When Eric and I first met it was not love at first sight. I actually thought he was a jerk. But life has a funny way of happening in ways you don’t think possible.
The first time I saw Eric he was walking on the window ledge of his barracks at Fort Benning. I was dating his best friend at the time and we were dropping by the barracks to pick something up for him. Eric was on the ledge with a beer in his hand as we were walking up and yelled at Brian (the boyfriend) asking if he was going to go out with the boys that night. Brian yelled back no, he and I were going to be hanging out. Eric scoffed him saying, “F*** that!” I was immediately not a fan of this guy.
Time went on and I got to know Eric a little better. We would end up at the same parities and functions because he and Brian were such good friends and worked together. I still was not a fan. He was arrogant and cocky and treated the girls he dated with very little regard. I found out that he had been recently divorced and that his wife had done him seriously wrong. She had cheated on him and left him for the other guy. Ok – so he was angry. He was still contemptible
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Eric started developing a crush on me. He never gave me any indication, but he told me later that he became jealous of Brian and wondered how he could find somebody like me. Looking back now, he did start showing up at the restaurant I worked at a lot more often and would even come by the apartment on occasion to hang out with Brian for no particular reason. Brian had even asked me at one point, “If we weren’t together, you’d hook up with Hays, wouldn’t you?” I vehemently denied that I would because basically – like I said – Eric was jerk!
A couple of years went by. Brian and I had broken up. He had left the military and moved back home. Eric had been stationed In Alaska and I pretty much forgot about him. Until the day he showed up at my door. Thank heavens he was in his BDUs (Army uniform) with the name tag on it because I had totally forgotten it! I called him Hays the whole time he was visiting because I couldn’t for the life of me remember Eric. It only came to me after he had gone. Calling him Hays wasn’t awkward though – the military, especially infantry, usually only use last names when referring to each other. Whew!
Eric stayed for just a little bit and we quickly caught up. He was in town for a couple of months for training and was looking up old friends. It was close to my birthday so he asked me if he could take me out to celebrate. Not to be one to turn down a free meal, I agreed, and he went to leave. I’m a hugger. Always have been. So, when he was at the door, I gave him a quick hug before he turned to go. As he let go though, his hand lightly grabbed my rear end. I was in total shock and stood there wondering if that had just happened or if I had imagined it, but the redness of his face and neck as he pretty much bolted away told me that it had. He swears to this day that he had no intention of doing it – that it just happened, and he was just as astonished as I was.
He called me a few days later to confirm that he would be taking me out for my birthday. True to his word, he took me to dinner and then we went out to a bar to spend a little time. We ended up running into some of my friends, so it wasn’t much of a private date after that. He was a complete gentleman the entire evening. When he brought me home, he came inside, and we started really talking. About life and changes that we had each gone through over the past couple of years. By this time, I had come to realize that he had changed a lot – grown up so to speak. We ended up talking all night even though we both had to work the next day.
After that night we started hanging out together a lot. He would come over some nights and I would cook dinner for him. DFac food was not real food as far as I was concerned, and he needed a home cooked meal. He swears that I was trying to trap him with that first meal – Lemon Chicken. A few years later, I read in a magazine that Lemon Chicken is the best thing to make for a guy you want to propose. We both got a good giggle out of that one.
This whole time we were still not dating – just friends. Until one night a few weeks after he took me out for my birthday, we started thumb wrestling. It was a heated battle that ended up with him pinning me down on the couch. That’s when he kissed me for the first time. I think I knew right then that he was something special. That he might be the one. After that, he was at my apartment every chance he got. I loved how good he was with Paix – playing with her, taking care of her when she needed something. I was starting to seriously fall for him.
One weekend not too long before he was supposed to go back to Alaska, he came over after I had gotten off work. Paix was at my mother’s house for the weekend so we were trying to find something fun to get into. We did my laundry at a laundry mat while we were talking about different things to do. A big storm came through and we were wondering if we should just stay in and watch a movie with some take out. It was nearly midnight when we decided to go to Savannah. Just a hair-brained idea that hit us. We ended up driving all night to get there. We stopped at a Waffle House just outside Savannah at around 3:30am. We kept laughing at how completely crazy it was that we had decided to do something like drive all the way across Georgia in the middle of night for absolutely no reason at all.
After grabbing a bite to eat and some coffee at Waffle House we made our way down to River Street in downtown Savannah. We walked the deserted river front. We watched the sun rise over the river. It was beautiful. We then ran into one of those people that make roses out of pandan leaves for donations. He was the only guy on the river – there early to claim his spot for the day. We ended up talking to him for a good while and he made me a rose. (I still have it 20 years later.) As we were talking another gentleman showed up asking the first guy if he knew where so and so was because he wanted to buy some “stuff” from him. He was a well-dressed guy in his early 30s maybe. We ended up in a conversation with him also. As it turned out his family was one of the richest in the Savannah area. He also had a cameo appearance in the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” as the hairdresser. It was a very interesting morning!
Soon the sun was fully up, and people started filling the river front. We were tired and found a cheap hotel nearby to get a little bit of sleep before heading back home. That trip was when we both knew we were in love. After getting home I was off to Alabama to visit my mom and get Paix. When Eric kissed me before I left, I got lightheaded and my toes tingled. That hadn’t happened since my high school sweetheart. I knew I was in it for good now. He told me later that he had seen stars when he kissed me that time too. We both realized at that point it was serious.
The time for Eric to go back to Alaska was getting closer and we began to talk about how we would maintain a long-distance relationship. While cooking dinner one night, I made the comment off-hand that if he married me, I could go with him. He sat there with a look of deep concentration on his face for a moment and then said, “That’ll work!” A few minutes later he said, “I can’t believe I’m seriously considering this.” We had only been dating for a couple of months and we were already talking marriage?! The idea was insane.
He left for Alaska and we started seriously talking about a wedding. I started planning one in Georgia, but it soon became apparent that he would not be able to get the time off to come back down to get married. There were too many field problems coming up and his chain of command was not being generous. We started talking about other options.
When we decided we were serious about getting married, I told my family. They were stunned and my dad even asked me if I was pregnant. I wasn’t. They had never even met Eric at that point. They all thought I had lost my mind. I was beginning to think the same.
We finally agreed that I would fly up to Alaska and we would get married up there in a small ceremony without family. Because anyone can get a 24-hour pass to perform marriages, one of Eric’s friends agreed to perform the ceremony. We had tried to get Eric’s unit chaplain to do it, but he required that we do counseling a couple of weeks before hand. We couldn’t do that as I was out of state. So, friend marrying us it was. We chose Labor Day weekend because Eric had a four-day pass from work. Everything was set.
I flew up to Alaska alone. I had flown in on Thursday and we were supposed to get married that Friday afternoon. Eric had gotten us a room in a local Bed and Breakfast that was run by a very interesting older couple. The woman was very talkative and nice, her husband, a veteran, had had a stroke a few years earlier and was only able to say, “Yes, g**d***it!” or “No, g**d***it!” It was a very amusing stay.
Friday afternoon we waited to hear from his friend that was supposed to do the ceremony. The plan was to take a small hike up to a local waterfall and get married there. The friend didn’t call and wasn’t picking up his phone. We waited and waited in the barracks. Since it was Friday the guys were having a keg party on Eric’s floor. We decided to share. The joke became that we had our reception before the actual ceremony. It was while we were there waiting that I found out that Eric had not yet told his family of our plans to wed. I made him call his mother despite his objections. Once he had her on the phone and told her, she didn’t believe him and tried to set him up with a girl that she had met there in Colorado. He finally put me on the phone so she would believe him. It was turning out to be a very special wedding day.
By the time we finally got in touch with his friend that was supposed to marry us it was just after 10:00pm. The friend had decided to take his family to the state fair and had forgotten what day it was. We only had until midnight. So, we got married in the friend’s living room by candlelight. His wife played the role of ring bearer and wedding photographer. We only had a few of the guys that were still somewhat sober from the keg party at the barracks as our guests. After the quick ceremony, we ordered pizza. I didn’t get to wear the dress I had picked out to get married in. There hadn’t been time for me to change. (I did however wear it 10 years later at our vow renewal ceremony with family present.) We got married in our jeans and tennis shoes. (I still have the shirt I was wearing that night and it still fits.)
We spent the next couple of days of our Alaskan honeymoon hiking, shopping and doing all the touristy things there were to do in September. We talked about where we would live once I moved to join him. We talked about our family – him, me and Paix. (It takes a real man to take on a ready-made family!) We were happy and excited for our life to begin.
It wasn’t until November that Paix and I were able to join Eric. We took a cross country trip from Georgia to Alaska in a U-Haul towing my car. It was quite the adventure, but that’s a different story. Looking back, I don’t think I would change a single thing. Even though nothing went the way we had planned, it was perfect – especially for us. Nothing has gone as planned since and that’s ok. Life is an adventure. Life is meant to be lived. I don’t think anyone believed that Eric and I would make it twenty years, but here we are. We’ve been through so many things that would have torn other couples apart, but still – here we are. Our love is as strong as ever.