Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign: Loving You, Whoever You Are

Dear Colin,

All my life, words have come as easily to me as the tide coming to the shore. To find myself speechless, or my pen a closed channel, is so rare as to be akin to having two blue moons in one month. I've struggled with this letter for months now, finding dozens of excuses. It has taken me until now to confess to myself that the true reason I've put this off is fear, fear that if I pin down how I feel for you, you will change again, and I will be left loving a ghost, as I have before.

I loved the man I met before you deployed. I loved his acceptance of me, his belief that I could pick up the pieces of a life shattered by another man's fear, mistrust and anger, and build something stronger on my own. The man you were never tried to change my cynicism, and respected my adamant assertion that I would never again"belong" to anyone. He respected my desire for independence, and determination to prove that I was the failure that my previous relationship had taught me to believe. He loved me, even as I held him at arm's length, and he waited, patient, for me to stop letting fear own me far more than any man ever had.

I loved the man who was deployed, who traded favors for an extra phone call, just so he could say "I Love You" one more time. I loved the man who came home on leave just in time to see me fall apart, who held me as I cried and accepted defeat, and then helped me stand up and walk again. I loved the man who, no questions asked, bankrolled my exodus from the town I had lived in all my life to start over again in a new town, a new state. I loved the man who stood so tall in the airport, preparing to leave me as I started on my new venture alone, and asked me to walk away because he just couldn't do it. You left that day to return to the bloodiest months of fighting you would ever know, and you showed no fear, no regret other than leaving me behind. You sent emails and IMs every day, even if all you could say was,"I Love You. I'm okay". We started every phone call by saying"I love you" never knowing if a mortar would come in and cut the call short, if I would be left hanging on to a dead receiver, terrified, waiting for you to call back and tell me that you and your men came through okay. I'll never forget coming home to my parents' house and seeing your bass in the driveway, next to boxes filled with your personal belongings, all proof that it was almost over. And, oh, I will never forget how I loved you when I saw you coming toward me in the airport, finally home, finally home.

It didn't take long to realize that you weren't really back with me, and, though it must have killed you, you let me have the space I needed to mourn the future we would never have, and you were waiting for me when I finally turned back to our new post-combat life. Neither of us wanted to accept that PTSD had come to live with us, and we tried to go on as if it wasn't a big deal. Our son was born, and I loved you as you held my hand through the nineteen bloody hours it took me to bring him into this world. The nurse tried to hand him to you first, and you said,"No. She carried him. Until she gives him to me, this is really her son." I held him to you and said,"Look what we did", and you wept with joy, not only that your child was here, but that it was a child wanted, planned for during all those months you were gone. He is the dream that we shared across oceans, and he will never understand just how the thought of him truly kept us strong and alive.

So much sorrow came to us after that, first when we lost your grandfather, the only person who ever made you feel loved and accepted while you were growing up. My heart broke for you as you placed into his casket the flag that had flown in his name over your FOB in Afghanistan, and then slowly saluted the man who inspired you to enlist. Within a few weeks, we lost my brother, and I heard the pain in your voice as we talked over the phone and you knew that you couldn't be with me, that your military duties had to come first. Not even a year passed before we lost your grandmother when she left this world to be with the only man she ever loved. Through it all, we stood side-by-side, determined that neither of us would hurt or grieve alone and, through the pain, I loved you.

Our wedding was such a mess. I hated every second of planning, but it was all worth it to hear you say to me, in the words of Ruth to her mother-in-law, that you would go where I go, that you would take on my family as your own. I loved your idea that we do a skit at our reception, writing Dr. Seuss-style vows with a military theme. I don't think more than ten people even knew what we were talking about, but you loved being in the spotlight, and I was happy to play a bit part in your moment, as always. I loved the mornings of our honeymoon, sitting on the balcony, drinking coffee, listening to you tell me stories about Germany and Qatar. I loved you for braving the close, cobble-stoned streets of St. Augustine, which I know now brought back horrible memories for you, but you kept at it for five days before admitting that you couldn't take it anymore. Unnecessary bravery, but bravery nonetheless. And I loved you.

Since then, so much has changed. August came and I found you half-dead on our living room floor, only to spend two days waiting for you to be coherent enough to understand what I knew I had to say: We couldn't pretend anymore. Your war was not over, it had come home and spilled throughout our house, and we had to stem the tide NOW, before you became a casualty of a conflict that was years in the past. We had been thinking that because you didn't get violent or loud, everything must be okay, but the numbness and emptiness was just as bad, maybe worse in some ways. As I took you to treatment and left you to battle your demons alone, I was in misery. I had spent the year of your deployment having to sit on the sidelines while you fought, but at least then you had your fellow Guardsmen with you. This time, you had to fight alone, and I felt like a traitor, even though I knew I was doing the right thing. While you were gone, I faced my own war, and began the process of fighting to get you every appointment, every treatment, every medicine, and every dollar you deserved. In the end, we came together again, stronger, and ready to fight as a team. As I write this, your second child is kicking me in the ribs, as if to remind me of this tiny symbol of our renewed commitment to one another. We are forever joined, you and I, though the lives of our children and scars of our war.

During these months, I have found something I never thought to find: I find that the ghosts were no more than my fears, for the man I loved before, and the man I love now, are actually one and the same. The man you were before deployment, the man you were in Afghanistan, is not gone. You are still here, believing in me, accepting me for everything I am, appreciating me for everything I do, holding me when I cry and helping me to my feet when I fall. You are still everything I ever dreamed of, and everything I wish I could be, and I am so very, very sorry for not seeing it before. My fears were unfounded; The reasons that I love you are inviolate, and not even death and war can take them away because, in the end, it all boils down to this: I love you because God made us for one another. When one of us changes something about ourselves, the other adapts to better support the changes in our dynamic. Through it all, we accept, we forgive, we stand together, always believing that!
  the other is as close to perfection as possible. We see one another clearly, that we are both vain, selfish, willful, and jaded. We get the joke, see the humor in hell. We are on this Purple Heart Highway together, for always, and as long as we stand together, there is nothing in the world we cannot accomplish. PTSD, bipolar disorder, physical injuries... There is nothing stronger than us.

I'm so glad I was wrong, and gladder still that I know it. I'm glad you came home, however you came home, and blessed to have you with me every day of this world. I will love you all the days of my life, and I am grateful to live that life with your love as mine.

You are now, and always will be, my Clyde.
Submitted By: Danielle

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit

1 comment:

  1. This was so beautiful. I love a veteran and can relate to every word. It made me weep to see someone else had gone through the same heartaches as I did. Finding the same heart in the man so changed from war. And loving him the same no matter how he was broken.