This story is dedicated to The One.
When I signed up for the National Guard, my recruiter showed me a list of occupations and told me to choose one. The MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty, is the job a soldier performs during time of service. As I scanned the list, the title 51T, or 51 Tango, was described as something like ‘technical engineer specialist, surveyor’. I knew absolutely nothing about surveying, but something drew me to the words on that paper. Although they were as ordinary in appearance as all the other words on the list, it was as though they had been highlighted by some benevolent force. It would be this MOS and none other for me. My recruiter advised me that to become a 51T was not easy; I would have to score quite well on my ASVAB, or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a multiple choice test measuring a candidate’s potential to succeed in various military jobs. Not only did I score high enough to perform many occupations in the Army, I scored high enough to become a surveyor, and so I was on my way! Advanced Individual Training, known as AIT, where I attended survey school, was located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I spent five months there learning the exhaustive methodology behind 51T work ethic. But that is not what this story is about. It was at AIT where I met a boy. He was a boy who became the one I wished for, and the one who waited for me, and well…I don’t want to end the story at the beginning, now do I?
I noticed this boy one day during break time at Brown Hall, our big school for engineers at For Leonard Wood. When classes let out for short breaks, Tangos would clamor into the Break Room and noisily let off as much steam as possible before the next round of classes were to begin. We had access to soda and candy machines as well as a traveling concessions cart affectionately coined the Gut Truck, and we were unsupervised during this time, so just about anything could happen. So on this day, as I was listening to two Marines argue about the theory of relativity (Marines are highly intelligent), I looked over at a table and noticed a boy sitting there quietly reading a newspaper and drinking coffee. He was wearing glasses and intently scanning the paper, occasionally taking a sip of the coffee, and nothing going on around him invited distraction. He stood out from everyone else, just like the words 51T, technical engineer specialist, surveyor on my MOS roster. I thought to myself as I watched him, that looks like the kind of person I would like get to know.
I did get to know the boy soon after first noticing him, on a weekend break from training. Male and female trainees were forbidden from fraternizing off post, but it was too difficult to resist. We were all hardwired to interact and inevitably I found myself in a conversation with this boy about where we were from and where we were going after AIT. This conversation led to many more: what kind of wild game hunts we had been on, what kind of foods we liked to eat, and what kind of books we liked to read. We discovered we both had similar tastes in musicians (Led Zeppelin) and authors (Ken Kesey) and the more time we spent together, the more attached we became. He was in the class ahead of me, which meant he would graduate and leave two weeks before I would. I dreaded the day. When it came, I handed him a card with a message inside predicting that we would meet again. Neither of us knew exactly when or if this would happen, but I never stopped wishing for a miracle.
Over the next three years we cultivated a close long distance friendship. We chatted on instant message and over the phone. We called each other after bad dates to make fun of the people we had just gone out with and describe the hilarious debacles. We discovered that we both hated the smell of vanilla, the taste of water chestnuts, and the sound of Van Halen. The more I talked to him the more I wished for a miracle. Then my unit was activated and I broke the news to him. He told me he would come visit me at Fort Carson. My heart stopped. I had just given up on him and had resigned myself to being his friend and secretly pining after him for the rest of my life. Would it be too much to start hoping again?
He visited on a long weekend. It was just like we had never been separated by distance and time; we picked up right where we had left off. We squeezed every bit of fun out of every second of that weekend, and we did everything we could possibly think of. When the time came to say goodbye it was so fitting that rain was pouring down because we were both sad. He dropped me off in front of my barracks, and I ran through the downpour, grateful for the camouflage to hide the tears running down my cheeks. I wondered if there were tears running down his cheeks as he drove away. There were still a couple of weeks of training left before deploying from Fort Carson, and I still had my cell phone, so we called each other constantly when I had free time. We talked as much as possible, about the San Antonio Spurs’ amazing season, going to Mexico together when I came home, and how much fun we’d had in Colorado Springs. Then, much too quickly the day arrived when I had to put my phone in a box to send to my folks so they could keep it for me. I recently found a journal entry from our last conversation before I had to put the phone in the box:
…we were both having a hard time letting go, and thinking of the right words to say to each other was impossible. An hour later he called back. “I hang up the phone and think of ten million things I want to say to you” he said. “Then say it! Spit it out! Don’t be afraid. I won’t laugh at you.” I said. I already knew what he wanted to say. “I’m being a wuss.” was his answer. He told me how much I mean to him, how wonderful a friend I am, and how he wants a relationship with me when I get home. He said he had never had such good feelings about a girl before, and he can’t believe how amazing I am! The whole time I waited for him to say the phrase that had been on his lips since we met again after all these years, and finally he said it, “I love you, girl.” The world stopped. Everything faded into the background. I’d been standing in a line to draw my weapon and when he said that, all the clattering of rifles and chattering of soldiers ceased. I melted. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited to hear those words, ” I said breathlessly, “I love you too!”
He waited for me during the deployment. He was patient, supportive, and kind. I cannot claim my deployment was all beer and skittles and we had a great long distance relationship and then at the end we reunited happily. In reality, the pressures of deployment were too overwhelming and I balked at the life that my boy back home was fabricating for us. I didn’t think I could live up to his ideals and be the perfect Army wife he was envisioning. With every letter that arrived from him, I felt more convinced that I would hold him back, and if he had to wait for me now, well what if he would spend his whole life waiting for me? What if I was never going to be available because I was never going to be good enough? So in order to spare him the embarrassment of having a sub standard partner, I gave him the cold shoulder and broke his heart. I was such a bitch. But I wanted to let him go so he could find someone better than me. He deserved so much more than a train wreck who couldn’t figure out what she wanted in life. And I think he still waited, because after I had been home for a few months he wanted me to come to Texas for a visit. As soon as I stepped through the security gate at the airport and took one look at his handsome face and felt his arms around me, I realized what a fool I had been.
Nine years of marriage later, he is still the patient, supportive, and kind man who waits for me when I need him to slow down a little so I can figure things out for myself. But I finally got over feeling like I was holding him back because he told me that he loves me exactly as I am, the girl from AIT, and Fort Carson, and now. We take life a day at a time, as a team, moving together, side by side. Maybe that is part of being in a relationship with someone you are meant to be with, someone who truly complements you and makes you feel like a whole person. All those years ago when I first noticed him, he stood out to me because he was The One, and no matter how hard I tried to tell myself that I didn’t deserve him or couldn’t have a boy like him, he waited for me, even if he didn’t realize that it was me he was waiting for all along. Remember the card I mentioned giving to him the day he left AIT? As he was reading it on the bus ride home, another soldier leaned over and said “You know, you’re going to marry that girl.” The universe has funny ways of hinting, doesn’t it? — G