As soon as we returned home, we immediately started with wedding plans. We called the church, looked for reception sites, and set a date. We made our appointment with the priest at the church that I grew up in. I always dreamed of a great big wedding in my church, and walking down the long isle with my dress flowing behind me. We met with my priest and immediately started our pre-marriage counseling. We also took our compatibility test. The priest said that he had never seen a couple so compatible! Everything was moving right along. Then, one day during his leave we got a phone call that the priest just had “a feeling” and couldn’t marry us. I was devastated. There was no way I was going to not marry my Marine. If it meant leaving the church, getting married at the courthouse, or calling the Pope… I was getting married! Well, we didn’t go as far as calling the Pope, but the Bishop’s office was called and a meeting with the Pastor was also called. After a fight, we were given permission to get married in July in my church. The wedding planning continued the rest of his leave. The leave went so fast, and I couldn’t imagine saying good bye once again. But, the day had come and I remember walking him to the airplane gate. (Yes, before 9/11 you could walk your Marine to the gate.) I remember holding him so tight and not wanting to let him go, but I knew that I had to continue to work on school and get our July wedding plans finalized.
I poured myself into every little detail. Everything was falling into place. We had deposits down, invitations picked out, my dress had been ordered, the bridesmaids dresses were picked out, we were moving right along. AJ was moving right along in his Marine Corps career. He finished his training at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendelton, CA. A week before graduation, we got some good and bad news. AJ was getting stationed with Alpha ¼ at Camp Horno Camp Pendelton. I was moving to California in July! The bad news was he was going to an infantry unit that was on an 18 month deployment cycle. Six months were spent on a deployment, Six months at home, and Six months training for the next deployment. Well, the six months of training, which often meant time at sea or the field, was in July. I was crushed. I was marrying my Marine in July and we were going to live happily ever after in California. He was now not able to be home for our wedding, and he was leaving me in California for 6 months after I got there. As part of getting married in the Catholic church, you have to attend premarital classes. My mom had attended Catholic Sexuality with me, but AJ was flying home to attend the Marriage Encounter day with me the first week of April. We had already bought his ticket to fly the red eye on Friday night and spend two weekends at home. So, my first lesson in being semper gumby (always flexible) began. We attended marriage counseling the first weekend, and pleaded with our priest to squeeze us in the weekend after. That is exactly what we did. The phone calls began. Some things couldn’t just be moved up. We had to pick a new reception hall, picked up bridesmaid dresses off the rack at JcPenny’s, and have everyone RSVP via phone. It was amazing that the plans went so much smoother in those two weeks that we had to move everything up, then it did the 6 months we had spent planning.
We had a beautiful 70 degree weekend when AJ arrived. Our wedding was going to be on a sunny, beautiful, warm day. When you live in Illinois, you can experience all four seasons in one day. Well, that is just what happened. Suddenly the sunny 70 degrees in April, turned to cool rain, and the biggest snow storm Central Illinois had ever seen in April. The wildlife park we had planned to have our reception in closed down. Roads were closed and covered with snow drifts. The airport was shut down and flights were not coming in or going out. Panic set in. Once again we were faced with having to be “semper gumby”. I was getting really good at being “flexible”. If we had to ride in on snow mobiles, we were going to get married and the reception hall was going to be decorated! Luckily with all the weather craziness, no guests were stranded and all worked out. We were married on a rainy cool day, April 12, 1997.
The day was absolutely perfect. My handsome Marine was waiting for me in his dress blues. My Dad walked me down the aisle, as I sobbed all the way down. All the emotions from the past year had come to the surface, and I was finally marrying the man I loved with all my heart. I honestly felt like there was no one else there in those moments then us and God. It was everything I ever dreamed of. We partied the night away, as the animals at the wildlife park watched us through the window. We opened all of our wedding fits at the ceremony, because AJ was leaving the next day to head back to his unit. We spent the night together in a honeymoon sweet, and then it was off the airport in the early morning. I was married, but I still wasn’t with my Marine. AJ headed back to California, and I headed back to school. We had to spend another 5 weeks apart until we could finally be together as husband and wife.
I was beyond nervous about AJ finding us an apartment. The base housing waiting list was miles long, and AJ wanted to live off of base so that he could get away from the Marine Corps when he was off work. He convinced me he had found us a great apartment, that was close to shopping, had a walk-in closet, and a pool. How could it not be perfect? On May 20, 1997,a few days after the semester ended, my Dad and I packed up all the wedding gifts, the couch I bought off a show room floor, the table I got from Sam’s Club, and my car and we were off to California. I couldn’t wait but, didn’t realize how hard it would be to leave my best friends, my Mom, and my younger sisters. The good byes were still happening, just in a different way.