Finally…the last in the series of how hubby & I met. You can grab part one or part two if you’ve missed them. I’m warning you now, it’s LONG. But I was told no more cliffhangers or recipes attached, so feel free to read it in two parts. Or grab a cup of tea or coffee and settle in…
The 4 months I spent in Great Lakes was from February to June 1990 I witnessed a very cold winter with a lot of snow and ice slowly turn in to spring. Spring was a long time coming up in Northern Chicago for this North Carolina girl. I kept wondering why I couldn’t wear shorts in May. It seemed to take forever to warm up, yet at the same time my imminent departure date was fast approaching. Our time together had been punctuated with classes during the day for me, night classes for him & duty weekends that opposed each other, which meant we only had 2 weekends we could spend together.
During the week we squeezed in meals together on base. We became experts at making every moment count. We had our favorite romantic spots all over the base, and we always found ourselves walking down to the marina…to be near the water, the boats and the gentle clanging of metal you sometimes hear at the harbor. When we were able to get off base the two weekends we had free, we tried to pretend we were normal civilians. We’d be out of uniform, taking cabs or trains everywhere, frequently eating out, exploring the area, and going to movies. The romantic comedy of that era was “Pretty Woman” with Julia Roberts. Our dream of the day was to envision that we could just have an apartment, a car and our freedom from the military.
So as our time together slowly wound down, I’m sure the mix of feelings we had were normal. Full speed love when we were together, and slowing putting up a wall brick by brick when we were apart. Foolishly trying to protect ourselves from the hurt we knew was to come….having to say goodbye. And then IT was upon us….our last afternoon, evening, night. We spent every last second together…down to the bitter end when we finally, tearfully uttered our goodbyes nearing 3 am outside my BEQ (bachelor enlisted quarters). And that was it. We had put off sleep in an attempt to buy time. But it was futile…nothing could be done, and when morning came my town car pulled up bright and early to take me to the airport. And as it pulled away from the curb, I could literally hear the soundtrack of “Pretty Woman” in the scene when Julia Roberts was whisked away in the limo after she and Richard Gere had said their goodbyes.
It must have been love, but it’s over now
it must have been love, but we lost it somehow,
It must have been love, but it’s over now
It was all that I wanted, now I’m living without,
from the moment we touched till the time had run out.
Oh yeah, total sap…but it fit, I was heartbroken and only 19…and it did feel like a movie to me. I had no choice but to get on a plane and leave the only man I was ever meant to be with.
I had 2 weeks of leave before flying over to my new duty station in Hawaii, and I spent time in both of my hometowns: Winston-Salem, NC and Washington, DC (Springfield, VA to be exact). We were still a couple, and spoke on the phone when possible, but that was in the era before cell phones and internet so every call had to be timed and involved a using calling card (remember those?). Not to mention I was calling a pay phone in his barracks that was shared with all the men on the same deck. We told ourselves we’d make it work somehow, but realistically we were going to be half a world away from each other. The writing was on the wall. And all it took was a silly argument on the phone one day…pride overtook both of us at the same time, and I hung up on him fully expecting him to call back. And he didn’t…not that day, and not the next. And that was IT. It was the last time we spoke, though I didn’t know it at the time. I fully expected he’d call.
And the next chapter opened for me, I flew to Hawaii, and met up with my friend who had already been there as she hadn’t taken leave. She was able to show me around and give me the lay of the land. I was only 19, heartbroken, and in a totally new place far, far from home. It was paradise, but paradise with a sting. As the weeks passed I realized I needed to write him a letter, but now not knowing where he’d be stationed I sent it to his dad’s house in South Florida. I never did hear back. Things heated up over in Iraq, and the first Gulf War erupted with Desert Shield in August and Desert Storm in January. I never knew where he was or IF he was safe.
And for the next 21 months, I moved on as best I could. I did have fun…after all I was young and in Hawaii. I explored every inch of that island….from hiking Diamond Head, to snorkeling in Hanama Bay….driving through the interior rain forests, over to the North Shore. Camping on the beach, and walking through pineapple fields. Too many luaus to count when family or friends would come to visit, and strolling the streets of Honolulu and hanging out on Waikiki Beach. I even experienced my very first hurricane on my 22nd birthday…Hurricane Iniki. I tried to fill the void and temporarily preoccupied myself, but deep down the questions lingered, the love still burned and I wondered how he was, if he was okay….I worried and I prayed. Where was he and did he still remember me? And an Amy Grant song was out, I Will Remember You.
I will be walking one day, down a street far away
And see a face in the crowd and smile
Knowing how you made me laugh
Hearing sweet echoes of you from the past
I will remember you
By early 1992 not having any closure was more than I could bear. I needed to know if he was okay, and if he still had feelings. So I wrote a letter to the locator service (part of the U.S. government). Back then we were able to ask to locate a service member if we had their social security number (which I had because it used to be part of our address!). About a month later I finally heard back, but instead of being able to give me his location/address they forwarded my letter to him. More time crawled by, and then one day HE CALLED ME!! He’s safe! I wasn’t in the shop when the call came in, and when I walked in and was told some guy called and he would call back in 20 minutes ,I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest!! Those 20 minutes were the longest of my life.
When he called back, we talked for about 40 minutes, and then hung up promising to write each other and keep in touch. Turns out he had been stationed in Jacksonville, Florida (close to home as he’d wanted). He was on a ship that was out to sea the better part of every year. I thought I’d have many chances to ease back into things with him, but over the next few months as his ship was on deployment…I only got one letter and NO phone calls. By the end of the summer I was tired of waiting, and figured it really was over between us. He must not feel the same way deep down.Of course I hadn’t admitted I’d still had feelings for him…but he wasn’t really keeping in touch as a friend.
The holidays came and went, and before I knew it 1993 was upon us. I was in full-on forget him mode when on February 1st HE CALLED!! Out of the clear blue!!! And though I had finally taken that wedding band we’d bought back in Great Lakes off my right hand (I’d worn it always), it was as though I was right back in his grip. I had told myself the summer before that if he ever did call again, that I wouldn’t go the slow go friend route….that if I ever had the chance to hear his voice again, I would tell him I was still in love with him…no holds barred. And let me tell you, that’s EXACTLY what I did!!
He called, I answered and I spilled it….all of it. And to my utter shock and delight….he felt the same way! After almost an hour chatting about anything and everything, we agreed to talk the next day. He did call the next day, and the next, and we were now full speed ahead once again. It was as if no time had really passed at all…all of our feelings remained. The timing was finally perfect as…we were both due to get out of the Navy that year. He was getting a “90 day early out” to start college for summer courses, and I was due to get out in December, but was also hoping for the “90 day early out” for school.
Over the next 6 months, we talked almost daily with those calling cards. In fact, after I moved here I spent one afternoon adding up the phone bills between us….hang on, $6,000!!!! Sheesh…too bad cell phones weren’t mainstream yet. Crazy!! But we built a relationship based on what we knew of each other before, our time in Great Lakes together, and our feelings that were still there 3 years later! The fact that for almost 7 months we lived a long distance relationship only convinced us further that we were meant to be. We wrote letters and cards and sent each other pictures.
Remember there was NO internet yet…so no email, no skype, no instant messaging. Regular old school snail mail!! Peeking in that mailbox everyday. And you know what? I have 3 large 9 x 12 envelopes stuffed full of the letters we wrote each other. He was/is a great letter writer, and I got almost a card or letter daily during that time. Of course being a girl, I sent him just a bit more than that. I now have our love letters all organized by date, and they can be read through like a story. They are very important to me even after all these years. Probably even more so.
Almost halfway through that time frame (in May 1993), my good friend was getting married and I was flying home to be in her wedding. The timing worked out for us here too, as he was getting out of the Navy just in time and was able to drive up from Jacksonville, FL to Winston-Salem, NC. I’m sure you can imagine not only the excitement but the sheer nervousness I felt about seeing him again after those 3 long years. We spent 2 wonderful weeks together as if nothing had changed between us….except for the fact that we had almost gained our freedom. We were still wishing for the apartment, but now he had a car with him and was out of the military & I was almost out. The apartment and my freedom was in our near future. But before we could get to that part I had to once again get on a plane and head in the opposite direction of my love, and it was sad. Every fiber of my being screamed I’m going the wrong way!
He was starting up his new life in South Florida taking a summer college class, hanging out with friends and I was still stuck in the military. But we both knew it was different this time. This time there was hope…we were a couple, talking everyday on the phone (a phone at his dad’s house that he didn’t have to share with all the other Navy guys), and I would be moving to Florida as soon as I got out so we could be together permanently. But it was still May, and I didn’t know if I was getting out in December (my original date) or in August with an early out. That part was depressing…not knowing. My fate was in government hands….3 months of my life to be exact. We’d already been apart for 3 long years…now it would be 6 months with the possibility of it being 9 months. So yes, those 3 months made a difference.
After weeks of waiting on typical government expediency (lol), I finally got word in July that my early out had been approved. I’m pretty sure I still have that paperwork laying around somewhere. Ecstatic doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt. My new life was finally about to start. I had been going over and over every brochure that I had been sent from the West Palm Beach chamber of commerce. How cool that I could move from one tropical paradise to the next. Though at the time, it wasn’t something I thought of. I’d have followed him anywhere. If he’d been from Alaska, then that’s where I’d be.
I tied up all those loose ends in Hawaii, closed another chapter in my life and on August 21st, 1993 I flew into the Palm Beach International Airport and have been here in Florida ever since. He picked me and my 2 cats up at the airport in a big yellow Cadillac. He’d bought a Welcome Home cake for me, and had a place all set up for us. FINALLY!!! We were able to officially live the dream we’d shared for the past 3 1/2 years. And of course things weren’t perfect. We live in the real world, but we were finally together without military restrictions on where we had to live and where we had to work. And that is something we never took for granted again.
Over the next 4 years we went to college together graduating with honors from community college, and then again from the university. We had time to really live and just BE together. We hiked for 2 weeks on the Appalachian trail together (something we’d dreamt about while back in Great Lakes), and we even ended up for a month backpacking in Europe (after realizing that life is too short…he almost died in a near fatal car accident on December 13, 1994, a story for another day). On May 2nd, 1997 we graduated on the same day with our 4 year degrees, and on May 3, 1997 the day after we graduated, we were finally married….7 long years after we’d met. I used my same wedding band. Though not stylish or expensive, it’s sentimental value far exceeded everything else.
Fast forward to today….we’ve been “in love” for 21 years, together for 18 years, and married for 14 years. Talk about a history….because we certainly do have one. 21 years later we are still in love, actually more in love, and have 3 beautiful girls that we are blessed to be able to raise and home school. We’ve been through so much in the past 18 years since we’ve gotten back together (hubby’s near fatal car accident, college and hubby’s law school, first daughter born 7 weeks prematurely with 18 days in the NICU, 3 strong hurricanes came ashore here, our third daughter born with a birth defect, and those are just to name a few).
Sometimes I look back and wonder how it would have been if we’d had all the technology of today back then. Who knows if we’d have been together during those 3 years or not, but at least there probably wouldn’t have been so many unknowns. Maybe those in the military now are fortunate that if they get married, they get stationed together. Anyone know? But our story is a huge part of who we are, and our love enduring through all of it is part of what made it so strong. I know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.
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**Many thanks to my wonderful daughter “S” for doing all my scanning today. You were a lot of help sweetie!!