Saturday, June 15, 2024

Q&A with Simone Gorrindo




Simone Gorrindo is the author of the new memoir The Wives. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times. She lives in Tacoma, Washington.


Q: Why did you decide to write The Wives, and how was the book’s title chosen?


A: When my husband joined a rapidly deployable combat unit in the U.S. Army, I was uprooted from New York City and plopped down in Columbus, Georgia. It was, in many ways, a tough transition, but I met a remarkable group of women there, all married to men in my husband’s unit.


Four years later, my husband got stationed with another battalion in his unit in Tacoma, Washington, and we moved across the country with a 2-month-old baby in tow. I found myself missing those women, who’d taught me everything I knew about motherhood, especially motherhood in this highly pressurized life we were living.


I began writing about these women, mostly because I missed them. Then, in 2018, I published an essay in The New York Times in 2018 that was, in some ways, a tribute to these women.


The beautiful emails I received about that piece — from both general readers and literary agents — really brought home for me how little airtime military spouses are given in our cultural conversations.


These messages also helped me see how universal our struggles and triumphs are, even if our circumstances are unique. I suddenly realized that the scraps I’d been writing were the beginnings of a book. 


The title came well before the book was finished — it was just always clear to me that’s what it would be. It’s a memoir, not narrative nonfiction, and so it’s ultimately a self-portrait, but the experience I wrote about is a collective one, that is both of the moment and centuries-old.


Q: The writer Rufi Thorpe said of the book, “This is a book about loving people even when you can’t understand them, and needing them even when you don’t like them, about being betrayed and unexpectedly saved, and ultimately about the power of human connection despite all our limitations.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love this description, because the power of human connection despite our many limitations is at the center of the book — it's at the heart of the scenes between me and the other wives, and the ones between me and my husband.


I appreciate, too, that she touched upon the themes of betrayal and being saved. My husband has had to leave me over and over again throughout our marriage; I’ve endured months of total radio silence, and, when we were allowed to talk, there was so much he wasn’t allowed to tell me.


This can feel like betrayal in a marriage, even if you know your partner doesn’t want to be away from you, or hide things from you. It causes fissures in a relationship that must be intentionally repaired.


The “unexpectedly saved” part can mean so many things, I think, but I’ll just say this: My whole life, I yearned for a sense of home and belonging, and those years in Georgia, the way they stretched me, the people I met who taught me so much about generosity and how to show up for others, allowed me, ultimately, to find home in myself.


Those incredibly challenging and rich years saved me in some fundamental sense. 


Q: How would you describe your own feelings about the military?


A: I would describe them as continually evolving. I was raised on Vietnam protest songs in an incredibly liberal bubble in California’s Bay Area. My father was staunchly antiwar, and I marched against the invasion of Iraq as a young adult.


So,  at 23, when the man I loved and had just moved in with told me he was thinking of joining the Army, I was appalled. In fact, I told him I’d leave him if he did that.


Years later, when we were engaged, it became clear that this was a calling for him, a dream he couldn’t find it in himself to give up on. If I wanted to marry him — and I did — I had to get more flexible in my thinking; I had to get curious. 


The fact was, I knew very little about the U.S. Army; my opinion was reactionary and not terribly well-informed.


I began to read a lot of books, reported on U.S. veteran affairs, followed the news in Afghanistan in a way I never had. And had many, many conversations with my then-fiance/now-husband about his desire to join.


And then, I moved to Georgia — and quickly came to see that the books were a helpful primer, but living this life was going to be the real education.


I do not agree with everything the U.S. military does, but I do understand our need for a military, and I am proud of the sacrifices our family has made over the last 12 years so that my husband can serve.


I also understand now that the military is a hugely diverse cross-section of humanity, and its members serve for so many reasons.


Our country often speaks of soldiers as though they are heroes or victims but, in truth, they are just beautifully fallible human beings building families, working jobs, contributing to society, and I hope civilian readers come to books like The Wives to get a glimpse of our ordinary — but often uniquely challenging — lives. 


I think the civilian-military divide in our country is a serious cultural problem, one that contributes to the intense divisions we’re living with today. I would like to see those two populations be far more integrated. I think this kind of integration would lead to more support for military families, which we sorely need (from the military itself and the civilian population). 


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?


A: Writing the book gave me a tremendous amount of compassion for my husband, my community, and myself.


Those initial years of Army life were hard on my new marriage, and I often felt, during that time, like we were failing, somehow — because we loved each other so much, and yet, we struggled to communicate clearly and understand one another.


I now see, after writing the book, and talking over four drafts of it with my husband, how hard we were trying in such difficult circumstances, with such little support and not enough resources. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have just begun a novel set in Lake Tahoe, where my father grew up. It’s both freeing and a little scary to build an entire world and storyline from scratch! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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