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'The War At Home' Recounts The Tension Of Being A Military Spouse


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Saying goodbye to her husband is something my guest Rachel Starnes has had to do a lot. He's a navy fighter pilot. She has written a new memoir about being a military spouse called "The War at Home." She describes how difficult it's been to maintain her own sense of identity and sense of direction when so much of her life - where she lives, how long she lives there, and how often she gets to actually live with her husband - has been determined by his military career.

When Starnes got married about 12 years ago, her husband had just finished officer candidate training school. He's had many deployments, though never in combat. He recently transitioned from active duty to full-time naval reserves and is no longer subject to deployment. He's now training to be a dedicated adversary instructor, an instructor who's part of an air crew that simulates threats and adversarial maneuvers against pilots in training. Starnes and her husband have two sons, ages 5 and 4.

Rachel Starnes, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with the basics. What was your husband, Ross, training to do during the early years of your marriage? And how much moving did that require you to do?

RACHEL STARNES: Flight school with the Navy is a situation where you have a whole bunch of people coming in at once. It's very selective to get chosen to go on that path. But you start out - and it's a three year process - and everyone is eventually going to be divided up into pipelines. So there's a helicopter pipeline. There's what's called the P-3s, the larger transport planes, and then the strike fighter community. And - so what he was doing was going through that process and hoping to be selected to the strike fighter aviation community.

And then when he was selected, that was still part of this three-year process where we were moving around, say, during that, probably about every eight months or so. And at the end of that process is when you pin on your wings and when your actual time and your service commitment begins. And then from there, you go on to train to your specific aircraft, which, in his case, was the F/A-18. And from there, you can join a deploying fleet squadron after a year of training to fly the F-18.

GROSS: So we're living in a feminist era where women should have equal opportunities to work, to establish an identity. What are the obstacles to doing that when you're a military wife?

STARNES: Oh, my gosh, they're significant. If you come to it as I did with - at a stage in my career where I had kind of a nebulous idea of what I wanted to do, I mean, it was no more specific than I want to write. It can be kind of difficult when you start out because, truly, that job and that training really takes the reins. It tells where you're going to go, what you're going to do. And oftentimes, whatever tentative foothold you put down in the world as far as a job at a duty station, that's guaranteed to come out from under your feet in a very prescribed amount of time.

So it can feel, over and over again, like whatever little foothold you've gained is being erased. And - well, in my case, my husband was making logical and linear steps towards greater rank, greater responsibility, steps in a direction that he was very focused on going. For me, it was hard to see if there was progress being made or if I was going in a direction that I wanted to go.

GROSS: You know, there's resentments in every marriage. And in a situation where the husband has a dream - in your case, your husband's dream was to fly. Your dream was to write. So his dream was being fulfilled through the military, which was taking him away from home (laughter) and moving you around.

But, like, if you're a military wife, you can't really say to your husband - well, it's my turn now. I'm going to move here, and you've got to move with me. You know, I've made the sacrifices with - for you. Now it's your turn. Because he's committed to the military and the military is going to decide what he's doing and when he's doing it and where he's doing it. And as, you know, a loyal American, you're supposed to just be OK with all of that. I mean, I understand that. But it doesn't make that any easier.

STARNES: No, it certainly doesn't. And I think it was hard for me, through a lot of that, to separate my feelings about the dynamic within our marriage and how much of that was coming from Ross and how much of that was factors he couldn't control, things that were coming from the military. And many times, I really did - part of that resentment was envy that his dream had such a clear path. I mean, it was a hard path. It was a very exclusive and selective path. And it was difficult watching him do that high-wire act when I knew how often it happened that just the timing didn't work out or, you know, where people fell off of that path.

But I have to say, I envied him his clarity. I envied him his - you know, knowing exactly what the next steps were to that goal where I didn't feel like I had anything quite so clear. And oftentimes, it was difficult to remember and hold on to what it was that I wanted to do.

GROSS: You write that people would often say, well, you knew what you were getting into when you married a military man. This is the life you signed up for. But you also said that you had vowed never to marry a man whose job required prolonged absences because you grew up that way with your father. Your father worked on an oil rig, and he was away from home a lot. And then after your father lost his job, the family relocated to Saudi Arabia because he was working for Aramco, the big oil company there. And that was in 1993 that you moved there and stayed for three years. So how often was your father gone for long periods of time for his work when you were growing up?

STARNES: He did what's called rotational work. So what he would do is - we lived mostly in Austin during this time and then later moved to Georgetown, which is just north, so we were in Central Texas for a lot of this time. But what he was doing was he would commute to a port city, and from that port city he'd then take a helicopter out to the rig, and he did rotational work. So that would be, like, two weeks on, two weeks off, or a month on or a month off. And sometimes that would vary on either side depending on what was going on, or if he had to go to a training school - something like that. Roughly, it works out to about half my life. And that was always kind of a constant, knowing that dad's schedule was kind of running things from behind, but we wouldn't necessarily always be able to count on his presence for something.

GROSS: So how did you respond to that as a child?

STARNES: It was very difficult. I didn't see any other families around me that were doing the same thing. And the only thing that really came close to kind of our family's, you know, emotional ups and downs and its rhythm and its schedule were the families of kids I knew whose parents were divorced. And it was often assumed that my parents were already divorced because it was such a thing with my dad rotating kind of in and out of our lives.

And that was very difficult and painful because I didn't really have a community to fall back on where everybody else was doing this or where, you know, where that was a normalized thing, that the other dads were leaving and coming back and that your home life was affected by that rhythm. So that was actually very difficult growing up, not seeing anything like that and feeling conspicuous in that way.

GROSS: What year did your husband join the military?

STARNES: 2004.

GROSS: So how did you feel about him joining the military when you didn't support the war in Iraq?

STARNES: That was difficult because it wasn't so much that I didn't support the war in Iraq as I just still hadn't really had the time to untangle my feelings about what it was I'd seen when I lived in the Middle East. And again, my family was there for three years in various incarnations. Myself, I was only in the kingdom for my ninth-grade year. But my impressions of Saudi Arabia and of living in the Middle East also coincided with a pretty intense time in my life. It was kind of the peak of the awkwardness of my adolescence. And the experience of being white and female and young and Western in that country was so profoundly disorienting.

And now to have so much of our country focused on events in the Middle East and the question of, do we belong over there or not; what are we pursuing; what are our goals - and also knowing that there was quite a lot of nuance in that population, there were quite a lot of - there was a whole spectrum of ideas and understandings of Islam. And to hear it discussed on such a single note in our country was deeply disturbing to me in a way that I really just had not had the time to sort out. So, yeah, I mean, jumping into that, both in the collective sense as an American when we invaded Iraq, and then also in a very direct sense, supporting someone who was going to be joining that force, was very difficult for me.

And I told him in the beginning, upfront, look, you know, I - what do you need from me in terms of support, because here's what I don't think I can offer - which is a clear and uncomplicated view of what it is you're about to do in a macro sense. I don't have that. What I do have is a conviction that serving in the military is noble and is one of the most active ways you can put your citizenship into practice, and I respect that.

And I respected also that it - that this was his dream, that he was - this was his dream to fly. And - but I wasn't sure if that was going to be good enough for him or for the community that we were joining. I worried that it would be a liability for him, for me. I worried that - that I would be asked at some point to provide something more. And I wasn't sure that I could give that.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Rachel Starnes. And she's written a new memoir called "The War At Home: A Wife's Search For Peace And Other Missions Impossible." And it's about being a military wife. Her husband is a Navy fighter pilot. Let's take a short break here. Then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Rachel Starnes. She's written a memoir called "The War At Home: A Wife's Search For Peace And Other Missions Impossible." It's about being a military wife. She and her husband got married when he was beginning his military career. They were married right after he'd finished Officer Candidate School and was beginning the path to becoming a naval aviator.

One of the obstacles you've been up against in your marriage, at least especially in the first few years, was that he would spend so much time away because he had to that you never really got a sustained chance to really know each other deeply in the way that you come to know a spouse when you're living together and sharing your lives together. And then there'd be this transition when he leaved and a transition when he returned. So what are some of the complications in a marriage when every time you're getting to really - to get into a routine together, it's disrupted by another period away?

STARNES: Absolutely. I mean, that was a very difficult thing from the beginning. And I think I had this mistaken impression that our time together and our time to - you know, kind of for our lives to begin was always just around the corner - after this next detachment, after this next training school, after this next period - so much so that when - and I think we both kind of felt like that at the beginning. We got married on a Friday night, and we were in a U-Haul by that Sunday, moving for our first - for our first relocation to Pensacola for him to begin ground school. And we've joked about that over the years. Like every vacation that we take, we're like, all right, is this the honeymoon? Like, OK, let's call it the honeymoon.


STARNES: But, yeah, I think that that's emblematic in a way of this - this sense that we've had. And I think maybe a lot of military spouses have this, where you - you live your experience of time in that way that, you know, though these marriages may have an actual timestamp of them of, say, 12 years in my case - almost 12 years, the actual experience of it has been, you know, maybe six because there's been so much time away.

But I'm coming to the decision that - you know, or the impression that maybe that's not the way to look at it. Maybe I need to just really concentrate our time together when we do get it and not have that sense of, well, I'm waiting for when you're going to be around more, and, you know, that's when we'll - that's when our lives will start. That's when we'll really get to know each other.

GROSS: Well, he's no longer subject to deployment. Is he still gone a lot?

STARNES: Yes. But, you know, we're at the very beginning of that transition. So I'm not really sure what to expect or how that's going to unfold. But, yes, the fact that he's no longer subject to deployments - that's huge. That's a massive change for our family, and that was a compromise that we really battled over for a while, trying to figure out, what's the right thing? How do we compromise? What do we sacrifice in order to try to create more space for our family going forward? And largely, that's because of having children.

We were six years into our marriage before we finally kind of made peace with the fact that, hey, there's no - there's going to be no good time to try to start a family. There's just not really a set time for that in the schedule. So we're just going to have to make that time. And that was a game-changer for us when we considered all the - all of the sacrifices that continuing to stay in active duty would require.

GROSS: Was your husband ever deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or any other war zone?

STARNES: No, he was not. His deployment in his first sea tour was to the Western Pacific. And he has been part of deploying fleet squadrons two different periods of workups for actual combat deployments. And the first time that happened, we didn't know for sure that he was not going to go to that one. That was when I had just had our first son. And at the time that he was born, we were prepared for him to go to Afghanistan and be scheduled to be extended with his fleet squadron.

And that didn't happen. It didn't end up happening because he was scheduled to roll out. He was at his end of his time with that squadron, and he'd also put in an application to the tactics course at Topgun. And when he was accepted to that, then his skipper at the time allowed him to roll out of that squadron on time.

Frankly, I think it was a - I know it's been a disappointment to my husband that he was not able to go on those combat tours. It's what he's trained for. And I believe that that was hard for him - not being able to follow through with the people that he had trained with in preparing them to face this challenge. It was hard for him not to be able to go with them.

GROSS: But it sounds like it wasn't hard for you.

STARNES: I won't lie, yeah. I was elated. And that has also come with a not insignificant pang of guilt because, again, these are - these were dear friends of mine - these families, these wives who were saying goodbye to their husbands for these deployments. And it felt like something on a level of a betrayal not to engage in that experience with them. I'm glad we're not going through that. That's an absolute truth. But at the same time, I'm thankful for the families that are, and my heart goes out to them. And it's hard to watch that happen to a family.

GROSS: When your husband would leave for training detachments, what was the best way for you to say goodbye?

STARNES: We've gone back and forth on that over the years because I think, sometimes, the best way for me to say goodbye was not necessarily pleasant for him. I grew up seeing my parents say goodbye a lot. And their way of doing it was typically to pick a fight. And that made it easier in the days leading up to saying goodbye. And then they would make up on their way to the airport or in the airport and say goodbye that way.

GROSS: Wait - do you think they thought of it that way? Or is that your interpretation of what you witnessed?

STARNES: Oh, it's probably my interpretation of what I witnessed. I don't think they went into it consciously saying hey, you know, let's carpet each other leading up to this...

GROSS: (Laughter).

STARNES: ...And then have a big yelling fight and then we'll call it good. You know, it's what I remember. But, you know, it's - and so I think that there was definitely that - the desire to do something different but also, at the same time, the kind of helpless feeling of repetition. Like, you feel the set-up happening, and it's kind of - picks you up in its current. And you kind of start going towards that. And I think my way of combating that - of, like - OK, I'm not going to do what my parents - what I saw my parents do - was equally harmful, which is just that I see it coming, and I start to withdraw.

And as it gets closer and closer to the day for him to leave, I start scheduling him out of stuff. I start kind of disappearing. And, you know, I think it's kind of a brutal experience. And he's called me out on it recently - you're doing it again. You're unplugging on me. And, you know, I'm grateful for that honesty. But I got to tell you, plugging back in and really appreciating him and being connected in those moments right before he leaves just makes it so much harder when he goes.

GROSS: Well - now, I don't mean to be critical of your husband, but he's unplugging on you.

STARNES: (Laughter).

GROSS: And you're preparing for the true unplugging.

STARNES: Yeah, yeah. And I think that's hard for both of us. And I'm trying not to be - I don't know - vindictive about it. But yeah, I mean, it's true. It's unavoidable. He's leaving, and there's not really a way - I don't think we've found a way yet to be 100 percent functional in those periods when he's getting ready to go.

GROSS: My guest is Rachel Starnes. Her new memoir about being married to a Navy fighter pilot is called "The War At Home." After a short break, she'll talk about how she's dealt with depression and what it was like when she was with her young son in the car, pregnant with her second son and a small jet crashed just a few hundred feet in front of them. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Rachel Starnes. She's written a new memoir about being a military wife called "The War At Home." She writes about the strains military life has placed on her marriage and her own sense of identity. Her husband is a Navy fighter pilot. His dream was to fly. Hers was to get published in The New Yorker. But the path to his dream meant the military determined where they lived, how often they moved and how frequently they would be separated. In their 12 years of marriage, he's had to spend a lot of time away from home. She often had to raise their two sons alone. Saying goodbye to her husband Ross has always been difficult.

If you're just joining us, my guest is Rachel Starnes. And she's written a new memoir about being a military wife called "The War At Home: A Wife's Search For Peace (And Other Missions Impossible)" - like hide his clothes so that you wouldn't miss him so much. And another thing that you would do is buy pink satin sheets because when he was there, there's no way you can have pink satin sheets. So this was going to be your thing to say, well, I can do things when he's gone that I can't do when he's there.

And, I mean, I get that. But at the same time, I can imagine it being - making things harder, in a way, because it's almost like saying, well, there's the me I am when he's gone. And then I have to transform to the me I am when he's back. And I can see how that would lead to a bit of a divided self.

STARNES: That's been kind of the way I've gotten through it - is very consciously having a divided self. It's a hollow victory. But I really try to celebrate it - this idea that when he goes, I get to be the Mussolini of the house. Like, this is how things are now, by God. You know, now that I have children, I think there's really a little bit of bravado in that - like, OK, this ship is mine. I do think that that's a valid observation - that I'm two different people. But that's kind of the way that I have to kind of get through it.

GROSS: But you're comfortable with both?

STARNES: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I'm still kind of - and I think a lot of parents and a lot of married people cope with this - you know, the kind of give and take and the power balance in marriage. I think there are times where that switch becomes a little exaggerated to the point where it's not exactly healthy.

Like, I have 100 percent control when he's gone. And then when he comes back, I really - I do struggle with like - OK, well, what do I yield on and what do I not? I think I had some very rigid ideas of what being a feminist in marriage looked like. And now I'm really in a situation that challenges me to act on those ideals and find a way to live them with some pretty significant constraints to that idea.

Like, I really do have to figure out a way to share power and find comfort for both of us in a way that I might not have had to if I had had a marriage that didn't put these kind of constraints on what we were doing.

GROSS: What were your rigid ideas of what a feminist marriage would look like?

STARNES: Oh, man. It would be totally 50/50, you know - that when it came to the finances, when it came to the children, when it came to the housework, everything would be even-steven. Everybody pulls their weight. Everybody has a say. And - you know, and that my career would weigh just as much as his.

And he would get behind me just as much as I got behind him. And what I found is - just, you know, the reality of it is - there's significant logistical barriers to that at this point. And there is a give and take. And there is a point where it's vastly not 50/50 when it comes to certain things.

When it comes to earning the paycheck, when it comes to taking care of the children, I mean there were some very - it pinched - how gendered those roles became in some of the years that we've been married. And I had to make peace with that.

GROSS: So you have two sons now. After your first son, you had a really bad period of depression. You had suffered with depression when you were a teenager. But when - and I think you'd been on antidepressants. But you weren't on them when you were pregnant. And you did really well when you were pregnant. And you stayed off of the meds after you were pregnant but really sunk into a bad depression.

Was it hard to admit to yourself or to your husband that you were depressed because you were in a kind of military atmosphere where you're supposed to - I haven't lived in a military culture. But my outsider's point of view is that you're encouraged to kind of, like, suck it up.

STARNES: I think it was hard to deal with the return of the depression in a number of ways. One was that it didn't look like what it looked like the first time around for me. It was a lot stranger. I think another thing that was difficult about it was that I had wanted for so long and pushed so hard to start a family that now that I was struggling with this, it seemed to be evidence that I couldn't handle this thing that I had wanted so badly.

And as to your question about whether or not there was pushback because we were living in a military community, I think that may have amplified a pattern that I already had, which was this feeling that I should be able to do everything without asking for help, that I should not admit weakness, that I should be independent. A lot of that, I think, maybe came from, you know, watching my mom growing up - how much she had to step into a complete, you know, the hundred percent of the adult life of our family whenever my father was gone.

But at the same time, knowing that there were times that it overwhelmed her or that she was scared or that she was lonely and - you know, as a child growing up and seeing that, I think I felt kind of a rage and a protectiveness on her behalf and that I was going to somehow right that by not repeating it when I grew up.

And then, of course, when I did repeat it, I felt like I needed to kind of double down on that idea of strength and independence and self-sufficiency and - I can handle this. And it kind of becomes this perfect storm where I see all of these things coming together. And I go into this hole of berating myself and feeling less than and feeling like I don't have a right to be where I am or to fight for what I want.

GROSS: After your first son was born and you sunk into this depression, you started cutting yourself, something you'd done as a teenager. And I could see how it would be even more frightening to know that you're doing that when you're an adult and a mother because you're supposed to be taking care of your son. But here you are, doing something that is literally self-destructive. Can you explain what you thought you were emotionally or physically getting out of cutting?

STARNES: It was uniquely disturbing to have that behavior come up again when I was a mother because I think, at the time, the root of it was the same. It was a rage - a circumstance - that is so strong that you can't do anything with it but turn it inward. And it's also a very sobering thing because the cuts are not something that go away immediately. You deal with them. You have to find ways to hide them.

You - and that was especially painful for me with an infant because he - I mean, obviously, he was a newborn. There was no way he could look at that and know, you know, or understand. But immediately, it was something - that I wanted to create a physical barrier between that and him, between seeing my arm and him. And yeah, it was terrifying because it was something that I thought was over and done with. And clearly, it wasn't.

GROSS: How did you come back from that?

STARNES: With medication, with time.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Rachel Starnes. She's written a new memoir about being a military wife called "The War At Home: A Writer's Search For Peace (And Other Missions Impossible)." Let's take a short break here. Then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Rachel Starnes. She's the author of a new memoir called "The War At Home," which is about being a military wife confronted with a lot of separations from her husband.

I'm sure as a - the wife of a naval fighter pilot, your worst-case scenario is that, like, your husband is in a plane crash or your husband is shot down. You actually witnessed a plane crash. You were driving along the road. Your son was in the car - your young son was in the car. I think you were pregnant with your second child at the time.


GROSS: And you saw this flash. Why don't you describe what you saw?

STARNES: I was taking my son to a doctor's appointment on the base in the - in Fallon, Nev. And I was seven months pregnant with my second son. And the weather was strange on that day. It was - there was hail and sleet and a very strong wind. And it was a sudden storm that had blown up very quickly. And there were training flights that had gone out that morning, and Ross was scheduled to fly later in the morning.

You see a lot of jets in this life. You know, you see them doing a lot of different things in the sky. There's jet roars - a constant thing - overhead and you just get very used to how planes look in the sky, what they're doing, what's going on. And so when you see something like what I saw that morning, the placement of the plane in the sky, what it was doing, how much power was coming out of it, how - you could hear the engines. And just where it was, I knew immediately that something was wrong.

And what my mind immediately went to was identifying the plane, trying to figure out exactly what it was. And it was one I hadn't seen before. It was smaller than the jets I had seen. I always look to the tail fins and the exhaust pipe in the back to try to identify. And a Hornet has two exhaust pipes in the back and it has two tail fins that are out at kind of an angle. And so I knew just by size and by the back of the plane that this was not a Hornet, that this was not supposed to be the time that Ross was flying.

But what I saw was a plane that was too low in the sky, that was at the wrong angle to me, that was not lined up in the position that it would be if it was trying to land on the nearest runway. There was something wrong. And then I - as I was moving down the road, we came parallel, and he was about 200 yards away. And it started coming down very low in the sky and low to the ground. And then I saw the back right end hit the ground and a big flash of orange and then after that a wall of snow and dirt. And it was - it was terribly shocking to see all of that.

GROSS: What was your instinctive reaction, you know, in terms of, like, any action that you could take?

STARNES: Oh, I don't know that I had an instinctive reaction. I watched and I was talking to the jet, pull up, pull up, pull up. That was my instinctive reaction. But eventually, I realized I was screaming and that I had stopped the car and had my hands on the window and I was screaming, get out, get out, get out.

GROSS: How long did you wait there?

STARNES: I think maybe - maybe all told, maybe five to seven minutes. And there was a lot going on. There was - there was a man who jumped the fence, even with the razor wire on the top. There was a man who jumped the fence and ran over to try to get close to the plane. But there was a fire and he wasn't able to get any closer.

And he was just walking back and forth in this field, raking his hands through his hair. And I had this hope that somehow, you know, maybe he knew what he was doing, that maybe he could go and, you know, eject the cockpit or put out the fire or something. I, you know, you hope very irrational things in these moments.

There was another man that pulled over from a pickup behind me and was taking pictures. And I remember being very angry at that and trying to yell at him to stop. But basically what I was doing is sitting in my car yelling and not knowing that I was yelling and being afraid and not knowing what to do.

GROSS: So the pilot of that plane was killed.


GROSS: I'm thinking that in a way, this gave you an image that you probably never wanted to have, your worst-case scenario - what a crash looks like, what a crash might look like if your husband had been in the plane, which he wasn't. But did you work hard to try to erase that?

STARNES: No. You're right, it is a worst-case scenario. And it is something that's - that's very terrifying. But I also understood it as something that I would need to figure out how to carry. So much of my early experience of flight school and supporting my husband was helping him memorize these emergency procedures and safety parameters and these warnings about things that could happen. And early on, I was so scared by it all that it was important to me to help him memorize those things and to hear him say them back absolutely correctly because it was - it was this ritual of saying, OK, if you know all of this, if you remember all of this, then nothing bad can happen to you. And unfortunately, the truth there is that that's just not true.

There are accidents that happen that no one is at fault. The accident that I witnessed, it doesn't have anything to do with the pilot's skills or with any mistakes that anyone made. And the process of trying to memorize all of that safety information, that's deeply comforting, and I needed to see that working. But at the same time, it's terrifying and very difficult to carry this idea that being skilled doesn't protect you.

GROSS: Your dream was always to write, and now you've written a memoir "The War At Home." So as a memoirist, it's your job to share things, to disclose things of significance that happen to you. And in this case, that happened in your marriage. Your husband, on the other hand, is a very private person. And so I know you showed him drafts of the book before publishing it. Do you think he learned things about you and your view of the marriage from actually reading the book?

STARNES: I do. I do. I'll also say, too, that I learned things about him from his reaction to what I was writing. And I wondered early on - in fact, I took a little bit of offense that he wasn't, you know, more actively asking to read what I was writing or, you know, wanting to know what it was I was going to say on the page. And he very early on told me, like, I'm not going to impinge here. Like, you need to develop your own voice. You need to do your own thing, and I'm not going to weigh in on that.

You know, in a way, I think that was a more comfortable stance for him because a lot of what I write, I think, you know, would naturally for a person who's a little more private, I think it would make them uncomfortable. But I also think that there was a place where he was really looking at, you know, the balance equation, the fairness. From what he was reading, I think he began to understand that we've picked a lifestyle that directly pushes most of my buttons almost all the time. And I, in turn, have picked a project, at least for the last seven years, that has directly pushed probably most of his.

But he's maintained a code where he allows me to develop my voice. And the few times that he actually did go all the way through the manuscript, he didn't touch anything that I said about our marriage or about him or about my feelings. The only place where he weighed in was he wanted to be sure that the technical information was absolutely correct, everything about the jet, everything about Topgun, everything about military procedures, radio calls. The finest details there, he has personally vetted. But everything else, I think he was extremely brave and more than fair in letting me say what I needed to say.

GROSS: Rachel Starnes, thank you so much for talking with us.

STARNES: Thank you. It's been an incredible honor.

GROSS: Rachel Starnes' new memoir is called "The War At Home." After we take a short break, Maureen Corrigan will review a new collection of short stories set in and around Cape Canaveral called "The Dream Life Of Astronauts." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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