Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ranger School, Part 1

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
(Proverbs 18:24)

            The second season of my marriage consisted of Matt attending Ranger School, and me dealing with the depression that stemmed from our most recent challenge, as well as stressful college years.  Graciously, the Lord gave me a wise mother who also struggles with depression and who could suggest that God provides help for such battles.  Although it is not always widely accepted in military or Christian circles, I sought out a doctor who could prescribe antidepressants and talk therapy.  I was going to have to return to the Army hospital – fun!

            I wasn’t even sure at this point that I was truly depressed.  After all, here I was a twenty two year old young woman with an amazing husband who had just stood beside me through a very challenging obstacle.  Now that we were past that, I should be happy, right?  Yes, he was about to go to Ranger School where our communication would mirror World War I era letters rather than the instant communication to which we had grown accustomed. 

         And yes, we wouldn’t see each other for at least two months (if he didn’t get recycled) except for a brief 8 hour pass early on in the course.  But hey – we dated for four years only seeing each other once every 6-8 weeks.  I could easily handle that again, couldn’t I? 
       Add in the fact that I had graduated from college in three years instead of four, married two weeks after my graduation, one week after Matt’s, have a hereditary predisposition towards depression, and was not working full-time, and you have a recipe for depression.  The realization didn’t dawn on me until I was sitting in that doctor’s office, answering a questionnaire.  When I realized I was sleeping more, not enjoying the things I used to enjoy, experienced uncontrollable bouts of crying, and had trouble concentrating, I knew I needed some type of help.  It’s funny when you sum up your life by answering questions on a scale of 1-10, things become a lot more black and white.  Thus, when the nurse practitioner suggested a mild antidepressant with minimal side effects and 4-6 sessions of talk therapy, I was less hesitant to accept the help than I thought I’d be.  Of course, it helped that my mom had been encouraging me that this was no different than a physical ailment and should receive the appropriate treatment.

            On the other hand, it did not help that my husband thought medication for depression was not the appropriate course of action.  Like many of his male military counterparts, and with the help of his optimistic upbringing, he thought it was just something I could snap out of.  After a few weeks of living with my misery and the insight that our impending separation would cause additional angst, he gave in to the idea and decided to remain silent on the issue rather than voicing his dissent.  I then began the course of treatment, all the while preparing for my husband to begin yet another part of his training.

            Ranger School, as had been explained to me throughout my life, was one of those schools you simply had to survive.  It was not fun, but it brought a certain value and significance to anyone who made it through.  Not only that but it was an unspoken mandatory course for anyone branched Infantry.  Of course, my husband was one of those lucky soldiers.

            His start date was 4 February, a Sunday, the same night as the Super Bowl that year.  Knowing that Matt would miss our first married Valentine’s Day, we chose to celebrate it early.  See, I am one of those people who like to make a big deal about holidays, and it’s just not the same to me when it’s not the day of.  My husband is the exact opposite.  My dad likes to call marriage a “cross cultural experience” because of this phenomenon (among others).  So the week before Matt was due to report, we went out for a romantic dinner and exchanged sweet gifts.  I couldn’t help but cry, feeling the sadness of never being able to celebrate our 1st Valentine’s Day, as a married couple on February 14th.  Of course, this would only be the first of many and something I was simply going to have to learn to get over.  Regardless of my emotional schizophrenia, we had a nice time.

            When February 4th came, Matt began packing his bags (a classic procrastinator), and we spent much of the day cuddled on the couch.  About an hour before his evening report time, he picked up his bags, handed me his wedding ring, and told me it was time to go.  I thought my heart was literally going to break.  While I know the truth of Psalm 34:18, I certainly did not feel God’s presence at that time.  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  The tears started to flow, and I could not stop them.  In his compassion, Matt leaned down and kissed each of my tears, reassuring me that it was going to be okay.  We loaded his bags into the car and drove to Ft. Benning.

            I always hate these kinds of goodbyes.  There is so much I want to say, but as soon as I open my mouth, I start to ball.  Instead, I keep my mouth shut, desperately trying to stop the tears.  I remind myself that I don’t want him remembering me like this.

            Once we arrived, I saw some of the other wives I had gotten to know throughout the previous courses.  Many of us had been in the same coffee group.  Some of the guys were even Matt’s classmates from West Point.  Seeing the other wives always seems to bolster me and strengthens my resolve.  I know we’ll get through this together.  We each kissed our husbands, promised we would write, and waved goodbye.  Then we got in our separate cars and drove home.

            Coming back into my home without my husband is perhaps one of the loneliest and most painful feelings in the world.  It’s so real there is actual physical pain.  I literally feel a part of me is missing.  The whole way home I could barely see to drive.  Once inside the apartment, I grabbed my dog and cuddled him tightly, crying into his fur. 
         When my eyes began to sting and it became difficult to breathe, I finally got up and began to look around.  All of a sudden I started to laugh because my husband had left quite a mess for me to clean.  It looked like a tornado had ripped through an Army Supply store.  It was at that moment – laughter through tears – that I knew I was going to be okay.  Lamentations 3:19-24 reminded me of that.  “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’”  His promise to be close to me and save me was coming true.

            Through this season, my depression began to lessen as the medicine took effect.  I wrote Matt faithfully every day and was overjoyed when I received letters from him.  One highlight came during church on a Sunday morning while my parents were visiting.  As many churches do, the chapel projected announcements and elements of the chaplain’s message on a large screen.  When the chaplain got up to speak, I was shocked to see a slide that read, “Melissa Hicks, Ranger Hicks loves you!”  I looked at my parents with wide eyes and an open mouth, looking around to see if by chance my husband was in the room.  The chaplain then spoke and asked if I was in the congregation.  I raised my hand, and he began to tell the story of ministering to soldiers at Ranger School last week when he met Matt.  He said Matt asked him if he was going to be at chapel on Sunday.  When he confirmed he was, Matt asked him to pass on a message to me - he loved me.  The chaplain promised he would, and as a result, I received this special gift.  Not only did Matt win major points with my parents, but he proved once again how much he loves me. 

God has been so good to me!  In the midst of a dark, sad, lonely time, He always provides hope and encouragement to carry us through the trial.  My mom likes to call these sweet times, “kisses from Jesus.”  It’s His subtle way of reminding me that He loves me and is always looking out for me.  He'll do the same for you, just watch and see!


adventures à la mode said...

love your blog! you write so well and are so easy to relate to!! keep them coming :) anna

Melissa said...

Thanks, Anna!