I just knew that I had to.
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 do not regret it a bit.