|Jake and his unit rescued this puppy in Iraq.|
So, on the one hand, can you blame me? I mean, look at the guy! And he saves puppies! But in all seriousness, since Valentine's Day is just around the corner, I wanted to take a moment and tell the unlikely tale of when a lawyer fell in love with an enlisted guy.
If you can believe it, this one actually does start out "Once upon a time in a far away land..."
I was traveling in the Philippines, working on a case for my longest-running client, the island Province of Marinduque. Yes, a Province in the Philippines is my oldest client. I've been working with the Province for eight years (since I was a baby lawyer!) on a case involving environmental damage done by mining practices on the island.
By 2007, I'd been traveling to the Philippines for a while, and I had built quite a few friendships there. Manila's is a transient culture, like so many international cities are now. New people join your group of friends for the week/month/whatever amount of time they are in country, then part ways, sometimes keeping in touch on Facebook, sometimes not. And that's where the story really starts.
It was a warm spring evening, and I was with four girlfriends having dinner at an outdoor tapas bar. We were in the center of the Greenbelt area of Makati City, which is almost always packed with people, especially in the evenings. Like the rest of Greenbelt, Cafe Havana was also packed. So no one was surprised when two strangers came and sat at our table. They were two guys, just looking for a place to grab dinner, recently in country. They were both nice. They were vague on the details of their work, although I had them pegged for some kind of military. One was a big flirt trying to grab every girl's attention, the other was quieter and content to take in the spectacle.
I didn't really talk to either of them that night. I was happy spending time with friends I didn't see often. But they joined our little group for the week they were in Manila, and a few nights later the quiet guy started talking to me (the other one continued to flirt with everyone, eventually causing all manner of drama in that circle of girlfriends; but that's another story). The quiet guy and I quickly learned that we shared southern roots, Christian faith, similar upbringings, and a love of travel.
|We met in the tropics, so we married in the tropics.|
So a couple of days later when we parted ways, it wasn't goodbye as it usually is with transient friends. It was the beginning of our lives as pen pals, a tradition we keep to this day. We started writing each other right away, and with every passing message we learned we had more and more in common. When I met him I knew he was special, but he won my heart with his words. Not with elegant, well-constructed phrases; Jake will be the first to tell you that writing is not his strong suit. But I could see his spirit on the page--strong but humble, confident and loving, a sense of humor but with a keen sense of the feelings of the people around him.
It wasn't until later that Jake confirmed he was military, and I learned he was enlisted. And Special Forces. I confess, I was only familiar with Green Berets because of the John Wayne movie before I met Jake. And I'd never imagined myself falling for any kind of soldier, let alone a guy who was "boots on the ground," constantly in harm's way! Ironically, Jake often says if he'd known I was a lawyer from the start things might have turned out a lot differently. Guess we both had our notions about who we were/weren't meant for.
In a lot of ways, we couldn't be more opposite: I'm polished and he's rough around the edges (to say the least); he loves to rough it in the great outdoors, and I'd rather be catching the sights in a big city; the idea of a desk job makes him cringe, and I don't mind hours in front of the computer.
|Pre-deployment family photos.|
It's a lot of difference. But it's a lot of surface-level difference. I think the most important thing I learned from falling in love with an enlisted guy is to look past all the "what if," and "that's not really," and "but I had something else in mind" to the essential. At the very center, he is the best person I know. And there's no passing that up; you grab onto it, and you figure out the rest.
The reason is simple: you marry a person; the rest is just details.
Fast-forward seven years and we are happily married with a beautiful three-year-old boy. Jake is now a Warrant Officer, having traded jumping out of helicopters for flying them. Right now, he's flying them in Afghanistan and we are counting the days until he gets home. Although "home" is a relative term for us, being a geobatch family. Maybe I should say instead he will be "safe and able to see us on the weekends." Either way, we can't wait!
Years later Jake and I still write each other letters. Honest-to-goodness, handwritten, add-a-postage-stamp letters. Sometimes when I'm really missing him, I will read back through old letters and smile at where life has taken us.
I can imagine our kids doing the same years from now, and that makes me smile even more. I hope that reading our messages helps them remember when they're looking for their own "someone" to spend their lives with, that the most important thing is to find a heart that matches theirs.