How the Binary Theory Saved My Life*

Can you see him?

“eenie meenie miney moe…”

(*or at least a portion of my sanity)

My dear husband and I have been married for 25 years (he would say something like it may be 25 but it feels more like 50, which is his prerogative as the anointed “funny one” in our family).  I wish I could say that our individual personalities never caused any challenges, but when you’re blessed with an abundance of character traits (especially in my case), there can be the occasional misfire.

When we met, we were both in the military (specifically the Air Force), but after marriage and our first child, I decided to resign my commission (I think it was the day I looked down and saw that my shoes were mismatched that I reconsidered my career path).  I was now a full-time military wife and mother with a mission ready pilot husband.  This meant I kept the home fires burning while he traipsed here and there for days (weeks/months) at a time.  [As I write this, I am painfully aware that other military families have and are enduring far more challenging separations that David and I did.  If you are one of those brave men or women with loved ones overseas, my heart goes out to you.]

In our case, at those times my husband was away, he was able to exist rather comfortably in that “on the road” box, while I impatiently waited at home for him to return.  To compound the ordeal were little occurrences with titles such as “diverted” or “hard broke” or “delayed” that just meant that the two-week trip was now 16 days (or 17 days) instead, or who knew?  As a woman and wife, I had difficulty living in the moment.  Mine was the existence of the expected outcome.  Two weeks were 14 days,  preferably sooner, and not a minute longer.  As a former military member myself, I understood on a professional level that time frames were really just estimates, but as dependent code 30 (spouse), I wanted more control over the situation than helpless waiting.  Our phone conversations often turned a little sour as he would let me know about what was keeping them this time.  Frankly, I didn’t really care about the details.

I think it was that memorable trip to Australia that finally inspired me to develop the binary theory.  I won’t go into all of the ugly details, but my beloved partner traveled there with his crew, their plane broke down, and then I didn’t hear from him for …..six….long…..days.  Any woman would tell you that this is unacceptable; contacts should be spaced no further apart than 72 hours (not a minute more, and preferably sooner).  To compound the issue, I didn’t know how to reach him, but that didn’t keep me from trying.  What if it were an emergency? (I was superstitious enough to think the very fact I couldn’t reach him was sure to precipitate one.) I knew he was staying off base in a hotel/pub and thought I remembered the name.  I started researching on-line (when my only resource was the international yellow pages) and placed a few budget-busting calls across the world.  My young daughters watched me hunched over the computer and asked me what I was doing.  “Trying to locate your Dad in Australia.” was my unthinking response.  “Oh,” they said and promptly retreated to the safety of their room.

I did not find him (but had one sympathetic soul actually look for him in an adjoining pub and call me “dearie”).  The only problem, as I later found out, was that I had no idea where in Australia he really was (I was looking in Tasmania; he was near Melbourne; figures).  Of course it was a little, shall we say, obsessive, but I was worried.  Perhaps more to the point I no longer had control over the situation(or the illusion of it).  Finally, I was able to pass on a message through the base command post, and only then did he call.  You know what comes next don’t you?  Here’s a quick synopsis:

David:  “I got the message you called.  What’s up?”

Me: “I hadn’t heard from you.  I’m glad you’re o.k., but I can’t talk to you now.”(Translation:  “What’s up?!!”  Are you kidding me?  I haven’t heard from you for six whole days, and that’s all you can say? Do you even have any inkling of what I’ve been through the last few days?”) *click*

As it happened,  those days my husband spent waiting for an airplane part to be delivered from the states weren’t totally wasted – he had done some sightseeing, went to the beach, and bought me a gift.  It wasn’t just any gift  (usually my trip “gifts” were things like toothpick holders or bottle openers — the types of things you buy with leftover foreign currency).   This time, he presented me with a beautiful black opal necklace.   I mean, it was the most stunning piece of jewelry I had ever seen. “Did you buy this before or after our phone call?” I asked.  “Before,” he responded simply.  I felt my face flush.

Not wanting a repeat of the Australia episode, I put my considerable energy into thinking about a solution.  Then I hit on it, of course!  Make it simple.  Then and there the binary theory came to me; it was pure inspiration.  As I remembered from my rudimentary systems knowledge, binary code is the foundation for all the sophisticated computer programs in the world, so why couldn’t it work for me?   Binary is binary; there are only two options – either a “1” or a “0”.  There is no gray in binary, no “maybe” or “if” accompanied by multiple conditions.  Instead of “might happen”, I would now use these terms to describe my husband’s status.  Either he was home (a “1”), or not (a “0”).  This would be fact, not supposition or a description that involved waiting for the true outcome. So simple, but it worked like a champ.

After that, when David was on the road, our conversations went something like this:

David: “So, mama, we’re hard broke, but expect the part to be sent express mail; should be here by Tuesday, and the work should be done by Wednesday afternoon.  Expect to leave Thursday morning, overnight at Andrews, and should be home by Friday afternoon.”

Me: “So, you’re a still a “0”.”

David: “Uh, yeah, I guess I am.”

Me: “See you when I see you.  Then you’ll be a “1”.”

David: “Got it.”

Me: Bye, sweetheart!

See?  It’s a beautiful thing.  I credit the binary theory with putting me back in the driver’s seat, which I hate to admit I need to be.

There is a small postscript to this story, an ironic twist if you will.  A couple of years after the Australia incident, I had traveled with our youngest daughter from California to the St. Louis area for ongoing treatment at the Shriners’ Hospital there, leaving my husband and oldest daughter at home.  Unexpectedly, surgery was recommended and we stayed an extra week.  Even then, we weren’t able to return when we had planned as she was still suffering from nausea after the operation.  That conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hey sweetheart, Emily and I can’t travel today after all.  The next transport is in another six days, and we hope to be on that.”

David: “But, I expected you home today.  We have that appointment Tuesday, and remember we were going to…”

Me: “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.  We’re going to have to stay here.”

David: “Uh, ok, I guess that’s how it has to be.”

At the time, I wasn’t distressed at all; it was just the way things were, but I could hear the mild panic in his voice.  For once, we had reversed roles, an “aha” moment for me, and a perfect time for him to employ that binary theory.

Since then, I have resorted to my binary theory many times, not only for my husband’s (or our now grown daughters’) travel schedules, but for all those circumstances over which I have no direct control.    Either it has or hasn’t happened, a “1” or a “0”.  This helps me spend less time on fretting over what I can’t control and moving on with what I know.   Maybe the fact that I live in the “show me” state of Missouri just underscores the value thinking in black and white can have for preserving one’s gray matter.

One thought on “How the Binary Theory Saved My Life*

  1. Suzanne, This is a real “Wow, why did I never think of this when I really needed it ?” thought provoking piece for me. I so relate and shall try to apply.

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