"So I've been asked to re-enlist," Donna said over dinner.
"Oh?" Maris poured another glass of wine, her face carefully neutral. "You gonna do it?" Donna shrugged.
"Don't know yet. The bonus would be good and I love serving my country, but there's so much other shit to take into account."
These conversations with Maris were a bit of a double-edged sword. There were things none of her civilian other friends would really understand, but Maris, with her colonel father and a brother in the Navy knew the military life, even if it wasn't from the inside. On the other hand, there were also things she could never discuss with Maris,with her colonel father and a brother in the Navy. Not while she was still on active duty.
"I can only imagine," Maris said. "When do you have to go back?"
"Five weeks," Donna mumbled. She wasn't exactly looking forward to her second deployment in little over a year, but there wasn't much she could do about it unless she wanted to screw her life up pretty royally. Besides, she knew what she was getting into when she signed up. Theoretically, at least. Reality always has a way of being much more complicated than you'd ever imagined.
"It's not just that, though. I mean, they're making good progress in reviewing all the discriminatory crap. You know, like how women are now being allowed to serve on submarines, but there's still so much that is just keeping me back. They still won't allow women to fight on the frontlines, which is total bullshit. I'm not keen on getting blown up, but female military personnel are being killed in war zones as it is. Why not acknowledge it, right?"
She gestured with a forkful of pasta.
"And then there is my personal life. There's so much I've had to give up on. Don't get me wrong, I know sacrifices have to be made and I'm more than happy to make them, but there's always a bittersweet edge to it. I'm giving up things so others can have them. I know it's horribly selfish, but over the years I find myself wanting a bit of that freedom I'm fighting for."
Maris chewed her steak thoughtfully.
"I don't think it's selfish," she said, finally, taking a bit of the darkness from Donna's mood. "You're still a person. It's not unreasonable for you to want things for yourself."
She looked up.
"What kind of things?"
Donna nearly choked on her wine.
"What kind of things, Donna?" Maris repeated, strangely intense all of a sudden. "What do you want for yourself? What have you given up on?"
Donna bit her tongue. What kind of things, indeed. But now was not the time for it. Not yet. She shook her head.
"I can't tell yet."
Because of her career. Because, despite of all the things that held her back, this was her childhood dream. She'd never wanted to be a ballerina, or a vet, always a soldier, even when boys laughed at her and prim old ladies tsked. She was proud to serve, proud to know her loved ones were safe because she helped keep them safe. She was at home in the military. All that couldn't be thrown away. Not yet.
"You mean you don't know?" Maris asked, "Or you can't tell anyone else?"
"I can't tell yet."
But also because of Maris, who had never had reason to hide who she was before. Donna would not be such a reason. Donna would also never be a reason for Maris to worry like she did over her father and brother. (Donna could not help but secretly, selfishly hope she was already such a reason.)
Maris nodded slowly and turned her attention back on her food.
"Okay," she said after a while, "then I guess I'll wait for you." A pause, short enough to be ignored, long enough to be meaningful. "To tell me."
Donna swallowed, could not help but make a promise she couldn't make.
"You'll be the very first to know."
Maris's smile would carry her through the rest of her service.
Disclaimer: Everything I know about the US military, I know through Google. I've had this on my hard drive for ages and I figured today's as good a day as any to finish and post it. Congratulations to all members of the US armed forces who can now live their lives out in the open. I wish you love and strength.