GENERAL ARTICLES

I Was Afraid of My Husband

Her returned airman husband was restless, moody, unhappy... What was she to do? — The true and very human story of how a wife met the challenge

ANOTHER AIRMAN’S WIFE December 1 1944
GENERAL ARTICLES

I Was Afraid of My Husband

Her returned airman husband was restless, moody, unhappy... What was she to do? — The true and very human story of how a wife met the challenge

ANOTHER AIRMAN’S WIFE December 1 1944

I Was Afraid of My Husband

Her returned airman husband was restless, moody, unhappy... What was she to do? — The true and very human story of how a wife met the challenge

ANOTHER AIRMAN’S WIFE

In Oct. 1 Maclean’s an airman’s wife, whose husband was about to return from overseas, told why she was afraid of her husband. Maclean’s offered $150 in Victory Bonds for the best anide by a serviceman’s wife answering the. question raised by “ƒ Am Afraid of My Husband.’’ Herewith we present the prize winner. —The Editors.

I DON’T know whether or not I have had to face the same problems as other girls whose husbands have come back from overseas, but I expect they are very similar. At the time, though, I felt as though I were the only girl in the world who had my enigma to solve. Perhaps there are others who feel that way, too, and it might be that my story will help.

My husband was sent back to Canada as a flying instructor six months ago. He had been overseas three years and completed a tour of operations in North Africa, Malta, Sicily and Italy. It is almost needless to say he was not the same man I married three years ago. I didn’t expect him to be, and I don’t think I wanted him to be. Still, adjustments were very difficult at first.

To begin at the beginning, I married John after a very short engagement and for the simple reason that we loved each other. John didn’t really believe in wartime marriages and he was afraid his heart was ruling his head.

“Julie,” he said, “have you ever thought that I may come home maimed in body or mind, or that I may have changed from the person you know now?”

“Yes, I’ve thought of it,” I said, “and it doesn’t make any difference. You’d need me more than ever then.”

“You don’t think so now—but it would make a difference,” was all he said.

We were together two months and then I said goodby to him in Halifax. After he left I became a VAD— or nurse s aide and worked very hard in a military hospital. I gave up all my time to nursing and I loved the work. Somehow, working with and talking to the boys there, I felt closer to John. I didn’t mind not going out on dates, although he had told me to.

Well, I had three years of airgraphs and blue air letters. The gist of most of them was: “I miss you. All I want is to come home again.” And: “How I would love to settle down to a normal life once more!” There were plans and dreams of our meeting again.

Then the great day came! I received a cable, saying: “Stop all letters until further notice,” and my heart stopped too. What would he be like? What would we do? Would we seem like strangers? All the usual questions.

My heart was beating wildly by the time the train pulled in. When I saw him we just ran toward each other. He looked just about the same, a little older and browner and thinner, but it was his eyes which gave him away. I knew they had seen things he could never forget. When he spoke it was with an English accent (he had been with an RAF Squadron in the Middle East), and he used so many RAF expressions I hardly knew what he was saying.

We stayed at a hotel for a few days so we could be by ourselves. It wasn’t very successful, however, because we didn’t seem to know what to talk about when we were alone together. He would answer questions I asked but he didn’t talk spontaneously. I couldn’t explain it but there was a distance between us which I couldn’t define. John looked at me as though he had never seen me before. Was I a disappointment to him after all? I found out later that it was just that his feelings didn’t show in his face, as they had before he went away.

The first morning John waked to find me crying. I didn’t really know why myself, but when he wanted to know the reason I blurted out: “You are so different. You seem like someone else somehow.”

It was a foolish thing to say, but he looked very serious and talked to me as though I were a little girl: “Julie, you knew I would be different when I came back and I am. I’m not quite sure how you knew it so soon. You see war does change men. It’s bound to, dear. It changes our values in life too. We see everything from a different perspective.

“Men can’t keep secrets from each other when they are alone together in the desert for a year. There is no hypocrisy and there are no gilded lilies. Some of the best fellows I knew were not virtuous by certain conventional standards, but they’d never lie to you, they’d risk their necks for you any day, and you could trust them to the end. Men in battle have a code they live by, and I guess perhaps it’s not the way they live in peace.

“I’ve seen thing® which have disillusioned me, and I’ve had my faith shaken over and over again. I’ve seen terrible things happen to people, and destruction and death everywhere. On the other hand, though, I’ve seen courage and determination and daring that I didn’t think possible.

“I’ve made the closest friendships I’ll ever make, under the worst conditions I’ve ever lived in. Sometimes we tried to drown out the war with drink. On leave we’d do fantastic things we’d never think of doing at home. The Middle East is fantastic anyway, of course.

“Through all this, dear, we were thinking of home. Our letters were so precious, and we all read each others. Our private lives weren’t our own. They were squadron property. Everyone knew how proud I was of you and how I loved you, and that has never changed. Well, I suppose I am different, Julie, but now do you know why?”

It was then that my perspective changed, and I think I grew up a little in that moment.

We had a month’s leave before John had to report for duty and we went on a short holiday to the nearest American city. How lavishly the money flowed! We went to every night club in town. We imbibed Manhattans and Martinis, Bénédictine and crème de menthe. We saw every show. We went to every spot

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I Was Afraid of My Husband

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where the best steaks were served. We danced and dined and wined. We had a wonderful time—at least I suppose we did. I think John would rather have been fishing, if it had been the season. All this was no novelty to him. He had seen and done all this, and more, in London, Cairo and Alexandria. I knew he thought he was showing me a grand time, however, so I didn’t disillusion him, but he seemed bored and unhappy, and so was I, too.

He was missing the boys on the squadron and I knew it. After all, life with them was all he had known for several years. They had faced the flies, the sand and the heat of the desert together. They had been laid low by all kinds of tropical ailments and had cheered each other up. They had flown together and faced death together.

Finally I said, “You miss the boys, don’t you?”

“Yes, I’m afraid I do,” he said. “When you are over there you don’t think of anything but getting home, and life seems pretty unbearable at times. When you look back, though, it had a lot of compensations.”

“Would you go back if you had the chance?”

He looked very serious, “Yes, I would, like a shot.”

I tried not to look hurt but I was— terribly.

“You know,” he said, “it’s not that I don’t love you, or that I wouldn’t miss you just as much if I left you again— but the war isn’t over. Perhaps I don’t feel I’ve done my share.”

“Do you think you’ll ever be able to settle down to a normal life again?” I asked.

“It’ll take time, Julie. Can you put up with me, do you think? I’ll probably be a difficult customer but I will try.”

“I promise to be patient and understanding,” I said. “And—so help me— I’ll probably spoil you, and you won’t be nice at all then.”

John didn’t smoke or drink before he went overseas. It wasn’t that he disapproved—but he just hadn’t cared for either. Now he seemed to need to do both. I was worried and he knew it, but I had promised to be patient so I said nothing. I hoped that when he became more settled and happy liquor would become less important.

John was stationed at an OTU (Operational Training Unit) near a large city. We lived in a summer cottage and found ourselves in a community of Air Force couples. We got along well with them. We were always having people in for bridge or just to talk, and I never tired of the boys “opening the hangar doors” as they called it.

Unfortunately, whenever a “48” came along we had to go into the city. Money seemed to mean nothing to John and he spent it like water. There were always parties and we attended plenty of them. I supposed this was all part of the process of settling down and I didn’t object too much at first. But it wasn’t long before I decided that if John wanted to go into town with the boys he was welcome to. I would stay home—and I did. He did go a couple of times but he didn’t seem to have a very good time.

Gradually we stopped dashing into town at every opportunity. We got a little cocker spaniel. Sometimes we stayed home by the fire and read in the evening. We listened to good music. We had everyone we knew in for dinner or down from town for the week

end. It was hard work for an inexperi enced cook but everyone helped and I really enjoyed it. John seemed happy and contented. Sometimes he felt low and depressed but these moods were much less frequent. Often I’d hear him singing or whistling, as I never had at first. He was becoming his old gay self again.

Then another shadow came between us. Letters were coming for John from England addressed in a woman’s handwriting. I couldn’t help wondering about them and how much this woman meant to him. I wanted to ask him about her but I knew he would tell me if he thought it right.

Finally he said: “You remember the people I told you about who were so good to me. They made me a part of the family—and how I appreciated it! I was terribly lonely and homesick! I talked about you and showed them your pictures until I’m sure they were bored to tears.

“I didn’t tell you about the girl because I knew you might be jealous without reason, as women sometimes are. She was a lovely person and grand company and she knew London like a book. Even during the Blitz we managed to have good times together.

“But I soon realized that she was in love with me. She knew that I loved you and that my only desire was to go home to you. I admired her and I enjoyed her company but she took nothing from you, dear.”

They say what you don’t know won’t hurt you, but what you guess at, and don’t know, can. That was why I was glad he had told me about her.

John was happy with me and told me so, but that had nothing to do with his work. Being an instructor is not a

pleasant job for a man who has been on operations. It is dull, monotonous routine, and it is also risky. The war was by no means over, and he felt neither in it nor out of it. He hoped later to do another tour of operations. “When this war is over we can think of civilian life,” he said.

I think he said that because he was afraid to think of civilian life. He had been a medical student but didn’t feel he was fitted to be a doctor. We discussed various occupations but they didn’t appeal to him. Then I hit on something rather unusual, which he hadn’t thought of. It suited his personality and qualifications, too.

My father knew of some silica sand deposits in northern Saskatchewan. Glassmakers needed that sand and I thought John might be interested in developing the deposit.

His face lighted up and he looked quite excited. “That’s it! That’s what I’d like! I’d be good, too, I think,” he cried.

We were like two kids with a new toy and began making plans and deciding our future. We were completely happy for a little while. We had found peace of mind and contentment with things as they are.

How happy we might have been together! The thing which had always been in the back of our minds, and which we had tried to be prepared for, if it struck, changed everything in a moment: John was killed in a crash.

I am desperately lonely now but I am not bitter. In this uncertain world we had our share of happiness. We do not expect life to be easy and I think it is how we take it that really counts in the end, even more than what happens to us.