The Patriotic Stripper: From Rebellious "Bad Girl" to Military Wife
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Lily Burana isn't your average Army wife. A one-time anarchist punk rocker turned exotic dancer, she resided a universe away from the white picket fences of Main Street, USA. But when Burana married a military intelligence officer, she found herself thrust behind "the camo curtain," and all at once, her comfort zone of smoky, windowless strip clubs was traded for backyard barbecues and patriotic potlucks. And when her husband was deployed to Iraq, she found her world turned upside down yet again. Plunged down a psychological rabbit hole by the grinding anxiety of life as a soldier's spouse, the unfamiliar world of military families became her unlikely support system as the only ones who could truly understand what she was going through.
In her new book, I Love a Man in Uniform, Burana chronicles her journey from bad-girl stripper to all-American military wife, and describes the minefield of post-traumatic stress disorder that almost destroyed her marriage, showing how the long slog through war exacts a toll not only on those on the front lines, but also the loved ones left behind. She talks about the pressure to make her marriage appear perfect, the constant threat of widowhood, and the one word you should never use to describe a military wife.
Susannah Breslin: Did you have trepidations about writing this book?
Lily Burana: Rank has its privileges, and the assumption is a more experienced wife would really have the chops to tell a good story. Part of being in a military family is you're expected to have a game face. You don't just represent yourself, you represent the military and the country. There's much more to life as a military spouse than waiting tearfully at home when you're husband is deployed.
SB: You compare being an Army wife to being a Stepford wife.
LB: The number one way to piss off a military wife is to say the word "Stepford." When you get in, at first it seems that way. It's recipe swaps and cookouts, like it's the 1950s. You think that way is all of it. You think it will stay at the Susie Homemaker level. But this is a life-and-death lifestyle, and a very diverse population. Being a military wife, it's on a continuum with being a first lady, in that creates a long shadow, because you have this uber-wife image: a wife who volunteers and has perfect children and the most patriotic husband. The reality is a lot more complicated. You have to become each other's extended family. In some respects, you enter a minefield. You think you know what it's like when your husband gets deployed, but you can't anticipate it until you get there. The reality is, this is one of the most demanding climates military families have ever faced. You have friends whose husbands who have been deployed four or five times in six years.
SB: Your husband's deployment caused its own form of PTSD -- in you.
LB: The technical term is secondary traumatization. If you look at major traumas -- being in combat, being sexually traumatized -- and then you look at your husband being deployed, it's a lower-case trauma. Secondary trauma is real. If you love someone, you are very connected to them. Their absence is felt on every level. For me, one of the biggest challenges was just not knowing. There's times they can't tell you what's going on, there's a fair amount they won't tell you because it would worry you, and then there's what you do know -- things you know but wish you didn't.