Sat. Dec 12th
Contrary to the stigma of signing your life over to the military for [insert number] years, especially once you’re granted BAH (permission and a stipend to live outside the barracks), service members still have a lot of freedom in their life.
Outside of the typical work day and Marine Corps obligations, I got used to all the privacy I wanted, and luxuries I could afford. Add in standard internet and a liberal phone plan, and suddenly my deaf parents are only a few clicks away. So another appeal to deploying was to put my emotional and psychological discipline to test by removing these luxuries. I got my first today.
Yesterday I bought a webcam, because the internet cafe doesn’t provide them, only to find, today, that an unkown administrator has to log on to allow me to install it. Skype works just fine, so long as I “close all other programs using the webcam hardware,” Windows insightfully informs me. But the guy at the desk looks powerlessly at me: “I just volunteer.” Well I just want to be able to sign “I love you” to my parents. I realize it’s been almost two months since I’ve talked with them directly.
“Get a Logitech, that’s what I got,” he says. When I tell him the PX doesn’t sell those, he says, “Yea. My wife sent me one.” Thanks, wife.
Deployment test item one: Demonstrate your ability to accept being out of control of your emotional needs.
People get in a lot of trouble with themselves when they can’t let go of the things they want. For a brief moment, I imagine accepting the impossibility of talking directly with my parents. It’s do-able. Is it sane? It’s not the challenge, it’s the surmounting unfairness that gets me. If only that asshole said instead, “It’s against MWR policy to allow webcamming,” I’d be able to deal with the stressors of everyone’s deployment.
It’s my problem now. Suddenly I realize I’m emotionally okay with a good cry. It’s good to let go of control, after trying to manage so much. But it doesn’t come. I control it. Did I pass?
Sun. Dec 13th
At work I send an email to my parents: “Stay logged on Skype for an hour, and if you don’t hear from me, I’m sorry.” We’re gonna try this the hard way.
My laptop with me, I head over to the wifi tent. The wifi actually pushes a pretty wide radius on base, but most laptops can’t return signal in this dust. Even in the tent however, a constant signal is likely to last a few minutes at best.
I set up my laptop and plug in the webcam. Putting in the accompanied install disc, I lose hope: Windows warns me the software has not passed Windows XP standards. Figures. I proceed anyway.
Test item two: Macgyver a windows non-compliant webcam to work with your laptop. In ten minutes.
Skype loads on my computer. The green highlighted username “deaf3mama” sends a shot of excitement through me. Seeing mom’s pixelated, delayed video seems so close. It’s on the other side of a small software snag. If I can just get the webcam to work.
It unexpectedly quits. I know enough to make my way around a computer, but I don’t know the shortcuts to get what I want. I haven’t gotten a chance to use Windows 7 yet, but it better be equipped with Webcam Issue Remediation, Maximum Strength. I try a restart.
I grab the user manual out of the box and my hope slides further as broken english attempts to guide me: “Welcome to use Hmaa products about PC webcam Metal Pro.” They don’t even spell their own product correctly. (The logo reads ‘HAMA.’)
“This product has beautiful appearance, small bulk and light weight. We use the latest CMOS sensitization chip. It use USB interface.” Hope wavers.
A bleak ocean desktop greets me, as I try the last thing likely to work- let Windows install the software. As special as the moment is, I still hesitate to give Bill Gates’ cyber megatron any credit, but Microsoft delivers. The product of a half paid English linguist yields the dialogue bubble on the task bar, “webcam starts to capture,” and the broken English is a sight for sore eyes. It might as well have said “WEBCAM!!”
Within moments, in shocking fluidity I see my mom shifting in her seat. She stares attently at a text box below the webcam, waiting to see me type my latest failed attempt. On her side, I imagine the green rectangle preceeding my video appears as she looks up and makes virtual eye-contact. Instantly all contempt for the situation dissolves.
The manual slides to the floor, the last instruction of which reads “now you can use the camera do what you want”
The first thing after acknowledging a good connection, I get to say, “I love you.” They see the beauty of my month-grown mustache. Dad jumps into the chair, and mom crouches on the right, her head nicely cropped into the bottom right of the frame, as he gives me sports updates. Mom gives lots of smiles and questions. Lots of scraggly mustached grins returned.
The connection never held for more than 2 minutes, and usually lasted only ten seconds. For a half an hour I probably saw more of Skype trying to reconnect than of my folks. In between waiting, the same expectant face, (sometimes frustrated, sometimes relieved, sometimes simply smiling), greeted me.
And despite this, I felt like I was with my parents. I told them how things were and when I’d be coming home. Not a lot of words were exchanged, but that’s not the point. I saw them twenty-some short times over, and little by little my reality was restored. The world finally got fair again.
Continue reading: 6. Battle for peace and quiet