Two days ago, I celebrated my sixteen-month anniversary with the love of my life. Today, it’s my birthday. In two days, it’s Valentines Day. He’s currently in Columbus, Georgia, watching a movie with his battle buddies while waiting for Airborne hold to be over. I’m in my tiny apartment in Barcelona, Spain, attempting but unable to fall asleep because I really, really want to stay up until 4AM again so we can say goodnight and sleep at the same time.
Because of a horrible internet connection on his phone, we gave up trying to Skype. Quirky texts, photos, brief videos, and voice messages are the only ways we communicate. A certain upgrade from snail-mail.
You see, military wives have it hard, but military girlfriends are unsung heroes.
We love him. The man who would give up his life, literally and figuratively, for his country. The man who swore to give us his heart, while the military claims his body.
I know I’m new to this game. My boyfriend just enlisted, and he’s got a long way to go before he reaches his dream and gets into the unit he has always wanted. I am sure the next five to ten years will truly test who I am, what I know, and what I think I know. However, this is how I feel now, and I feel both empowered and very, very vulnerable.
You see, being a military girlfriend takes a lot more faith.
We don’t have the guarantee of a ring or a family. “Let’s get married when this is over.” “One day we will be together again.” “I can’t wait until we finally get to move in together.”
It’s a blossoming relationship that has to be put on hold. A love that is forced to grow and solidify at a rapid rate. It’s both a curse and a blessing.
Would I have known I loved him this much, had he not flown across the country the day before our fourteenth-month anniversary? I don’t know. The majority of our relationship has been underscored by doubt.
“You know my dream is to serve in the military, right?”
Yes, yes I know.
“One day I may leave you widowed.”
“My work will always come first, whether I like it or not.”
I know, I know.
But you see, I don’t know. Military girlfriends don’t know what we get into. We’re young, we’re in love. For me, he is my first love. I knew I loved him. I knew he was special; I knew from the very beginning. Yet I was faced with a difficult decision long before I thought I was ready.
It was never explicit, but a subtle, nagging need for me to mature, to open my eyes, to see the big picture, to know now.
Am I going to support him through this?
I am twenty years old. I am in college. I am about to study abroad in a foreign country. I am in love. Am I ready? Am I ready to give my life away to the army?
When am I in too deep?
Once he studies endlessly for the ASVAB through the summer. Once he can hardly balance work, studying, incessant exercising, and a college girlfriend whose summer priorities are far different. Once he disappears for two days at MEPS. Once he shaves his head. Once every day feels like a tacit countdown. Once summer ends. Once it’s our last date. Once he looks into my eyes and tells me he loves me. Once he gives me a hug and a kiss for the last time in a while. Once he’s on a plane. Once his first letter arrives. Once I finally hear his voice for the first time in months over the phone. Once I’m standing at the airport holding a tray of cupcakes. Once I see him in his ACUs. Once I run into his arms.
I don’t know at which moment, exactly, but I knew. I knew that this was real.
A military girlfriend can’t possibly imagine what she’s getting herself into. She doesn’t have a child, a base home, household bills, or a military-family community to remind her that she isn’t dreaming. Her life goes on. She goes to school, gets a job, finds an internship, plans her career. She remembers all the dreams she had before she met him, and recalculates ways to make them match his. At times she feels trapped in an alternate reality.
While dancing in a nightclub she turns away approaching men because she is secretly dancing for a piece of her heart thousands of miles away.
While her peers talk about how young they are, she feels old. When they talk about relationships past and yet to come, when they speak of love as if it were a game she feels as if she were hiding a secret treasure.
When they can’t understand why she gets so sentimental. When the words “it’s a long-distance relationship” doesn’t quite cover the extent of her circumstance. When she’s planning the next five, ten, twenty, thirty years of her life and it’s not just romantic musings. It’s real.
When she prepares herself to be alone for the next several years to come. When she lives the lifestyle of her peers but clocks out early. When she spends Friday nights looking at photos of him instead of going out. When she rereads his letters over and over. When the words become so familiar that sometimes she’s not sure if she made them up herself.
When she finally hears his voice low and sweet in her ear.
When she sees a new photo of his face. The same eyes. The same smile. The same man. Yet, somehow, changed.
When he comes alive again through the bloop sound of a new text message.
When an entire living, breathing human being — when her entire world is embodied in one cellphone.
When she dreams of finally seeing him in person. When he’s real. He’s warm. When she won’t know whether to laugh or to cry, or to pinch herself to make sure she’s not imagining him… again.
When they want to take the next step forward, but never seem to be in the right space at the right time. When important conversations; words, feelings, hearts, tears are exchanged through a tiny handheld screen.
Military girlfriends are poets and artists. They have all the freedom to dream; and so they do. They close their eyes and imagine a familiar figure next to them, holding them. They close their eyes and picture dates, candle-lit dinners, meeting mutual friends, going to school together. Then they picture a different world. They know that their boyfriends will see a world their peers might never even imagine. They know that they love a special man. An extraordinary man. And for that, they willingly give up their visions of ordinary, peaceful lives and instead close their eyes and wait.
Military girlfriends don’t have to carry the responsibilities of military wives. But they are holding a weighty candle of hope. Their duty is to guard that flame. They are free, wild birds who willingly choose to stay, rather than fly away. They bathe in words of love. In promises. In uncertainty. They have no guarantee of a future, but they couldn’t imagine any other. They are running purely on love.
So all the uncertainty becomes certainty. Just as our boys are forced to quickly shed their childish immaturity and become disciplined, mentally and and physically strong men; so do we shed our girlish insouciance and become women.
I won’t lie. I have my doubts. I am twenty-one years old as of one hour ago. There are a million details I don’t have figured out. I don’t even know who I am yet, really. Who actually does when they’re barely over 20?
But there is something I know for certain: I love him. I love him with all the clarity in the world.
Sometimes, when I close my eyes and try to picture the rest of my life, I can’t see anything but his smile.
I suppose the only thing to do now is to take life one step at a time.