On May 17, 2014, my fiancé commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Marine Corps. Four days later, he became my husband. His commissioning was his “marriage to the Marine Corps.” And, unwittingly, when I married him four days later, I married the Marine Corps, too.
For as long as I have known him, Killian has been utterly fixated on a military career. He is the fifth generation of his family to serve in the Marine Corps. There is something deep inside Killian that compels him toward this warrior tradition; he chose to follow in the marching footsteps of his forebearers because, as Nathaniel Fick wrote in his memoir “One Bullet Away”: “There [is] no longer a place in this world for a man who wants to wear armour and slay dragons.” I, in turn, was irresistibly drawn to this man whose personality seemed to be cleaved into two halves: so sweet and derpy on the one hand, and so passionately dedicated to serving a purpose and protecting his country on the other. It was ambition on a level that I had never known. Over time I came to realise that I loved him both because of it—and in spite of it.
His ambition and passion for the Marine Corps inextricably wove itself into our relationship; it is coolly, perpetually present in our happiest times, and often a fond component of our best memories together. We would wander around the city after class, me in silly little blouses and skirts and he in crisp, starched khaki uniform. I was fresh off the boat from the U.K., giddy and gleeful about the novelty of walking around with a “man in uniform.” As our relationship developed, my understanding of his lifestyle grew deeper and the childish excitement was replaced by a gradual recognition of its significance. We attended awards ceremonies and balls together, surrounded by hundreds of other servicemen who shared the same devotion to the Corps as Killian. And when we were alone at night, we would sit for hours on the balcony outside my bedroom window while he regaled me with tales of his father’s service, talking about his own experience of—and reverence for—men of the Marine Corps, teaching me how Marine officers are trained to be the finest of modern American gentlemen. And, with every fibre of his being, he became a fine gentleman—charismatic, unselfish, loyal, brave.
But it isn’t all beer and Skittles, to be a military wife. While Killian would tell me of the brave things his ancestors have done, his childhood is also marred with a sense of displacement and sadness. His mother would joke about the “three-year itch” after she became used to moving around the country with clockwork regularity. Killian also saw comparatively little of his father, who sacrificed time with his family in order to protect the fragile order of the society that his sons had been born into. No-one resented him for it—how could they?—but it was a lingering, bittersweet aftertaste once all the tales of bravery and modern-day warrior tradition have been told. To be in the military is to live a life of sacrifices. To be married into that life, to be a child of that life, is to constantly adapt around that sacrifice.
I suppose Killian and I have become accustomed to being without one another, to moving and leaving and emotional goodbyes. We are no strangers to distance. We always knew that that first year was finite, and my return home to the U.K. loomed over us constantly. We then spent two years apart, on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Our relationship has always been a relationship forged on borrowed time, passionate and perfect in the short amounts of time we managed to snatch. In that sense we have been trained, right from square one, how our marriage will function in years to come. He will leave me for months at a time and I will get on with life regardless. We will be reunited again, and he’ll pick me up like a small child and hold me close.
Do I think about what would happen if, one day, something happened that meant we would never again be reunited? No. I have accepted Killian’s decision but I will waste no time worrying about the worst. We’ll prepare for that eventuality, of course, but I don’t believe it would be healthy to allow myself to be eaten up with worry. It’s my job to be strong, too.
You see, over time I have learnt that being a military spouse is a job in its own right. Unlike our husbands and wives, military spouses don’t get a sexy set of uniforms. We don’t have physical training. We don’t get sent to war. Instead we fight our own little wars: We hold the fort at home, we keep and nurture the world that our loved ones are fighting for, so that when they return they might rejuvenate themselves well enough to keep soldiering on in the future. They fight for the world we live in—and we are the world to them. In that sense, it is an honor to be a military spouse. We have a very important job. We serve too, in our own right.
That’s not to say that I am romanticising or trivialising this “position.” Being the wife of a Marine is going to take me to hell and back. It is going to push our relationship to its limits—far more than ever before. I am going to worry. I am going to feel alone. And I am going to have to get on with my life and career while my husband is in danger.
But that’s the way it is. Ultimately, I chose to marry Killian because I love him, and the Corps is so much a part of who he is that I have come to love it, too. I am no longer the excited 19-year-old that swooned over him on uniform days. I’ve had a long time to come to terms with what’s expected of him in his career, and what will be expected of me, too. I want to play my part and I have accepted the fact that it won’t be like the metaphorical walk in the park.
I have thought and thought about how best to describe this, and ultimately I keep returning to Killian’s mother’s favourite mantra: “hold fast.” The worst is yet to come, but the good will always outweigh the bad. I will get on with my own life while my husband gets on with his, and whatever happens: I will keep on getting up in the morning. The osmosis effect was inevitable, I guess; his ardent ambition has become implanted within my own soul, too. It has brought out a dogged determination in me, one that is unlike anything I have felt before. I am determined to continue trawling through the very worst times—when he has been gone for months with little contact, when I make sacrifices in my own career in order to follow his—because I love him, because I’m his wife, and because I want to support the amazing work he is going to be doing in this world. And I’ll keep on supporting him.
To marry a Marine is to marry the Marine Corps, too. It’s an intrinsic part of who my husband is, and it will shape our lives for many years to come. Semper Fidelis is the USMC motto for a reason: It pertains to anyone affiliated with the Corps, be they on the front line or first in line to welcome home the troops. To remain ever faithful to the life I’ve chosen is the only option, and it’s one that I have decided to fully embrace.
While researching quotes to add to this article, I found a very useful little guide for new military spouses… which, eerily enough, is addressed to a 22-year-old woman named Amy. Check this!
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