I also knew that I was a coward and that I would wait until that last minute to say anything at all.
So I committed to telling her before we left the little town she was living in.
I decided to drive from Camp Lejeune to Knoxville to go on a hay ride in the Smoky Mountains with a church group that fall. I had been sending emails back and forth with Jessica for a couple months by this time and I was really enjoying my relationship with her. The last time I was in Tennessee I heard about a hay ride through the mountains and Jessica asked if I was going to come back to town for that.
Of course not. Why would I make an 8 hour drive on a random weekend, burning my vacation days, just to sit on a hay bale and ride around the mountains looking at the leaves.
“No… I don’t think I will be coming back for that.”
Her mouth said she understood but her eyes said she wanted me to be there. My head knew it was a completely ridiculous thing to do, but my heart said I wanted to be there too.
During the month between my last trip in and the hay ride, some things started to change. I started to feel a deep affection for this girl. I started feeling a longing to know her and all her secrets. The really scary thing was that I wanted her to know my secrets.
I did not know what was going on and I was afraid of making decisions that would affect the rest of my life based on silly emotions and heart flutters. I spent some time with some friends of mine asking them a lot about relationships, affection, and the way a woman’s heart works. By the end of my time with this couple I had a pretty good idea what I needed to do.
I took some vacation time and drove to Tennessee for a hay ride. I know I know… But I wanted her. In a very legitimate and honest way. I wanted to have this girl in my life and if it cost me the last bit of cash I have in my account and some vacation time to have her then so be it.
The hay ride was awesome!
She was going to school in a little town called Cookeville. Really pretty place. I knew that I had to talk to her before we left her little college town or else I would have squandered the entire weekend. I stopped by her dorm and picked her up. I was driving an old Jeep at the time. Big tires, big engine, loud… loud, loud, loud. I was so intimidated by the task at hand that I stalled over and over again. We went to a little Mexican joint to get a bite to eat, but I wasn’t hungry. We went to a little play ground and sat on the swings. It started to get late and I did not want to be on the road much past dark, so we started to head for the interstate. As I was coming through the tight curve of the entrance ramp, I knew I was breaking my commitment to myself.
I looked over at Jessica and she was as peaceful as could be. She really enjoyed riding in my Jeep. The sun was just starting to set and the temperature was cool. I jerked the Jeep to the side of the entrance ramp and pulled to stop in the grass.
I looked at her and then back to the front. With one hand on the stick and my foot working the clutch, I said it.
“Jessica… I Love You.”
BAM!! Slammed the gas pedal to the floor, dropped the clutch like a bad habbit and threw dirt and rocks all over the place as I shot down the entrance ramp and the interstate for the next 2 hours to Knoxville. Usually the only thing I could hear on that ride was the sound of those giant knobby tires on the pavement. This time all I could hear was my own heart pumping. I felt so foolish. I also felt really good.
The hay ride that weekend really was pretty amazing. I sat next to Jessica and we had a really good time. She was the first girl to whom I had ever spoken those words outside of my family. While on the hay ride somebody else caught a candid picture of the two of us. I think it captured the moment pretty well.
She did not tell me she loved me on that trip. When I dropped her off at the end of the weekend she actually took the time to make it clear to me that she could not tell me that she loved me. I honestly did not care. I loved her and I was convinced that she was going to be mine.
A month after this trip Jessica came to Camp Lejeune for the Marine Corps ball. Is there anything more romantic than a room full of dress blues and choking Marines? I think not. After the ball we went down to the beach and went for a walk. While listening to the gently crashing waves and holding her hand walking barefoot on Onslow beach, Jessica turned to me and said it.
“Michael… I Love You”
I do not remember what I said, but what shot through my mind was a simple, emphatic, “Of course you do…”
And that was that. I took her back to the place she was staying, and then I went home. I dreamed about my life and the way it was going to look in the years ahead. I dreamed, but I did not sleep.
This is kind of the end of this part of the story. Our entire dating relationship was a long distance relationship. It moved pretty fast. From the moment I saw her to the moment we were married was roughly 1 year. We have been married for almost 10 years now.
I saw an image of Sarah standing around a corner when God told Abraham that he would be a father.
I thought about me wearing a wedding ring and coming home to a wife after work.
Jessica and I had started sending emails back and forth. It was a lot fun. We talked about what we wanted out of the future, our plans, our dreams, and the things we enjoyed. As time went on, we started talking about the things in our pasts, our missed opportunities, goals we let go of, and the stuff we have to do but that we really don’t like at all.
At some point she asked me about my faith and made some kind of comment about how she wished that she was more like me in that area. That made me feel good, and instead of telling her the truth, I jumped at the opportunity to lead.
The truth was that I really was not mature in what I believed. The truth was that the only time I really spent reading my Bible or Praying was when I was at the Bible Study on base. The truth was that, other than the Bible Study, I spent maybe 1 day a week reading my Bible and 2 mornings praying at best. The truth was that I was probably just as immature as she was.
The truth is she was carried away by my dashing good looks, winning personality, and could not resist a man in uniform.
The truth is… I had no idea how to respond.
But I knew what the guys who were influencing me were doing. They were reading a passage of the Bible with me, and then asking questions. Easy Day!!
So in addition to our standard email traffic, Jessica and I started studying scripture from 500 miles apart. I had no idea what I was actually teaching and had no vision for where I was leading, but it felt good, was fun, and brought me a little bit of joy.
After a couple months of this, I was sitting at my computer when I got this ridiculously crazy thought.
“Mike… It’s time for you to get married.”
I laughed about that. Like a whirlwind I saw in my mind as though a movie were playing before me, a woman in a long white toga style dress, carrying a jug of water and a bunch of grapes, jump back behind a wall as she heard the men talking. “What did he just say? Did he say I was going to have a baby? Funny…” I guess when God communicates something, He does not particularly enjoy being discounted and then laughed at.
It felt like a glass of ice water running down my back as I contemplated the connection between that old story and what was happening in my life. The implication was pretty overwhelming.
Did God realize to whom he was speaking? I was a committed bachelor to the rapture. I was not going to be slowed down by some woman. I was going to live a wild and dangerous life, free from the burden of having to provide for and please a woman. I just knew that my future had a lot of travel, a lot of living cheap, train hopping, hitch hiking, running from danger, eating questionable food, kind of elements in it. Things that do not mix so well with a wife, and lets not even start talking about kids.
For me to get married would mean a complete loss, a total sacrifice of who I was and what I wanted out of life.
This all moved so fast I was left in a bit of a daze. I left my barracks room and went for a walk. That walk ranks among the most sobering walks I have taken. While cruising down the jogging path along the water’s edge and between the command buildings, I presented what I believed to be a pretty iron clad reason why this was all a bunch of garbage that I had made up in my own little head.
I didn’t have a girlfriend.
I didn’t have any girl friends.
I didn’t have any girls who I felt would ever want to be my friend.
I had precious few friends…
So I said,
“If this is God telling me that it is time to get married, then who should I marry?”
Before I could really finish the thought, I immediately thought of 5 different girls. I wanted to dismiss that too but remembered how I felt when I laughed after the first experience in this developing conversation.
This cannot be. This is not how it works. There is a man for a woman and a woman for a man, but not many possible matches for a woman or a man. There is just the one out there. I know this to be true because of my extensive background in the dogma and philosophy of Disney and chick flicks… and the Bible… right?
Wrong. I will not hijack my own post in order to start a treatise on the will of God, but suffice it to say that this conversation began a really great foray into that topic.
I had a lot of assumptions but no direction and no way to test any of these assumptions. I was assuming that it was God speaking to me, that He wanted me to be married, and that He was giving me a choice between these 5 ladies. I felt like I had nothing really at stake yet, so my bets were still safe.
“God… if this is really you speaking with me… and this is really how this is supposed to go… then I choose Jessica. If you really are telling me it is time to be married and I can pick between any of these women, then I choose her. If all that I have just said to You is true and accurate, then I ask You to affirm this decision by blessing the relationship and making it crystal clear that we are to be married.”
I figured if I was going to play a hand with God I might as well go all in.
I made my way back to my barracks room, got something to eat, and then went to hang out with the couple guys that I usually spent time with.
I told nobody about this conversation.
Nothing changed in my life. It was like every other time that I thought I had communicated with God. Big, exciting, encounter and then left waiting and watching… and watching…
… and then I saw my life changing right before me.
I did not have many close friends from my high school days. Joining the Navy, moving away, and saying goodbye to my previous life was actually really easy for me. I had a couple close friends, but they kind of held on to me with an open hand mentality.
I did not want to be in somebody’s open hand.
I did not want to be in an open, all inclusive group.
I had nothing to offer anybody nor did I give any group a reason to include me in their exclusive circles. I was right where I deserved to be.
On the outside.
I had just returned from my first deployment. I had toured the nation of Iraq from the Kuwaiti border to Baghdad and then come home to soothing Tennessee. I spent a month home on leave and started hanging out pretty often with a small group of folks my age. We went hiking and to get burgers, bicycle riding and to sit around picnic tables talking, going through motions to be friends but I was always trying out, never making the team.
As much as I cared about being included, the things in Iraq which I had seen and done made me feel as though I could never be a part of this college aged social crew. The truth is I wanted to be accepted but did not want to invest the time or take the risks required to develop these relationships. I was content, at least superficially, to enjoy the month hanging out with the folks and then forget about them when I went back to Camp Lejeune.
I remember hiking and biking with this group and spending my time chit chatting and flirting with a couple of the girls who came along. That cute girl in the perwinkle sundress kept hanging out with these people. I really dismissed her pretty quickly. She was young. She was cute. She was smart…she was soon to be fully enrolled into the Feminazi Training Indoctrination Program, and my mom and sister liked her. I was not interested in her.
At one point during a ride around Cade’s Cove, I pulled my bicycle up next to a girl with long brown hair and started talking. She was sweet and intelligent, fit and refined, and seemed to enjoy my company. While talking and pedalling she said,
” There is no way I would ever go camping for more than a couple days…”
And before she could finish her statement the little girl with the periwinkle sundress, who happened to be riding next to the girl I was talking to, chimes in with,
” I would LOVE to go camping for days at a time…”
And then she pedalled away.
My thoughts…”Who cares what you would like to do. You should go home and play with your dolls.”
There was something about her attitude that caught my attention though. She seemed to never stick around long enough to see what my response was. She seemed to not pay very much attention at all to the opinions of the guys around her. It was like she was in her own little world, oblivious to the rest of us. She interacted with us, but almost as though we were just characters in a big play and not like we were the ones around which the world pivoted.
I kept trying to flirt with this brown haired girl, but I kept an eye on that sundress girl.
She really was in her own world in a lot of ways. She really seemed to either be completely and totally out to lunch or driven by a desire to please the play’s unseen director. As much as I wanted to deny it, I was deeply attracted to that kind of confidence.
As the month started to draw to an end, and the lazy days in the mountains numbered in the single digits, and my normal routine of living in the barracks and training for war crept upon me, I found my thoughts drifting back to those hazy, sunny days and the interactions I had with this enigmatic young lady.
The last interaction I remember from this period was back in the same church in which I had first seen her. I was being goofy and stood in a doorway and would not let people through the door until I had a chance to pick on them. I know, I know, such a bully kind of thing to do. These weren’t old people, they were my age and it was fun. When I did this to the girl with the periwinkle sundress, she just stood there and looked at me, then delivered a curt, gentle, and fiery, “No, move please…” and walked right by me.
I have experienced that before, but it usually comes with a lot of posturing. There was none of that. She conducted herself with the quiet confidence of a queen and glided by as though she wore glass slippers. I stepped out of the doorway and watched her walk by… and I really liked what I was watching.
I left a couple days later. For the duration of my 8 hour drive back to my home in Jacksonville, NC, my mind raced. Other than thoughts about firing RPG’s at cars that cut me off and how much trouble I would get in if I drove through the median of the interstate to get around traffic, I was fixed on her.
What I really wanted to was to connect with somebody in a lasting, meaningful way. What I did was dismiss everybody in that group. What I was left with was a few small memories, a flutter in my heart, and the name of a girl and her email address.
I returned to Lejeune and started hanging out with the guys who were quickly becoming my new family, but I did not tell them about this girl. In a moment of loneliness one night, sitting in my barracks room, I decided to send her an email.
“hello, I just wanted to drop a quick line tellin you…”
I was just going through the motions really. I went to Church with my family because that is what you do when you are home on leave (Navy for “vacation”). I still shared the same religious beliefs that my parents had, but I did not know anybody in this Church. It was not the Church in which I had grown up, but in order to honor my Mom and Dad, I stood by them through the service.
Since I knew I would not be in town for long, I did not feel the pressure to connect with anybody in this Church. I spent the entire first part of the service standing in the back row while everybody else was singing. Instead of opening my mouth, I was scanning the room. Seeing if there were any other folks there like me. You know, relatively good folks, younger 20’s, not so engaged, more or less there to please their parents… I figured I’d try to link up with these people and see if I could engage in the typical social life of the day. Go see a movie, get a bite to eat, go on a hike, you know… You should know that I was paying a little closer attention to the college age girls who were, I was hoping, doing exactly what I was doing.
The part of the service where everybody sits down and somebody from the congregation comes on stage to sing was beginning. I had a couple girls and a couple guys picked out to link up with after the service and see if I could plan a hiking trip with them. Sitting there on the back row with my head full of images of the Smoky Mountains, this girl starts belting out a tune with great gusto. I cannot tell you what song she was singing, but that girl could sing. She looked like she was either a senior in high school or maybe a freshman in college, but that would have been a stretch. She was one of the cutest girls I had ever seen. All thoughts of the Chimney trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park fell out of my head. I was mesmerized! And she just stood there, singing her heart out in a periwinkle sundress. Narrow straps. Cute shoulders.
I leaned over to my Mom and asked her the obvious question that was running through my head… “Mom, from what magical world has this little princess come from?” Which, if I recall correctly, came out more like…
“Mom… who’s that?”
“O, That’s Jessica… Why?”
“Just… she’s cute is all.”
My Mom leans over to my sister at this point and then leans back to me…
“Your sister likes her too…”
I had heard enough. All the guys I knew who had been married or were dating had significant drama between their sisters and moms and the romantic interest in their lives. The evidence was overwhelming. If my Mom and sister liked a girl, then there was no way on earth that I would have anything close to a good relationship with her.
And so… as this sunbeam of cuteness walked off the stage, whatever desire I might have had to go talk to her walked off too.
See, I was plaqued with some really skewed ideas about life and I did not yet have anybody in my life to help correct these things in me. I had a pretty young relationship with a really good group of guys and men who wanted to work with me, but I had not yet started opening up to them. I’m sure I’ll talk about these guys in a later post since they did end up having such a significant impact on me.
I knew that I wanted to have a girlfriend and maybe one day a wife who loved me. I did not want a Feminazi… and cute, smart, girls who get along with women of different cultures and generations are bound for college, where the indoctrination into full fledge Feminazi culture would be complete.
And so I let this really sweet looking, super cute, periwinkle sundress walk off the stage. And there I sat… in the back… looking for somebody to talk to, somebody to be my friend...