People who haven’t been stationed at Lajes Field in the Azores, probably haven’t heard the common phrase Lajes Goodness. After having been stationed here for three years, I am leaving Lajes a happier, healthier and emotionally stronger person than I was when we arrived—much of that can be contributed to Lajes Goodness.
To explain why my time in Lajes has meant so much to me, I must first explain the emotional state I was in when I first arrived to the island–
I am a sensitive human, I think that is a valid point to understand at the beginning of this explanation.
My first experience as a military spouse, and exposure to daily life on an Air Force installation, was at an RAF base in England. Firstly, I must mention that I love the UK, and would happily return if we were lucky enough to receive orders. However, for me, this was a rough and disheartening introduction to my new life as a military dependant.
In those first few years, I was burned in almost every aspect of my life. My first year of marriage (living with my husband, because technically, our first year of marriage he was stationed in Korea and I was in Montana) we had little income, and we were struggling to make ends meet. We were living on a strict budget while trying to save enough for my work visa application (a fee of about $500).
During this turbulent period, we were also called upon by debt collectors from a large credit card company regarding two different overdue bills of $1000 and $700. These were from unpaid fees of cards my husband had canceled (with no outstanding balance) before his year-long deployment to South Korea. He had called the company, cancelled the cards, but never received the mail confirmation (while he had literally moved to another country, he had also provided a forwarding mailing address)—But how do you prove you didn’t receive something? Over that following year, he was never sent a statement or notification of overdue charges until the bill was already sent to a third-party collector, we were left with no viable options in our defense, expect to figure out a way to pay some faceless company $1700 we couldn’t afford.
This was another major lesson of adulthood about power dynamics and how individuals are essentially nothing but numbers to be exploited by corporate monetary objectives. While $1700, is nothing to a large multinational corporation, it was easily over two months of groceries for us.We did work through the financial strain on our relationship.
We also learned how to simply live with each other idiosyncrasies and became a stronger couple from those difficult first six months.
After about ten months in England, we had saved the necessary funds for my work visa, and I had found my first real job since graduating college, utilizing my BFA. I began working as a graphic designer for the base marketing department. I was finally earning (slightly) more than minimum wage, I was working a normal forty hours a week, I had my own office, a retirement plan and a new boss I would eventually realize was a sociopath. I was like a real adult! Oh, yea, and seriously, my boss was a sociopath. I am not being over-dramatic or speaking hyperbolically. In fact, should she ever stumble upon my blog, she would probably be more than pleased at the statement.
At first, I was blissfully unaware of the blatant figurative red flags, the culture of fear and intimidation being cultivated around me. It wasn’t until over a year into my work that I heard the rumors my own supervisor had spread about me. She had warned people who I was on a chemical cocktail of drugs for my depression. (The truth is, I do have depression, which I am very honest and open about—and for which I take one small normal anti-depression pill a day; the same pill I have now taken, daily, for the past nine years.) She told people I had undiagnosed Aspergers.
She once told me (in front of co-workers), “Before you leave home, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘do I look like a hoochie?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, then you should probably not wear that to work.” (It should be noted, I was wearing black flats, grey pin-striped capri pants, and a black mock turtle neck sweater that tied in the back leaving a circle of exposed back, but my bra and straps were not visible. Usually, I just wore jeans and a t-shirt, I was actually trying to look professional that day.) She would then later compliment the cleavage and sexiness of the women over forty. She offered me prescription painkillers at our squadron Christmas party, and she was already giving a different unused prescription to her friend/my co-worker. She once performed a spiritual cleansing in our office to remove a curse she felt was bringing us bad luck (much to the dismay of my rather Christian co-worker).
To be honest, I blocked a lot of my experience out. What I have just mentioned is honestly, the figurative tip of a ridiculously huge iceberg. I thought this was simply what real life was like. All jobs are like that, right? She had us work on her son’s school projects, and gave paid time off to her friend for babysitting her children.
Eventually, I began to dread work. I woke up nauseous every morning. This initial irrational pregnancy scare turned out to be incessant acid reflux due to stress. Stress was also the reason I began to lose an excessive amount of hair. Whenever I bathed I found my fingers threaded together with my long brown strands—luckily I have thick hair, so while the constant stress-hair-shedding was very clear to me when I washed my hair, it was not evident to others. I began to fear everything I said and did at work. I made posters for base agencies and created magazine layouts, I should have never felt that form of stress and fear at my job. I began to leave work every day on the verge of tears.
Finally, as several of us staff members banded together with our new temporary manager to bring our issues to light. Despite the strong a cases we made against her and our hostile work environment, we were told there is nothing wrong with having a simply unpleasant work environment. We were told our boss had done nothing wrong. She was promoted to a flight chief position received a $1000 bonus, and we were advised to never speak about any of that again or “feel the wrath” of our squadron commander.
My point is, after I felt my soul was significantly crushed. Another lesson of adulthood–being on the side that is morally right, does not mean you win. It can make you a pariah. The good guys do not always win–in fact, they rarely win, because they play by the rules.
However, at least we sleep well at night. (Bad humans might sleep well too, but I prefer to think they don’t. I am slightly vindictive like that.)
I went from a liberal arts college to the social structure of military spouses. (First of all, it is very important for me to mention that not all spouses wear their husbands’ rank, and not all military spouses are judgemental. Seriously, I have met many wonderful women and men married to both officers and enlisted servicemen who were good humans. That being said, the military spouse culture does still very much exists). This was an entire subculture that no one had warned me about. In fact, its entire existence was a heartbreaking surprise. I had never before been judged so blatantly on my husband. I discovered my sole worth to many women was based on the career and rank of my husband. My individual character, personality and achievements were entirely irrelevant compared to the fact that my husband was enlisted (and apparently, that was bad). Fraternisation between enlisted servicemen and officers is prohibited. Based on military rank structure it is understood that all enlisted personnel are below all officers. From there, a social dynamic emerges even regarding a hierarchy within the officer ranks–if the officer flies a plane, that human was basically considered a flawless god among men, if he happens to fly a fighter plane, he is a god above all other gods. It was in the structure of this world I realized, as proud as I was of my then SSgt husband, I was on the lowest rung of a social ladder I had perviously been unaware even existed. And one, in which I could never strive to be more than basically tolerated, should my spouse eventually make a more “respectable” rank. I was far from the relaxed world of let’s-all-be-friends-and-cuddle world of college.
I was this lonely social world, I had realized my adult job was crushing my soul. I worked in constant fear of doing something wrong, or my naïvety or trusting nature again being used against me. I realized I couldn’t trust most people, and as a random spouse, I was clearly of little value in this world to which I had been thrust. The sad realization dawned on me, that maybe, my best years really were behind me. I had loving generous friends in college. I could be me, loved despite my flaws and insecurities. I could dance like a muppet, make absurd jokes, and explain my irrational fears and still feel ordinary and accepted. But I then realized, I now had only one super-awesome-best friend that I felt entirely comfortable being myself around, and that was the man I married. I made a couple of friends toward the closure of my time in England, but I was still far emotionally scarred to really be my-weirdo-self around them.
I dreaded social interactions. I began to fear any time we would have to leave the house of a squadron event. I was terrified of small talk, and I felt huge metaphorical walls rising up all around me. I didn’t want to let anyone into my life, and I began to wonder why anyone would? I assumed every new person I met must have had their own agenda and didn’t genuinely care about me–and why should they? I knew I was a pathetic shell of the person I had been only years before. I assumed in adulthood, people are only going to use any information gained about me to manipulate me. Human interactions seemed more about power than about simply enjoying other people. I was scared of people. I didn’t know why anyone else would want to really know me, anyway. Seriously, I was a sad, lonely, weak pile of depression. I had little to offer anyone.
When we were finally leaving England headed for Terceira, I was ready for a fresh start, but still afraid of life–