How Bunko Saved My Life

Originally published in April 2009 issue of Military Spouse Magazine

I barely knew my husband when I made the decision to marry him and become a military wife. After receiving orders to the West Coast we eloped on the six-month anniversary of our meeting. Three months later we packed up and moved across the nation to our new duty station and new life. Here I was; a newly wed, in a new military culture, new state, new weather, new types of food, and many miles and time zones away from all my family and friends. I was with a man I had known for nine months, and had never spent more than fives days straight with. What had I gotten myself into? I was ready for the new role of support for my Marine; I just was not ready for military base living.

My first shock was when we rolled up to the gates at Camp Pendleton. I felt like I was in another world. Helicopters flew over head, tanks drove next to us on the road, and men with HUGE guns seemed to be everywhere! Then we rolled up slowly to an armed guard, who saluted us and then barked! I knew Californians were different, but barking when you meet someone, that was odd. Whenever my husband saw another Marine, they would grunt and bark at each other. This really freaked me out. I had no idea what was going on, and I thought with all this grunting maybe he was catching a cold. I tried slipping him suppositories. I had no one to talk to about these new changes, I missed my old friends, and longed to make new ones, but how, everything was so different here?

I had no idea what my husband was talking about, (not to mention the fact that, I never knew what time it was.) He seemed to speak another language. What was all this “PCS, MRE, SOP, BAH talk? I did not understand why everyone was in such a hurry that they could not stop and just say all the words. And of course I had no idea what any of it meant. With no one to ask, I started making up definitions for these acronyms.

PCS: Pretty Crappy Situation
MRE: Most Rejected Entrée
SOP: Same Old Problem
BAH: Broke A** Homeowner

The weird names for things did not stop with acronyms. I had married a grunt and he was gone more than he was home. I would go all out prepping a huge home cooked meal. Then I would get a call before dinner time, “Babe, I am going to be late again tonight, because me and the guys are going on a twenty mile HUMP.”  Can you imagine my thoughts on what that meant until my husband explained what the military word, “HUMP” really meant? My husband was barley home, and I had no friends. I felt beyond isolated.

I was trying so hard to keep up with this new language, new lifestyle, and new role as a housewife.  I wanted so badly to be able support of my man, but I was terribly lonely. All my East Coast buddies had jobs during the day, and with the time difference I had lost touch with them. I found new “friends” with all the stars from Lifetime Movie Network, Oprah, and Maury. I needed a person I could have a conversation with. I longed to go to Target with a girlfriend, get a pedicure, chat on the phone. I missed female companionship. I tried meeting military wives at the mandatory battalion BBQs we seemed to have to go to every weekend, but the women were really catty. The first thing they would say to me when we introduced ourselves was “Who is your husband with?” I was appalled. I finally screamed, “Hey lady, he’s with me!” and I stomped off.

Salvation came from the first familiar face I saw at the commissary. Mary was a Colonel’s wife and her son had gone to college with my husband. We had met while my husband and I were dating. She was a seasoned military wife and had lived on bases all over the world. I was overjoyed when she recognized me! We instantly started to gab at the commissary. She wanted to hear all about how I was settling in on base.

She invited me back to the BOQ where her husband and her were staying before they got base housing and gave me the run down. She was shocked to hear that in my first month on base I had not joined any clubs, attended any classes offered on base for new wives, or experienced BUNKO. Over popcorn and grapes she told me, “Mollie if you do one thing, I promise you will have instant friends.” I sat on the edge of my seat desperate to know what the key to my new happiness was. She continued, “You need to play bunko. If you hear any wife in your neighborhood talk about bunko, invite yourself or do what ever you have to get in on a game. It is the key to base housing friendship.”

I left her house invigorated and on a mission. Was this bunko a secret sorority of military wives? I had to know. That week I saw my neighbor Autumn. I asked her about the mysterious bunko. She instantly brightened up. She told me that it was a dice game that is played in groups of four, and that when the ladies all got together, no kids or husbands were allowed. Ever better, at bunko it is tradition to eat lots of junk food! She invited me to a game that next week!

Mary was right! Just saying the word had got me into this secret sorority. When I showed up at Autumn’s for bunko a week later, I had so much fun! I vaguely of remember playing the game, but I mostly remember meeting so many great military wives that would become my sisters over two wartime deployments. We laughed, talked, and shared. Before I knew it I was invited to three more functions later that week. Bunko was the gateway to all the entire neighborhood community!

Our bunko club met every month over four years. Mary taught me the secret to friendship on base, it was not necessarily bunko itself, but finding a bond with the other wives around you. Mary encouraged me to come out of my shell and ask about functions. At twenty four years old I re-learned the old lesson, “You have to be a friend to have friends.” Once I stopped sulking and started looking for fun, I found it. Maybe on your base its “Texas hold um” or a “mommy in me” play group. Whatever it is, get involved in a group, or start one, you will find friends for life.