The most trying and stressful time for me would be the full month that we spent alone while my husband was in the field participating in an exercise called “Team Spirit”. Basically, the troops stationed all over Korea and some flown in from other places, specifically to participate in this exercise, all congregated in the mountains during the entire month of March to play war against each other. What better way to prepare and practice for the real thing, right?
I always knew the first day of March would come and he would have to leave and wasn’t looking forward to it to say the least. There'd been a few times he'd gone away to the field for a couple of days at a time and that had been hard, but it was nothing compared to him being gone for an entire month. Those already difficult everyday tasks would now be resting completely on my shoulders. It was hard enough to do our grocery shopping, laundry and all together, but doing it alone with Lauren in tow would be the final straw that almost broke me.
What worried me more than everything else was the fact that I was terrified of staying there alone all night. I hadn't liked doing so when we'd lived in California and never slept well whenever I had. However, I'd at least had a telephone, German shepherd to alert and protect me, and a gun to defend myself if necessary. Even then, I still slept with one eye open. I hated the idea of us being there all alone without a phone, dog or weapon for protection, other than a kitchen knife, and was very anxious in the weeks leading up to his departure.
Our next-door neighbor was the only other person, besides us and the landlord, to have a key to the hallway door that led to our apartments, and he was basically a stranger to us. All we knew was that he was a bachelor in his forties stationed there on TDY, he worked late hours at the commissary and would come in stumbling drunk almost every single night of the week after the bars had all closed. We'd wave whenever we passed but rarely ever saw him, though we often heard him coming and going. My husband really thought he was doing me a favor when he went over to inform this neighbor that he would soon be leaving for Team Spirit and that his wife and baby would be there all alone while he was gone. He just wanted someone to know in case anything happened. Maybe he did actually do me a favor but I didn’t see it that way at the time. I was furious that he'd just informed the neighbor that we'd be all alone over the weeks to come. It was just one more thing on top of everything else that added to my fear and anxiety. I almost made myself sick worrying about everything as it got closer to the day he would be leaving.
As much as I'd hoped it wouldn't, that dreaded day eventually came. When he left sometime before 5am that morning, I tried not to fall apart when we said goodbye but it was hard not to cry. I absolutely hated to see him go. We'd made sure to get the necessities (groceries and laundry) taken care of over the weekend before so I'd at least have some time before I was forced to go at it alone. I don't remember much about our first day alone but I do remember the first night and 27 other ones that followed very well.
As expected, I was anxious and had trouble sleeping. Usually at about 10pm all of the shops surrounding us closed and the hustle and bustle on the streets below would die down. There was still a few people walking or driving past throughout the night, but not in droves like during the daytime hours. I would be okay until I was ready to shut everything off and lay down for the night. Once I'd get into bed, every noise out there was a little louder and closer than usual. We only had one TV and it was in the living room so I couldn't use it to block out sounds. Plus I wanted to be able to hear if someone was actually coming through the door or window. Every night between 3am and 4am I’d hear the hall door unlocking and the neighbor fumbling and stumbling to get his apartment opened. My overactive and wild imagination would really get the best of me. I had nothing against him, but the idea that we were up on the third floor all alone with him right next door, the hallway door that only we shared locked and no one within earshot really bothered me. Making it worse was the fact that he was always wasted and people tend to do things they normally wouldn’t when they’re drunk. I would often hear him banging around like he was cooking after he'd arrive home and was always relieved when it would get quiet, assuming he’d finally passed out. It was common to hear noises in the stairway and various doors in our building opening or closing throughout the night. I always assumed and hoped it to be the neighbor's from the second floor coming and going, but could never be certain. The long and grueling nights turned out to be even more terrifying than I'd imagined. They would also end up playing a huge role in how we would spend our days during that month. The whole experience would take its toll. Obviously we survived, but it was one of the worst times in my life. Not to sound overly dramatic, but I reached an almost indescribable low and have never felt more frightened, isolated and alone than I did during those four weeks.