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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Artis Henderson never imagined she'd end up a military wife. She had dreams of becoming a writer and traveling around the world. Settling down with a conservative church-going Army pilot who was never anything she'd imagined for herself. But that is what happened. Henderson struggled to fit into military life and culture, but it was a sacrifice she was willing to make. Then in 2006, weeks after their wedding, her husband Miles was killed in Iraq.
I spoke recently with Artis Henderson about her new memoir, an "Unremarried Widow."
ARTIS HENDERSON: He wasn't what I thought was my type.
HENDERSON: He was very conservative. But I guess it turned out he was exactly my type in the end.
MARTIN: You two obviously, you hit it off and you start a serious relationship. You commit to each other. And then you move immediately because Miles is transferred to another base; he's getting ready to deploy to Iraq. And you move to Texas. Were you a little apprehensive about making that move? Or did you just say, OK, this is what life with this guy is going to be like?
HENDERSON: I was very apprehensive. You know, we had spent about six months at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and that was really - it was tough for me. It was tough to find a job. It was tough to make friends. And I had just kind of settled in, you know, I had just found a job. I had just started making a group of friends and then it was time to move. And that's part of military life and maybe eventually I would've gotten used to it. But gosh, that early on, it was still - it was a shock.
MARTIN: So, you go to Texas where you're taken into this group of military spouses. Even though you're not married at the time but you're considered part of that group. What were your first impressions?
HENDERSON: It was a tough group of women. Military wives are so tough. I mean they have to be. But I was maybe in a different place in my life. I was a little bit younger. I didn't have kids. We weren't married. So this sort of things that we might talk about, I didn't have a lot in common with them, not at that point.
MARTIN: Why was that just assumed that, yes, of course, you will come and you will be part of our group, and that's just to be expected?
HENDERSON: That's something I didn't actually realize until, really until he deployed or maybe just before you deployed. Because, you know, I was so resistant to that idea that of, yes, that we, these military wives, we would be this strong-knit community. And I just couldn't understand that. You know, I thought that my friends would be outside the military. That I would make, you know, friends from work. But I kind of saw over time that with a military lifestyle that those are your friends. That is your support network. And the soldiers are gone so often that the community becomes the other wives. And sometimes that's all you have.
MARTIN: After her husband deployed to Iraq, Artis moved back to Florida to live with her mom. That's where she was when she found out Miles had died along with his unit commander when their Apache helicopter went down in a dust storm.
A lot of people know that when a member of the military dies, uniformed officials visit the home to relay that news. You write about this in the book. Can you recount that scene? You were living with your mom at the time in Florida?
HENDERSON: That's right. We had moved me home when he deployed. I had come home from work. In hindsight, I had this odd feeling that something was off. Like, when I pulled in the garage there were no lights on - and my mom would always leave the lights on for me. I went upstairs and I put my key in the lock and the lock was unlocked, and that we always have the door locked. And I pushed the door open and my mom was in the living room.
And she was sitting in the middle of the living room, which made no sense. And there was this soldier standing behind her and another one next to him. And as soon as I saw them I knew. But it felt like such a betrayal because that's not how it's supposed to happen. They're supposed to knock on your door...
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HENDERSON: ...but they were already there.
MARTIN: How did you see yourself fitting into the military community after Miles' death? What could it be to you?
HENDERSON: I'm so proud to be part of this community. I regret that it took losing him to realize that. The military widows I've met, some of my best friends are military widows. I just have so much respect for them.
MARTIN: You longed for another kind of life in some ways when you were with Miles. Are you living that now?
HENDERSON: In a way I am. I've done a lot of the things that I talked about doing when we were together. And I think it's just, after he died, I just...
HENDERSON: ...I wouldn't let anything stop me.
MARTIN: Artis Henderson. Her new memoir is called "Un-Remarried Widow." She joined us from our studios in New York. Artis, thanks so much for talking with us and sharing your story.
HENDERSON: Thank you for having me.
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