It was the day of my 20th birthday. It was a little chilly outside, but nothing unusual for February in Colorado. There was no fresh snow, and the roads weren't icy at all. Thank God, because I cannot drive well on icy roads.
I woke up that morning feeling every single version of nervous that ever existed. I was excited, scared, nauseous, and a million other things I couldn't put my finger on.
Today was the day that I was finally going to meet him. I'd talked to him for almost a year online. We never committed to being in a relationship though, because that would have been crazy; we'd never even met. Don't get me wrong, I wanted him, but I wouldn't be one of those girls who started "dating" someone online. So, to get away from that idea, I very deliberately dated other people. I dated a lot of other people, all for the purpose of distancing myself from him.
A short while before he got home, I'd met a friend of his, Lindy. Lindy was married to Matt, and Matt was his best friend. So, awkward as it was, I met Lindy. She and I became friends and hung out before they came home. Aside from emails from him, Lindy was my only connection to their world. She knew their schedule, when they'd be home, what to expect, etc... She and her husband had been through this before. it was old hat for her family. I didn't realize of the time that she was reporting back to him. I guess I passed though, because he still wanted to meet me.
It was surreal. Here I was, friends with this woman, who just a few weeks ago was a perfect stranger. She and I were at such different points in our lives. She was married with a child, waiting on her husband who'd been in Iraq for a year. I was just a girl, totally not committed, but still waiting to meet this guy to see what might happen. We were so very different, yet we bonded nonetheless. I could feel her joy for every day that passed, that she was closer to seeing her love, and I could feel her heartbreak every time they got the "wrong date" and she realized it would be later than she thought. It was a roller-coaster of emotion for her that I, for better or for worse, was there to witness, and in my own very small way, feel as well. Fortunately for everyone, we didn't get too much misinformation.
Soon, but never soon enough, we learned that the guys would be coming home on February 21st, my birthday. Not only that, but they'd be coming home at a reasonable time on February 21st. Little did I know at the time, they could literally get home at any time: 3AM? No problem.
By this time, I was hanging out with Lindy and her family a lot, and her excitement was contagious. I did a little bit of reflecting and decided that though I had purposefully dated other people while he was gone, I wanted to purposefully be completely single when he got home. I wanted to give us a fair shot at dating, if that's what we decided to do.
So, I moved on. I terminated any dating relationships, and I focused on work and school and just keeping my feet on the ground until he got home.
Time moved more quickly than I thought it would. Before I knew it the day had arrived. I woke up that morning, and thankfully the weather was good. I, on the other hand, was a wreck. I had a pimple, probably from the stress of meeting him, my hair was a mess, and I didn't know what to wear. Now, let me just say that I'm not one of those girls who wears cute clothes. I mean, I usually match, but not a lot of serious thought goes into my clothing. I'm mostly a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl. But of course, that morning was different. I was meeting him. I had to look nice. Indecisively, I threw on a pair of jeans and one of my better tops: a sheer white long sleeve shirt, with a purple tank top underneath. Just in case though, I packed two other tops to show Lindy. I needed another opinion. I put on a little make-up, sprayed my very most favorite smelling body spray, and rushed out the door.
I was early, but I felt like I was hours behind. I didn't actually know where the building was, I just knew I had to be at Lindy's before she left. I got to her house, showed her my clothes, and she said what I was wearing was fine. I barely heard her. My thoughts were so...loud.
We left her house and drove on to the base. We found the building alright. There was fast food across the street, so we went there to eat something, to settle our nerves. I couldn't eat. She couldn't eat. So, we went back to find our seats.
At first it was just a thought, somewhere mostly unnoticed in the back of my head. Just this little pulsing idea, "You don't belong here. You don't fit in." I decided that the excitement of all these wives waiting for their husbands was just too much for this single girl to handle. You could feel the emotions and expectancy just hanging in the air. The whole room was fireworks about to explode. So I took a breather. I stepped outside into the cool Colorado air. Lindy, for completely other reasons, came with me. When I stepped out of the room, and into clarity, that small thought from before buried me in the enormity of it's truth. I didn't belong here! I was a disgrace to all the families who did deserve to be here. I needed to get out now. Oh crap, I'd left my purse by the bleachers! I went back inside to grab it and make a shamefully cowardly exit. I'd hoped I could go unnoticed. I was thinking of ways to ditch Lindy. I could go to the bathroom. Or in a more me-fashion, I could just freak out, get all awkward, and literally run away. Yes, that was probably at the top of my list.
In that moment though, I looked at Lindy and her young son, and all the other families there, and thought, "Ok, you can leave. You can absolutely walk out that door, hop in your car and drive away as fast as you can. But that wouldn't be right. These families have been waiting to see their loved ones for goodness knows how long, and you owe it to everyone here, family and military members alike, to stay. If for nothing else, than at least out of respect for what they've gone through."
With new resolve I stayed, and I waited. And then it happened.
It was a chaotic mess of loudspeaker voices and videos. All I could decipher was that they were here. They were about to walk in the door. Every single person in that room (except me) had had the same dream for a year, and that dream was about to come true.
I don't remember what they said, I don't remember what was on the video. But I will never forget the image of so many soldiers marching into this family filled building. In unison, they marched in and stopped. There was a speech. Again, I can't remember who spoke or what they said. I do remember that during the speech, though the soldiers remained still, and families stayed near, if not in, their seats everyone was scanning faces. Each person was searching for one face in a sea of many. And every single person in the room, including me, was waiting for the moment when who ever was talking would stop talking, and the men would be released to find their families.
Finally, it happened.
It was a mad house for 2 minutes, while soldiers and families alike scurried to reconnect. Before they'd even gotten to the states, they knew where to look for their loved ones, but it was still more like a real life version of "Where's Waldo?" for a few minutes.
I knew who I was looking for. I knew who Lindy was looking for. It was no surprise that Matt and Lindy found each other before he found me. I'm glad they did, because I got to see them together. She rushed into his arms, and he kissed her, even though she said they probably wouldn't kiss there, because they don't like PDA. It was the very sweetest kiss I've ever seen. Things all around the room went from "Where's Waldo?" to a real-life, better version of "The Notebook". For just a moment, I was lost in this feeling, their feeling. It was so genuine and sweet, it was impossible to resist.
Then I remembered why I was there. I was there because he was there. I had a picture, just a picture, of what to look for. He was tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and he was handsome.
I looked up, and there he was. "Happy Birthday to me," I thought.