Here we are, again

I found this necklace while packing the other day. It’s a necklace from my childhood, a tiny silver squash blossom with a dot of turquoise in the center, no doubt purchased at a tourist stop somewhere in the American Southwest. It’s the kind of treasure that, as a small child, I would have begged my road weary parents for, promising that I would treasure it always and keep it forever.

As of a couple of days ago, it sat tangled in the bottom of a box of old jewelry. I sorted this same box about three years ago when we prepared to move from Norfolk, Virginia to Twentynine Palms, California. At that time I was packing our house to get it ready to show for sale, taking down excess pictures and clearing the tabletops and bookshelves of our usual clutter. I had also cleared the top of my dresser to convert it into a changing table for my newborn daughter.

And here we are again. The same dresser is being cleared, this time for another move, now to San Diego, the same jewelry boxes being dragged out from various storage spots around our 1500-square-foot house. This time my daughter is at my feet, clamoring for different necklaces and bracelets, looking for treasures she can shove in a little shopping bag I have handed her to keep her occupied. After the dresser is cleared I swipe a rag across it, capturing a thick film of desert dust that has come in through the poorly sealed bedroom windows.

We have a house under contract in San Diego, and we are wrestling through the closing arrangements and I am wrestling with the title of “unemployed” on my side of the loan application. It’s too hard to explain my income from consulting, I have some but not enough, so I am moved to being a mere accessory to my husband.

It’s irrational for me to diminish my worth entirely into the same category as handbags or even the little leftover squash blossom necklace. But it’s also so easy for me to wince at a quick slash of the pen or mashing of a keyboard that puts me in the “Plus 1” category. I don’t like being an add on, I like partnerships, and for some things I like being in charge. My husband understands this, he is a great partner. The military doesn’t always seem to be on board with my plans. We get a spouse appreciation month and thank you certificates for volunteering on base and I even got a tote bag a couple years ago, hung on my door from the company that runs the base housing. On the side it read “Some heroes wear capes, mine wears combat boots!” Honestly, I would have rather been given a cape. The intent was kind, but the message to me was clear, tote bag was more my style.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Starbucks cell on base, looking out at the toilet paper aisle and an end-cap display of “As Seen on TV!” merchandise in the military exchange. The Starbucks is entirely enclosed behind windows, jazz music in the air and industrial lamps hanging from the ceiling inspired by the first store in Seattle. It still offers little escape from toilet paper outside.

You can watch Marines waiting for haircuts at the barber next door, while others pass by for the food court, some with bags of energy drinks and gallon jugs of water or quarts of Pedialyte to tackle the day outside in 100-plus degree temperatures. At another table nearby, there sits a flock of young wives. They are here the same time each week, sometimes filling the long table that Starbucks designers have crafted to look like a rustic antique farm table.

I wonder how many, if any, of them feel like they are an accessory to their husband, or if they have learned to be satisfied with where they are for now. I pray the latter, hoping they have a peace at hand, that they don’t feel like something is missing. There are indigenous people in far flung parts of the world who will live and die within a space of a few miles, satisfied. Most often these people spend their entire lives serving only their family and their village or tribe. Meanwhile I call my mother a couple thousand of miles away every morning to tell her it’s still hot and to every once in awhile lose cell signal because, well, that happens in the desert. I pray these women together have made others around the table a kind of surrogate family.

At least we can say we have seen parts of the country or world we might never see otherwise. This is one affirmation I tend to fall back on as I wrestle with housing arrangements for the second time in a few years and clear the dust off the empty dresser. Another is the hope of fresh starts at the next duty station.

Here we are again, in a space of time between being settled and on the move, when dissatisfaction about where we are now melts, or at least softens, in the presence of hopefulness about where we are going and what will happen next. It’s almost like witness protection from failure or feelings of missed opportunities, as you get a clean start in a new city. I think about the transition into being a mom of two toddlers and my husband’s deployment over the last couple years that took the better part of my attention. Perhaps I’ll make fewer excuses in our new home. At least during this space of time I can imagine I’ll do that. Along with the jewelry, I am also packing the memory box, gathering pictures and maps and ticket stubs and letters sent home from the Middle East. My son’s first school worksheets are in there showing progress from scribbling the first four letters of his first name to worksheets featuring his full name, and an award from his class for penmanship. My daughter’s first handprint art is added to the box as well. I remember where she is now is almost the same as where my son was when we left Virginia.

I’m not sure what they’ll remember from here. My son always talks about the windows and the stairs at our old home. He’s disappointed we are getting a single floor home in San Diego. I’ve promised him a bunk bed to make up for it. What will he and my daughter remember about their time here? Hopefully less of me frustrated and angry and more of popsicles on the porch, hummingbirds buzzing around the olive tree out back and bike rides during the Christmas season with lights and tinsel on our bikes.

Now I am fiddling with the squash blossom on the necklace as it hangs around my neck. It almost looks silly hanging there, too small for my grown body, but its a sweet reminder of where I have been, and times when a little trinket from an adventure for me wasn’t just an accessory, but instead a priceless treasure.

Turns out, like I promised my parents, I did keep the little necklace forever — at least in the way I would have viewed forever as a child. Back then I would never have imagined myself where I am now, but how many of us ever do? My husband sometimes talks about his childhood dreams of being a fighter pilot (inspired largely by “Top Gun”) and when I was 8-years-old I was planning to be a ballerina, comedian, zoologist, and my father’s secretary. I’ve learned between then and now that I should not be a ballerina or a zoologist (tried both early and scratched those off the list), I still hold out high hopes for comedy, and I figure in a matter of years I will be helping my parents manage their affairs, so that should satisfy the secretary dreams eventually.

Until then, here we are again, in a space in between, preparing for the next thing together, despite what the mortgage paperwork says.