Read Our Story from the beginning.
The three weeks after our first kiss went by in a whirlwind of activity and emotion. I was working three jobs. T was working fulltime at his civilian job and, at the same time, was training and SRPing for the upcoming deployment.
We spent as much time together as we could, but it was difficult. We continued to go for walks or have lunch together during work hours, as time permitted. We would hold hands and talk, and I started to realize the effect this man was having on me. I respected and admired him and was anxious to make a good impression.
Naturally, this translated into a speech impediment for me. Sometimes, when I was around him, I would stutter. Not stumble over my words or mumble them, but actually s-s-stutter. I had never stuttered before in my life. It was bizarre, but this is how I knew how much I liked him.
Some nights T would come over so that we could curl up on the loveseat together and watch movies. I’m not trying to be cute about my furniture here. My apartment was too small to fit a couch in, so the biggest piece of living room furniture I had was a loveseat. We had to snuggle extra close to fit, and even then, we’d have limbs dangling off the edges, but neither of us minded. I can still remember the warmth of his body and feel the soothing beat of his heart as I laid with my head on his chest.
One night he brought over a DVD from his collection and a brand new, still-in-the-wrapper copy of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. We watched his movie first, then he asked if I wanted to start the second one. It was getting late, so I hemmed and hawed a bit.
“We can watch it whenever you’d like,” he told me. “It’s yours.”
“It’s mine?” I asked, bewildered.
Yes, he told me. He’d bought it for me.
This small gesture meant so much. It wasn’t the gift, but the fact that he’d remembered, from a conversation we’d had days ago, that this was one of my favorite movies and I’d wanted to own it on DVD. And he’d gotten it for me. It was one of the sweetest things anyone had ever done for me.
Still, our courtship wasn’t all rosy-red and sugary-sweet. The deployment was constantly hanging over our heads, creating tension and unanswered questions. From day one of our relationship, T’s attention was divided between the military and me. Sometimes he was distant, thinking about things he had to get done before he left. Sometimes I was distant, trying to protect myself.
This weird dichotomy was always present: I wanted to get to know him better, but I didn’t want to get emotionally involved. I tried to hold him at arm’s length while at the same time cling desperately to him. We had many conversations about this, and they often ended in tears on my part.
One night I asked him to leave. I wanted to be alone. I needed to be alone. It had been too much too fast and I needed time to sort things out. He wouldn’t go.
“Why?” he asked. “So you can curl up in a ball and cry?” It was clear that he considered that unproductive and a waste of time.
I resented that. Yes, so I can curl up in a ball and cry. I felt like if I didn’t get some release, I was going to explode, but I didn’t know how to communicate that to him.
So, he stayed. And instead, the pressure came out in the form of anger, directed at him. I was full of self-loathing for my behavior. I felt selfish, and I guess I was. But I was also scared, plain and simple. Terrified is more like it, that I would lose the first man I had ever fallen in love with, in all of my 30 years.
I also resented that we never got that “honeymoon” period that most new couples go through, where everything is wonderful and perfect. Ours was never perfect. It was shadowed.
Thanksgiving came and went. T spent it with his father and brother, but came for dessert to meet my family. Afterwards, T took me to meet his friend Denis and his family.
I understand now that in many ways T feels closer to Denis’s family than he does to his own, but at the time, I didn’t know why he wouldn’t want me to meet his own relatives. I come from an Italian-Catholic background where family is the center of everything, so I felt like T was shutting me out of a part of his life. In his mind, though, he had introduced me to an important part of his life. But I couldn’t accept that.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, T left for two weeks of military training in the hills of Vermont. Neither of us had cell phones, and he had no access to email. It seemed like foreshadowing of the coming year. And it was awful.
Over a week and half into the training, I was sitting at K’s house, enjoying her Christmas tree and lights, when her phone rang. Her face lit up when she learned that it was Joe. As they talked, envy surged through me, and anger at T.
Then I heard K say, “Okay, I’ll tell her.” She hung up the phone and turned to me. “Joe said that T wants you to come to the Family Readiness day when they get back on Sunday.”
My icy anger melted away. Then I giggled. “Uh, okay,” was my intelligent response.
He wanted me to be a part of this after all. I was happy. And terrified. It was a common theme in those days.
I knew absolutely nothing about the military, but I guessed I was about to find out a few things.