Two Marines, One Deployment And The End Of A Marriage
StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When Marine Staff Sgt. Jonny Pena came back from Afghanistan, he wasn't the same man who had left for the war.
He and his wife, Marine Sgt. Anny Pena, met when they were stationed in Arizona. Two years later, in 2007, they got married; then they had a son.
They decided Anny would leave the military, while Jonny stayed in the service — and volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan.
Today, Anny and Jonny Pena are divorced, but they remain good friends. At a Storycorps interview in New York City, they talked about the challenges they faced as military spouses, and what happened when Jonny came home. But first, Jonny asked Anny how she felt when he volunteered to deploy.
"It was very upsetting, because ... I had a 3-year-old and a newborn," Anny says. "And part of me felt that you were pretty much walking out on our family."
"It was a hard decision to make," Jonny tells her. "But I couldn't live with myself if I'd spent almost nine years in the Marines Corps and hadn't done my job."
I used to have nightmares that someone would knock on the door with a flag. And that's all that I was gonna get back.
"As a Marine, I could relate to that," Anny says. "But I used to have nightmares that someone would knock on the door with a flag. And that's all that I was gonna get back.
"Sometimes you would call me, and you'll say, 'Oh, I'm not gonna be able to talk for a couple of days.' And those couple of days were like the longest days of my life.
"The whole time it's like you sleep with your phone. Just waiting for a text, or waiting for a call, just anything that lets me know, 'He's still okay, he's coming back,' " she says. "And then, when you came back, it was a huge relief.
"But it wasn't the same as before. I remember thinking, 'My husband stayed in Afghanistan. He never came home.' "
"I remember being at the train station, and just, an uncontrollable sense of dread and sadness. And not being able to see any good," Jonny says. "I couldn't think about my kids. I couldn't think of the fact that somewhere, someone loved me.
"I honestly just felt that life was meaningless. And I dunno, like, I just saw that train come and I felt my body twitch towards it. And I think at that point, you know, I realized that I was lost and I didn't know why.
I couldn't think about my kids. I couldn't think of the fact that somewhere, someone loved me.
"I wish I was that guy that I was before. Maybe, you know, if I had come back the same, things wouldn't have turned out the way they did, between you and me."
The two live in New Jersey — separately. Anny works as an intelligence analyst, and Jonny is in his final year of law school.
"You know, my love for you was always unconditional," Anny says. "I think that's why I think that we're able to have the good relationship that we have.
"A lot of guys will get divorced, and they move away. You chose to get an apartment within walking distance from us so that you could be there as much as possible. You come twice during the week, have dinner, help with homework. You're a good dad," she says. Their kids are Jason, 7, and Gabby, 4.
"Despite everything we went through, we still care about each other," Anny says. "Maybe not as a married couple, but ... pretty close. And I wouldn't have it any other way."
Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Von Diaz.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.