I could hear the hiss of whispering people, sitting restlessly in their seats. The entire bridal party had made their way down the aisle and now it was my turn. As “Wedding March” started to play, my father took my arm and asked, “You ready?” I knew at that moment, this was the beginning of the rest of my life. Although I know this walk was long for my father, it was even longer for me. With each step I took, I remembered a life-changing moment with my soldier, re-experiencing the emotions I felt to the fullest extent. The 150 feet that I walked to the altar were undoubtedly the longest 150 feet in the world.
I first met him in 7th grade; he was the goofy eighth-grader who played the trumpet obnoxiously behind me. His hair was long and his eyes were a deep blue. He wore torn-up jeans, with Farmall t-shirts and a Texas Longhorns belt buckle. His work-boots looked too big for his feet, as they do on any 13 year old. He was a country boy, which at the time was a major turn off. He made me laugh but I couldn't, as we called then, “like-like” him because he liked farms, dirt, and anything Southern, and I was not a country girl in the least. He would intentionally run into me in the hallways just so he could talk to me, but I wouldn't have anything to do with him. He tried to be my boyfriend for two-and-a-half years, but all I ever wanted was to be friends. He would help me lift weights with my friends for soccer conditioning. Since he was a football player, he knew his way around the weight room pretty well. I'd flirt with him by kicking his butt when he sat in front of me in chemistry class. I'd even dance with him at the dances at our high school, but still wouldn't allow myself to have feelings for him. His country boy demeanor drove me away.
In the middle of my junior year, his constant nagging drove me to my braking point. I decided that he deserved a chance to prove himself as boyfriend material. A month after I kissed him on New Year's Eve, right before he asked me to be his girlfriend, he told me that he was enlisting in the United States Army as a tanker. I honestly thought that our relationship wasn't going to last until July since it was only January, so I didn't care. I assumed he'd get bored with me, or I'd get annoyed with his hick personality, and we'd end our relationship and move on with our lives. Needless to say, I was wrong. As our relationship progressed, I realized that instead of fearing the possibility of getting hurt, I had to let him in my life and trust him. I was going to let myself love him.
We spent as much time together as possible and always told each other everything that passed through our minds. In April, we'd been dating for three months,and only had three months left before he shipped to basic, I went to his house as I did every day after soccer practice. He checked in with the recruiter's office earlier that day, but hadn't said anything about his visit. When his mom came home from work, I was on the couch, collapsed from physical exhaustion. Out of nowhere he said to her, “Hey. By the way, I went down to the recruiter's today. My ship date got moved up. I leave two weeks earlier now.” I sat up quickly, not believing what I had just heard. Inert, I looked at him with an empty stare. I didn't know if he simply forgot to tell me, or if he intentionally waited so he could tell everyone at the same time. Knowing that I was getting fourteen days taken away from me in a matter of seconds ripped my heart out. His mom and I sobbed for hours, being held in his arms like helpless infants. This was the first of many heart-wrenching situations that the Army would cause.
Looking back now, I realize how much stress the Army does put on the significant others of soldiers. Between countless goodbyes, constantly waiting for phone calls, and the endless possibility that he won't come home, Army wives have more to worry about than most women. Goodbyes never get easier, and the nights alone never get more comforting. I'd like to say that I've adjusted to the thought of being alone, either for a month's worth of training, a year's deployment, or, well, forever, but that would be a lie. It is an unremitting fear of mine.
His last day before basic training was the hardest I'd seen yet. Jimmy is a tanker, participating in one of the last OSUT cycles, training that consisted of 17 straight weeks, combining the standard one week reception, the nine weeks of BCT, and the seven weeks of AIT for his MOS, 19K. I knew that I would be able to see him for a day or two between BCT and AIT, but he wouldn't be home until November. I wouldn't be able to come see him after school, nor would I be able to call or send him a text message whenever I wanted. These realizations slowly drove me to crying in his arms once again. I never like crying in front of him; other army girlfriends and wives say crying makes it harder for their soldiers to leave and makes them feel bad for “doing this to us.” I view hiding my emotions as lying, so I choose to let them show. He was able to say goodbye to me that night, giving me my last goodnight kiss until September.
I didn't sleep at all that night, sobbing and texting him until he fell asleep. I was an anxious mess, not knowing the struggles I was about to face. We were able to see him at the swearing-in ceremony at MEPS. He looked so official, standing at attention with the rest of the men shipping that morning. As he verbally swore his life away, I held back tears fighting to get out like angry prisoners. When he was finished, we were able to take pictures with him in front of the army flag. As soon as his arm touched mine, the tears began to stream down my cheeks. Shortly after that, he was released for lunch and had to wait for the bus to take him to the airport. His flight didn't leave for three more hours so I had that much longer with my soldier. Those three hours went by quickly, filled with picture taking, pizza eating, and crying. We said our goodbyes, me getting my last hug and kiss until September. The first moment of separation was physically painful. He walked through security and waved as he walked up the stairs; I stood there motionless. That was the last image I had of him, engraved in my memory, never to be forgotten. His mom ran to me collapsing in my arms, hoping I could comfort her, but I was no help. At that point, I had never felt more emotional pain; a part of my heart was flying to Kentucky without me.
I got my first phone call once he got to Fort Knox; I was relieved to hear him speak. He wasn't able to talk long, but his voice soothed my heartache. He said that the base was warm and green, not a gloomy cement palace like bases are portrayed on movies and television. He was going to mail once he got to his company, which meant no contact for over a week. In a matter of 24 hours, I went from being with him nearly all the time, to not being able to see him or talk to him. Luckily, I ended up being able to call nearly every day through reception, so I was ecstatic. Reception was the perfect “transition period” to adjust to this new lifestyle.
My hope was renewed by the first letter from him. The power of a black US Mail Jeep stopping at my mailbox will never be underestimated again. Seeing “PFC Simmons” in the return address always caused an enormous smile and tears of joy. The letters were ridiculously cheesy at the start, but eventually grew to have more substance. We began talked about the benefits of getting married in the Army, and the rights I would gain if I became his wife. Being only 17, these thoughts seemed crazy; but the more we discussed it, the more it felt right. I would get phone calls almost every Sunday which helped the weeks go by faster. I also found a website that took pictures during his church services so I would also get a weekly picture of him. He lost 33 pounds through the process of OSUT, so his changes were gradual to him, but to us at home they were drastic. He was turning into a full blown tanker.
We drove to Kentucky in September for Family Weekend. It had been just over two months since I'd seen Jimmy's face. I knew I'd cry but I thought I'd at least try to hold my tears in. As we pulled onto base, his brother said, “Watch for Jimmy, he'll probably run across the road in front of us like every other soldier here.” Everyone else in the car assaulted him with shut up's and don't even say that's. Sure enough, when we parked there was a platoon standing in formation right in front of us. His brother shouted, “There's Jimmy!” Again, we attacked him with insults. He made me take a picture of them with my digital camera and zoom in on the top of a certain soldier's patrol cap. That was when I saw it: his last name was clearly stitched on a Velcro patch. Not being able to talk to him, or run and jump into his arms, was painful. I was less than 20 feet away from him, but wasn't able to talk to him or touch him. Suddenly, they ran to their barracks and we waited anxiously for 3 more hours until the ceremony started. When he got released, it was nearly impossible to find him. There were 160 men scurrying to see their families. When I finally found him, I leaped into his arms. He'd lost so much weight, his skin was soft, and his arms were strong. I never wanted to let go, but his mom, dad, brother, and sister all wanted their hugs too; so I had no choice. We were with him for the next two days. We explored Louisville, swam at the hotel, watched movies, and laughed as he ate junk food that was off limits for months. This goodbye was no easier than the first; in fact, it was harder since I knew the pain I would be going through again. Family Weekend was a tease more than anything, saying, “Here are your loved ones. Now leave them and come back to work.” Jimmy made the goodbyes short, but we stood there watching him in formation for over an hour. Even though he wouldn't admit it, these goodbyes took an emotional tole on him as well.
I surprised him at his graduation after telling him I couldn't go because of a conflict at school. He was so upset the day I told him, but he wasn't going to let me put him in front of my education, so he understood. When he saw me standing there with open arms, his face lit up like a Christmas tree; his smile was huge. All he said was, “I knew you'd find a way. I missed you baby.” I was so proud of myself; I didn't cry when I saw him! We took him to dinner, and said our goodbyes for the night. I ended up crying, even though I would see him the next morning. Being able to take him home with us was the most relieving feeling.
I'll never forget the night before he left for Fort Stewart, 1,000 miles away from me. we were sitting in my car talking when he reached behind my seat and grabbed something. Hiding it in his hand, he said with a smile, “You wanna go stand outside?” I knew a proposal was coming. We danced in his driveway for a few minutes, the cold air turning our breath to fog. He got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. We ran inside and told his family, then began to pack his belongings to get ready to fly out in the morning. I sat on the couch while he folded his laundry as tightly as possible so he could cram everything into his ruck sack. I felt like a member of the family, spending the last few hours here with him.
I remembered taking him to the Detroit Metro Airport to see him off yet again. It was much bigger than I expected. I'd never been on a plane before, so the size and quantity of them was astonishing to me. He'd seen planes five times the size of these, so he laughed at my ignorance. Watching him walk away that time was the worst yet because I did not know when the next time I was going to see him was going to be. Another crying goodbye had come and gone, with yet another adventure ahead of us.
The next nine months when by faster than I ever imagined. I visited him a few times in Georgia, looking for apartments and seeing the college.. My bridal shower was one of the best memories I have with my friends from home. Planning the wedding with the help of my parents and friends went quickly but it all pulled together perfectly.
As I reached the end of the aisle, my daddy kissed my cheek, and gave my hand to Jimmy. We were prayed upon and we said our vows. Walking back down that aisle, I smiled ear to ear. I knew from this moment on, easier times would be ahead, even though a deployment was slowly on its way. I was going to be able to see him everyday. It made my life calmer and more stable. I could sleep through the night without checking my phone multiple times to see if I'd missed his call. Having him by my side makes it easier. I do my best to make him proud with my attitude, support, and interest in his career. I cry from time to time, in my “weak moments” as I call them. This life is not an easy one by any means.