Sunday, October 12, 2008

Back Story

I realized that, unlike my friends on facebook, anyone reading my blog would have no idea of the back story included in this diary, and that knowing it might be helpful. Besides, playing out memories of Keith and I are one of my favorite past times, and writing it out is nothing but a pleasure.

We met on eHarmony, something Keith is often reluctant to admit to, and when he does, he always adds, "My father said I should try it." So, since he is not here to say it, I have included it for him.

He was one of my first matches and at the time, I was highly optimistic and contacting all my matches because, hey, you never know! If I had met him later, I would have closed his match down without a second glance, because by that time I had become inundated with matches and I was closing any that, among other things, hadn't filled out their profile completely, and Keith certainly had not.

(In fact, as it happened, he had filled out his profile completely lit; when he reread it later, he was amazed at how accurate he had been, even when drunk.)

I did not hear from him for three weeks and in that time, to be honest, I almost forgot all about that match. Sometimes I would glance over the back log of passed over matches and see again his picture, of a long legged man in uniform, leaning against his tank with his arms crossed, looking slightly irritated and as though about to speak, not at all ready for his picture to be taken. I found him incredibly attractive, but as I wasn't hearing from him, I had made connections elsewhere on eHarmony.

As for Keith, he had met a few matches in person already and had been less than impressed. He had almost given up on the experience. When he logged on at last and found my request for communication, he gave my profile a passing glance. He told me later he thought I was hot, he thought it cool I had a dog, he thought my having three brothers might prepare me for his family and lastly, he thought my having a career might mean I was independent enough to handle his absences. That was enough for him; he did not read further, he sent a request to fast track the communications.

"I would like to get to know you better. I won't be able to get on line for three weeks, I will be NTC, please just call me at .....keith," read his first message.

I was thrilled and intrigued. What was NTC? Why couldn't he get on line? He wanted me to call him? Not only to skip the slow, steady process of getting to know you questions eHarmony so carefully provided and that I always religiously followed, but also to skip the weeks and weeks of on line, written communication that, in my case, always proceeded a phone call?

I debated for a day. I googled NTC and was shocked and apprehensive when I realized it was combat training geared to mimic as exactly as possible conditions in the Middle East. Did this mean he would be deploying soon? What exactly did a tank commander do?

(My brothers, by the way, were thrilled at his occupation. "You must date this man," one of them wrote me, and when I almost got distracted by another match, one Black hawk pilot with a gifted tongue and varied interests, my younger brother said, wistfully, "But what about our valiant tank commander? I wasn't focusing specifically on men in the military, much as it might seem, it just worked out that way. If I had been paying attention, I would have known this was fate's way of giving me a little head's up.)

I called him. By this time, he was already in California and didn't hear his phone ring; I left an uncertain message, noting that his ring tone, for the caller, was a country song. It was beginning to dawn on me that I had stumbled across a genuine good ol' boy. I didn't know the half of it...

He called me back later that day, just as my brother and I were settled into the Blackeyed Pea for a late lunch. I jumped when I heard the phone and saw, with a thrill, his name.

"It's Keith," I almost whispered, leaning across the table to my brother, phone in hand.

"Answer it!" he said, grinning.

He was unexpectedly soft spoken, with a strong, mid American accent that was unfamiliar to me. He was straight speaking and direct, he didn't let the conversation lag. When he spoke about his dog, or his cat that had passed away, his voice melted away into sheer, warm emotion. When he spoke aside to someone who had come up to him while he was on the phone, his tone was direct and clear.

I was smitten. He, in turn, was impressed that I had taken the time to research the things about him I hadn't understood. He assured me that the training he was completing did not mean he was going to deploy.

"Not anytime soon," was what he said. That comment was made in April. Five months later he was in Iraq. Heh. He told me later he couldn't tell me he was deploying because a guy had to have some chance at getting the girl, and no girl stays around when she hears the word "deployment."

"I would have," I said stoutly, irrationally offended that, early as it had been in the relationship, he hadn't given me any credit.

"Maybe," he said, his voice softening. "You've done great so far."

I never knew when to expect a call from him. I didn't sleep well, I was so afraid I would miss a call, and so hyped up, expecting one. He continued to be the soul of a gentleman, always asking permission to call again after each call. I thrilled to my toes the first time he called me "hon."

I began looking into the military and was stunned at the vastness of it. It was, I was beginning to realize, a whole other world. I found I couldn't watch the news on the Middle East without feeling sick to my stomach. I began to watch, almost furtively, the Military Channel.

One week after the first call, I decided the time had come to find out his last name and his rank, only I didn't know yet to call it rank. Ranks themselves were so complicated and vastly confusing that I had only briefly looked at charts of them before moving on.

"What is your....your title?" I asked, "I mean, are you a..." Here I paused and searched around wildly for the appropriate vocabulary. I wanted something high enough so he would be flattered, but not so high that he would realize I was flattering him. The problem was, I knew almost nothing. I knew general was out of the question. I remembered suddenly one that seemed close. "Are you a lieutenant?" I finished up, hesitantly.

"Aw, no hon!" he protested vehemently, in his drawling voice. "I'm a sergeant!"

At the time, I had no idea what exactly I had done to cause such intensity; it was only much later that I began to understand the difference between Commissioned and Non Commissioned Officers. "Don't call me sir," I heard Keith say once, dryly, "I work for a living."

By the time three weeks had passed we had become comfortable with each other and learned enough to think we were getting acquainted. I knew, for example, that he was a Chevy man, through and through. Before I heard this, trucks came in two categories for me; the kind with sixteen wheels and the kind with four. My eyes were opened and suddenly, I realized there were trucks all over the place, I began looking for the kind he drove, that he had described to me so lovingly, his voice soft with satisfaction- his Heavy Duty, lifted, supercharged diesel Chevy Silverado.

("What does lifted mean?" I asked my younger brother. He was a great help to me during this time. He also explained to me the difference between a diesel and a gas engine.)

He learned that, of all the men I had dated, only one of them had been American, the rest had been Asian. ("Didn't you like no Americans?" he asked me once, shocked. However, he told me later he thought that, if I had the fortitude to make a relationship with a Japanese man work for four years, I would have the strength to make a military relationship work. He was right.)

Immediately after I told him of my relationship history, he went into reception black out for an anticipated three days. I worried that I had overwhelmed him and I would never hear from him again. He called roughly forty eight hours later and when I told him what I had worried about, he laughed.

I began to talk like Keith; I told a coworker once that "I didn't do nuthin' like that," without blinking an eye. Receiving a call from Keith was cause for celebration and I would come out of my office, flushed and happy to announce, "Keith called!"

As the time grew closer, we began to make plans to meet in person. He was delighted to realize that I had done my research on his Abrams tank and offered, when he got back, to show me his tank. This statement became a joke of some proportion among my intimate friends. "Tell him you're not the kind of girl that looks at a tank on the first date," said one. "You should have said, "You can show me your tank only if it's straight shooting, clean and well maintained," another friend suggested, to peals of laughter. And on and on...

Finally, it came close enough so we were talking about what restaurant to meet at, but by the time, his departure date kept being pushed back, and when we finally knew what day he would arrive, the time of arrival changed. He would arrive back around seven in the evening and would still need to unload equipment, which would put our date very late in the evening.

"I don't care," I said simply. "I don't care what we do or where we go, I just want to see you in person. I mean, it's been three weeks of calls! I just want to see you, you know what I mean?" I asked, suddenly anxious.

"I know," he said, his voice resonating with things unsaid. "I know what you mean."

So, it happened that, at about seven thirty on a lovely, clear May evening, I drove down to meet him in person. He lived about an hour away from the city. We decided that we would meet at his house and go out to eat somewhere nearby.

As I drove down, I couldn't help but think that this was one story I would never, ever tell my mother or my future daughter. How could I possibly be stupid enough to drive down to what amounted to a complete stranger's house, late in the evening, alone? There was no good answer to this question.

The first hour or so in his presence I was unable to register much, though he showed me his garage, the HD, the house he had put so much work into. His physical presence was shooting off such a shower of pheromones in me that I was fairly well shell shocked. It wasn't until he had settled me on a stool in his study and was showing me pictures from his first tour of Iraq that my brain started to function again.

I kept stealing glances at him. He was so incredibly large! His face was heavy and scarred, though his eyes were a clear, light blue and shy when they met mine. His hands were heavy and roughened by work, he carried his highball everywhere with him in a large, pink cup.

Our first date lasted about seventy two hours. During that time, his friends and family kept calling him to ask him how the date had went. "She's still here," he would say, with satisfaction. 'Yup, I haven't scared her away yet."

My father called to check in and noting the brevity of my answers, asked, "Are you with him?" "Um...yes, actually," I said, grinning.

We had stayed up til past one o'clock in the morning, on that first evening. Keith was straight and direct with me. He explained that the Army was his life, it was what he did, that it wouldn't change, and that, because of this, he would often be deployed and when he was home, he wouldn't ever be able to say when he would get home. He told me that I needed to come to terms with this; I couldn't, say, six months into it, suddenly change my mind and start asking him to change.

I found his straightforward directness attractive, even if a little intimidating, but I wasn't afraid of difficulty in relationships; I was a big girl and knew my own strengths and weaknesses well enough to look at a thing clearly.

That night we hashed out our expectations for having children, extended family, financial expectations and religion, the use of alcohol and health conditions. It was, to say the least, an intense evening.

I sat on the recliner, he sat on the couch, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. He wore a blue striped, button down shirt over a white tee shirt. The shirt cuffs were undone, framing his heavy wrists, his jeans that kept falling down because he had lost so much weight during NTC and hadn't bothered with a belt. They fell down around the heels of his battered, eight year old, steel toed boots.

At one point, as he was trying simultaneously to get his DVD player to work (by pounding on it while swearing) and holding up his jeans with the other hand, he turned to me, his face open and vulnerable.

"I always make a terrible first impression," he said earnestly. "But if you stick around for a second date, you'll start to see how I really am."

This confession only made me love him more. The day I drove the hour long commute to spend the night with him, and found him fast asleep with his head on my pillow and his phone beside him, in case I called, I knew I couldn't continue as I had been.

Roughly a week later I gave up my job as Department head and my newly leased apartment, and moved in with him at the dusty Outpost town, taking a job as a Care Manager so my hours would be flexible enough that I could be with him as much as possible before his deployment, which I knew by then would happen sometime in August or September.

One month later, I went with him to meet his family during block leave. A month later we were married and a month after that, almost to the day, he deployed for his second tour in Iraq.

I remember vividly one day in early June; it was a hot day and I wore still my work outfit of white, tailored skirt and cap sleeved blouse and heels. I hadn't had time to change after getting back from work; we had gone straight to his friend's house to grill out. He wore as usual an untucked, button down shirt and jeans; he wore, as always, his black cap.

The little neighborhood was full of sounds of family and summer, engines revving, children shouting, radios playing somewhere. The smoke of the grilling meat drifted with the slight breeze. Keith stood as he usually did, feet apart, one hand holding his highball, the other hooked into his belt loop; he reached out to me with that hand and pulled me close to him, his blue eyes warm with feeling.

"Have you ever known a man like me?" he asked with a grin, looking down at my face, so close to his.

I stood on tiptoe in my heels to wrap my arms around his neck. "Not even close," I replied with an answering grin and he kissed me, he kissed me until I felt it was indecent, to be revealing, so blatantly, our complete intoxication with one another to the innocent and unsuspecting public.

Later, his friend's wife asked me when I planned to take my dog Lynn back up to my apartment in the city.

"What's that?" Keith asked, one foot up on the fence railing, turning away from the grill. I told him her question.

"No need," he said simply; he took his cap off and settled it, affectionately, on my head.

3 comments:

T said...

UUUHHH!!! I love this story!

You've got me bawling over here. I can so totally relate to these feelings! Wow, girl.

Crazy Shenanigans said...

I came across your page randomly and decided to read this story. I absolutely LOVE it! It's so great! My boyfriend is in the army and is currently deployed as well. It's hard. I hope you're doing well! Such a great story!!

Brandi said...

Beautiful.