thejuliemeister

Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife


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Yaste like taste

My name is Julie Yaste. Before that, for 26 years, I was Julie Zack. I love that name. It sounds like the alter ego of a superhero. Like Clark Kent or Peter Parker. Julie Zack was definitely an improvement on Bruce Wayne. To this day I have friends who call me JulieZack like it’s one word, and will never know me by another name.

 

I didn’t intend to change my name. Being a Zack was so much a part of who I was. Even my name, Julie, was partially conjured as something to be suitable with Zack. My mother longed to name me Emily. My father reminded her this would leave them with a girl whose initials were EZ. Unfortunately their clairvoyance couldn’t predict that JZ would eventually also raise some eyebrows. If they could have predicted that, then maybe there wouldn’t also be a Jenna, Josh, Jim, Joe and Jack in the family.

 

I used to joke that I would never change my name upon marriage unless it gave me a significant alphabetical advantage. Going from Z to Y didn’t seem worth the hassle. With that luck, I’ll one day have a daughter who will marry someone with a last name starting with X. Maybe after 26 generations we’ll work our way forward to the start.

 

The problem with Yaste is that nobody knows how to pronounce it. In waiting rooms at doctor’s offices I hear “Mrs. Ya-stay?” And I know they mean me. Nobody ever stumbled over Zack. It’s easy. It’s one syllable that looks like it should be one syllable. The trouble with pronunciation led my husband to always explain his name like so: “Yaste like taste.”

 

I always think there are so many other words that rhyme with Yaste: paste, haste, waste, chaste, baste. We could be Yaste like baste! But no, we’re Yaste like taste, and that always leads to some asshole that thinks he’s clever calling me tasty Yastey. It makes me think of that time I had a doctor refer to my antibiotic induced yeast infection as the yeasty beasty and I shudder.

 

Beyond the pronunciation issues, I wasn’t keen on being JY instead of JZ. Y isn’t exactly a sexy letter. At least with Z you can imagine the three sword strikes of Zorro and know that the letter is badass. It’s bold. The same shape upper and lower case. Z is for zebra, the animal with the coolest stripes that inspired a generation of fashion. Y is for yak and who honestly wants to be associated with that?

 

For over a year after we got married I stayed Julie Zack. I tossed around the idea of never converting to a Yaste. At first Cameron was irked that I didn’t immediately want to take his name. He told me he imagined me attending future ship functions with him, and having people refer to me as “Mrs. Yaste,” and then I’d step in and correct with, “actually, it’s Ms. Zack.” I wouldn’t have done that though. Eventually he realized that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought about our marriage. It mattered how we felt in it. So he dropped it.

 

Around the same time, I decided to change my name. It wasn’t Cameron’s insistence. It wasn’t the societal norm. Instead I thought about if Cameron and I have kids. I’d want our kids to feel like their parents were a team, and we were all part of the same family, with one name. I loathe hyphenated surnames, and the thought of a Zack-Yaste or a Yaste-Zack just seemed cruel. So one Valentine’s day I walked into the local Social Security office and within an hour I had a new name.

 

For the last few years I’ve wanted to write a book. My husband suggested that when I do (his words), I should publish under my maiden name. Zack is more approachable. Everyone knows how to say it (thank you Zack Morris). And he knows how much I love that name.

 

But the thing I don’t think he realizes is that I didn’t really know myself before he came around. I worked a job I didn’t like. I lived in a place that I fell into but didn’t really choose. I didn’t write and I forgot how much I love writing. I was a shell, just going through the motions and trying to be an “adult.”

 

Cameron challenges me. He inspires me. He makes me better. I would not be where I am today, with so many of the accomplishments I’ve achieved if he hadn’t come into my life.

 

He’s right that I prefer the actual name Julie Zack. But I love being Julie Yaste even more.

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To my 100 year-old self

I recently entered my first writing competition, with high hopes. I didn’t win. That’s ok. I’m still proud of what I wrote. I’d like to share here. Please note, it is a work of fiction, and not my usual honest story. Here is the prompt:

Write an essay to yourself on your 100th birthday. What would you say to yourself at that age? What would your 100-year-old self tell you back? Would it be a conversation of praise and/or regret? Perhaps praise for the achievements in your career, but regrets about a lost family? Or warnings about the mistakes you made in your projected future or in your past; pitfalls you happened to be dragged into, temptations you could not resist; or celebrations for the good character you were able to display and sustain over a life; a precious life wasted or a life lived as it was meant to be.

This was my submission:

To my 100-year-old self,

Growing up, I never really saw myself past college. Through that point, everything was planned for me. Each step was clear to completion. I would graduate high school, be accepted to some university, and get a degree in whatever seemed most suitable. After that was a blank in my mind’s eye. Sometimes I assumed I would die young.

I drifted. I worked jobs that seemed professional. I paid my bills. I dated boys who had no promise just to feel connected. For a time I put my hope in Dean. It was safe to pine for someone I knew never wanted me. When that crumpled I felt lost again.

Then Cameron came along. We were both adrift. We knew our core selves, but lacked direction. We met at a party in Monterey that neither of us were invited to. Do you still remember that night?

It was a mustache and wig party, which was very much in vogue in 2011. Cameron had a mullet wig and a drawn-on handlebar mustache. He chain-smoked and drank Cobra malt liquor from a paper bag. You wanted nothing to do with him. Not only was he mildly repellent, but he was also a naval officer, and those were off-limits.

God he was persistent. He called, texted, emailed and showed up at the office to make sure I’d go out with him. It worked. Less than a year later we were married, and we have changed around each other and are both better for it. Today he is my heart and hopes.

With Cameron and his career, I’m not lost. I have a path that will take us through the next dozen years before he can retire. But again I find that I don’t see anything beyond what the Navy throws at him with me in tow. Perhaps that’s why I’m not entirely certain what to say to myself at a wizened old age.

Today, the oldest man I know is Mr. Byrd. I’m sure that by 100 the time I spent working in his office will be an insignificant blip, but to me today, it is encompassing.

Mr. Byrd is 86, 14 years younger than you, and to me he is ancient. I cannot fathom myself at his age or beyond. He walks with a cane and it looks like all of his heft has settled low on is torso, as if his skin was a cloth bag where all of the contents drifted down to the bottom in lumps. Every morning I ask how he is and he consistently responds “still here- still alive.” Then chuckles to himself as I giggle uncomfortably. His frame may be old, but his wit hasn’t ebbed.

Will I be like that one day? With papery thin skin that breaks and bruises with little provocation? Will I maintain my mind even as my body ages and fails me? Or will I be like mom’s mom, Grandmae, and slowly lose my purchase on reality until I no longer recognize my own grandchildren? I’ll admit both prospects frighten me.

What frightens me most though is the idea that I’ll never truly become anything. I want to be a mother. I want to be a writer. I want to be able to climb out of my depths when I fall. I want to define myself outside of the life of an officer’s wife.

I assume we’ll have children. I ache for them. But I am so afraid I won’t be able to. If we do, I’m so scared that I’ll do something wrong. I want to be a good mother. Even though I have great parents, I have no idea what to do. Will I be alright? Will I even be able?

What will I regret the most? What will fill me with the most joy? Will I survive Cameron’s deployments? Will he? We’ve never had to deal with the uncertainty of months apart and I’m terrified that it will break me, or us.

I hope by 100 I’ll have everything figured out. I hope to accomplish the things I have set forth for myself to feel fulfilled. I hope Cameron is still with me at a cantankerous 103. I hope to have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to carry on in my passing. I hope to be unafraid. I hope to still be me.

With that, I’ll sign off. I hope to meet you one day.

-Me (28 years, 4 months, 29 days)

To my younger self,

At 28 we were living in Hawaii- weren’t we? In the course of Cameron’s career, we moved 8 times in 14 years. I recall Mr. Byrd though, and he was in the Hawaii days.

I’d forgotten how afraid and anxious I was back then. Everything seemed up to chance and I agonized over every decision, trying to see every way that it might impact my future. If there’s one thing I’d like you to know now, it’s not to worry so much. It never did any good.

Jobs will come and go. A stable career wasn’t exactly possible with Cameron in service. You’ll freelance write and teach music classes around the world. It will fill your time and make you feel useful.

Deployments will be hard. Cameron’s longest deployment was 11 months and 3 days, and I missed him the whole time. There will be temptations for you both. I can’t say you’ll be flawless. You’ll drink too much and one especially lonely night you’ll kiss another man.

That mistake will haunt you. Many women will have full-blown affairs and never feel an ounce of guilt. One kiss was enough to spiral into shame and never feel tempted again. Cameron forgave you in an instant, but it took longer for you to forgive yourself. Be careful with your heart.

There will be hardships. Nothing will shake you to your bones more than dad’s death. There are tales from antiquity of wailing women beating their breasts in grief. The modern age doesn’t allow for these demonstrations; grief is supposed to be kept impersonal. A post to your online profiles (there will be many) and insincere nods to condolences are all that’s expected. But you’ll know the primal urge to cry out to the universe and shout to the injustice that rips away someone you love.

Dad will be the first to strike you down, unexpected and earlier than you’d dreamed, but mom will follow in years, then others you’ll learn love along the way. People will say that time will heal the void, but it won’t. In time you’ll mold yourself around these gaps and learn to survive the loss. The wounds will never leave.

You’ll only ever try it once, and it was a feeble attempt.   Barely more than a nick below the heel of your hand that won’t even pierce the vein. The pearl of crimson will be enough to break the spell of despair and make you crave life again.

A miscarriage triggered the attempt. It was before we knew if we would have children, and not long after dad. Cameron was deployed. It was a perfect storm of hopelessness that left you teetering between numbness and a tear in the soul. I thought there was no way to soldier on. But we did.

Sometimes, all you need is a good dog. Even when you can’t take care of yourself and grow gaunt in despair, you won’t be able to keep from caring for a dog. And a dog will comfort and care for you when you feel alone. Rico, the Portuguese Water Dog, kept you going through that dark time, and within 2 years you were ripe with motherhood.

There will be moments of supreme joy. You will conceive, carry and birth a child. It will be the most terrifying action of your existence, but it will be worth it. You will get splendidly fat and happy in pregnancy. You will feel full to breaking with glee when you first see our child’s face. It will be covered in blood and birth, and even so you will hold her tight and smother her with kisses.

You will not be perfect. No parent is. Every cut, bruise, break or hardship she feels will cause you more anguish than her. You’ll blame yourself for every pain she ever meets, but know that it won’t be your fault. You can’t save her from living and if you could, it wouldn’t be worth having her.

Cameron will blossom in fatherhood. He will allow our girl to put clips in his short hair and drink countless cups of imaginary tea. You will fall more in love with him as he forgets all self-consciousness in order to make her happy. Those years when she is young will be the happiest and hardest you’ll ever know.

When Cameron goes, part of you will too. He was basically deaf at the end, and cancer had plagued him for years. I know it was a mercy. I know he hurt, but my selfish heart wanted him to stay with me for always. You’ll know by now that it wasn’t always rosy. We bickered constantly. But we only ever fought because we cared, and that caring won’t die with him.

Through it all, you became yourself. In our youth, we felt the need for titles, for acceptance and for validation from others. We fought doing anything for simple pleasure. We fought turning inward to see what in life would make us happy. We tried to always do what was within some outside view of what we thought the world intended for us. None of that really matters.

The world will continue to be beautiful yet hideous, exciting but mundane, frantic and still. It will continue to change beyond recognition, but stay constant. The same is true in us.

-Still Me (100 years and a day


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Military Spouses: Why we do what we do

Memes are the inside jokes for people who spend too much time on the Internet to actually socialize and generate inside jokes with friends. This notion was recently appropriately commemorated with a meme on the front page of Reddit (AKA the Front Page of the Internet), signaling that indeed, nerds know they are nerds. (As a Redditor with lots of fake Reddit points or “Karma,” and not a single Karma-whoring tit shot to my posting repertoire, I’m well qualified to diagnose my own kind.)

Memes usually consist of a picture that signifies something. There’s the Actual Advice Mallard who gives pieces of legitimate advice. There’s also Confession Bear who states deep dark secrets that range from a love of nose picking to actual murder. Chances are that if there is a very particular story or emotion that you need to evoke, there is a meme to match it.

One meme that usually garners nods of approval is Captain Hindsight, who originated in South Park. This spandex-clad Captain points one finger to the sky and states platitudes of things that really, people should have seen coming.

About a year ago I was browsing the interwebs and came across a Captain Hindsight that I wanted to slap across his smug cartoon face. This was it:

Image

The image had thousands of views and many accolades as to its accuracy. For the first time, I cursed all of those morons out there on the Internet. These were supposed to be my people. How could they be so naïve?

On the one hand, I understand where the Captain’s coming from. People should always go into a marriage with open eyes and clear expectations. But how could they assume that a difficult career trajectory was the only aspect in determining whom you marry?

It made me think about a lot of things, including why I married a military man. I never wanted to marry someone in the Navy. Why would I subject my life to constant interruptions from moving, a poor chance at a steady career, and a spouse who would be intermittently absent? Really, it didn’t sound like a good deal.

But before I met my husband, I didn’t have a good idea of what being married would mean. I didn’t know what to look for. I’d had my heart broken more than once and I couldn’t fathom what it would take to commit to a life with someone.

Now I know. My spouse is someone who I never tire of. I feel more myself when he is next to me than I do sitting alone. He is the one person who can make me angrier than I knew possible, and also the only one I want to comfort me when I am down. He knows all of me and accepts it. And I know and love him back.

When you find someone who does that, how can you not try to form a life together? It is literally the foundation for why people should get married. And with any partnership, there is a give and take.

I gave up my home. I gave up a good job with a free graduate education. I gave up seeing my family as often as I wanted, and I gave up the consistency of living in the same area for an extended period.

In exchange I got the ability to take some time away from an office to explore my true passions. I got a man who enjoys cooking and allows me to eat like an adult instead of foraging like a feral child. I got a dog and started to form a new family. I got to experience living in new places and meeting new people. I will get to live in Hawaii soon.

My husband made concessions as well. He gave up on the hope of retiring to a state without income tax, because he thought it only fair I could decide where we live after the Navy. He gave up playing video games until dawn. He gave up assuming that all free time was “his” time, and now knows it’s “our” time.

For his part, he got someone task-focused in his life that happily took over budgeting until all debt was paid off. He got the ability to never worry if the stockpile of toilet paper is low. He got a new drive and passion in his career, because it’s not just him anymore.

We both got a lot in the end. We got each other. We both get to know we’re married to someone who knows and loves us- flaws and all. We both get to wake up to each other. We both get to look forward to what our future looks like together. We get to know that no matter what, we’re in it together.

In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophones tells a crowd of drunken philosophers that in the beginning, there were circle people. These beings had two heads, four arms, four legs and one body. In that form, the circle people were so powerful they tried to take on Olympus. Zeus decided to chop them in half to reduce their power, creating singular beings. These single people do not feel whole, so they are always questing after their other halves. Once two separated beings find each other, they never want to be apart again. And that is the origin of love.

I found my other half. And no, I honestly do not want to deal with the stresses of being a military spouse. There are many benefits, to be certain, but I hate that I have to be separated by deployments from the person I love, I hate moving frequently, and I hate that I don’t always get to pick where I live. I imagine that most partnerships involve sacrifices and stresses that are balanced against the benefits. So while there are downsides to this lifestyle that I’d prefer not to have, I wouldn’t change it, because the scales are heavily stacked in favor of being whole.