Editor's note: We originally solicited an essay from Jennifer Rivera as part of our "Naked city" project (Sept. 17). After recognizing its direct relevance to November's local election, and with Rivera's blessing, we chose instead to pair it with the endorsements in this issue.
I am talking on the phone with my husband. It seems like an ordinary-day conversation, when suddenly, he says, "I gotta go." He hangs up.
I sit there, frozen. I pull my iPhone down from my ear and stare at it, frowning, as if this latest transgression can be blamed somehow on Apple. "Call failed" stares back at me.
I get up and begin to pace. I can't stop my mind from playing scenarios out in my head. Why would he suddenly have to leave like that? It's so unlike him to hang up without saying I love you.
He rarely said it while he was at home. "I don't want to be one of those couples who say it every time they see each other, every time they talk. Then it becomes something you just say."
Weeks into his deployment to Afghanistan, I teased him: "You say I love you every time we talk now. Is it just becoming something you say?"
"No," was his serious reply. "I was a fool. A fool about so many things. I want to tell you all the time — I wanted to back home. But oh, I don't know. I guess no matter how hard we try, we end up taking things for granted. I can't take anything for granted over here."
My breath caught in my throat. I knew what my husband was saying, and I knew what he was not saying.
Forty agonizing minutes later, the phone rings.
"Honey," I answer, trying to conceal the worry in my voice.
"Hey baby," he replies.
"What happened?" I ask, my voice automatically seeking to mirror his casual tone.
"Oh, we had to jump into the bunkers. Took a little indirect fire, nothing major."
My heart leaps.
"What?" I ask, conscious of how my voice sounds, trying desperately to control it. If I come across as too worried, he might not tell me everything, and then he'll be alone in all that he has to deal with.
"Yeah," he says, still sounding casual, "like I said, no big deal. How's the kids?"
"Hold on," I say, pleased to hear I sound curious, but not crazy. "Tell me more about this indirect fire."
"Babe," he says, now sounding bored. "It happens. It's not a big deal. They shoot, probably at us, but it doesn't come even close and we run for the bunkers, then go back to whatever we were doing."
My mind begins processing this information and I wonder: What does it do to someone, psychologically, to live under those types of conditions?
"Now," he says, that husband firmness in his tone, "how are the kids?"
"Oh, you know," I reply. "Jarrod started school this week. So, life as he prefers to know it has come crashing to an end."
He laughs and my heart skips a beat. I smile and unconsciously I place my hand over my heart. The sound of his laughter lulls me.
"Hey, babe," he interjects suddenly. "I gotta go. Gotta go fire the guns. I'll call you back."
And just like that, once again, I am plunged into panic.
"Kill anyone trying to hurt you," I blurt out.
"Huh?" is his startled reply. Then, recovering, he says, "I love you."
"Call failed" stares me in the face once again.
I lurch two steps back and sit down, hard, upon the edge of the couch. Moments before, I'd wondered what affect that living in a war zone has upon my husband. Hearing the words that had involuntarily popped out of my mouth, I begin to wonder what affect these conditions are having on me.
I am a domestic violence expert. The Fourth Judicial District Attorney's Office routinely subpoenas me to testify about domestic violence and the effects that it has upon people, children and relationships. Everyone who knows me knows how I feel about violence, that it doesn't solve any problem, only compounds it.
So when I said "Kill," had I meant it? Or had I just been shocked, scared?
My head pounds, but the answer hits me: Oh, I'd meant it all right. No matter what, I want my husband home. Over there it is literally him or them, and in a split second, a lifetime of anti-violence values went flying out the window.
My husband is the fire control chief for his Army Battalion. He is one of the people responsible for calculating what to fire, and at what coordinates. Typically, whatever his unit fires at is obliterated. Good, I think to myself.
Then I think about the wives and families of those he is firing at. I imagine another wife, halfway around the world. She, too, paces. She, too, worries. Maybe she also plots out her husband's favorite dinners as she reassures her children, "Yes, I heard from him today. He's OK."
Right now, I know something she doesn't. I know that her husband has a life span of about three minutes, and somehow I am now completely OK with that fact.
Later, I drive down Highway 115 on my way to Albertsons. A large white sign greets me as I wait to turn: "We support our troops!" There are, of course, signs like this all over Colorado Springs. It's clear that this city supports and appreciates its troops.
But what does that mean? Ask my husband what it should mean, and you will get a short, to-the-point answer: Take care of my wife and family when I'm away. All military personnel want to know during their absences is that their families are being taken care of.
So how can the average Colorado Springs resident provide this kind of support? The answer is highly unpopular, but oh-so-simple: Sacrifice. Sacrifice in a way that affects you personally.
Do the radically unpopular thing and vote for the tax increases to support our city's growth. We need more police officers and more firemen to protect us and keep us safe. Our children need more schools, teachers and classroom space. Our city is growing, by leaps and bounds. We will literally need more of everything.
Please stop standing in front of grocery stores asking us to sign petitions to save our tax dollars. Do you understand that the tax dollars you save have to come directly from some service that literally makes this city run? Do you really want to save 10 dollars on next year's tax bill if it means that five police officers will have to be laid off? That 911 response times will increase by 90 seconds, or that children will be educated in a trailer next to the school that no longer has any classroom space to house them?
People in military families worry a great deal. We lose sleep, we lose weight, we cry in public places. Every noise wakes us up, makes us fully alert. There is no comforting presence next to us. No one to double-check the sound we just heard. We can't even pick up the phone and reach the most reassuring voice in the world.
Please don't make us worry about things we don't need to. God forbid we have to pick up the phone and dial another number to come check out the noise we heard in the middle of the night — don't make us worry that our call will be put in a cache, and our police department, overburdened and underfunded, will have to get to us whenever it can.
The U.S. military is making tremendous sacrifices to keep you safe abroad. Please keep us safe and taken care of here at home.
Jennifer Rivera is a licensed clinical social worker and an approved domestic violence treatment provider. She is an adjudicated expert in domestic violence and sexual assault. She has been practicing for more than 20 years in the field of domestic violence and has broad experience with both victims and offenders.
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