They dated each other’s H.S. friends, but never really met until he was about to go to war. Many challenges later, they have found their way home.

When I take those Facebook relationship quizzes, I pause at the one question asking where I met my S.O. We’d met several times prior to the best, last, “first” meeting at the Minneapolis airport.

He’d dated all my friends in High School, and I dated all of his. We were both into basement parties and scrabbling down the side of the Mississippi river bank to drink at the beach. I’d always loved his name. First and last. Thought it sounded bad ass, something he doesn’t even know. Until now. Soon I will be his Mrs. Badass.

◊♦◊

On the day I met him at the airport, it was my birthday. I was nervous, my marriage had only recently crumbled. My family life hung in tatters. My kids were sad. The timing wasn’t exactly right. Still, I knew I needed to meet this man with whom I had shared cross-country convos, who stilled the ripples in my life.

We had said we loved each other as he endured pre-war preparation theater in Death Valley. He had sneaked with his phone behind a fast food restaurant and confessed. I floated, suspended above myself for weeks afterward.

Yes, we had glimpsed each other in High School, but our memories were foggy because we’d been drunk at the time. I had known him forever although we had yet to truly meet.

I sweated as I waited in the airport baggage claim, worried if he might have a ridiculous habit the phone wouldn’t reveal. Would he walk with a limp, squint when he talked about an intense subject, what if he spit when he laughed?

Then I saw him stride down the hallway toward me. I sat down, then stood up, then sat down again. As soon as I knew it was him, I averted my eyes in case he couldn’t hide his disappointment at seeing me. When I peered up after a beat, he was smiling, closing the gap with his silent, quick footsteps. Deacon, clad in battle dress, chewing gum, sporting a mischievous grin and spark in his eye. He’d been up to hell his expression said, and he’d liked it.

My stomach did the loop-de-loop. Sex on fire, he broadcasted a sinewy stealth as he walked, promising everything rosy and right and raucous. Oh, I was in trouble.

I kissed him for the first time. When I’ve told this story to my girlfriends I’ve spoken the truth. Kissing him felt like coming home. I can’t describe it any other way.

Immediately, I was safe. I knew he could sling me over his shoulder and still hold his own in a fight. I knew that a bear lay buried in his heart.

For the next five years, I was on a mission to exhume that bear.

◊♦◊

He stayed for less than a week in Minnesota, returned to base in Texas, and then it was off to war. His unit deployed the night of his birthday. I answered his phone call from Germany on my cell as I excused myself from a crowded auditorium where people listened to Stephen King speaking in person. I had waited many years for the chance to hear my favorite author, still, I stood up in the middle of Mr. King’s response to an interviewer, tripping my way up the stairs in stiletto boots, so eager to hear my baby’s voice, so lost now that we had begun the war chapter of our relationship.

I had never taken the risk to love someone who might never come back to me, and I vowed to stick to it even though the prospect of losing him was real. I would never let him down. If one of us were to leave, it would have to be him. We Skyped twice a day during his tour and I flew down to Texas to welcome his plane home when his deployment was over.

For the next year, we endured long-distance romance and a remote affair of the heart. I remember my mother saying I might not really love him because I didn’t know him intimately. I scoffed at her. We’d been through war together; we could handle anything. But her point, we hadn’t lived together, was dead on.

He brought home some scares and scars from the war and I observed as he was shuttled from one medical department to the next: vision, hearing, psychological, every inch of my soldier was tested. He had been blown up twice while in Iraq, and they wondered if he might have a traumatic brain injury. Months later, they also questioned if he had lung cancer.

Would I lose him as soon as I’d gotten him home?

I flew down to Texas again before he entered the PET scan machine. We secured seedy lodging at one of those stay-as-long-as-you-want-and-do-what-you-will-we’ll-never-tell places. For three weeks, heaven was a one-room shanty overlooking the Franklin Mountains in El Paso. I imagined us married. Figured he’d thought about it, too.

◊♦◊

When he came home to Minnesota, we separated for several months, although physically we were closer than before. Since he had discharged, he had to face civilian life and after years of the same regimen, the same expectations and the same unit, he had found a home among his troops. Despite this, my belief that he wanted more hadn’t wavered.

He hadn’t been able to fool me with his proclamation that all he desired in life was his own place all by himself. I saw the yearning and the need he refused to voice. He still dreamed of a home with a woman who loved and accepted him, and he adored kids, even if he wouldn’t outright admit it. All you had to do was watch the guy in action with our friends’ children. Would he come to believe he could find what he’d lost, the chance to have kids, even if they weren’t biologically his, a new shot at love with a woman who had arrived so late to his life?

In the past five years, he has adjusted his vision to include the variation the kids and I offer, and it’s okay. We both went through the motions: dating, going on adventures, taking small steps toward a deeper relationship, but we stalled about the fourth year.

Of course there were a lot of the disagreements and misunderstandings. We had to learn to fight together instead of just screaming because it felt good, like what we wanted to do in the moment. I had met a man who would finally put me in my place, and he had met a woman who was determined to show him the meaning of staying, who would try, try try every day to make him feel loved. I had to prove myself again and again and again.

When I told him he had been damaged, he laughed. But truthfully, we recognized we were both of us pretty battered, and while taking our beatings had waited a long time to get the party started, to enjoy life as it is supposed to be lived.

◊♦◊

He is the worst person to move into a new home with. His OCD super surges, although his packing skills are remarkable. We carried a couch down the ramp of the moving van and when he asked me if I’d got it, I lied and said yes. That was a heavy mother, complete with a hide-a-bed and the couch got away from me and crashed into the edge of the garage door. Oh he was angry then, storming off until I hollered that the next time we moved we would hire professionals.

He is impatient, opinionated, and he definitely has his ideas on how to parent children, even though he’d had none of his own. I believed in him as he believed in me, rebutting my pushing him away when we’d snarl and scrap at each other and listening, learning to let me cry, that he didn’t have to work so hard to comfort or fix me. All I ever wanted was him.

He finally believes it.

I was no treat, arguing every 28 days like clockwork, yelling at the children, disciplining for poor grades, feeling pulled apart in every area, and I took it out on him. I couldn’t blame anyone but myself and I did it anyway, musing there would come a day when he would zoom off because no one had ever outlasted the kids and me.

I guess it takes an Army sergeant to meet a bullheaded woman and her confused children. Where do they go to love besides mom? I had to let them know he was okay to love, he wouldn’t leave, but how could I when I didn’t believe it?

Sometimes when you don’t know what to do, you go through the motions anyway, you tell yourself the confirmation will come later, that you don’t need all the answers or the healing now. That silence is often best. Maybe all he required was to wake each morning with the same woman and kids, in the same house. Maybe love was routine, comforting in its occasional boringness. Expecting every moment to be felt so deeply isn’t fair to anyone. Safety in the everyday becomes the glue.

His way of crabbing at the kids had to go, his way or the highway wasn’t getting him very far at all. For a good half a year everything annoyed him and I knew he was overblowing it all. This was just life with children; I was quite used to it as the custodial parent to three kids, each presenting their own unique challenges. I’m not kidding. Would he be able to make amends with himself and stay? God, I hoped so. I prayed for enlightenment to hit us, and it came. I beckoned peace and serenity, prepared the energy for its arrival.

I devoted to communicate clearly without my dash of nasty aftertaste. I took a chance and got honest. I needed this, the kids needed that, and what did he need? Is it heavylifting? Yes and no. In the wake of these talks, so much good came and changed everything. It is work to select happiness in your life, two hearts have no room for lazy lovers.

Slowly, over time, through sheer willpower, he met me mid-step. He believed I wouldn’t hurt him deliberately. I saw such value and talent in him. I appreciated him. He stopped putting his foot down and expanded his belief system. He was there when Colton announced he was gay, he’s the one Lauren wanted when her knee went out of joint, the one my kids can’t wait to be their stepdad.

◊♦◊

This man, coming from a place of self-protection, had held onto the dream of family and happiness enough to keep going and bulldoze the fortress of security he had built for himself. He got in touch with old goals he’d sacked about raising children and bonding with people in the community, discovering brotherhood in the fire department.

One night as we were going to bed, he turned his head on the pillow and said, his blue eyes reflecting a dim light, “I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

I flashed back to our first kiss. This was home.

I’d been shopping for a gift for a friend’s birthday when I ran into an elderly couple. The man wore a veteran’s cap, proclaiming a war from long ago, and his tiny, white-haired wife bustled along beside him. They interested me as all older couples do. How do they last even through the hours they can’t stand each other? How do they stop shouting vitriol that creates a permanent gulf? Do they swallow their emotions to spare their spouse even if hiding feels like lying?

I told the woman I loved a veteran, too. He had just finished his deployment in Iraq and would be coming back to me soon. The wife centered sharp eyes on me and said, “Have patience.” We didn’t say much more, but I believe she had been put in that place and time for a reason, to guide me and remind me that patience goes a galaxy toward loving your veteran. I think of her often

Our relationship is not just me learning him, it is us learning together. Our differing ways of expressing appreciation, of communicating displeasure without turning the comment into a personal insult, of getting comfortable with the faith that the other person isn’t trying to hurt you. When you have been hurt, this is very challenging, but we did it and I am proud of us

There is no one else I would allow to kid me about such intimate issues, and even as he teases, I know he loves. There is no one else who knows every one of my secrets, who can get into my head, and the same applies to him.

◊♦◊

Deacon made the transformation from a consummate bachelor to a man about to be married by sharing what he needs and how he needs it, by demonstrating he is able to be optimistic, yet soft, by showing us through his actions and words we are his family. He feels safe telling it like it is because we will not fall apart at what he has to say.

These are the days I have waited for, where there are no doubts, no wavering threads of past relationships or insecurities. The us, has become one blazing, bright entity. Our beacon to forward. We respect it like it has feelings, as if it needs feeding, sleep, care.

On the day we kissed in the airport, I knew I had found him, the man strong enough to understand the pain in my life, who had so much good to give that the sting of sad memories would fade. I forecasted ahead to our years together and mused over the type of days we’d have and those we have already experienced: Halloween costume parties, one sad Christmas without the kids taking selfies by the fire, the heaven-sent joy at his survival, the relief that people can change and adapt to the people they love, and the knowledge it goes both ways. Today, we are gentle, yet true, we know our own unity, that we can survive a challenge. We are locked in a blissful coupledom where nothing is perfect and no one else is invited.

We are home.

Original article appeared at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.

Photo: Flickr/The National Guard

 

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