It was like a magnetic force, my reaching across the table to take her wrinkled, warm hand in mine. Eyes locked, spilling tears down a cheek. “No one has ever asked me that before,” she said and in that moment, I had found home and with it, a dream. Over the course of writing my play, I Will Wait, I interviewed veterans’ spouses from across generations. I sat in retirement homes, VFW bars, cozy living rooms and offices inside military headquarters. I listened; I read; I talked; I wept; I held space while others shared. I was blown away by the value of these experiences. These are OUR stories, the collective us, the American us.
From the day that Paul Revere and others rode toward Concord to warn that the British were coming, America has been fighting. There have been significant periods of relative peace and calm, but truly, we have been a nation at war more often than not. It’s part of the fiber of how we built and continue to run this great nation. Do I wish it could be different? Immensely so. Do I want there to be people elected to office that truly understand the enormous toll that war can take on those that fight it? Desperately. However, I live in a world of soldiers who believe in their work, and I believe in them; but believing in them and loving them are two different things. Loving them can be its own battle. You will always come second to their job and the nation’s call. You will be asked to sacrifice your own work, single parent your children, move over and over again, create new homes in harsh places and along the way, you will be asked to reinvent your love for your soldier because they can come back different; not worse; not broken but different. You will be different too, and often finding the middle ground will feel next to impossible.
So that brings me to Joanne. As I reached across the table to take Joanne’s hand, with tears falling, I desperately wanted and needed to hear this 93-year-old WWII veteran’s spouse’s story. How did she do it? How did she put it all back together after three years apart? He came home to a three-year-old that he didn’t know. He was changed, battered, different. I leaned across the table and begged, “Please, tell me your story. Help me navigate this life too.” She responded that no one had ever asked her that before, and in that moment, I knew that I had to write her story down, record it, video it…something..anything…to listen to it over and over again when my days were hard. I had a dream to share it with others so they too could feel her strength, the strength of all military spouses who have walked before me, beside me and will follow me.
Out of the dream to archive and hear these stories, the Veteran’s Spouse Project’s newest program, Stories We Tell was born. With funding and support, we plan to travel the country and listen, hearing stories like Mary Beth’s who was forbidden from telling anyone that her dad was fighting in Vietnam because her mom was worried about their safety, or Miranda’s in holding a newborn son who would never meet his father, or Bruni’s, a German immigrant wife living in America and sending her husband to fight another war in Korea. These are their stories. They are my stories. They are America’s stories, and Stories We Tell plans to listen. We hope you will too. I can’t wait to share them all with you!