Arty chicks are a peripatetic lot, and I’ve moved more than a dozen times in my adult life, but I never would have imagined that I’d end up at West Point. My husband, who is an Army officer, and I moved to the military academy in late spring, and it feels very much like living on a chessboard, the rooklike rise of the Cadet Chapel and various halls (Taylor, Thayer) looming near the manicured expanse of the Plain. The place has an almost Tinseltown surrealism—austerity raised to epic level. I’ve been married for a little over a year. Understand that we didn’t intend to wed so soon, but his deployment to the war in Iraq was imminent, and we didn’t have any illusions about what that meant. There are many reasons to marry. “Just in case” is as valid as any. We were cohabitating near Fort Meade, Md., and knew that nuptials were a matter of “when,” not “if,” so last November we went to the courthouse in downtown Baltimore and said, “I do.” The bride wore leopard skin; the groom had his hair cut high and tight. Our courtship was ardent and, uh, strategic. An Army officer renders the same breathless exhortations as every other lover, but it comes with a little something extra: Cupid’s organizational fury. A smitten officer is not hard to spot. First, he’ll compliment you on being “squared away.” Then maybe he’ll declare his intentions in PowerPoint (“I’ve prepared a 25-slide presentation to show how our relationship will deepen over the next four quarters”). Once he logs your vacation itinerary into Excel, you can safely bet there’s a proposal on the horizon. My husband cheerfully describes himself as “a planner by nature and profession.” I, by contrast, am a trendoid curmudge at core and on the job. I moan, pick my cuticles, and write stuff: book criticism, articles, and cultural weather reports like “Bob Seger is the new Pabst Blue Ribbon.” But being the Oscar in a joyous Odd Couple has triggered a seismic shift.
The biggest change is the hooah factor. Hooah is an all-purpose Army affirmative, which can mean anything from “right on” to “yes” to “I heard you” to, well, whatever demands energetic response. The only time I’d ever heard it before we met was when Al Pacino mispronounced it in Scent of a Woman as HOO-ahhhh, and I thought he was a Brooklyn guy calling someone a whore. (It’s really more a relaxed-jaw monosyllable—huuu with a hybrid “lh” diphthong: huulh.)
As Mrs. Hooah, I find that I am increasingly susceptible to that positive, hard-charge attitude. I’m also incontrovertibly “ma’am” to everyone I meet. I’m rising to the occasion and showing signs of growing up. Even my speech pattern is changing. I can now converse in the Army’s rat-a-tat clip of orders and acronyms. Contrast that with my hipster-betty ilk and our Valley Girl-like verbal inflection, and it’s obvious I’m on a tightrope walk between cultures. At this point, I’m halfway across.
In other words, I am sototally hooah.
The ultimate “You’re at the Academy now” rite of passage is head shaving—Justin Everykid transformed into a shorn Plebe on R-day. There is an equivalent Army wife ritual, where the other wives confiscate your all-black wardrobe and issue the standard pastel sweatsuits and seasonal sweaters. (Sequin candy corn! Yarn Santas!) Then they rip out your spine.
The typical officer’s wife is anything but a twittering domestic lark. They’re capable, nimble, and friendly. Their social ease is born of necessity—they’re the only group of women who’ve moved more than I have. There’s no audition process with them; you’re automatically in.
“Hope is not a planning factor” is a ubiquitous Armyism, but in marriage, hope is the ultimate planning factor. It occurs to me, however, that writing about my marriage (to not just a man, but the military, no less!) may be the equivalent of tattooing someone’s name on my body—romantic posterity with curse potential. But that’s the writer’s eternal gamble. When committing something personal to the page, all you can do is strive for humorous balance and CYA (yeah, that’s Cover Your Ass).
Should it backfire, I suppose I could join forces with Marine-turned-author Anthony Swofford and hit the literary circuit as an interservice comedy duo:
Burana: Hey, Swoffy, why’d the Army officer’s wife skip the orgy?
Swofford: She didn’t wanna have to write all those thank-you notes afterward, you hooah! (rimshot)
Oh, the hilarity. Oh, the humanity.