As I stood there, stranded in the desert in a tank top and shorts, I held my boyfriend’s hand and stared at the broken-down car. I thought that there wasn’t enough Gatorade in the world to keep me from wilting in the heat. Even in October, the Mojave desert is HOT. The sun beats down and reflects white heat off every surface, searing your eyes. There is nothing out there: just a few scruffy shrubs, and some meth cabins on the mountains. And sand, lots of sand.
The trip had started out well enough. I had flown from the East Coast to California to meet my boyfriend and attend the Marine Corps Ball with him. He had been a Marine for a little over a year, and his first duty station was… 29 Palms, California. Arguably the worst piece of real estate in the entire country. The government tried to give the land to the Army, who deemed it “unfit for human occupation.” So then they gave it to the Marines, who built a base there, and found a way to filter their own sewage to create drinking water. It’s not a very romantic place. So when the Marines host their annual Birthday Ball, they all drive several hours to Las Vegas to spend some time in civilization.
If you’re going to be stranded in the desert, it might as well be with a Marine, right? Unfortunately, it was because of another Marine that we were there in the first place. To save money, my boyfriend had rented his own truck to a friend for a weekend, while we caught a ride to and from the Ball. Our ride home was with a Lieutenant, one of his officers. The Lieutenant had a nice car—a Camaro. But for some reason, he left Las Vegas with only a half tank of gas. 29 Palms was several hours away, with no gas stations in between.
My boyfriend noticed this error, and wanted to say something to the driver. But since he was a lowly Lance Corporal at the time, he thought it best to keep his mouth shut and not question his officer’s decisions. They were probably both about the same age, and had each spent an equal amount of time in the military. But an officer is granted a huge level of respect, and is still called ‘Sir’ even in casual conversation. A lower-ranking enlisted man would not typically correct or challenge his officer’s choices.
An hour into the trip, when he hastily turned off the AC, it became clear that the officer had also realized his mistake. By then, it was too late. We coasted along on fumes for a few more miles, then slowly coughed and rolled to a stop on the side of the road. We were out of gas, still almost an hour from base, and completely surrounded by the empty and unforgiving Mojave Desert.
At that point, you might have panicked. I almost did, because I felt so hot and miserable and helpless. But I looked at the Marines, and they were not panicking. Marines don’t panic; they plan. Marines don't panic; they plan. #milspouse Click To Tweet The Marines realized that even though we were on a desolate stretch of road, it was still the only road going from Las Vegas to the base. Anyone else returning from the Ball (which was attended by hundreds) was bound to follow this same route. All we had to do was wait for someone to come along and help us out. So I sat on a rock and waited…and waited…
And then, I thought I saw my boyfriend’s truck driving towards us! Was I already dehydrated and seeing a mirage? No, just after it passed us, the brake lights lit up, and the truck wheeled around to rescue us. The friends who had borrowed my boyfriend’s truck saw him standing on the side of the road, and realized they needed to help him. We only had an empty gas can, but they were kind enough to drive all the way to base, fill it up, and drive back to us. A few hours later, we finally escaped the desert and returned to base. 29 Palms was never such a welcome sight!
Is being Stranded in the Desert a Metaphor for your Marriage?
When my husband and I look back on this memory, we always laugh, because it was such a ridiculous and preventable situation. But I think we learned a lot from it too. And in some ways, it has become a metaphor for our marriage. This is what I took away from our time in the desert:
- Never drive through the desert with a half tank of gas! There are always going to be challenging or desolate times in life, and in a marriage. Whether it is caused by stress, moving, or financial issues, every relationship has dry spells. Try to keep your tank always full, so that you are prepared for what lies ahead. This means keeping yourself, your bank accounts, and your friendship at healthy levels, so you are always strong enough to face what may come, and get through it together.
- Don’t hold your tongue when you see a mistake. If my boyfriend had spoken up before we left Vegas, the whole situation could have been prevented. He thought he was doing the right thing by remaining respectfully silent, but silence rarely prevents anything. In marriage, suffering silently will not solve anything either. Problems can’t be resolved until they are brought to light. This doesn’t mean you should nag your spouse about every little detail. But if you see a problem, you should point it out, in an appropriate and respectful manner. You may be preventing a huge inconvenience down the road.
- Always look out for your friends. The Marines driving by in my boyfriend’s truck had no obligation to stop and help us. That wasn’t part of the contract when they borrowed his truck. I’m sure they didn’t appreciate the inconvenience of a few extra hours of driving. But they were able to look past all that for a fellow brother-in-arms. No matter how busy or stressful my life is, I always try to say yes when I see friends needing help. Whether it is watching their child for an hour, making a dinner for a new mom, or lending a car to someone in need, there is always a way to help someone. And it keeps your own troubles in perspective when you realize that there is always someone worse off than you.
- Communication is key. You may be wondering why there are no cell phones mentioned in the story. That’s because it happened in 2002, and none of us had cell phones. Nowadays, a simple call would have saved us a lot of time and worry (if we had service there). In marriage, constant communication is usually healthy for everyone. It prevents mix-ups, soothes frazzled nerves, and improves everyone’s happiness. Even if you and your spouse can’t communicate by phone because of deployment, find ways to stay connected and keep in touch, so you won’t find your marriage in a bleak desert landscape.
- Marines can dig holes, but they can also dig themselves out. That was the first time I was in a somewhat scary and dangerous situation with my Marine. It wasn’t the last. A few months later, we faced his first deployment to Iraq. A year after that, I got the phone call that he was wounded. I have followed him into the wilderness and out of my comfort zone many times. He is not perfect, and he sometimes makes mistakes. Like the time he led us on a mountain hiking trail, and we ended up on the wrong mountain! But I have also learned to trust his calm resourcefulness. He has been trained to analyze a situation and look at the possible outcomes. He knows how to acquire resources to get a job done. So instead of worrying about things so much, I have learned to share my problems with him, and let him help me walk through them. In marriage, and in life, everything is better with a Marine at your side!
Whether you are with a Marine or another military member, I would love to hear about your scariest experiences. Have you ever been lost or abandoned somewhere? Is there a moment when you realized that your loved one’s military training had actually made them a better person? Please share!