By Laura Zabriskie
SMACK – I hit the ice fast and hard. My dog, Ranger, jumped as I let out a yelp. My fall scared him and he, in turn, slipped and slid as he rushed to lick my face. I felt the bruise forming, along with a few tears. I’m not built for this, I thought to myself. I gingerly pushed myself up, scared of slipping again, and slowly trudged back home. Ranger’s walk is cut short by my annoyance of what just happened.
It’s late October … how am I going to survive this winter? My feelings of frustration were really a front for the loneliness that I felt growing stronger by the day.
The truth is, I didn’t want to come to Alaska. Of course the state is gorgeous, the people are incredibly nice and there is something wonderfully wild in the air (it is the Last Frontier after all), but I’m a solar-powered girl who just left southern Florida to arrive to this: winter in October.
Then again, the military doesn’t always ask what kind of weather I’d prefer when assigning a new duty station, and even when they do ask, there’s never a guarantee.
We left our home in Florida at the tail-end of summer, driving from the southern part of the state to Virginia before making our way west and up through Canada to Anchorage, Alaska. We covered 8,000 miles in three weeks and we were able to make somewhat of a vacation out of it (visiting some family and National Parks), although with COVID-19 it was certainly not a typical road trip.
To be fair, nothing about this move was a normal PCS; although putting together the words “normal” and “PCS,” (that is a “Permanent Change of Station,”) is almost laughable even in the best of times.
We, like almost every other military family PCSing this year, didn’t have a normal goodbye from our last duty station. No ‘hail and farewell,’ no final community gatherings and certainly no goodbye hugs. In other words, no closure. However, in general, the pain of leaving a duty station is almost always coupled with excitement about arriving at your next one, and this time was no exception. We arrived in Alaska in early September, which meant gorgeous fall foliage, moose and bear sightings and a sense of excitement for adventures to come.
The initial excitement turned to angst when I realized just how different this transition would be during a pandemic. The local COVID-19 restrictions in Alaska would keep us safe, but more isolated. This new normal hit me in a different way when I realized how much I depended on in-person gatherings to make new friends and feel connected to my new community. Events like ‘hail and farewells,’ the new spouse coffee groups, Soldier and Family Readiness Group (SFRG) meetings or even the local USO had always been incredibly helpful in forging bonds in my new community in previous moves.
Suddenly, I remembered the USO and grabbed the phone. In my self-pity, I had forgotten about connecting with the organization that I so proudly work for. I checked my USO mobile app and sure enough, there was a USO center right near me. I was easily able to find the location’s Facebook page via the app and I eagerly scrolled through the feed. I saw that one of my favorite events was coming up: USO Coffee Connection Live. This military spouse-focused event is such a fun way to connect with other military spouses all over the world while enjoying a guest speaker (Monte Durham is still a favorite of mine).
Feeling inspired, I signed up for a few other virtual events, as the center is closed for a bit due to COVID-19, and I emailed the local USO team, feeling a smile come to my face and gratitude filling my heart.
The USO has always been a place where I’ve felt like I was at home. Even during this pandemic, when everyone has been struggling in one way or another, there are organizations like the USO that are changing up their methods of delivering programs and support to spouses like me in innovative ways.
I’m not alone, I thought to myself. The USO is here for me.
I looked up from my phone and saw that snow had begun to fall outside. It really was pretty. Maybe I just needed new shoes and warmer clothes. I could still feel my new bruise, but I realized the pain is temporary, just like this feeling of being alone.
-The author, Laura Zabriskie, has been a military spouse for seven years with five PCS moves under her belt, and currently serves as a USO Programs Manager.
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