воскресенье, 3 марта 2013 г.

Long Distance Love

By Beth Cato

In true love the smallest distance is too great, and the greatest distance can be bridged.
~Hans Nouwens

"So how did you and your fiancé meet?" My college classmate sat down beside me in the cafeteria, leaning close to look at my emerald engagement ring.

It was a common question when people found out I was just nineteen and engaged, but I always had to fight the urge to wince. I knew that no matter how delicately I tried to answer, they would be wagering on our relationship's demise.

"We knew of each other online...."

"Oh, so this was one of those new Internet relationships?" she asked. This was 1999, and most any news about the Internet boasted that it was great for finding a date and/or a sexual predator.

"No. We knew of each other online, but not well. I was in California, he was in Ohio. We were on the same e-mail list for video game fans, and we knew that we both liked the group Journey. Well, Jason was going on a road trip to meet people from the e-mail list, and it so happened that Journey was appearing on tour not far from me at the same time. I asked if he wanted to go, and when we met, we just clicked."

"And he was in the Navy then?"

I shook my head. "No. He enlisted about six months later. We were engaged right before he went to boot camp."

When she walked away, her face was composed but I could see she was tabulating the facts in her head: two very young people in a relationship based on the Internet and video games and music; he joined the Navy; they reside on opposite coasts. It sounded like a divorce waiting to happen, if we even made it as far as the altar.

At the same time, I knew how bad it all sounded. So did Jason. He endured the same skeptical reaction from acquaintances and family. There was no way we could defend ourselves and our love with words without sounding silly and immature.

"No," Jason said. "We'll have to show them by making it."

Fairy tales and popular culture make a big deal out of love-at-first-sight, as though the heavens open in celestial chorus. The reality is much more subtle. We met in person, and we were instant friends. This was someone I could trust, someone thoughtful and respectable. To make things even more astounding, Jason made the same impression on my overly-cautious parents. I wasn't allowed to make the ten-minute bicycle ride to my grandma's house unless I called home to let my parents know that I arrived safely, yet this stoic young man instantly earned their trust and respect.

Since we lived thousands of miles apart, most of our initial courtship was done by phone and Internet. Our infrequent reunions were a delightful blur of board games and slow strolls around the local mall while walking hand-in-hand. When Jason came out to visit one final time before joining the Navy, he sold his battered car to buy my engagement ring. There was no formal wedding proposal; we were simply in consensus that we would be married, and the ring made that public. While he was in boot camp, I did the math: we had only been in each other's physical presence for a rough total of three weeks spread over a six-month span. Our engagement probably seemed hasty and foolhardy — and looking at those numbers, I could see why — but I still believed in us. Jason felt the same way, clinging to whatever correspondence I sent his way even as his fellow sailor-recruits received more and more "Dear John" letters as the weeks went by.

Our reunion took place exactly six months after he left for the Navy. It was Christmas, and having Jason in my arms again was the best gift of all. We had both endured other people's doubts about our relationship, but our love was strong. He was still utterly ruthless at Scrabble, too, and as he strategized with his tiles, it gave me ample time to renew my memory of his handsome face. And when it was my turn to play, I would catch him looking at me the same dreamy way.

While we were out shopping for Christmas presents, Jason accidentally knocked a pillow off a high shelf and onto my head.

"Spousal abuse!" cried a fellow shopper on our aisle, a teasing grin on his face. "I was a witness!"

Jason looked at me, beaming. "Spouse!" he said. "He thinks you're my wife."

"I will be," I said, squeezing his hand.

After that visit, it was almost another six months until we were together again. This time, it was for our wedding. I walked down the aisle to an orchestral version of the theme from the Final Fantasy video game series, and Jason was waiting for me, attired in Navy dinner dress whites. The next day, we packed up a Penske truck with all of my worldly belongings and made the long drive from California to my new home in South Carolina.

I didn't expect things to be easy, which was good — they weren't. I hadn't been away from my parents for longer than a week, and quite abruptly, I was 3,000 miles away and living in near-poverty. But I had Jason, and he had me, and Top Ramen noodles are mighty tasty when you're in love. Not only did we stay together, but we were content. Years passed, and we moved from South Carolina to Washington. He began preparations for deployment, and that's when I discovered I was pregnant.

Those six-month droughts without Jason back in our courting days proved to be good practice for deployment. Those same skills — constant letter and e-mail writing, care packages laden with sweets, sleeping with the phone beside my bed just in case — kept us strong while we were apart. Under the turbulent influence of hormones and loneliness, I would cry on cue when certain songs came on the radio, especially our song — Journey's "Faithfully." Jason returned home in time for the birth of our son, Nicholas, and less than a year later he was deployed again. A year after that, Jason left the Navy, and we again hauled ourselves across the country to a new home.

Next year is our ten-year anniversary. We've endured multiple deployments, zigzagged the country in hectic moves, and yet we somehow still like each other. I still get tingles in my belly when Jason comes in the door after a long day at work, and we engage in vicious Scrabble matches on our designated weekly game night. We've worked together to cope with Nicholas's autism diagnosis and special needs. We're still together, against all odds, and still love Journey, video games, and each other. True love doesn't mean that things are easy — it just means the struggle is worthwhile.

And after all this time, I'm no longer afraid of people asking how we met.

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