Scarlet Fever Can Be Dangerous.. the RCMP 'Life'
The very first RCMP wife I met, who was actually a soon to be ex-RCMP wife, scared the crap out of me. She cornered me at a party, after finding out my long time boyfriend was heading to depot, and told me what to expect living this ‘life’.
"Never expect him home when he said he would be, his devotion to his work will trump all else, and his personality will slowly change after years of wearing the serge."
In her desperate attempts to understand her husband’s ‘life’ she even went through depot and became a member herself. While she loved her career, she mourned her marriage that was now beyond repair.
My initial thoughts were… there is no bloody way I am going through depot. Are you kidding? Those pants are ill fitting, my hair is best showcased down, and I don’t really like being told what to do. Since I knew that was out of the question, I kept that conversation in the back of my head as I watched him go through depot, while I supported from the sidelines.
Unlike most spouses, I was also in Regina at the same time, and had the opportunity to get to know many of his troop mates, and had a few crash at my apartment on the weekends. (It didn’t hurt that I had a pretty roommate, either..). I saw up close what the intense schedule did to the men and women that I had befriended on the weekends, and saw them slip into another world during the week. In my estimate, people did some strange, and incredibly out of character things, under pressure. Mostly, as the 21 year old University student, I was just happy to have a solid group to party with on the weekends.
Well, the partying came to a crashing halt when I realized I was pregnant with a depot baby. By his graduation, I was finishing up my degree, 3 months pregnant, about to move to a small town where we would reside in the attached house to the detachment.
Oh yes, and I was 22.
Definitely ready to take care of the flower beds, giant lawn, and detachment yard with a newborn, in the first house we had ever lived in, in front of the whole town. There were ups and downs, moments I would like to forget, and moments I will remember forever, but mostly we were embraced by this small town like one of their own.
But... there was a change in him, and I could see it was not an easy adjustment for him to go from police officer, to husband and father, in the time it takes to walk through the door. The easy going, hard-to-anger husband I had once had, now seemed to be kinda irritable, and wasn’t always the nicest person to have around.
I lay awake at night wondering, did I really just move 11 hours away from my parents, with a terribly colicky newborn, to stay at home and be a doting wife and mother, after working hard (well at some points anyway) to earn a degree I would never use? Did I really do this to have a grumpy, condescending husband come home from work?
We had some moments when I thought that woman had been right. He had changed and I didn’t know what to do with the guy in front of me.
But, we kept talking, and he kept trying to figure out how to be one person all day long, and then come home and relax with his family.
We slowly worked through it, and I took a suitcase out only once... in dramatic flair, to show how much he had really pissed me off.
As a young RCMP wife, nobody really told me about the disappointment of eating dinners alone with the kids, when you cooked all day, but he can’t get away from work. Or, when he gets called out Christmas morning. Or bringing home your baby from the hospital and having him go back to nights for 15 in a row. How to deal with the inevitable moments when you feel angry, and frustrated, that you somehow ended up so far away from what you thought your future would look like, while he is off living his dream. Or, how to deal with the look on his face after doing a next of kin notification to a young family, because he could hear the kids crying as he walked to his car.
As a wife of a new officer you feel like part-psychologist, part-wife. Always trying to read moods as they walk in the door. Trying to hear something in their voice that will tell you how bad the day has been, when they just called to say they will be late.. again. Knowing when to ask questions, and when to just leave them alone. It’s so confusing to walk through life with someone that feels a bit like a stranger, watching them experience death and darkness, and not knowing what to say.
What I’m getting at, is that I was beginning to see that this ‘life’ she had talked about, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
She was right. They change.
But what she forgot, perhaps in her bitterness, is that it’s not necessarily a change for the worse, and the person that comes out on the other side is definitely worth fighting.. well with.
Getting to the place where work is somewhere they work hard, have some fun, and bond with their coworkers. Where home is somewhere to laugh, and relax, and have loving, meaningful, relationships with family.
In following his career, we’ve been rural, then on a reserve at an LDP, and now in a city close to a big center. His work schedule has been all over the place, and the level of stress has been different in every post. Where we are now, at least there is a chance of anonymity, we can go into the city and no one knows who he is. Holidays really are days off, and with not much on call, his phone doesn’t ring 24 hours a day. (Sidenote- The one benefit of being accustomed to being woken up at least once a night, is I no longer dread middle of the night phonecalls.. I just assume it’s work!). He still works hard, and still doesn’t make it home a lot of the time when he says he will, but there is an ebb and flow to our life. Some of it was the change in location, but a lot of it was the ability for the two of us to adapt to this lifestyle.
Having three children, and the ever present possibility of ‘transfer’ looming overhead means that in this profession he has chosen, we really only have each other.
His work will take him places, that’s what he signed up for. I have signed up to be supportive, and while I refuse to leave my own aspirations behind, as part of a team, I will follow.
The thing is, a lot of time the anger is when people talk about the ‘life’ they, our RCMP spouses, have chosen for us. I began to realize that’s where they got it all wrong. No matter your profession, as soon as it’s your ‘life’, well that's a problem.
And if someone else is choosing your life.. well, you might have some deeper issues than what they do for a living.
This profession has the ability to give a life style to the members, and their families along with them. The ‘life’ we have chosen is one where we are ready for the next adventure, lucky to have friends spread across the country, with the opportunity to take our kids to new provinces, to share rare experiences. But most importantly, this is a ‘life’ we are choosing to live together.
I have met couples who have lived through years of this career, who have come out on the other side blessed with the memories they have made, unable to count all the postings they have been. And.. of course, we have all seen the other side. It would seem there are lessons to be learned from both outcomes.
We certainly don’t have it figured out yet. We are 15 years into our relationship and only 7 into this crazy career, and it feels like we still have to find new ways to make this career work for our life. I can’t say where our next stop will be, but god-willing, and plenty of hard work later, it will be together.