Monday, February 23, 2015

seeing travis graduate from basic training, or, the trip to and from hell.

last week travis's parents, remy, and i trekked across the country to columbia, sc, to see travis graduate from basic training. here's what we looked like saying goodbye to him back in november.

yeah... it was kind of a sad day.  and a crazy day for travis, who spent a lot of time in airports and on a bus ride to be yelled at by drill sergeants and made to eat disgusting food and stand at attention in freezing weather.

in his letters, travis described the friends he made, the weird combinations of food he mixed to maximize caloric intake in the ten minutes they were allowed for meals, and the exercises they were put through. like being in a gas chamber without a mask, crawling under live ammunition being fired, and throwing grenades. he excelled in the shooting range and completed the entire basic training without being singled out and yelled at. he spent so much time in cold weather that he entered the first stages of frostbite. he was a comfort to the people around him, always giving encouraging words and a positive attitude.

after seeing where he lived and getting a better idea of what he went through, i'm amazed he stuck it out and graduated. it seemed insanely miserable.

so anyway, back to our trip out to see him.

our flight was cancelled due to the bad weather, and then postponed, and then postponed again. so we waited at the airport for a looooong time. had lunch, had frozen yogurt, played on the moving sidewalks. remington is a mover, so we explored pretty much the entire airport.

finally we boarded the plane and headed to dallas. then north carolina.

remy did so well on these flights. we walked the aisles, read books, played with little toys, ate an awful amount of snacks.

after arriving in north carolina at 10 pm, we rented a car and drove an hour and a half to columbia, south carolina. made it to our hotel and went to bed around 2 am.

it was a long day of traveling, but i was amazed at how well remington did. and he slept in until 8:30 the next morning!

after the continental breakfast, including biscuits and gravy, gotta love the south, we showered and headed out to fort jackson to see travis.

i have to say a few things about my feelings about the military.

i don't like the military.
i associate anything military with taking travis from me.
so being on that base was like being in enemy territory for me. which sounds extreme, but this is how i feel.

like i wanted to scream at every person in uniform. the guy at the gate who took my ID. the woman giving out programs at the solomon center where the family day ceremony was to take place.

i hate your uniforms, i hate your base, i hate what you stand for, i hate america. 
pretty much what i was thinking the entire time.

haha. (i don't really hate america, you guys.)

so as we were waiting for the ceremony to start, remy and i were roaming the building, because remember he doesn't hold still. he took off down a hallway full of soldiers lined up and who did we see?

it was travis, my travis, in green army fatigues and a beret. he had spotted me before i looked up and recognized him. my heart started thumping. what do i say? i started over to hug him and he said, "i don't think you are supposed to be back here. if the drill sergeant sees you-"

remy was yelling, "daddy! daddy! i want daddy!" and jumped into his arms. the rest of the soldiers made a circle around us and said, "we'll block you guys from view." which was pretty endearing.

unbeknownst to me, travis's drill sergeant was known as the toughest one around and had threatened to take away their right to walk at graduation if they were caught with family before the ceremony. travis had just spent the last 12 weeks being conditioned to obey and fear the threats of the DS's. so in travis's mind, he was trying to keep from being in trouble and losing his graduation ceremony that we'd flown out to see.

then on my side, here i am seeing my husband after a long absence and he didn't seem happy to see me. he seemed terrified and distant.

i took remy by the hand and walked back to our seats in the gym. the ceremony started, national anthem performed, soldiers marched in, and a man made a speech. i heard none of it, didn't place my hand over my heart. tears started rolling down my face and i thought to myself. he's not happy to see me. the army took my husband away and turned him into someone else. 

it was not a good moment.

afterwards, after being instructed not to hold hands with or excessively hug or kiss our soldier, we were allowed to walk down and say hello and take him with us, as long as we stayed on the base.

i felt like i was watching the whole thing from outside my body. hugging travis quickly and carefully. making small talk. buckling remy into his carseat and sitting next to travis in the rental car. he apologized about not being able to hug me or talk to me when i found him and explained about the drill sergeant.

we ordered chinese food (there weren't many options for food since we had to stay on base all day) and had lunch at our room on the base. he told us stories and i slowly started warming up.
he was still travis. he still loved me.
it was really cold outside so our options for activities were limited. we headed to the "mall" on base to walk around and find a treat. the time passed all too quickly, and then at 8 pm travis had to be back at the barracks.

i was so relieved that remy remembered his dad and wanted to be held by him.

we went to walmart for groceries and a memory card.  (as i'd forgotten to bring one, thanks ting shen for helping with all my questions on this trip!) remy went to sleep easily and we all went to bed early, as we were exhausted from our traveling the day before.

the next morning was graduation. we dressed up and headed back to the same gym we'd been to the day before. it was 28 degrees and windy. i felt quite mutinous and rebellious, so i headed back to the same place travis had been lined up the previous day, and there he was again. travis said there were 45 heads turning to watch me walk away and that several of the guys asked if i had sisters and said that they "would join the mormon church if it meant being with a girl like that." i wasn't too flattered, as it had been many weeks since these men had seen a woman in a dress and heels.

travis looked pretty damn handsome himself, in his dress blues.

remy hamming it up during graduation. 

luckily the ceremony was short and sweet.
we didn't get many good pictures of us because remy was feeling so lousy. (he ended up puking all over trav's uniform about an hour after these were taken.)

travis was allowed 45 minutes to show us where he'd been sleeping the past few months.
(he'd never been allowed to sit on his bed and only did so after checking to see that there wasn't a drill sergeant nearby.)

but seriously. good lookin' man.

standing at attention the way he and his bunkmate had done every day.

standing with the utah flag.

after the tour, we headed off base (finally) to find some good southern barbecue. we found it at Doc's, but the fun was cut short with poor remy's puking on travis and then on julie. (i lucked out.) also i ate about 20 hush puppies.

then we headed to walmart for meds and pedialite.

then travis's parents were gracious enough to give us some alone time at the room. they took rem for a drive (and he puked all over the car.)

when we were alone, travis and i talked and cried together. he sincerely apologized for putting me through this whole thing and told me how much he loves me and thanked me for being his rock. it was wonderful to cough *spend time alone together.*

unfortunately, the day went downhill from there.

we went to texas roadhouse for dinner. (why we went to texas roadhouse when we could have found a non-chain, local, delicious place is a mystery to me...) but i completely lost it with the crying and sobbing and hysterics while reading the menu. and it wasn't just because of how terrible i find their food. i had seen travis, connected with him again, and then i had to say goodbye. just like that. i fled to the ladies' room to try to compose myself. poor travis was at his wit's end trying to console me when i was in that state. i finally just excused myself without ordering, and took remy to drop travis off at the barracks while randy and julie had dinner with some relatives who had driven to see us.

saying goodbye to travis again.
absolutely terrible.

then remy and i went back to the room, talked to travis on the phone, had some toast, and fell asleep together on the bed.

i don't know how i would get through the goodbyes without my baby boy's cheery smile, kisses, and "i lub you"s.

that night i was up with remy four times. he just didn't feel good. so morning found us exhausted, puffy eyed from crying, and in foul moods. thank goodness for my inlaws who let me have a nap. then we cleaned up and said goodbye and good riddance to fort jackson.

we headed out to find something delicious for lunch to drown our sorrows. we found it in a charming hole in the wall called Mr. Friendly's.

their buttermilk fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and succotash made the entire painful, exhausting trip worth it. plus the ginger beer, which is my new favorite drink.

after the delicious lunch, we spent the afternoon at the zoo, which had a pretty great indoor aquarium and amphibian center.

my favorite part of the zoo was easily the komodo dragons. DRAGONS ARE REAL!

don't judge me for the binki. he was sick. (we're trying to only use it for nights and naps these days) 

the zoo was really awesome and a good way to kill a few hours before our flight. 

when we got to the airport, our flight had been cancelled, because that was the theme of this trip. 
julie worked her magic and got us on an 8 pm flight to get home by midnight. we found some dinner and some delicious lemon cake at a bakery and waited. 

cool fact, the columbia airport has rocking chairs, like the white ones you put on front porches. 
i so adore the charm of the south. 

playing on the escalator. over and over and over and over and over. cute though. 

we finally boarded and hopped over to north carolina and finally, to slc. 

i don't even want to talk about the flight home. 
how remy never slept more than a ten minute stretch and then cried and squirmed to try to get comfy and had to be passed from each of us. or how my father in law had terrible gas the entire flight. 

it was a long three and a half hours. 

you know those moms who make cute little favors for everyone on the plane that say, sorry about the baby crying, here have some candy and an apology from me, the really tired mom. 

i am not one of those moms. 

i was the mom that sat down next to the guy and said, "i am telling you in advance that this might be a long flight for you because you are about to sit next to a very grumpy and tired toddler. hopefully i am charming enough to make up for his manners." 

the guy assured me that i was, and went on to ask, "so is it worth it?" in regards to having a baby, as he and his wife were about to start trying. or in his words, "having tons of unprotected sex and seeing what happens." 

on the flight from NC to SLC, i sat down next to a young woman and warned her about the toddler situation and asked if she wanted to trade places with travis's dad.  she politely declined because she wanted a window seat. no more than three minutes later, after listening to remy's whining and gnashing of teeth, she hesitantly asked, "so where did you say your father in law was sitting?" 

we finally made it home at 2 am and mercifully slept in until 9. and then remy had a five hour nap in the afternoon. so we are all recovered by now. 

but oh man, was it a stressful trip. and we were only allowed to see travis a total of 14 hours. 
i really do hate the army. 
but i love travis and am completely amazed that he survived that miserable hell-hole. 

he's now in virgina at AIT school learning to be a crew chief in black hawk helicopters. he has his phone and iPad so we can face time and talk daily, which is a nice and also weird change. he'll be home around the end of may. 

(big thanks to my in-laws for their help with remy and for flying me out.) 

army wives are strong and we deserve a ceremony of recognition, too. 


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