I stood in the blistering sun for four hours as it scorched my back and burned my flats to the bottoms of my feet. A horde of families were gridlocked on the dock craning their necks to catch the first glimpse of the 95,000-ton aircraft carrier, the Dwight D. Eisenhower. I leaned against a fence farther off from the crowd. I wasn’t positive I deserved to be there, or that my ex-flame wanted me waiting for him on the dock to welcome him home for the first time in months.
It was the last week in June and the summer sun felt hotter in Norfolk, Virginia, than it had 600 miles south in Jacksonville, Florida. The aircraft carrier would finally arrive to its homeport in a few hours. A whole slew of homesick sailors anticipating the long awaited hug from their loved ones. I hadn’t seen him in seven months, when I broke his heart.
Families gathered in groups while rubbing elbows with sweaty strangers. Music bled from loud speakers to help keep crowd enthusiasm high. The announcer frequently shouted updates on the ships location, and my sailor’s father was busy snapping photos while checking his work email. I watched all the excitement from a distance, feeling completely paralyzed and discombobulated.
Two months prior to my sailor’s first deployment, I had ended the relationship. He’d been re-stationed to Virginia Beach for six months, at the time, and I lived in Florida. The long distance was ripping road spikes through my heart and spirit. I was twenty and didn’t feel like I’d known him long enough to commit to a deployment or a serious long distance relationship. I was too young for this.
On the day of his deployment I waited until the ship departed and called his phone to leave one last voicemail. It would be months before he could listen to the recording and that caveat gave me courage. Hopefully, when the voicemail was played it would convince him to see me after the ship docked and, on my part wishfully thinking, when he heard my voice he’d forget all the pain I had put him through. Years later, I’d like to slap the silly out of myself for digging my own hole and constantly falling back into it. From the moment I had met this person he swore he’d never shatter my guarded heart. In reality, I severed the relationship almost beyond repair and self handily fractured his benevolence.
Matthew stood roughly below the 6-foot mark with dark copper hair routinely buzzed in accordance with military standards. His eyes had small freckles below the green irises and dimples on either side of his cheeks. In his presence you all at once felt calm, cared for and protected; lean muscles apparent underneath his loose Navy uniform.
He spent every other weekend for six months making the nine-hour drive down from Virginia to Florida. Unbeknownst to me, Matt pawned his personal belongings to afford the gas round trip, including the only object keeping him sane and able to decompress after long work days – his Xbox360.
I kept an old fish tank that once housed a fair winning goldfish that long since passed, but used the container as a makeshift coin collector.
“I know you’re keeping the change for a rainy day splurge, but do you think I could borrow it?” he asked sheepishly.
“Why do you need loose coins?” I said, accusation in my voice.
“I don’t have enough to make it back to base. I promise I’ll pay you back.”
I huffed out an annoyed, “Sure, whatever.”
Blinded by pain it didn’t register how much Matt was sacrificing to make the trips and keep our relationship on the ups, with no help from me.
Despite the agony I was happy to see him each weekend and would count down the days to his arrival, but the whole ordeal eventually became overwhelming. I knew the routine: over the moon late Friday, upset by Saturday because he was leaving the next day and somber Sunday because I wasted Saturday feeling dismal. All of our time spent had a deadline with a ticking timer. Exchanging goodbyes so often created a huge hole. I couldn’t deal with it anymore, the swollen eyes and damp cheeks ritual grew tiring.
In the last month of our relationship I began to distance myself. Phone calls and text messages were left unanswered or kept to one worded replies. The saying “long distance relationships never work” must be true and persuaded myself into believing it profoundly. His name was left out of daily conversations and my endless thoughts of missing him ceased. Matt felt me pulling away and made a last ditch unexpected drive to repair what was broken, but I didn’t want it to be fixed.
Instead, I picked a huge fight with him the night he arrived. Matt stood in my apartment’s small-scale kitchen, his face weathered from lack of sleep, the long drive, and wrinkled with the misery caused by my doing. I stood in the living room adjacent from the open kitchen speaking through the bar-top; a stubborn show of my need to create distance. I knew how to process anger better than sadness, so I told him we were both better off seeing other people and deserved it, too. The decision seemed logical to have him spend his vacation before the deployment with the people who had loved him longer and it was selfish on my part to have him waste the time with me.
As I pleaded with him to “just leave” he begged to stay the night so he could make the drive back in the morning, after a night’s rest. Not able to spend another moment in his presence because the pressure would make me crack, I bee-lined out of my apartment as tears streamed down my face and flopped into my car. Angry, I texted him “fine, if you won’t leave I will,” and sped off to my parent’s house, a place that felt safer.
I laid scrunched on a love seat wrestling with my emotions and chronologically went through the time we had spent together trying to figure out where the relationship screw came loose. How did I lose touch with the man I thought I couldn’t live without? Would I truly end it? Would I ever see him again and if I did, than why am I pushing him away – or was I, and why was this confusion growing?
The next day after my shift at work was over, I sat in my apartment complex lot trying to pull myself together. His black Ford Explorer was still parked out front. I waited for my eyes to clear and the red patches around them to settle. I know this relationship is never going to work, still attempting to prove myself of its inevitable end. Jump in headfirst and rip it off like a Band-Aid.
My Christmas presents sat on the white linoleum kitchen bar top, and Matt was bent over the fridge looking for something to drink. He motioned for me to open the gifts.
“Will you please just open it, I won’t be around during Christmas to see you unwrap it.”
The finality of his words sent stinging welts straight through my heart as he continued.
“Now, can I ask you to give me my present?” he asked, “One last night together?”
Through tears, gasping breaths and clenched hugs, I agreed. We both wanted to ignore what the next morning brought and enjoy our final evening as a couple. In a few short hours our we would perish. We slept snuggled tight through the night, both of us afraid to let go.
The next morning I slid out of the house without saying goodbye. I glanced at Matt’s SUV remembering the memories: our first long-awaited date, the spontaneous trips to the beach at night to walk in the darkness of the moon – and, at that, I put my car in reverse. As I made the turn around my building I caught a glimpse of him taking his belongings, a cream-colored plastic container full of clothes, personal treasures he kept safe at my house, and random items he had left to make my space our space, out of the garage. He could no longer call this place a home. My heart screamed stop, but my foot never let off the gas pedal. It was done. We were over.
Over the next few months each night was spent at bars and nightclubs. I drowned my thoughts in alcohol and partied away my consciousness. My roommate and her freeloader boyfriend spent nights cuddled up on my couch. I couldn’t stomach to be around them and watch their relationship grow, so I drank every penny I had saved and in six months time I was living at a friend’s house sleeping on her couch. I thought I knew heartbreak, but this felt like pieces of my soul had been run over, crushed and lit on fire.
As a young child growing up I faced many difficulties other children did not face, such as constantly being the strange new kid on the block and in the classroom. I attended three elementary schools, two middle schools and eventually, thankfully, one high school. Starting my life in Buffalo, New York, and by my high school graduation wound up in Jacksonville, Florida.
Every move my family made was to better us financially. My father, the average working man with a stern drive to be the best, the sole provider. My mother, the stereotypical Irish woman with red hair, far skin and freckles, the stay-at-home mom. The pair met while working at a New York hotel in Orchard Park, where the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills pound pavement. My mom was the waitress and my father the hackneyed obnoxious grill cook. They were young and looking for a better life for themselves outside of Buffalo.
After the pair began to date and they moved in with each other relatively quick. A year later my mother was pregnant with me, and, soon after I was born, my parents wed in a courthouse on June 12, 1989, both in a pair of blue jeans. By the ripe age of 28, my mother had three children all under the age of six. My father was only 26 years young.
Similar to a hurricane they fell in love rapidly, had a family and stopped what they were doing academically to provide for their children. My parents sidelined freedom in their early twenty-somethings to raise children and become a family. My pops put in long hours working restaurant gigs, and my mom learned how to keep three kids busy without the luxury of a car.
As a child you don’t realize the sacrifices your parents made to give you a better life. My parents never told us kids we made their life harder, but as an adult you realize what they gave up to keep us fed, clothed and housed. Their strength is what molded me into the person I am today.
I was raised to be independent and responsible. To never expect handouts in life and to always work for what I wanted. The value of a dollar was crucial and obtaining a college education was essential to succeed later in life. One must consistently suck it up because tears were wasteful and nobody would fix your problems for you. If you want it done right, it must be done by no one other than you.
But, most importantly, the number one rule in life that was stressed by both parental figures was to make sure I wouldn’t rely on anyone else to pay my bills or take care of me. My mother didn’t want her oldest daughter to become dependent on a male or get stuck in a sticky maternal situation.
Despite what my parents taught and like most children do, they rebel. My mom fell in love and had children young. A life path I thought I wanted to tackle in similar fashion. It seemed to work out well for her, and I wanted to find a love similar to theirs. Finding a spouse, growing old together and making a family sounded like the perfect way to spend a life.
As a child I grew up watching Disney movie classics. I fought with Belle to show the beauty of the Beast and flew with Aladdin to find his Princess Jasmine. Each story had a conflict, a climax and a happy ending. I believed that someday I’d find my Prince Charming in similar fashion and be whisked away to Never-Neverland for my own happy ending. Just like my parents.
For a huge portion of my young life I thought finding love was what life was “all about.” I needed to find a man to make my life complete, have the 2.3 children and buy a house with a white picket fence. I was a preteen that secretly read romance books and was naive to the real world.
As I grew older, separated myself from Disney tales and spent more time in the “real world,” the notion of having children and how they came into the world scared the bejesus out of me. I moved out and was financially independent at 18 years old. By working as a waitress I paid my way through junior college with no time for anything, let alone a link that connected me to another human being.
The drive to be independent grew as months passed and was still standing on my own two feet.
Damn, I can do this.
Ha, and everyone thought I’d come crawling back to my parents begging for a place to sleep and eat financially burden free.
Who needs a man?
I didn’t want a love like my parents. I wanted to focus on my dreams and do all the things my parents wanted to do before they had children. I wouldn’t fall in love young, be whisked away by a man or pop out several children and live happily ever after in Never-Neverland.
There must be more to this provincial life.
Finding the man of my dreams now meant the end of my personal ones. I didn’t want a shared bank account or to depend on a counterpart to keep me fed and clothed. The notion scared me. My life wouldn’t be parallel to my mother’s living in a trailer with three kids and a husband working himself to the bone to provide for his family of five.
Every lesson that was taught to me as a child intensified as I aged. The stubbornness gene from both sides of my genetic pool made sure relying on anyone to live wouldn’t be an option. By my own hand, I created a person who couldn’t accept help and was convinced the bottom would always fall out from underneath me because people were untrustworthy. The only person I could trust was myself and I strengthened the emotional walls around my heart, with no room to let them budge.
Finding the man of my dreams? Fahget about it.
On a Thursday afternoon, which meant payday at work, I’d eventually make the drive to personally pick up my check and cash it at the bank to immediately pay bills. My roommate, Angel, a Michigan native with a bubbly personality and blonde hair to match, recently moved to Florida to escape a nasty breakup. She was a coworker of mine at the restaurant and that morning was working her shift begging me to come in and keep her occupied.
Business was slow because a hurricane was dancing its way closer to the coast of Florida. The air was sticky and clouds loomed dangerously close to the ground threatening to unload buckets of water at any moment. After living through a few hurricanes, the threat level was low and wasn’t too worried about its arrival to land.
As I pretended to search for my shoes not wanting to leave the house, my phone buzzed again with another plea from Angel to come visit. When I checked the text said, “There are three HOT navy guys sitting in my section, COME UP HERE NOW!”
The power had incidentally gone out at my apartment, and with nothing better to do I threw on a pair of striped blue shorts and a blue hoodie. Currently living the single life it seemed harmless to partake in casual flirting. So, against by better judgment I made the 30-second drive from my old and in desperate-need-of-a-paint-job apartment complex, to the vacant Cracker Barrel parking lot. The power had gone out there, too.
As I walked past the copious amounts of rocking chairs on the restaurant’s front porch, each rocking its own melody to the beat of the wind, I could see the dining room was almost completely dark and only three tables were occupied with guests. Angel was in the middle dining room and I could hear her flirtatious giggle from the front entrance. I followed it to table 241 unsure of what to expect.
As I walked into the second dining room, Angel squealed, “There she is! This is my roommate I’ve been telling you about.” Uneasy about the introduction, I gave a tiny wave and went to the round table to pick up my check from the manager. I stalled with random conversation because second thoughts rushed into my sensibility.
What in the hell am I doing?
I don’t even like flirting.
This damsel in distress, cute waitress angle isn’t in my repertoire.
With nothing left to do I moseyed over to the guys’ table where Angel had taken a seat. I chose the safer option and sat cattycorner to their table at a two-top instead. Pictures of families starred down at me from the restaurant walls while foreign farming objects hung from the ceiling. The smell of pancakes, melted butter and biscuits baking in the oven lingered in the air.
I hadn’t gotten my name out before Tony, a twenty-something guy from a small town in Georgia with the same personality type as a small dog with a big canine complex, blurted out his not-so-flattering hello.
“Man, I must have a chick magnet in my pocket, because all the hot girls are at my table,” he said through a grin.
Tony could hardly let out all his hot air before I finished rolling my eyes clear out of my head. I had one foot out the door when I said, “Not any more you don’t.” I turned to leave without giving the guys one last glance. “I’ll see you at home, Angel.”
She gave me a telling look that I took all her fun away, but I left feeling satisfied.
I showed them.
When Angel returned home that evening I had virtually forgotten about the fiasco earlier in the day.
“So, which one did you think was the cutest?” she asked me.
“Which one?” I mocked. “All I saw was one. The loud mouth that needed the extra three inches his standard military boots gave him.”
“And you wonder why you’re still single.”
In reality there were two other men sitting at the table: Deel, a North Carolina native who couldn’t stop staring at a woman even after she had caught him, and Matt, a surfer kid from Southern California who liked to fix up classic cars and wear skinny jeans before rapper Lil’ Wayne made it hip.
After the storm passed all it left were massive mud puddles and as far as those hot navy guys were concerned, bruised egos. My morning class hadn’t been canceled and I was on my way to school when my phone started to buzz, again with texts from Angel.
“Tony is sitting in my section!”
“He said if fate wanted us to go out then I’d be working today so he could ask!”
“We’re going to a movie!”
“I call dibs on Tony.”
The three young men had gone back into Cracker Barrel looking for her. Tony had made his two buddies retrace their steps to the restaurant to ask Angel out on a date. Obviously on cloud nine and swooning from the attention, she gladly soaked it up.
I didn’t bother responding to her message, because if she planned on seeing the insufferable sailor then I would be seeing him again, too. I knew it was irrelevant to point out to Angel he had probably done this type of song and dance before. When her mind was made up that was the end of it, a similarity in personality we shared.
After I came home from school and Angel got off from work, she explained the use of “we” in her previous text message included me. She proudly skipped around our apartment singing “we” had a date this weekend and the movie “we’d” be seeing was “Death Race” at 8 o’clock tomorrow night.
“I already gave them our address,” she said. “They’re going to pick us up!”
WHAT! How did I get lumped in with her we! Wait – our ADDRESS?!
I had no time to spare rebutting her use of “we” after learning our address had been given out to a bunch of strange MEN! Hadn’t anyone taught her the significance of stranger danger? Never in a million years would my address be given out to a group of guys to an apartment only housed by two women, ever! A rule of thumb my pops would be proud of.
I stomped out the door and down the patio stairs across a small patch of dead grass to another coworker’s apartment in the next building. After explaining the situation, I begged all three ladies to come and surprisingly the trio agreed to go, evidently with nothing better to do than go to a crummy movie on a Saturday night. If I hadn’t learned anything from my dad, I did learn the importance of traveling in numbers. Now, being dragged on a date with six extra people didn’t feel like a new episode of a crime series premiering on I.D. TV.
Date night came and true to schoolgirl fashion all five of us hit the bathrooms before searching for a seat inside the movie theater and used that time to sadly gossip about which guys were cute. On cue, Angel put claims on Tony for everyone to understand and nobody objected; she could have him.
I had severely underestimated the power of groupthink between three dudes. The guys had strategically placed themselves with an open seat on either side, making sure each of us ladies had to sit next to one of them. They’d known we’d all squeeze to one side. I made sure to give credit when I got up to our seats.
“Think you’re all pretty smart dontcha?” I sang as I slide from the walkway to the aisle of seats. Tony, Matt and Deel sat in silence with grins across each of their punims.
Halfway through the movie I was desperate for a distraction. This movie is so terrible I’d rather watch Angel cut her toenails on the kitchen counter. Figuring Deel was the safer of the two men sitting beside me, I began to try to make small talk. We were literally the only group in the theater and didn’t have to worry about being hushed.
Unfortunately, Deel had little to say and either my sarcastic quips about the movie were offending him, or I scared him as much as he panicked me. Matt heard my banter and saw my failed attempts at conversation and took it upon himself to interject.
“Of course, you can’t die after being hacksawed and blown up, duh.”
“I bet you this car explodes, and this one, Oh! and that one.”
He was actually quick witted and made me snicker through the rest of the horrendous movie.
When the movie ended and we got into separate cars I leaned toward Angel while attempting to buckle my seatbelt and said, “For the love of Zeus tell me you didn’t invite them back to our apartment.”
“No,” Angel huffed out.
Satisfied with her answer due to the large amount of annoyance her reply was dripping with, I rested my head on the passenger side window and started to close my eyes. Lord, that movie was dreadful. Trying not to fall asleep I popped my eyes back open and to my bewilderment, Matt’s black Ford Explorer, with its turn signal flashing, was still behind Angel’s grey Pontiac.
If the trio was indeed actually headed back toward base, they were in the wrong lane, which meant they were under the assumption an invitation was extended back to our apartment.
“I thought you said you didn’t invite them back!” I managed to shrill out after a few choice words. “You can get rid of them,” I told Angel. I wasn’t going to be the girl on the news who was kidnapped by strange men she had just met. I devised a plan.
The strategy was everybody except Angel would run up the patio stairs and into our apartment. From the safety of my dining room, behind the blinds, the rest of us would watch Angel tell the boys to skedaddle and be in ample position if any rescuing needed to partake.
“Do you guys hear yourself?” Angel groaned.
“You’re going to look like paranoid freaks,” she continued, “and is that how you want them to see you, too?”
Nobody left in the car, minus Angel, minded.
Before Angel shifted the car to park, all four of us tripped out of the car stumbling our way up to safety. I could only imagine what it looked like from the guys’ point of view. A group of young women fighting their own two feet to get up one single flight of stairs, comical to say the least.
The hot navy guys were frequent guests at our apartment next to the Cracker Barrel where Angel and I worked in Orange Park, Florida. Tony, Matt and Deel would come over for home cooked meals, a happy change from the food on base, and to study for exams with help from Angel and I taking turns reading out questions from their flashcards.
On the weekends my next-door neighbor and his roommate would crack open beers and sit on the shared patio on Dollar Store plastic lawn furniture, my new crew of misfits joined in on the weekend ritual to reminisce on the “good ol’ days” as a kid, but on most nights Angel would occupy Tony, and Deel would pass out in my room, sometimes on the bed or sometimes on the floor.
While everyone was knocked out, Matt and I would sit outside or in the living room talking for hours, getting to know each other a bit better.
“How in the world do you fit into skinny jeans?” I’d ask.
“Uh, easy, one leg after the other,” he’d say sarcastically.
“I bet you I couldn’t even fit into those pants!”
We both dropped trou to switch pants.
“I can’t believe there is this much room in here,” I said as I stretched out the waistband. “Look at all this room for activities!”
“Did we just become best friends?”
Matt’s parents had divorced when he was young and I had the joys of growing up with both my parents under one roof. We were both the oldest kid and had our differences with our mothers. As an added bonus we both loved sports, particularly football.
Somewhere in between dinners, studying for exams, going to the beach at night and celebrating birthdays, I began to feel like I was Belle helping her Beast. Matt was kind and thoughtful, the time the group spent together steadily shifted to just Matt and I. No longer were they (or him) the creepy hot navy guys Angel had carelessly given our address to, we had all become each other’s makeshift second family.
In the same time frame, “operation get Matt a date with Shannon” was also born. All four of them were in on the mission. I played dumb for as long as I could, ignoring the signs and kept pretending I didn’t have the slightest clue what they were doing. So they upped their game.
The gang would come into work on the nights I’d close the restaurant and persuade Matt to help me finish my side work. He would grab the broom from me and sweep my table. In other attempts to flirt, Matt would playfully wrestle with me in order to get a hug out of me.
“Oh, stop it. You know you wanna hug me,” Matt said with a playful skip in his voice.
“Noooooo, not really,” I’d protest with a smile that’d betray my face.
If I was laid up on the couch, he’d jump on top and scream “HUGS!” While walking down the cobblestone streets of Old St. Augustine, or anywhere else we’d go, he’d sneak up from behind and wrap his arms around me, nuzzling his face into my neck, whispering “hugs.”
Matt also began to write me little notes to wake up to in the morning.
“Have a good morning :)”
“I’ll miss you today :)”
“You’re cute when you sleep :)”
The smiley face he added to each note became his signature and when I would see it, it made me smile.
And after a few weeks of hinting he wanted a date, he slid a note underneath my door while I was in between work shifts taking a nap.
The note was folded up hamburger style and had two boxes drawn on them. One box was labeled “yes,” the other “no.” The question was always the same, “Will you go out with me? Check yes or no.” I’d laugh to myself and draw my own box labeled “maybe,” check it and slide it back underneath Angel’s door, where they’d all hide out waiting for my answer.
After what should have been a discouraging couple of weeks, his persistence landed him a date. Not to mention he got each of his Navy buddies, my roommate and the next door neighbors to ask me each time in passing if I had agreed yet to go out with Matt.
“Stop being an old hag, Shannon! Let him take you out!” Angel would whine.
“He’s a pretty good guy, and he talks about you all the time,” Deel would say with an honest that’s-my-friend delivery.
“Give the guy a break, just say yes,” said the next door neighbors in unison.
I blamed peer pressure for caving and finally said yes.
One night after reluctantly agreeing, and chucking every article of clothing onto the bedroom floor, I realized I had another problem. What in the flip am I going to wear! Too nervous, anxious and slightly annoyed to be able to dress myself, Angel dug through my closet to find the best shirt I owned at the time. A magenta top that tied around my middle, flowed down around my hips and had lace trimming the edges – not my most favorite but it would work paired with my nicest jeans.
The neighbor, Angel and myself sat on the dining room floor waiting for Matt’s arrival. “Operation get Matt a date with Shannon” had ended and it was now renamed “operation keep Shannon from bailing.”
At the sound of footsteps, Angel rushed to the sliding glass door to take a peak.
“Oooh he’s coming up!” she squeaked! “And he looks SO handsome!”
As my nerve endings split she directed me to wait in my bedroom until after he knocked on the door.
“You need a movie entrance; it’s only proper for a first date,” she said with a matter-of-fact sudden understanding of courtship.
Hiding behind the door in my bedroom, I could hear the door knock, Angel opened the door and in unison my neighbor and Angel say, “Don’t you clean up well.” Figuring that was my cue, I walked out from behind the door as confident and calmly as possible. For the first time since I met him, my hair was down and styled, makeup dusted my eyelids, cheeks and lips and not a trace of basketball shorts and a tank top dressed my figure.
As I walked down the hallway all eyes were on me and I noted Matt did clean up well. He dressed in all black, down to the Jordan 6s he sported on his feet. The Johnny Cash look worked well for him, and I tried to ignore my friend’s smiling faces. They looked like proud parents sending their first born off to prom with her first boyfriend.
“Hey,” I managed to breathe out.
“You look gorgeous, are you ready?” Matt said as he extended his arm out to lead me back down the stairs and out to his car.
We went to a frilly restaurant on the oceanfront in St. Augustine. The conversation never lagged and although uncomfortable in my clothing, the atmosphere between us didn’t falter. When dinner ended and I wistfully thought the night was over, he drove into the heart of Old St. Augustine and finished our night with the trolley ghost tour.
Matt knew my hesitations about being his girlfriend and being with a guy who’d certainly get orders to another base in a different state, or be shipped out for months on end with no understanding of his whereabouts during a deployment. I didn’t want to deal with long distance or spend my time worried about what he was doing and if he was safe. I’m too young for this kind of commitment.
The thought of his unexpected departure at any moment paralleled with my parent’s love story. I didn’t want to slip into those waters and end up just like my mom, in love, pregnant and life on hold. Matt reassured me deployments would be easy and his orders could be navigated to stay in Jacksonville, and I gradually believed him.
Until the fateful day he received orders to Norfolk, Virginia. Matt kept the news from me for two weeks because he wasn’t sure on how to approach the situation. The fragile matter would test our relationship and it eventually doomed us. Our relationship was created in a hurricane and it ended in similar fashion. Our engulfing companionship fizzled with a trail of devastation.
The sun wasn’t getting any duller. If anything it got hotter when the Dwight D. Eisenhower finally pulled in between the breaker points of Chesapeake Bay. In two more sweltering hours, sailors would be released from the floating prison and welcomed home. I would also have my answer on where our relationship stood, come hell or high water. I drove up to Virginia on the notion of “no regrets;” in 15 years would I look back and wish I would’ve went?
For the last seven months, I had tried to forget the man I said goodbye to through a voicemail, but I couldn’t. I spent nights religiously checking emails and expressing how much I had missed him, but in the same breath how angry I was he had done this to me. I’d ignore his calls from port only to frantically beg him to call me again. Why would he want to see me? I didn’t even want to see myself.
In the midst of a hurricane the outer rings bark a nasty bite, and my head full of all the possible future outcomes whizzed in circles enough to make me dizzy. Mentally preoccupied, I was unaware the sailors began to make their descent from the ship when my thoughts were interrupted by Gerry, Matt’s father, who shouted for me to come closer. He had spot Matt walking down the bridge onto the dock.
The crowd noise fell silent and I had tunnel vision on his father’s extended hand waiting for me to take hold. It felt similar to experiencing the eye of the hurricane. With its outer barriers still chaotic, the center of the storm was eerily quiet, waiting, giving all those in its path a moment for clarity and calmness.
There were clusters of people around me and they felt like cement, no possible way to walk through the crowd. An older gentleman broke my deadpan when he asked, “Is that your sailor coming close? Miss, is your sailor headed in your direction?”
His voice sounded like it was underwater but I managed to muster a nod.
“Hey, clear a path for this lady!” the stranger demanded. “Her sailor is on his way!”
At his request the clusters of people parted while I shuffled my way through the sea of families and grabbed Gerry’s outstretched hand. I spotted Matt walking down the dock his eyes searching.
The back end of a hurricane can bring surprises. While it’s true it’s the strongest at immediate landfall and will weaken subsequently after, it doesn’t account for the back end’s tail winds. Every once in awhile the back of the storm is more vicious than its front, an unexpected gust of 100-plus mph wind can cause unaccounted for devastation.
I was nearing the end of my own storm. All that was left was to ride out the back end and hope for no hazardous wind. Will he forgive me?
Losing patience and a wave of anxiety rushing through my being, I began to wave my arms up trying to get his attention. Whatever fear I had moments before fled the instant I spied his face.
Matt saw his father first and attempted to move around the security barriers, and another gentleman helped him weave through the barricades. When he lifted his head our eyes locked. Instantly, I was home.
Matt’s father stepped aside and I tripped into his arms. He smelled like fresh laundry, no doubt because his dress uniforms had recently been cleaned for his homecoming, and the nook between the crook of his neck and arm nuzzled my face, a perfect fit. Everything I had worried about for months, weeks, days and hours before, melted when we embraced. While the salty ocean air hung through the stagnant air, I could feel my personally created cyclone dissipate.
We had met during a hurricane and our relationship continued to swirl like one. A few months later, Matt proposed and a few months after that we married, in a courthouse both wearing blue jeans. Almost a year later I moved to Virginia to officially be his wife. The events on paper did read similar to my parents’ path and the direction in life I swore I’d never take, but our story couldn’t be anymore different.
No two people have the same steps in life. There can be similarities but it doesn’t mean the outcome will be the same. I spent too many months self-destructing at the hands of no one other than myself. I had wasted energy trying to outrun a supposed destiny that was never truly mine; there is no formula for love or life, only the journey.
Belle didn’t find her Beast because she was looking for him; she was in search of her beloved father lost in the woods. Aladdin wasn’t trying to break into the palace to find his princess. He was busy trying to keep alive when she ran into his path.
Fairy tales aren’t a step-by-step guide on how true love is found, and there isn’t a timeline you can control. What is the true lesson you learn from fairy tales? You learn to live selflessly, bravely and bold.