When I was working my well-paying cubicle gig for the Environmental Management Branch on Fort Bragg, I sometimes had to drive to other areas of the installation to meet with various mapping, forestry, endangered species, cultural resources, and compliance subject matter experts.
SMEs, for short.
Because everything in the military is an acronym.
BEMA, for short.
I strongly dislike acronyms. (REASON #1)
ISDA, for short.
FS, for short.
Since the installation is only like the biggest in the country, I’d get to take a government vehicle whenever I was driving for work-related reasons. I’d sign out a nondescript white or silver sedan, bring the seat forward about 20 inches, reset all of the preset radio stations to something other than godawful, and be on my merry way.
For a year and a half, this was routine. Like hopping a morning commuter train from a local Park-‘n-ride, I’d put ‘er on autopilot, crank some tunes, and somehow magically arrive at my destination.
Then, one day, on some rudimentary stretch of curvy road where soldiers deemed it necessary to cross as pedestrians because they thought they owned the place or something (wait, what? REASON #2), they reduced the speed limit by 10 miles per hour.
And I, being the super observant, astute, law-abiding citizen that I apparently am — not — saw the flashing lights in the ill-adjusted rearview mirror before it even registered in my cubicle-muddled brain that I was driving not 5, not 10, not 15, but twenty-two miles over the newly posted speed limit.
It was a trap, I tell you.
Before I could even think to adjust my cleavage or touch up my lip gloss, the uniformed military police officer was at my window with the ticket.
“We’re giving tickets to everyone,” he said, before I could open my mouth.
“Ok.” Hell. I deserved one.
“No exceptions.” The guy was ready for an argument.
“Ok.” I gave him a sheepish smile.
“Really — the guy in front of you is getting one, too.”
“Ok.” Is “ok” code for I-think-you’re-full-of-crap-and-I’ll-see-you-in-court?
“Fine. I’ll write it up for 19 over the limit. That should save you some hassle.”
“Wow, thanks! Um… what kind of hassle will I have to deal with?” I handed him my contractor I.D.
“You’re not a spouse? You work here?” He asked, surprise registering on his face. “If you were a spouse, then I’d write you the ticket, you’d pay it, and your husband’s commander would hear about it. But since you’re a contractor, you’ll have to pay the fine and attend a driver safety course. At 8:00 a.m. On Saturday.”
I thought about snatching back my contractor I.D. and handing him my dependent I.D. (REASON #3)
“Well… this is a government vehicle I’m driving… so yes.” I sighed. “I’m a contractor.”
He ripped the ticket from the stack, a bemused grin curling the corners of his mouth, and handed it to me. “The class is 8 a.m. Saturday.”
So here’s the thing: I wouldn’t have had to take the class if I’d simply shown him my dependent I.D. as opposed to my contractor I.D.?* Being a “dependent” — and we all know how I feel about that — would’ve exempted me from paying my dues? From learning how to be a safer driver? From watching videos of high school prom dates impaled on fences and toddlers struck by drunk drivers and other nightmarish vehicular accidents?
(*I honestly don’t know, legally speaking, what difference which I.D. I showed would’ve made. But the officer implied that the repercussions would have been less — for me — had I claimed dependency with a blush and a smile.)
The tradeoff, it seems, is that Justin would have gotten the lecture. Justin would have paid the price for my recklessness. And it’s that antiquated way of operating — the very idea that my actions could affect his career — makes me far too nervous to be an effectively “good” spouse. In fact, it sometimes makes me want to test the limits. (REASON #4)
Also, I’m not a mom. (REASON #5)
And sometimes I forget my husband’s rank. (REASON #6)
And I hate being called “ma’am.” (REASON #7)
And I sometimes get jealous of Justin’s travel. (REASON #8)
And I think sometimes that it’s harder to be married to military than it is to be military. (REASON #9)
And I disagree with the concept of respecting someone solely for his or her rank. Especially if he or she is an asshole. (REASON #10)
And I can’t keep my delinquent thoughts to myself. (REASON #11)
And sometimes — sometimes — I actually revel in my alone time. In watching whatever movie I want on the big television. In eating cheese, crackers, and olives for dinner. In putting a container of leftover pasta carbonara in the fridge and never having to suffer that suffocating disappointment when I decide to have some for lunch and discover that only 2 teasing bites remain — not enough to sate me, but just enough to justify not having to wash the container. That really bugs me. (REASON #12)
But then… I still miss him. And his uniform. And honestly, in the end, I wouldn’t want to do anything that would hurt his career.
I mean, who wants that on her conscience?
So I took the stupid driving course. And Justin didn’t get a lecture from his commander about reigning in his spouse’s reckless driving habits. And actually, the class may have been somewhat beneficial in teaching me ways to deal with my road rage. In fact, I should probably look into taking a refresher. And, at the end of class when I stood in the required line to show the instructor my passing exam score and the written offense for which I’d been committed, he gasped and said, “That was you?”
He looked at me, incredulous.
“Why don’t you slow it down, Katie.” He smiled.
Slow it down? Me? Not likely, my friend.
Inside, I smiled too.
So. Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can play the military’s game. And maybe — just maybe — I can still work my own little acts of rebellion into the mix, because hey.
I can be supportive. I can smile and schmooze. I can even learn the damn acronyms.
But in the end, I can’t lose sight of me.
P.S. Poll results are still coming in. If you haven’t voted, please do. And the thoughtful comments some of you have added are just… awesome. If you’re in the U.S., you know your vote might not count in November’s election (REASON #13), but here, it most certainly does.