Thursday, February 3, 2011

How it All Began

February 3, 2006: I went on a date with a sweet man tonight. He’s shy and funny and very, very cute, and has an intoxicating smile. We talked during the whole dinner, talked the whole way home, and then drove around for a few hours so we could talk some more. I’m not ready for a relationship. He isn't either. We should just be friends. But, when he brought me home and kissed me on the forehead, I felt my knees go weak. Who knew that could actually happen? I think I might be in trouble. But, it might be worth it...just to see him smile.

That was five years ago. I had just gotten divorced after a very, very long court battle. I was going to law school full-time (finishing my last semester), working part-time, and raising the most amazing little girl on my own. I was only dating because I never really had before. I married my first husband when I was only 20 and hadn't really done the whole dating scene. I didn't intend to meet anyone. And I never imagined that during this tumultuous and crazy time in my life, I would meet him.

The first few months of our courtship (please forgive the very out-dated term, but that’s the best way to describe it) were wonderful. In the beginning, we would only see each other when my daughter was with her dad or at a friend's house, since I was very protective. We would have late night phone conversations, after my little girl went to bed. And we would look forward to our occasional dates. Eventually, once I trusted him, I told my daughter that we were going to the circus with a friend. We had a fantastic time together. And the two of them looked like they had known each other forever. When we got home, she said, “I really like him, Momma. I like how he smiles at you.” So do I, honey. So do I.

I had also met his two sons. His youngest immediately hid my keys, hugged my leg, and wouldn’t let me go. I was instantly in love. His oldest son was a bit more cautious, but still decided that he liked me, and wanted me around. And I fell in love with him, too. It felt like I had known these boys forever, and it made my heart hurt every time I had to leave them. It still does.

After a few months of juggling school, the Army, and certifiably crazy exes, we decided that we just couldn’t do it anymore, and we broke up. We loved each other. But, we really weren’t ready for everything a relationship would entail. Especially a relationship that involved kids and ex-spouses and the military. It was just all too much. When I told my daughter that we had broken up, she said, “Momma, what did you do?” I still don’t know why she thought it was my fault. But, she obviously wasn’t happy about it.

Soon, we both moved on. Kind of. I studied for, took, and thankfully passed the dreaded bar exam. He called me the night before and during all of my breaks, to see how I was doing.

He was working long, difficult hours and preparing for a deployment. I would call him to make sure he was taking care of himself.

We both even started seeing other people. I told him that the woman he was seeing was a waste of his time. He told me that the guy I was seeing was a jerk. We were both right.

On New Year’s Eve, he was out on a date, but snuck away to call me at midnight. (I’m sure his date appreciated that). And I would sometimes leave dinner dates early so I could come home to talk to him instead. He would occasionally remember something that he “forgot” at my house, and would call to ask if he could swing by to get it. I agreed to teach a class near his house (an hour away from me), so I could come see him afterwards. You know, because I was “in the area.” Looking back on that time now, we were pretty ridiculous. Always sneaking phone calls and finding excuses to see each other, yet claiming that we did not want to be together. Denial, they say, is more than just a river in Egypt. For us, it had become an Olympic sport.

A few months later, he deployed to Iraq. I hated that I wasn’t there when he left. I hated that he got on that plane thinking that no one would miss him, when in fact, I missed him every day. We emailed, we wrote letters, we talked on the phone. He told me how hard this deployment was on him. I heard bombs going off in the background when we spoke. He tried to tell me that he was safe. I didn’t believe him, but I prayed he was right. We just kept talking. And talking. We became best friends. I realized how afraid I was to lose him. And soon, he wrote me a long letter, telling me that he didn’t want to lose me, either. We decided to try again.

When he came home from that deployment, I was there to pick him up. And we’ve been by each other’s side ever since. He asked my daughter’s permission to marry me. She said yes, and helped him pick out a ring. Soon, I said yes, too. (I had been warned by my daughter that I'd be in big trouble if I didn't). We were married on a small beach, just me, him, and our three children. It was pure perfection.

We’ve endured another deployment since that time. Another eleven months of phone calls, webcam dates, tear-stained letters, scared babies, and constant worrying. But, we made it. I am so grateful for everything we’ve made it through. What we've discovered is that we were right: we would just be friends. Best friends, in fact. Best friends, lovers, life partners, confidants, companions. But, above all else ... friends.

I sometimes wonder what I have gotten myself into with this life: the deployments, the blended family, the moves, the uncertain future. But, then I look at my husband, my best friend, and our children—two his, one mine, but all ours--and I know that every hurdle, every bump in the road, every tear has been so very worth it. I would give anything in the world...just to see those smiles.

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