Our Love Song
Our Love Song started on December 22, 1994. I was just a junior in high school, and my Marine, AJ, was just a senior in high school. We had met several months prior, but I wanted nothing to do with his cocky ways. I hadn’t done much dating prior to our relationship, but always had the idea of being with someone who was very career and goal oriented. AJ at the time seem to have none of that. He had come from a single parent home and had lost his dad at the age of just 14. He seemed to just be loving life, and was interested in spending the money he got from his Dad’s untimely death, and wasn’t really thinking about what he wanted to do with his life. I had goals. I wanted to finish high school, go to college, and then after having an established career I wanted a husband and children.
In our first month of dating, AJ would tell people that I was the girl that he was going to marry someday. I would roll my eyes, because I had just met him. I couldn’t understand how he knew that already. That was so far down the road for me. After we started dating, I quickly found myself totally consumed by him. I didn’t want to spend a moment away from him. I would go to school and work, but then wanted to be with him in any spare moment I had.
It was just three short months that he gave me a promise ring. He had picked me up from work at the local mall. He had given me a jewelry box and told me to open it as he drove. I remember the exact intersection we were at in our hometown. I opened the box and dropped it. I couldn’t believe that I was 16 years old, and that he was giving me a promise ring. I didn’t even know what a promise ring was. When he gave it to me, he said that he knew that I was the one that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He wasn’t ready to get engaged, because we were much too young, but knew that at some point he would want to move to that next step.
AJ was approaching the end of his senior year. His Mom had to force him to go to school, and he was just getting by. He had been seen by a few college scouts, and had been asked to go to a local junior college to play football. But, the college life was so out of reach for him. He wasn’t disciplined enough to go that route. His older brother, Bob had gone into the Marine Corps a year prior, and he was starting to think that was the route he too wanted to take. AJ came from a line of Marines. His Grandfather, whom he adores, was a Marine for four years then made a career in the Navy. His father, also spent time as a Marine, and fought in Vietnam. He said that his Dad never talked much about his experience, but thought that it would also be a good fit for him. I didn’t know much about the Marine Corps. The only experience I had with the military was through my cousin Steve , who served in Operation Desert Storm when I was in seven grade. He became my pen pal. I remember feeling so sad that his kids couldn’t be with him at Christmas and couldn’t see how his wife could life with knowing he was in harms way.
AJ had been in and out of the recruiter’s office. He knew that he wanted me to be a part of his life, and decided that he needed to take me into the office so I could hear of the high life the recruiters were telling him the Marine Corps was. At that point in our relationship, I didn’t want to think of spending one day without him, I could understand how we would survive being away during boot camp.
After long talks, we decided that maybe he should just try something else after school got done. He got a full time job at a local hardware store. After doing that for a year, I knew that was not the life for him. He needed something more. It was during the end of my senior year in high school, that the talks turned back to the Marine Corps. We were much more serious, and he knew he had to do something to become more disciplined and to work towards a future together. Again, he took me back into the recruiting station. We decided that we needed to sell my parents on the idea. So, we asked the recruiter to come to dinner so that we could ask all the questions that we wanted. I remember it like it was yesterday. My mom made AJ’s favorite meal of chicken parmesan. My two very young sisters were at the table along with my parents. With my parent’s blessings, AJ decided to enlist.
We had decided that I needed to graduate from high school, and then go ahead with my goals of starting college. I did just that. I graduated and then immediately started college. We spent the summer together, and just fell more and more in love. I remember crying each time we were together, because I couldn’t imagine being so far away from him. I had always lived in our little Central Illinois town, California seemed a world away.
The summer turned into Fall. It was time to say good-bye. I remember having all of our friends out at his Mom’s house for a good-bye party. The same party we had a year prior for his other older brother, Bill. Both of his brothers were now in the Marine Corps, and AJ knew that is what he too needed to do. I remember the car ride to the recruiting station, and not wanting to let go. I couldn’t imagine not being able to talk to him anytime I needed to. I had no idea how I was going to survive. We had a large crowd of family and friends there to drop him off. I remember him holding me and saying that he needed me by his side. I remember him getting into the white van, and waving good bye as I cried. I had this feeling of loss as he pulled away. I had no idea what to do with myself. We had a lot of mutual friends, so I had them to lean on. But, not many of them understood. They hadn’t been in such a serious relationship, and had no idea what I was going through.
During his boot camp, I wrote him each and every day. I would spray perfume on my letters and send pictures. I know that the drill instructors made him do push ups because he got so much mail. I am sure the perfumed letters, got an even greater response. The three months went pretty fast. I stayed busy with school and work at a local hardware store. AJ wrote when he could, but that was pretty scarce. I got a phone call one evening that was pretty quick. He had snuck a phone call to me while the drill instructors were busy. He could have gotten in so much trouble, but he was missing me terribly. In October of 1996, it was time to start planning our trip to California to see him graduate.
My Mom, his Mom, his sister, and I flew out to see him. We met his cousin, Adam in San Diego, along with his brothers Bill and Bob who were both stationed in California at the time. I was beside myself. I had missed him so much, and couldn’t wait to put my arms around him.
We got to San Diego a few days prior to the graduation. There were several events that led up to the graduation. The first day we went to the Recruit Depot to look around. His Mom had been there, two times prior so she was showing us around. We then took time to sight see downtown San Diego. The next night, we had the DI dinner. This is a time when all of the drill instructors are introduced and talk about what the recruits had been enduring.
We pulled into the parking lot. I was so nervous and excited to see AJ. After the DI dinner, I would see him for the first time in 3 months. As we walked into the theatre
I heard someone yell my name from a corner window. I knew immediately it was him. Again, he put his butt on the line in order for me to know that he saw me. I about died and couldn’t want to put my arms around him.
After listening to the DIs and having dinner, it was now time to see our recruits. I remember it being a chilly November evening. All of the recruits walked in with their platoons. They all looked the same. I thought I would never be able to pick him out of all of the recruits. After watching them all march in cadence with their crisp uniforms, it was now time for the recruits to find their loved ones. AJ found me immediately and grabbed me. After the initial hugs and kisses, he had to refrain from showing affection. I remember him looking so thin and all of a sudden a grown man. Not the young boy I had fallen in love with. I loved what I had seen.
In our letters during boot camp, we had discussed how we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. The separation was killing us. We had talked that if we were able to make it through the separation of boot camp that we wanted to be engaged after. I had looked at rings while at home, and then again at the Marine Corps exchange when we got to the recruit depot. I couldn’t wait to show AJ, when he got to spend some time with us what I had in mind.
The next day of our trip, was the graduation. Marine Corps graduations are held on Fridays. AJ’s was special because it fell on the Marine Corps birthday. At the time, I had no idea of the significance of the Marine Corps birthday and what it meant to a Marine. I remember his mom telling me that there was traditionally a Marine Corps ball. I couldn’t wait to find out more!
AJ had worked so hard in boot camp, and was named his platoon guide. He also had picked up the rank of Private First Class. A huge honor, because man recruits graduate as a Private. He was already starting to shine as a Marine. I could see that this was the life for him. He marched so proud and so stoically. The graduation was a beautiful ceremony. Because, it fell on the Marine Corps Birthday, there was more ceremony involved with this graduation. I remember just wanting it to be over, so that he could get into our car and just spend time with him away from the watchful eye of his drill instructors. After the ceremony, we did just that. We went and had lunch, and then went and looked around the Marine Corps Exchange. I had pointed out to him the rings I had seen the previous day. After looking around, he had me convinced that he wanted to wait to buy a ring until we got home. I a bit disappointed, left it at that. We then went to our hotel where other Marine families were staying. We just laid around and talked and hugged each other. I never wanted to let him go again. We talked a lot about how me being his side had motivated him and helped him get through the long days of boot camp. There came a point when, he told me to stay put and that he would be right back. When he came back, he came back in with his whole family and my Mom. I knew something was up. He asked me to come into the sitting area of our hotel room. He knelt down and opened up another ring box. He told me that he couldn’t live without me and that he needed me to be by his side to continue this journey. I remember being so shocked, because he had me convinced that I was going to need to wait. Little did I know he had purchased my ring and asked my Dad for my hand in marriage. He was just 19, and I was just turning 18 the following week.
I proudly wore his ring, and couldn’t wait to get home to show all of my friends. I now got to plan a wedding and was one step closer to never having to be apart from him. Little did I know or understand that the Marine Corps would be full of separations. But, I was naïve and didn’t have a care in the world, as long as my Marine was by my side.
We flew home just two days later. I went back to school at the local college, and got to share my story with all of my young friends. Everyone was so jealous of my gorgeous ring, and was so happy for us. We immediately started talking about wedding plans. We had set the date to be in July the next year. We made appointments with my local priest and started sketching everything out.
Read chapter 2 here.