The high school theater was packed with men and women in camouflage uniforms, babies wearing red, white and blue paraphernalia and people like me, with red, tear-stained faces. I clutched his arm, knowing the next two days wouldn’t last long, and he would be gone. And he was, on a cold February morning, gone.
That was seven years ago.
Today, I was again in the high school for a similar event, this time in the gym and on an assignment. I was nervous to go to the deployment ceremony because of all the emotions it could bring up. Reminders of lonely nights, wondering when I’d hear his voice again. Holding on when I didn’t want to but I was under the belief that this was real. And not knowing if the emptiness would ever end.
It did and, more than a year later, he came home. We were together for six more months when we decided it couldn’t work.
It was less than five minutes from the time I walked into the bustling gym today and when I spotted him. I had no idea if he was still enrolled and if he still belonged to that particular company. It had been years since I saw him last, at a wedding. But there he was standing with his wife and newborn son. He was preparing for his second deployment.
I debated about saying hi, but decided against it. My colleague confirmed this decision afterwards. “If he was in a bar or something, then maybe, yeah. But not today,” she said. I do wish him well, but the moment belonged to his family and it was better if I wasn’t there.
We walked past each other like strangers, but then again, we are strangers. When I reflect on that time, I barely recognize myself. That was before SDSU,Idaho,Sioux Fallsand, of course,Africa. I don’t listen to country music anymore or eat meat. I cry less and giggle more. I am stronger and more independent. The girl he knew is not the woman I am.
Our lives took such separate paths. He has his family where as I dream of the world. It didn’t work out because it wasn’t supposed to.
When I see him, my first love, I see myself at 18. How she became this, I don’t know, but I do thank her because those experiences – including him – led me to everything I have.