Twenty five years ago tonight, TJ and I were registered at the Harborside Inn. We were in San Diego getting ready to report to the movement center to begin our tour of duty in Okinawa, Japan. TJ would reach her 19th birthday in less than a week and we decided to see a bit of the city before heading to base.
We had spent a few weeks in Colorado together before heading to California. I remember flying in to Denver from Jacksonville North Carolina to meet TJ and her grandfather, who passed away many years ago, at the airport. I had fallen desperately in love with TJ months before while we were both in admin school, stationed at Camp LeJeune. There are a lot of stories there but I’ll leave those for another time.
Anyway, TJ and I had grown to be good friends. I felt that she was my best friend but I knew she didn’t feel the same way about me. I was full of confidence then so that didn’t bother me. I knew it was only a matter of time before she understood that I meant what I said about loving her and wanting her and she would fall in love with me and we would live happily ever after. I knew it.
Well, I may have known it but my girlfriends and boyfriends and her boyfriends didn’t know it. I was just barely 18 years old and on my own for the first time. I drank and had sex like a crazy woman. TJ dated a couple of guys seriously and was always there to get me out of trouble. She was a Goddess in my eyes. There was nothing she couldn’t do and she would bend over backwards to help anyone. She’s still like that. I’m always so worried that people will take advantage of her kindness. But she doesn’t worry about it so I’m learning not to worry about it either.
Anyway, after school was over, we both received orders to the same place. I took it as a sign that we were meant to be together. I don’t know what TJ took it as. She didn’t really talk much. Still doesn’t. It was just before Christmas, 1986 and I couldn’t afford to go home. TJ took off for Colorado and most of our other friends went to see their families before heading to their first duty stations. I stayed in a trailer with a friend of mine, Terry, who was in school with us. Terry was a great guy and a good friend. He and a few other people, all of whom were very aware of how I felt about TJ, chipped in and bought me a ticket to Colorado. I called TJ and asked her if it was all right for me to come and stay with her at her family’s home. Generous, as always, she said I could.
I remember eating at TJ’s grandparents’ house and how nice they were to me. I remember meeting a few of her high school friends and drinking beer with them in a small bar in the small town that she’d lived in. I remember meeting her father, step-mother number 2 or 3, I think, her brothers, and her sister. But most of all, I remember laying next to her in bed every night, her head on my chest, my arm around her shoulder, and me asking her if she loved me yet. Her answer was always the same, “not yet. Ask me tomorrow.” I would kiss the top of her head and hold her through the night. She would sometimes cry on my shoulder but would never tell me why. I hoped I knew but never asked. I just held her close and hoped that she would feel the love I felt for her.
The night of January 13th, 1987, we arrived in San Diego and chose a hotel room instead of a Marine barracks. We played by the pool, each of us wearing boxer shorts and t-shirts because we didn’t have swimming suits. We had food and decided to see what was on the TV. Our room was small with a single, queen sized bed. Gone With The Wind was on, a film I’d seen so many times but never really understood apart from the obvious romance, and we were on the bed. TJ was sitting in the middle of the bed with her legs folded, feet tucked under her knees and she told me that I could lay my head in her lap.
This was an odd request because she’d never really invited that sort of intimacy. I wasn’t going to pass it up so I lay my head down and she immediately began to stroke my hair and I don’t think I’ll ever forget how magical it felt. She has such a soft touch. I can still feel the shivers it sent down my spine. We both stared at the television screen but neither of us saw a thing.
In the wee hours of January 14th, 1987, we began our life as a couple. That was it. There was no dating and no discussion; it just was. And it has been ever since. We’ve gone through separations and struggled with addictions. We’ve broken up and reunited. We have a family now, our beautiful son has changed our lives and our relationship. It’s not been easy but it’s been wonderful.
I love my wife more today than I ever thought I could on that cool, California night so long ago. I didn’t know what love could be then. I knew that I felt an incredible connection with the strong, quiet woman that everyone liked. She was bashful and shy and I just knew she would make my life complete. And she has.