jackie wondered, with a spike of optimism, if he'd seen her and was coming to say hello. But no, he stopped at the mailbox. He hadn't noticed her. She was invisible to all. The spike had merely stabbed her in the gut. But never mind that. Hide it. Push it down.
"Michael hi," she greeted with a smile. He returned it, warm and genuine. Jackie felt a flare of hope. "Is Claudia-Joy home?"
"As a matter of fact she isn't." They'd gone to the beach. Claudia-Joy's and Denise's husbands had hired them a beach house for the weekend. Oh yeah. She had forgotten about that. Two things: one, great husbands. Two: great friends. Jackie felt a pang for having neither. Too much army.
"Was it important?" Michael went on smoothly.
Jackie looked at the ground. She needed a hole she could jump into because once again, she was making a fool of herself. "No," she said casually. No it's ok, I'm just about to go out of my mind. But I'm fine. She kept her mask in place. Gave another casual smile. Brushed off her visit. She was embarrassed, she should have remembered the two friends were going away for the weekend. "I was just wondering if she could come out and play." There wasn't quite enough warmth in her tone but Michael bought it easily. He gave a slight laugh, figured Claudia-Joy would when she was home again. Jackie wished for that hole again; big, wide, yawing, enveloping. The crack was holding formation. Now she felt a different kind of assault. Spiralling.
She smiled again as she turned away but her muscles caved quickly as soon as her back was turned; she no longer had the energy to hold the falseness up. The prick of tears was in her eyes but they were merely a teaser and did not fall. She headed back to her bunker for round two.
Ok. This wasn't strange. She had been to bars before. Not bars like this one, certainly, but a place to drink was a place to drink. And Roxy had told her that a lot of military personnel went there and so she wouldn't completely be out of place right? She was military by association. She had been nothing but an association for so many years all she knew was military now. She was there to see Roxy anyway, so conversing with the owner would surely...
"Jackie hi!" Gloria.
Oh. Jackie wasn't aware Gloria worked there. Although that would make sense... Roxy, even though she was an officer's wife now, was cut from a rougher cloth.
"What are you doin' here?" Gloria went on brightly.
"Looking for Roxy," Jackie admitted. Facade up, happy expression, carefree tone. She told Gloria she had been sitting around the house. She didn't add 'twiddling her thumbs' and driving herself insane. She'd never been there before, the bar, that was. Seemed like a good time to stop in. Blah, blah, blah.
Gloria told her Roxy was at Mercer and Jackie felt a stab of panic. But she was fine so that was ok but... but that left Jackie with no one now. She had run out of contacts. Had her world gotten so small? She used to go to endless parties and meets; she knew people everywhere, was always working on something. And yet here, Charleston, with no new star, she was... she had nothing. She felt cut off from the rest of her unit. Jackie started to retreat.
"Wait!" Gloria called her back. "Why don't you stay awhile?"
The thought was... preposterous. Jackie didn't spend time in these kinds of bars. And... And besides, she'd come to see Roxy and Roxy wasn't here. She barely knew Gloria. Though she did seem to be running into her a bit lately. And the young woman was... known company. And well the point was that Jackie wasn't alone. She so didn't want to be alone.
Gloria fumbled for a moment, after invitation, bringing rank into it, acknowledging it could be a little awkward but Jackie waved it off. Actually, it was nice to not have to worry about being so proper right now. She was looking for a friend wasn't she? And they had already blurred that line of propriety when Jackie was intoxicated at the banquet. One glass of wine wouldn't hurt. They did have wine in this kind of place didn't they?
"I've tried the whole don't go to bed mad routine but it doesn't work for me either," Jackie revealed. She'd had half a glass of white wine and she was feeling pretty good about now. This is what she had wanted, company, conversation, consumption. And yeah so maybe the person she was having it with was not her first choice, but there was something very sweet and unassuming about Gloria. Plus she was having marriage troubles and Jackie had a fountain of advice on that front. She and Kevin had more than their fair share of fights and trying not to go to bed angry. Mostly they got over that by going to bed in different places or at different times, and engaging in guerrilla warfare. Kevin was tough and stubborn and when Jackie was mad, she tended to stay mad.
Gloria listened intently. "You could be part Puerto Rican."
Jackie looked over at the younger woman, stunned for a second before she responded, "Nobody has ever suggested that before." She dissolved into laughter, warm and entertained. This had actually turned out a lot nicer than she had expected. Gloria searched for vindication that was she was doing by working in the bar was the right thing to do, despite Hector's insistent anger, and Jackie absolutely gave it. She leaned forward again and imparted a bit more advice and Gloria lapped it up. The young woman was right though. The boys' had each other's back on a mission, but who had the girls' backs at home? Certainly not their husbands on the other side of the world. It was their sister wives. Or brother spouse in Roland's case.
The conversation lulled for a second and Jackie took that opportunity to excuse herself. Gloria thanked her. "No, thank you," Jackie told her. That was exactly what Jackie needed. An uplift. Now she could go home and relax. Everything was ok. She was ok. She shouldn't let herself get so worked up. She was not falling apart. She had it all under control.
"We should do it again, us army wives," Gloria added.
When Jackie got home the house was dark and quiet. She was expecting it of course, but compared to the warm and noise and light of the bar, it suddenly struck her all over again how alone she was. Everything her evening with Gloria had gained was immediately conceded. The truth was, she was alone. So very alone.
Jackie felt the crack widen.