I am a resident military-affiliate, one of the small, undefined population that attends Emerson College. The total of our population here is unknown, because any published demographics do not account for people like me, the dependents of retired and active military personnel. However, we do know that there are only 13 veterans in the entire student body. Having any connection to a branch of service is a rarity here. In fact, I’ve only met three other students, two of which were the children of servicepeople, like myself, and only one who is Marine Corps affiliated.
My dad is a Master Sgt. in the Marine Corps, and he is coming up on his 19th year of being enlisted. Meaning, for my entire life, I grew up on and around bases, fully immersed in the culture of military life. Before coming to Emerson, I had almost no experience with civilians who had little knowledge about the armed forces. The town I was primarily raised in actually houses various bases for multiple branches of service since the 1940s. Even citizens who were not directly connected to anyone serving usually had an understanding of the lifestyle, traditions, and struggles of those who were. There was a feeling of shared experience and compassion, which I felt was lost when I moved here. As accepting and supportive as the Emerson community has been, it has never truly understood that part of me or my life.
Being a Military Brat is a complicated experience, and one that is hard to articulate to someone who has no idea what it’s like. Basically, my life revolved around my dad’s career, which was whatever the Marine Corps wanted him to do. My family moved where other people told us to, lived in houses that were designated to us by rank, and constantly waited for my dad to come home. Sometimes, it felt like my sisters and I only had my mom, and, to this day, she’s the parent we go to for everything. During deployments, we would have a system, a way in which us four females managed to all work in harmony to keep from going insane. My dad would come home, and it would all change. Adding another person back into your life, after six to eight months of not having them there, is very difficult. You have to relearn routines, you have to relearn their living habits and preferences, and they have to do the same for you. As you start to grow up and evolve as a person, sometimes you begin to feel a gap. You and your parent remember each other as they were before they left, but one or both of you are not always the same when they come back.
I won’t tell you that I’ve never experienced my dad coming back from a warzone different, or that it was easy to. That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with in my life, and it is an experience very clearly not felt by my fellow Emersonians. It is surprising to me how casually and often I have been asked things like, “What is your opinion on the war in Iraq?” or “Does your dad have PTSD?”
I have been told that people ask me because I must have an interesting perspective on these things. I do not, I promise. My perspective is that it’s horrible to wait and wonder if your loved one is coming home. My dad had no choice in where he fought or why, and war is horrible in nature, regardless of any proclaimed reasoning behind it. Once you deploy a person to a warzone, it is no longer the politician’s war, it is the individual’s. I don’t talk about what my dad was doing in Iraq or Afghanistan, because he doesn’t talk about it a lot. What I do know is that he doesn’t sleep well because of it and his last combat deployment put him in the hospital. You never know what someone else has experienced, so please think about that before asking an affiliate these questions.
Talking about experiences as a military child in general can be a hard topic. Coming from an area where these conversations were normalized, I am often frustrated by an absence of understanding from my fellow Emersonians. While my voice may not always be heard on the matter, it’s always there. The conversation is open, and it doesn’t have to be sad or uncomfortable if you have it the right way. Our perspectives aren’t important because they are different, they are important because they come from a place that is not well understood and should be paid more attention. We may be a small population on campus as military-affiliates, but we offer notable stories that I feel everyone can take something away from.
Art by: Taylor Roberts