Today is my 11th wedding anniversary. At times I’m surprised at how many years have passed since September 4, 2009. Other days it seems so incredibly distant. We’ve gone through so much together, have taken roads we never expected. In forging our life together we have had to be stubborn, we’ve had to find resolve when hope was beyond low, we’ve had to persist.
Our marriage started in a crucible. A test of long distance and uncertain danger from the beginning. I want to share that story. I want to celebrate it and our love as we wade into a second decade together.
We went from celebrations and exuberant joy to heart crushing separation within a week. While we wed on the fourth, I left for Iraq on the ninth. The swing from peak to valley was massive and swift. It was also full of anxiety just getting to that first, early milestone.
Our plan was to have a secret ceremony in the Finger Lakes while I was on my pre-deployment leave. A gorgeous venue picked out and reserved. All the necessities planned. And then a surprise from the Army, the kind that makes you scream within your heart. My MTT cohort’s planned deployment date was September 19th. When the transportation orders were being cut, someone made a typo and changed it to September 9th. This was only a couple of days after my cohort’s planned graduation date from the MTT school. It meant that nobody would have any time to take leave prior to deployment. Our course accelerated and we squeezed out a few more days off before leaving Fort Riley. It still was not enough to travel from Kansas to New York for me, or for most of the other guys in my cohort to see their loved ones.
I had to break this news to Robin. The Army has a way of forcing you to make these hard phone calls, of ripping the band-aid off. Getting fucked by the Big Green Weenie is bad enough. Knowing that people you love will also have to take it is what really makes that life hard, makes it impossible eventually.
It was horrible. The kind of conversation where your guts are in knots before you even dial. But we rolled with it and decided to make a new plan. Robin put trust in me to find a new place to have our small wedding, just now it would be in Manhattan, KS. To find an officiant, figure out the marriage license, where we would stay for our few days together, and what the hell to wear! I was living TDY in a barracks at Fort Riley with follow on to Iraq. Didn’t exactly pack my formal wear.
So I set out visiting local B&Bs. Saw a few. Some did weddings, others didn’t. Some had vacancies that worked, others didn’t. But then I walked into the Morning Star B&B on Houston St. The rooms named for different teas, the proprietors a husband and wife. Laurie ran the house, Bill had a furniture store and a motorcycle shop in town. She was a former philosophy professor at K State, he was a speed loving petrolhead. They were a perfectly odd couple, people who we could spend hours with. The home had a wrap around porch overlooking painstakingly maintained gardens. It was a peaceful respite and it immediately felt right.
With that part figured out it was easy enough to get the licensing piece taken care of. But now I had to find someone to actually marry us. How do you even start that search in an unfamiliar town and no desire for religious services? I honestly can’t even remember what I did. Maybe a Google search for local ministers, maybe a phonebook, maybe even some kind of local directory. But I found one hell of a fruitcake, non-denominational minister who was just the right kind of weird. She had a small office downtown, next to a chiropractor’s office and down a poorly lit hallway. I explained the situation, she was sympathetic and mostly up for officiating our wedding. She just wanted to meet with us in person first. Not that big of a deal normally, but we were crunched for time and while the chances of her backing out were slim, odder things had happened already.
As it were, the next several days went by without any other surprises. My class wrapped up. Robin made the trip from Temple, TX to the Little Apple. We were together again and nothing else mattered. Painfully aware of how little time we actually had together we made the most of it. Of course because I wasn’t able to get to NY to see family before leaving my family decided to come to Kansas. We couldn’t be mad. Jealous of our time together as we were, we both knew that we weren’t the only two caught up in this mess. So our private wedding grew to a small gathering. My parents, sisters, brother, two brothers-in-law, and nephews and niece. Robin’s dear friend Maureen made the trek and took care of photos.
It was a short ceremony in the garden by the fountain in front of the Morning Star. We wrote our own vows and our minister spoke briefly. I wore a cream-colored suit with black shirt and pirate cufflinks, a wedding present from Robin. My lovely bride wore a black dress with red frills. We were going to do things our way, thumbing our noses at tradition and every force working against us the whole way. I can remember the bubbling of the fountain, songbirds taking the place of the organist, feeling alone in a bubble together despite the small crowd and emergency sirens from a couple streets over. It was public and it was intimate. It was not too shabby for having a couple days to plan.
It was perfect for us.
Laurie brought out a cake she had made that morning for all of us, a wedding surprise both touching and sweet. Our minister simply walked off into the afternoon, not wanting to linger too long. Our small party congratulating us and enjoying the confections before everyone made off for their hotels and some rest. We had a dinner together at Harry’s on Poyntz for our reception and hopped around Manhattan for the evening. The next day family and friends all departed for New York or Texas. Not the greatest ‘good bye’ for a family to get before deployment. There were about 250 other families going through the same thing because of someone’s careless typo.
Hard as those partings were we had no time to spare for ruminating. Our days were rapidly counting down. We were in our bubble together and that was enough for us. Sleeping as little as possible for the next few days and doing as much as we could to make those days count. Picnics in the park, walks exploring town, and simply laying together in each other’s arms. Ecstasy mixed with excruciating torment of a ticking clock. Spending hours lost in amazement of what we had pulled off and then dreading those same hours spent. Deployment hanging over our heads, a Sword of Damocles for both of us.
September 8th was absolute torture. I had to report at 0400 on the 9th, the worst wake up call of my life. Neither of us slept very much, maybe a couple hours, before Robin drove me onto Fort Riley. She had to deliver me to be taken away from her. It was all finally too much and we broke down crying on each other’s shoulders. Dragging out the inevitable as long as I could before that last kiss. One final ‘I love you’ before grabbing my duffel bag and walking off to join my team.
The best and worst days of my life all within a week.
When people say Army life is hard it isn’t easy to really communicate just how horrible it can be. I always felt the worst part was what you had to put your family through. Enduring hardships in a vacuum is easy. Seeing your loved ones shouldered with your obligations is what really rips your heart up.
We began life together under some of the most tumultuous conditions one could dream up. Marriage is something that inherently brings the bitter with the better, but you don’t often get such extremes days after professing your vows. I told myself it would make us stronger, that if we could take that challenge on right away then nothing could break us.
Eleven years on we have come such a long way together. Life is never everything we want, expect, or even what we feel we deserve. Life is what we make of it together.
My incomplete memory seems to do an inadequate job of recalling this story. One thing that I am certain of is how much I love you. You are my person. Our story has many years to go, so much left to write.
Happy Anniversary, my Love.