December 29, 2001, it was one of the very best days of my life. Our wedding theme was Cinderella and our phrase was “Today our dream becomes a reality”. After a couple of failed relationships I had finally been given a chance at real love. This was a love that I had always imagined and dreamed about and now it was becoming a reality. Yes, that day was such a wonderful day, the day I married my prince charming, my Boaz, my soldier, the man of my dreams.
When my K.J. and I met he was very open about his love for the military. Our relationship blossomed rather fast and although I had always been against becoming a military spouse I found myself becoming more and more in love with the idea. K.J. was so sweet, gentle, affectionate and patient I could not resist but to renege on some things I had promised myself I would not do. There I was accepting this man and his career while making the conscious decision to dismiss some things of mine own. At that moment I had no idea the things that I was truly agreeing to give up for a true chance at love.
Our first duty station was Fort Hood, TX. I will never forget the day I left Georgia to begin my new life as a newlywed military spouse. K.J. and I drove two separate cars and I remember listening to Donnie McClurkin’s, “I trust you Lord”, over half of the trip. At that moment I was listening to the song with tears streaming down my face because I was leaving my love ones behind. I had no idea how much I would truly have to learn to trust God in the midst of every situation and every aspect of this military life.
March 2003 was a turning point for the United States as a whole, however, for those of us who were affiliated with the military at that time the turn was a bit sharper and unsuspected. Operation Iraqi Freedom was the war that the United States was fighting; and for the cause our soldiers proudly left behind their loved ones to go into an unknown place to fight this war in an effort to pursue justice for our citizens. When K.J. received his orders to go he was so excited. He loved being a soldier and he was sure that he would be back in 4 months and return to me just as he left. My husband was a proud and confident American soldier and I was the proud wife.
The day he left was a hard day for me. I recall waking up that morning and preparing to take him to his company to leave out that evening. We went to eat pizza for lunch and I remember the laughter all mixed with tears because we both knew that we would miss each other like never before. My husband and I had only been married for a little over a year and we were being separated for a cause that seemed greater than either of us could comprehend. I recall giving my husband that dreadful last kiss and that last hug as I was preparing to leave him. My heart was breaking like it never had before. There was an indescribable pain and in the midst of it all I had no idea that goodbye would be my last goodbye to my K.J. I had no idea that the husband that always made me laugh, that smiled whenever I entered the room, that was unable to sit in the same room with me without kissing and/or hugging me would not return to me. I had no idea that the day we said goodbye would truly be the day we would say goodbye.
Twelve months seemed like a life time being away from my husband. When he first returned home I noticed some subtle changes, however, I attributed most of them to him being tired or just having to adjust to being back. It was very strange to me that in the beginning he seemed very reluctant to be in a crowd of people especially since we would go out all of the time before he left. The sound of a balloon popping would cause a reaction that seemed to set off a fear I had never witnessed in my husband before. As time went on I began to notice that certain events would trigger an agitation and irritability in my husband that was nothing like the K.J. that had left me a year earlier. Although we would still laugh and play it became more and more apparent over time that something had changed in my husband and he was no longer the same man who I married.
In 2005 K.J. was sent to Louisiana to help support the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He was then sent to Korea in August 2006 for a year tour immediately after the arrival of our oldest son. My husband returned in August 2007 only to be sent off again in 2008 to Iraq for another twelve month tour. Each time he would return my K.J. seemed to disappear more and more. The man I said goodbye to in the gym, at the airport or at his company was never the man I greeted upon his return. With each deployment or separation he was changing. The laughter became less and less, the smiles began to disappear, the long talks we had in the past became very scarce and the hugs and kisses throughout the day almost became nonexistent. My K.J. was no longer cheerful; he became very withdrawn, angry, irritable, impatient and lost. I had no idea what was truly going on I just knew that I desired my husband back. The man that I said goodbye to that April day in 2003, that is who I yearned for, my first husband, yes, my husband of only a year.
Thanks to my mom I grew up with a great faith in God. Yes, I was at a lost as to what was going on with my husband but I knew that I needed to pray and pray is what I did. I do not mean just a prayer I mean I prayed consistently for years to come. As a matter of fact I still do. As the years went on I became knowledgeable on some things and I realized that although he was never officially diagnosed with anything my husband was dealing with results of some traumatic events he had seen and encountered. I began to educate myself on things both spiritually and naturally. I had a very small support group because at the time most people thought that we were doing great. I chose not to make what was going on inside our home public knowledge at the time because our family was so vulnerable.
In the beginning my husband was very defensive about his changes. He could not see himself as I saw him or as how our son saw him. His vision was limited to what was really happening I believe partially because he was afraid to realize that he had changed. However, as things begin to progress K.J.began to accept that things had changed in him and things had started to change in me as well. I too became a different person. Due to the changes within my home I often cried more than laughed. I began to question the decisions I made in 2001 when I decided to give up some of my hopes and dreams for my chance at love. I often wondered if I were responsible for those drastic changes in any way and if I failed as a wife by not preventing them. There were times I even questioned if I were the right fit for my husband because surely if I were then he would have been happy. It was a hard struggle, a very hard struggle. One filled with tears, pain, regrets and apologies. However, it has also been a struggle filled with love, fighting for something and someone you hold dear, forgiveness and a greater level of faith.
I am so thankful to God for keeping my husband’s physical body during every separation. I do realize that there were many who paid the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives for the protection of our right to freedom. I would not dare try to take away from the honor that is due to them and their families. I do however desire to show that even some that returned home with every limb in some way suffered a loss as well. In our case my husband seemed to lose his joy and his peace while I lost my husband of only 1 year.
I often think about my first husband of only 1 year and I miss his boyish smile, his silly antics and his numerous soft kisses. But then I look at my husband now and when I do, I see someone very different. I see a man, yes a mature man who has gone through some trials and come out a conqueror. A man who loves God more than he could ever express because he understands who has truly been his keeper. I see a man who has denied himself for the sake of his family. A man who decided that whatever the cost he would fight to keep his wife and children because his family is worth the fight! I see a man who has suffered but has still prevailed. Yes, I see a man! I see a man who has been and still is being shaped and molded into a stronger, wiser , more compassionate and more loving man and although it seems unbelievable this man was born the day we said goodbye!