Sharing Stories: Personal Relationships

Happy Sunday, everyone.

Today is a short writing session for me. I’m being more dedicated to my Iraq memoir writing and I’m sitting around maybe 16-18 pages so far. I’m keeping a steady pace and taking breaks as needed to read from memoir writing books to assist me in writing dialogue, reflecting appropriately on experiences for my intended audience, and ensuring I let my readers see my mistakes and flaws on the page.

Some days my writing sessions are pretty easy. I pick apart artifacts from the deployment and find meaningful ways to connect them to particular events or people such that my audience will remember aspects of his or her own youth and a memory resonates with that person. I understand many people did not desire to serve in the military or more importantly, serve in some capacity in Iraq but so many have watched Iraq from a distance. My job is to remove that distance and remind people this space also served as a home.

It is impossible to talk about a sense of home without talking about people. A number of my close relationships changed as a result of serving overseas, some grew and others faltered. I am spending more time now cultivating permission to share some stories that are not exclusively my own. My willingness to volunteer in Iraq is not a decision shared by my family and there were strains placed on my family to be in a dangerous job in a dangerous region of the world. Thankfully, my family came out stronger, but it took us time to get here.

Out of everyone impacted by my first deployment, it is most difficult to share my past relationship with ex, Nathan. When my dad served in the Navy, my mom was a wife stateside with four children. Nathan and I had a very different challenge of both serving in the same area with the same threats to life and limb, although not always equally distributed. The secret classification of my daily work also meant constantly keeping secrets from him. It was an atypical job assignment and it was not made easier by knowing he was constantly outside the wire with no guarantees of making it back safely. I find this part of the deployment the hardest to craft in memoir.

Like a former husband, I owe him some courtesy in not sharing all details of our relationship. The world doesn’t need every bad habit of ours splashed out on the page to bring sensationalism to the story, but so much of the deployment was shaped by his presence. When I decide to bring a conversation of ours to the public’s eye, it must serve a purpose. What does this conversation indicate about friendship in a time of war? What does this conversation indicate about the burden families encounter when a loved one agrees to take on a dangerous assignment? What does this conversation indicate about work responsibilities and the costs associated with protecting the safety and security of others?

The memoir is not about us as a former couple but our role in each other lives at that time shapes the many conversations about how it feels to serve in a combat zone. When I first started writing to you all years ago, he was one of the first people I discussed. I knew the world might have something (nasty or otherwise) to say about our relationship when he was only legally separated from his former spouse but I could not discuss serving in Iraq without acknowledging the place of this part of my past. Honesty is one of the hardest things to discuss because we all come with biases, values, and judgements regarding what is right and wrong with this world, our actions, and the actions of others. In being honest about my past, I expect my audience to take a step back and realize I’m talking about a vulnerability, a soft spot in my life. It was challenging to constantly fear losing a loved one and still go to work daily with 100% effort as other people are dying and wounded in one of the most complex conflicts this world has ever known.

The good thing about blogging–at least from my experience–is not too many have gone on to comment about my behavior or life choices. The memoir writing books I’ve read lately have mentioned I cannot expect the same when I’m published. Likely, people will rake me over the coals because they have certain attitudes towards relationships, family, religion, work responsibilities, and personal character. I will likely find myself in a position again that others feel my body is theirs to use appropriately for their agenda (i.e. to comment that this is why women shouldn’t serve overseas, to comment about the deteriorating role of families, to comment about how differently my generation conducts themselves in a war zone…blah blah blah).

I am nervous about how my writing will intrude on the lives of people I know. For this reason, I’ve continued to let my family and friends know the responsibility I feel with my writing. Every damaged part of our relationships will be seen through the scrutiny of others and it is important for my family and friends to know there is more outside influence that caused those rifts so long ago than personal disagreements between my chosen lifestyle and theirs. My family wasn’t ready for me to serve overseas; I really sprung that opportunity on them. Looking back, I understand their hesitation. My Uncle Paul was impacted by his service in Vietnam as was my grandmother’s boyfriend in her latter years. These two men saw things and experienced things we like to turn a blind eye to but these events happen all the same. With respect to the loss Nathan felt when I left Blue Diamond, he will always be left to share his own experiences. I can only speak for myself in saying it’s difficult to have a best friend walk daily through traumatic events and to arrive home having thousands of mile change that circumstance.

As a new student to memoir, I would share what others seem to be saying over and over again. Have compassion for the authors. It is very difficult for authors to share their personal experiences so that others might not feel alone in this world. It is difficult to share family secrets when there is so much society expects to stay behind closed doors. To my fellow authors, have compassion for your former partners, friends, families, enemies, and allies. We are all flawed people and memoirs are a place to look back and see why things happened the way they did and what was learned as a result. Respect the individuals who walked into your life and what their presence taught you about yourself, them, and the world you encountered.