Could we survive a two-year separation just one week after our wedding?
I went into the military as a 20-year-old kid looking for an adventure. I wanted to see the world and what it had to offer. In my five years of service, I went to 11 countries and 34 cities. It's an ideal job for a single person.
My first actual assignment was in the middle of a corn field in Illinois. Not exactly the adventure I was looking for. I begged and pleaded for an overseas assignment but they never granted my wish, so I made do.
In Illinois, I eventually met a local girl, Becky, and we decided to date. Becky's mother was very skeptical of me. From her perspective, I was a young punk from New York who was just dating her daughter until my next military assignment.
After a year, Becky and I decided to move into a small one-bedroom house just outside the base. We were poor and in love.
Our first winter I didn't even have heat in the house, my stove was a hot plate, and my fridge was a cooler with snow in it. (The one advantage of being poor is never having insecurities that your significant other loves you for your money.)
Another year passed and soon Becky and I were having discussions about our future. After a trip home to visit my family I decided I was going to propose. I was going to show Becky and her mother I wasn't a fly-by-night kind of guy.
When I returned home, I proposed to Becky. We were officially engaged. At that point, I had all but forgotten about my constant request for an overseas assignment.
The next day I went into work and my Commander called me into his office. I assumed he heard about my engagement and he was going to congratulate me. I walked into the office and he asked me to sit down. He did, in fact, hear about my engagement and was kind enough to congratulate my fiancé and me.
He paused for a moment, then took a deep breath and dropped my orders in front of me: Osan, Korea. An unaccompanied tour.
I had been engaged for no more than 10 hours and I had to go home and tell my fiancé I'd be gone for 15 months after our wedding. Not exactly the honeymoon we planned.
On my way home, I drove around the block 30 times before I mustered up the courage to tell Becky the news. All I could think about is how devastated she was going to be. I thought about her mother and what she was going to think. The walk to my door felt like a 6-mile hike. Every possible outcome raced through my mind.
I had an elegant monologue prepared to give Becky but the second I saw her my mind went blank and I blurted out the news. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and a look of confusion and asked, "So what does that mean for us?"
I didn't have an answer.
Should we break off our engagement and go our separate ways, or get married before I left? We talked all day and night and decided we were going to go ahead and have the wedding, even if meant we'd be long-distance newlyweds.
We went to the courthouse and had an absolutely breathtaking ceremony. The bailiff was my best man and the clerk was the maid of honor. It wasn't what I wanted for my wife, but it was our only choice with less than a week remaining before I had to leave.
The next few days consisted of briefings and medical appointments to get ready for my next assignment. The nights were difficult leading up to my move. It was starting to get very real. I was going to go more than a year without seeing the woman I love.
Soon, the day was finally upon us. We said our goodbyes and I tried my hardest to not cry. (To this day, no matter what my wife says, there's no proof I cried.)
The one thing I remember most is how much time you have to think about being sad on an 18-hour flight. I thought about sleeping alone, not having sex, and eating alone. It really hit me on that flight just how alone I was about to be.
I felt really sorry for myself until I realized how alone my wife was going to be in Illinois, without me. At least I was going to be with my peers every day; she was stuck at home wondering about what I was doing every day or if I was safe.
Military spouses have the toughest job on the planet. When we leave, we have a support system in place and a mission we work on every day.
The first three months were the hardest. I missed Becky's birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. I was 7,500 miles away and back then we didn't even have cell phones. I spoke with my wife about once a week. I would have to go off base to buy calling cards and wait for one of the dorms two phones to become available. I remember sitting there waiting while other husbands and wives tried to have intimate conversations with a group of people inches away, waiting impatiently in line for their phone call.
If she was having a hard time, I felt helpless. I couldn't comfort her. One night I was working a midnight shift when I received a phone call from the Red Cross. They were calling me to tell me that my mother-in-law passed. I was in shock. What kind of husband was I? I was literally on the other side of the world and my wife was alone dealing with the death of her own mother.
The next morning I was called into the Commander's office and he told me he was going to fly me home for a few days. I had mixed emotions. I felt guilty for leaving my peers behind but I knew my wife needed me. I cycled through every emotion during that flight.
Do I give my wife a big kiss when I see her or do I just hug her and console her? Are we going to get along like before or have things changed since I've left? I decided to just be there for her however she needed me.
My wife was in a very difficult spot emotionally. We gave each other a huge hug at the airport but it wasn't anything like you see in the movies. I could see how hurt she was and we headed home so we could talk in private. My trip home consisted of a lot of talking and consoling, but very little romance.
After a few days, it was time for me to get back on a plane again. Any delusions I had of it being easier to say goodbye the second time around soon went out the window. I spent the next 18 hours feeling sorry for myself yet again.
When I returned to work I had a new position that involved crazy hours, which meant the times rarely matched with my wife's hours. We barely spoke to each other for the next couple of months. I didn't know if we were growing apart or if this is how all military relationships were. I constantly felt like she was going to eventually get fed up with the situation and leave.
Eventually, our schedules became more in sync and we were able to talk 2 to 3 times a week. I started to feel the connection with my wife again.
Fights on the phone were the worst. By this point, our patience was wearing thin with the separation and we would have disagreements. It's very difficult to have a fight with no closure because we'd go days before we could speak to each other. It's not being able to apologize when you want to, it's not being able to say I love you when I want to.
The last month away from my wife was harder than the first. It seemed as if I was never going to return home. I started to have those same mixed feelings. Would we still be in love? Would we still laugh at each other's dumb jokes? Will she still think I'm attractive?
It is a unique feeling to not remember your wife. It's like meeting again for the first time and getting used to the little quirks you loved in the past.
When I got off the plane all those insecurities were gone. I knew she was worth waiting for and I realized it would never get any worse than the last 15 months.
We made it. We're still married. We definitely had some rough patches but we have been married for 15 years now with two children. We may not have a perfect marriage but we both know how much we're willing to sacrifice for each other and that's gone a long way.