It was a gorgeous Monday morning in Hawaii. The air was cool and crisp. As I walked to school, I noticed everything was so much more vibrant and alive. The grass was covered in dew, and the giant yards along the sidewalk looked as if they were covered in snow. The sky was so blue and sloped all the way down to the ground on all sides. I thought the sky looked as if we all lived in a snow globe and a giant person was looking down on us from above the clouds. I had my brand new platform sneakers on. The cloth on top of them was dark blue and the bottom platform was white with a raised squiggle on the outsides. They were BEAUTIFUL. I just got them for Christmas and I couldn’t wait to wear them after winter break. I broke down and wore them outside ONE time before break ended and got grass stain on them. It took me forever to clean it off with a toothbrush and toothpaste. After that I treated them like fine china until I could give them their big debut at school. I “borrowed” my big sister Jess’ belly shirt. It was also dark blue and showed the tiniest bit of mid-drift. I also “borrowed” some deep red lipstick from my mom’s bathroom (she has Italian olive skin and I couldn’t look more pale Irish). I was OBSESSED with Spice Girls (I mean, what girl wasn’t when they were ten) and I HAD to look the part. I idolized Baby Spice because I am blonde and I loved her soft voice. My bangs were tied up in two tiny pig tails just like she wore. Nothing could dull my mood as I briskly walked and mumbled under my breath… “Stop right now, thank you very much…I need somebody with a hu-man touuuch…”
I walked into my classroom and the “cool” girls stared. Alexis was the leader of the cool girl pack. She was the one who decided if you were in or out. I just knew with my new shoes on, I would get invited to hang out with the cool girls at recess. Before they could say anything, my teacher frantically rushed over to me and loudly lectured on my lipstick. “Malissa. You need to go take that off in the bathroom right now. You look ridiculous. I know your mother didn’t let you out of the house like that.” I was mortified. I had NO clue that I looked that way. 30 seconds ago, I felt like a superstar. The cool girls started to laugh. I am understating it, they HISTARICALLY laughed. For the first time, my face felt as if it were on fire. I was sweating profusely and my heart was pounding out of my chest. One of the boys in my class yelled out “why is your face so red?!!!!” Everyone was staring at me. Before the tears could fall, I quickly turned around and ran to the bathroom. I stood in the mirror and could now see the clown that everyone else saw. I looked…ridiculous. I could never see it before. As I wiped off the lipstick, I felt as if I were wiping my identity away. I would never be the same girl again.
I made my way back into the classroom in hopes that I could somehow redeem myself. After all, I did have some awesome platform shoes on. The cool girls were whispering and looking at them. They started to giggle. I was pretty confused and felt so vulnerable and exposed. I pulled my hair down over the sides of my face, crossed my feet and pretended not to see or hear them. Recess came and the cool girls approached. I had no idea what to expect from them at this point. Alexis led the way.
“What kind of shoes are those?” she snared.
“Um…SOHO I think.” I replied hesitantly.
“Those are the ugliest shoes I have ever seen. If you are trying to copy us, you suck.” She replied.
At that moment I realized that they were all wearing white Sketchers platforms and mine were Wal-Mart off-brand. Once again, I felt so humiliated that I ran and hid behind a tree until recess was over. As I sat there on the red dirt, replaying her words in my head, I acknowledged that I wasn’t ever going to be a cool girl. I was always going to be the wannabe. My teardrops fell to the ground. I picked up some of the mud they created and smeared it on the squiggly white platform canvas.
Luckily for me, my mom was in the Army and we were due to move at the end of the school year. I just had to hold out until then. When June arrived, I was the happiest girl alive. I remember saying I couldn’t wait to get off the island. After all, we had been stationed there for six years. My mom was getting stationed in San Antonio for the next couple of years until her retirement, so my parents wanted to get a house off base so we could have a more stable environment. There were very few houses on the market that could accommodate a family of ten, so they decided to get a house built. The house was going to take six months, so all eight kids stayed with my grandparents in Kentucky until it was finished. My mom left to a school for the duration of our stay with Nanny and Pop Pop which left my dad in charge of all of us.
The first day of school arrived in Kentucky. I was eager and nervous. It was my first day of middle school. I decided it was the perfect time to start over and fresh. No one knew me, so I could put the past behind me and just be me again. I stood at the end of the driveway, in the dense fog with Kate, one of my older sisters. She was going to the 8th grade, I was starting 6th. I had my big red pea coat on that I loved so much. As I saw the flashing light on top of the bus approach, I was scared…but optimistic. Kate and I walked onto the bus and my heart was pounding. The few kids sitting in the back just stared. I gave a quick closed-mouth smile but got nothing in return. At that point I kept my head to the ground and plopped down next to Kate. She pulled out her book and tuned me out.
We arrived at school during breakfast. Kate led the way to the cafeteria. I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t know where anything was, or what I was going to eat. There were so many lines and choices. I was really freaking out. Tunnel vision set in. All I could see were unknown faces, staring. I was not used to seeing kids I didn’t know. I had been with the same kids all through elementary. In my head I thought they were probably making fun of me. I got more and more nervous and couldn’t see anything except what was directly in front of me. Chocolate milk. I grabbed one and frantically looked for Kate. She was already sitting down by herself at a table reading her book with a full tray of breakfast. I hurried over to her and sat down. I kept the nerves to myself.
I walked into my home room class and sat at the table with my name tag on it. I was the first kid there. The kids flowed in. The girl in front of me had blonde hair. It was twisted up into six twists and sealed with the most interesting springy butterfly clips. They were sparkly and the wings flapped with her movement. Maybe we would be friends one day…I thought. I sat and tried to look approachable and nice as the classroom filled. No one said a word to me. Home room only lasted 30 minutes. It was for homework and socializing I guess. It seemed a little pointless to me.
Next class was geography. I had NO clue what that was. I sat down in my assigned seat, starving might I add. The classroom was covered in maps. The one I remember the most was the one of the United States. I had seen it before, but was not too familiar with it. I put two and two together and figured we were going to learn about places. Our male teacher was full of enthusiasm and made everyone laugh. He wanted to do an ice breaker and called on each student to tell the class what city they were born in. I had absolutely no clue what a city was. I couldn’t tell you the difference between continents, countries, states…let alone a city! My turn was quickly approaching. My heart started pounding as I had no idea what to say. All I knew, was that I was born in Germany. Hopefully that was a city…
“Malissa? Tell the class what city YOU were born in.” Mister teacher directed.
I hesitated. There was silence. Everyone was staring. Oh no. It was starting again. The fire face. What if I were wrong? What would happen? Would they laugh? My upper lip started to dampen with sweat. For some reason I still had my red coat on…
I just wanted them to stop looking at me! “Uhh, Germany?” I answered, unconfidently.
The classroom burst into laughter. My worst nightmare had come true. I was wrong.
“Haha, oh no, Malissa. Germany is a country. That’s interesting that you were born there. Tell us a little bit about that.” Mister teacher instructed.
As if I weren’t humiliated enough, this guy wanted me to divulge more information to this classroom full of giggling children. My face was the color of my pea coat. I was soaking in sweat. I couldn’t even think straight. How was I going to come up with another sentence while I was still recovering from mortification? Obviously my teacher was absolutely clueless about how uncomfortable I was. I managed to squeak, “My mom is in the Army.” Thankfully he let off after that.
Kentucky remained a bust. I didn’t make any real friends and floated from classroom to classroom. The kids already had their clicks from elementary school and were not interested in adding one more. Thankfully I had Kate to sit with on the bus…even though she didn’t talk much, it was better than sitting by myself.
December arrived and I couldn’t be happier. It was time to move to San Antonio, a city. : ) Maybe THIS time I would make friends and hopefully have a bit of popularity. It was pretty scary heading to class on my first day in another new school. This time, I was entering school half way through the year. Everyone already had their group of friends. Maybe these kids would be a bit more welcoming. My school required the middle schoolers to take Spanish class. The only other language I had been exposed to was a bit of Hawaiian. Maybe it was similar?
This school was so confusing and giant. I started to panic as the passing period elapsed. I had a classroom number, that’s it. They didn’t even go in order or make sense! I tried to look like I knew where I was going and not draw attention to myself. “RRRRRINNNGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!” The bell sounded. Great. I was late. Finally, I found the classroom, OUTSIDE in a trailer. The door was closed. I was terrified. Do I knock? No…I don’t want to draw more attention to myself. I turned the handle and pulled the door…
The rowdy classroom silenced and everyone froze, once again…all eyes on me. Some of the girls were staring me up and down. As I stood there in my favorite snake print pants that I got for my birthday, and my black boots, I started to feel uncomfortable. I wanted to run and hide.
“Are you our new student?” asked Miss Spanish teacher.
“Yeah…” I mumbled.
She sat me down next to the tallest girl in the class. The one that was staring me down the most. I looked at her and gave my nicest closed-mouth smile. She looked away.
For the rest of the year, I remained the timid, silent, loner…partially because for the first time in my life, I experienced racism. I was one of the few white people in my school with the majority Hispanic. I never noticed race before. I mean, I could see that people were different colors, but I never really put much thought into it. My classmates quickly made it clear that there was a distinct difference between whites and Hispanics, and that Hispanics were the dominant race when it came to everything. So…remember I mentioned how my school mandated that ALL students take Spanish…well, that is where most of the discrimination occurred.
The first time I had to go up to give my oral exam to the class, I was terrified. They never heard me speak Spanish and I was dreading it. I stood up, face already flushed. Once again, all eyes on me, waiting to mess up. I stumbled over the first couple words. I was more focused on all the eyes of judgment than I was my six word sentence. The last word came up. “Perro”…the dreaded double “R”. In Spanish, you must roll your double R’s. I tried to get away with doing a single R in hopes my teacher wouldn’t realize it. I felt the more emphasis I put on words, the more it opened me up for humiliation. Well, the teacher did not let me get away with my single R. She kept me up there until I did a proper double R roll. The whole time the kids snickered under their breath. I heard from the back of the room “she says it like such a white girl!” I must have rolled my R ten times before she let me sit back down. I was SO embarrassed. I looked down at my desk as my long hair fell and hid my crimson face. My eyes swelled up with tears and my glasses fogged. I felt as if I would never fit in anywhere. No one liked me, I didn’t belong.
That summer, my family went to our annual dentist checkup. This time they did x-rays. I still had my baby incisors (K9s) which was normal for my age. But the doctor came to us with some news about them. He said my adult incisors were stuck in the roof of my mouth and would likely not come down on their own. He recommended that we pull my baby incisors out to give room for the adult teeth to make their way in. A few months later, my left incisor came through. Now to wait on the right side.
When the new school year began, I had a couple of friends. Things were going a little better than the year before. I sprouted over the summer and was all of a sudden taller than most of my classmates. Which raised interest in me by a lot of people to play basketball. I knew NOTHING about any type of sport, but figured basketball couldn’t be that hard. November came and try-outs began. I was the ONLY white girl in try-outs, which is a situation I became used to. We all stood in a circle and worked on passing drills. We had three balls going at a time and were passing them quickly to each other. The girls were all so serious and intimidating. I was focusing on the second ball, anticipating it to come to me next when the third ball hit me smack in the nose and knocked my glasses off my face. Now, when most people get hit anywhere in the face, I imagine it causes instant waterworks, but the nose is the most sensitive! I was in a daze for a second. As I came back to reality, I sort of expected everyone to see if I were okay. Just the opposite occurred.
“That’s why white girls shouldn’t play basketball!” I heard from the blurry circle of girls.
They were all laughing. The coach approached me and said I needed to watch the ball and then asked if I was ok and handed me my glasses. Tears were streaming from my face at this point. I nodded my head and ran out of the courts to the bathroom. As I looked in the mirror holding my nose, I cycled through all the words of hate throughout the past couple of years. I just couldn’t understand how people could be so mean. I didn’t understand why I could never fit in. Was it my glasses? My style of clothes? The way I acted? At that moment, I believe I lost my true identity.
At the beginning of 8th grade year, my mom released the news to us that she got a new job in DC. We would continue the school year in Virginia. I had no idea where that was, but figured anything was better than San Antonio. We packed our things and made our way up that October. As the plane landed, I looked out the window and saw the most vibrant, beautiful giant trees. They varied between red, orange and yellow. I didn’t know anything could look so stunning. I already knew that I was going to love Virginia.
The school I attended was a secondary school. It taught grades 7-12. It was pretty cool to be at the same school as all my older siblings. Although, now Jess could easily catch me wearing all her clothes! My right incisor still had not come in. It made me pretty self-conscious because now most of my classmates had all their adult teeth. My missing tooth created a pretty big gap in the right side of my mouth and I became hyper aware of it. I placed myself to the right of everyone at all times. I sat on the right side of the class, always smiled with my mouth closed, took pictures on the left…my whole life started to revolve around hiding my missing tooth. I just wanted to make sure nobody had fuel to make fun of me. Not only due to my missing tooth, but for any and all things in my life. I only said things that were safe, snuck all of my sister’s clothes, wore makeup, and never wore my glasses (even though I am practically blind). My grades started to plummet because I couldn’t see and refused to wear my glasses because I knew they were a major reason I got made fun of in the past. My mom finally let me get contacts. I finally had friends and felt accepted. I walked on eggshells at all times, trying my best not to tarnish my reputation.
After winter break, all I could think about was BOYS BOYS BOYS. I got my first real boyfriend. He wasn’t the most popular kid. He was actually known for his erratic behavior and supposedly tried to kill his parents??? I am pretty sure that was just a rumor, but I really didn’t care at the time. I just wanted a boyfriend because all my friends had one. After a few weeks, I realized that he wasn’t popular and in order to fit in with the popular crowd, I would need to find myself a jock. I broke up with him and broke his heart, but I didn’t care. I didn’t really ever like him anyway.
Freshman year began and my only goal was to have a popular boyfriend. Some of my friends lost their virginity over the summer. And I heard some of the popular girls did too. The pressure was on. I was 14 years old. I started school when I was 4 in Hawaii so I was always the youngest in school. Which gave me more of a reason to prove myself to everyone. I found myself a football player jock. He was popular and all, even though he wasn’t my first choice, he would be my ticket in. I always went over to his house to hang out because mine was always filled with a million kids and we could never get privacy. One day after school, he took me up to his bedroom. We started to make out and things got sort of heated (as much as it can when you are 14). He asked me if we could have sex. He was one of the ones who lost his virginity the school year before so he was a seasoned veteran in my eyes. The pressure was on. I was dating him for just a few weeks at that point and I didn’t even really like him that much. I just wasn’t attracted to him at all. I was also super nervous because I had NO clue what sex was all about. So I denied. I was scared. He pleaded and pleaded to the point where I finally gave in and said yes to shut him up.
I thought that sex would change everything. I thought it would be some magical moment that would change my life…but in reality I just laid there and let him do everything (I mean, he was the one with all the experience). It hurt, it was weird and I was numb to all emotion. I was actually pretty mad at him after because he pressured me into it after I told him how uneasy I was about the whole thing. I felt that I led him on and had to give him what he wanted or he would break up with me. If that happened, I know I would never live it down and everything I worked for up to that point to be popular would have been for nothing. I also felt that my feelings didn’t matter to him. After all, he knew I didn’t want to and let me go through with it anyway.
He and I continued to date for the rest of the year and into the summer. My parents sent us kids to Mississippi for summer break. I talked to my boyfriend on the phone every day. A couple weeks in, I missed my period. I told him that I thought I may be pregnant. He then shared with me that he cheated on me with one of his coaches at his baseball camp. All the boys made out with her individually apparently…not sure how true that was now thinking back on it, haha. The pregnancy scare ended up being nothing, but made me realize how I really felt about him, which was nothing. I dumped him that summer.
For the rest of my high school days, I had boyfriend after boyfriend. All of which I dated for status purposes. I am not sure I ever even liked any of them. I was also never myself around them. I treated them like kings and in return almost all of them cheated or treated me like crap. There was never emotional involvement but I did get my feelings hurt, because I felt as if I could never be enough for any of them. I always took them back when they cheated or did me wrong because I felt that it was MY fault they acted that way. I needed to dress or act differently, or wear more makeup, or send sexier texts or pictures. By doing this, I got further and further away from who I really was on the inside. It was to the point that nothing real about me mattered. It was all about my image and what everyone else thought of me. If my status showed that I was accepted by the majority…that would be enough.
My grades suffered because I wasn’t focused on school at all. I worked at a vet clinic as soon as I was old enough to work (15). I had to fund my “cool girl” clothes somehow. And besides, I didn’t need good grades to join the military. The military was something I always had my mind set on because I wanted to be just like my mom. She was so successful and happy in my eyes. I wanted to have her story. Join the military, marry by age 21, first kid by 22, have six or more kids, and after the military do more government work (FBI is what I had in mind). One day in the 10th grade she and I went out for breakfast (which was extremely rare). I told her I wanted to be just like her. She told me to join the Air Force because they treat their people a lot better and to keep my nose clean. She said I needed to have a flawless record with the law if I wanted to get a security clearance. It was pretty easy to keep a clean record and get good enough grades to graduate. After graduation, I enlisted into the Air Force.
My future was bright and fresh. I could start over once again. A new me, I thought. Unfortunately, my track record with guys remained very similar for years to come. My first base was Germany. I wanted to go there because it was where I was born. I needed to see this “city” for myself. I had a blast for the first six months. I was very successful at work and set high standards for myself. I was excited to be single for the first time ever…but It didn’t last long…
The first guy…for the sake of privacy, we will give him a fake name, Jim. Jim had a lot of swag. He was super cool and super cute. Once again, I treated him like a king. I gave him everything he wanted and more. I actually think I had real feelings for him. I was able to show him a little bit of the real me minus my whole smile (I was still missing my incisor…). We were dating for a few weeks and were supposed to go to a bar with friends after work. We conveniently lived in dorm buildings next to each other so I walked over after work and knocked on his door. No answer. I texted. No answer. I figured maybe he went with other people. I got in a cab with some girls from work. I showed up at the bar and no Jim. He still hadn’t texted me back. My girls and I started to drink and a few minutes later, my friend pointed at the door. In walks Jim, with platinum blonde, long eye lashed GORGEOUS weather girl. I was in shock. His friend mentioned how they just went to dinner together. Jim never took me anywhere except his room. I was devastated. He didn’t even have the decency to break up with me first. And he had the nerve to show up at the exact bar we planned to me up at with her! I ran to the bathroom and my girlfriend gave me a pep talk. She told me to find the hottest guy in the place to make Jim jealous. She said he just doesn’t know how good he had it.
I got up and went on with my night. In walked the perfect guy to meet the “hottest guy in the place” standard. We will call him Mark. Mark and I hit it off and went home together that night. I knew nothing about him except that he worked in my squadron and just got back from deployment. Soon after, we made our relationship official. I treated him like a king as well. I started imagining a future with him in a couple of short months. He was perfect. Attractive, clean, athletic, and muscular and everyone loved him. I was hooked. Obsessed. In love (or so I thought). Unfortunately, I continued with my trend of not acting like myself and holding back a lot. I really didn’t know who I was anymore. My every move was a direct response to Mark. Every second of the day was reserved for him. I wanted him to know how much he meant to me. I didn’t want him to have any reason to break up with me. I needed to be that perfect girl for him. I made myself fit into his ideal girlfriend picture. Not to mention, I FINALLY got my incisor implant…at age 19. I COULD be that perfect girl for him now.
Now, when you dedicate your entire life to another, you also open yourself up to be vulnerable. You can get hurt, bad. We were six months into dating and Mark was going to stop by my room when he was done partying in the dayroom. 4am came and still no Mark. I couldn’t sleep because I was nervous. I never really trusted him all the way because of his past track record with girls. I left my room and went on a search. I went to his room first, no answer. I went to all his friends’ rooms and they said he had left a long time ago. I went back to his room. By that time it was 5am. I knocked again, no answer. I listened at the door and heard only his fan. Then I called his phone, I heard it vibrate from in his room. Maybe he got too drunk and fell asleep, I convinced myself. So I started to bang on the door. No answer. I got more and more frantic as I banged and kicked. I felt really crazy as people started opening their doors in the hallway to peek out. I didn’t care. I was determined to solve this mystery. Finally, Mark answered. He peeked through the crack in his door.
“What are you doing?” He asked confused.
“Ummmm, you were supposed to come over to my room after remember?!” I bellowed. “Why won’t you open your door? Is someone in there with you?”
“No one is in here, you are acting crazy, just go back to your room and we can talk tomorrow.” He replied.
At that point I knew there was something fishy going on. I barged through the door and found a girl on his bed without a shirt on. I was horrified. Mark tried to tell me that she was too drunk to drive and lived off base and needed a place to stay and that he was sleeping on his recliner. I did NOT believe him. And I stormed away. Later that day he came to my room and explained the situation. He stuck with his recliner story and expressed his love for me. He apologized for how it looked but promised me nothing happened. Now, in any sane persons mind, you would think that Mark is lying through his teeth, but when you want to believe something so badly, you just do. And I took him back. I took him back time and time again for the next three YEARS. We repeatedly found ourselves in the exact same situations with no real proof and him talking his way out of it. The craziest thing is, I thought I was causing him to cheat. I needed to fix it. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. Smart enough. Mature enough…the list goes on and on.
While Mark was gone on a yearlong deployment (that he volunteered for without talking to me about), Jim messaged me on AIM (yes, remember AIM?). He asked how I was doing and we casually talked. He was also deployed (different location than Mark). Over the weeks, we talked more and more. Mark was deployed with the army, which like my mom pointed out, has less amenities. His internet was spotty and couldn’t talk every day. At that point I lived in a townhome off base with my best friend. We worked opposite schedules and she mostly hung out at her boyfriends’ house. Which left me home and alone. Jim messaged me every night. I kept it very friendly the entire time. Making sure not to spark up anything from our past. One night he divulged to me that he made a huge mistake with me. He said he saw the way that I treated Mark like a king and he should have never let me go. He apologized for doing me wrong and pointed out all of my good qualities not only as a girlfriend but as a person. It was pretty hard to maintain the friend-only relationship at that point because I was by myself all the time and typically when any guy shows me positive attention, I swoon. But I remained strong. I told him he had his chance and I was happy with Mark. Of course Jim bashed Mark left and right because he knew of all his escapades, but I made it clear that Mark promised me he was done with all of that.
Mark got back from deployment and got out of the military. He moved in with me near my new base in Maryland. Everything was going perfectly for a while, until Mark got comfortable again. He made friends and started to go out every weekend. He had a pretty bad drinking problem. He would drink to the point of blacking out every time he drank. At least twice per week. When he drank, he got pretty verbally abusive. He would call me a bitch, and tell me to get the f*** off of him when I would try to drag his 210lb body out of the cab. He would say pretty hurtful things to me while he was drunk, and wouldn’t remember a thing in the morning. He would never admit he had a drinking problem, even when I recorded him. If I didn’t go out and babysit Mark, he wouldn’t come home until 6am. God knows what he was doing at those hours. It would literally drive me insane. I started to go through his phone and his pockets to look for evidence of cheating. I could never find anything.
One morning he got home at 6am and said he needed to take a shower. That was strange because he usually plopped into bed and passed out. Why was today any different? I got out of bed and searched his pockets, nothing. I grabbed his shirt and checked the collar for makeup…nothing. Right as I was putting his shirt back on the ground, I noticed a white stain on the bottom button. It almost looked like mayonnaise that he tried to wipe off. My heart started pounding. I took it one step further and went out to his car. THANK GOD. A Burger King wrapper. Whew! Okay, it was probably mayo from a whopper or something. Although I found enough to say he was innocent, I still felt uneasy. I opened the center console to find an open box of condoms. The same kind we used at the beginning of our relationship. One was missing. I was furious. I stormed back into the apartment and he was standing in the doorway with his towel on. He looked pretty nervous. I threw the box of condoms at him, sobbing. I was so upset that I finally found evidence. It made me crazy not to find anything but I felt even worse when I did. I laid on the bedroom floor in tears. So heartbroken. Why wasn’t I good enough? What did I do wrong? I didn’t understand how I could give my all to someone and they just throw me away like I’m nothing. Mark laid next to me on the floor also in tears. He told me they weren’t his condoms and tried his verbal judo once again…
A few hours later…we were a couple ONCE again. I fell for him ONCE again. I literally had no respect for myself. I did not know how to stand up for myself. I mean, I thought it was my fault he cheated on me. I decided at that point that I needed to step my girlfriend game up. I bought him so many lavish things. Took him to his favorite places, let him do anything he wanted to. It was my job to keep him happy so he wouldn’t cheat. I convinced myself that it was what made me happy.
I just wanted to get married and have a kid. Everything would get better if we got married, I thought. Just propose to me and it will all be okay. So I stayed. For three years. Until I met Brian (fake name). It was April 2011 in Maryland, the first day of a six week course in the Air Force. You have to complete Airman Leadership School to get promoted to be a Non-Commissioned Officer. I was one of the last people to show up to orientation and was super nervous to be late. Thankfully I had a few minutes to spare, but had to sit in the only seats available, the front row. As I found my seat, I was taken back for a moment. There was Jim. Sitting in my class. What. The. Heck. Was he doing here??! A minute after me, Brian walked in. He was also forced to sit in the front row.
The whole time I had been dating Mark, I was never really attracted to any other guy, until Brian. He instantly caught my eye. I couldn’t even look at him without blushing. He had a sleeve tattoo all down his arm and nice tan skin. He had the sweetest eyes and nice big build. I was crushing on him bad. He looked older than the rest of us who were in our early 20s. He looked about 30, which meant he was probably married or divorced with kids. I looked, no ring. Now, I had a promise ring that I made Mark get me while he was deployed…but for the first time, I tried to hide it. After class, we had to do physical training but could do an individual workout if we wanted. We were running on the track when I saw him in front of me. He was so fit and tall. I loved his buff manly build. I couldn’t help but daydream about him in class. I felt guilty thinking that way about him because I was still dating Mark, but I couldn’t help it. Not to mention, when I heard his southern accent come out of his mouth, I was hooked. I found out through the grape vine that he was never married and no kids. No strings attached. He was perfect! It was a little strange because Jim became friends with Brian. They both had their eyes on me. At the end of the six weeks, the class exchanged contact information for networking purposes. I got Brian’s number ;)…But I knew I couldn’t pursue anything with him because I was still with Mark, so I put the Brian fantasy on the back burner.
A few months passed and I got a text from Brian asking how I was doing. A flutter of excitement flowed through me and every bit of me wanted to text him back, but I felt that it would be cheating because of how I felt about him and I didn’t want to hurt Mark. I didn’t want to jeopardize what we had for a possible fling. I mean, he could propose any day! Brian never gave up on me, and texted every few weeks to check in. I would give one word answers or not reply at all.
December came and Mark wanted to go back home to California to visit family. I couldn’t afford a ticket so he went without me. Every night Mark would go AWOL. He told me he would call before going to bed and never would. I knew he had to be cheating again. Christmas day Brian texted me Merry Christmas. I sat there staring at that text for a good while and decided to finally text back with a real response. I asked him to hang out. He invited me over to his place to help him make beer.
It was the coolest date I had ever been on. We hit it off instantly. I think it was because all of the built up sexual tension throughout school and the following months. We ended up kissing. A lot. For hours. I couldn’t believe that I would cheat on Mark. I never thought I would stoop down to his level but I also knew that I deserved better than him. I deserved someone who treated me with respect and I thought Brian could offer that. I didn’t want to go further with Brian until I ended things with Mark, so when I picked him up from the airport, we broke up. We ended up fighting over something else and it sort of worked out perfectly. The last thing he said before he got out of the car was that I would just come crawling back like I always did. That was the deal breaker for me. I knew right then that it was the end. It was the sentence that hit home for me.
Brian and I were head over heels for each other. He was the first guy ever that made me feel special. Like I was his world. I told him I loved him after only two weeks. He took me to meet his mom a week after that. Things were moving at a rapid pace, but it felt so right. He soon got orders to be stationed in Guam. We weren’t sure what we were going to do. My career was also moving in a different direction. We talked about the possibility of marriage. It was crazy to talk about but it sounded very right. Even though it was only a thought and we weren’t too serious about it, it still wouldn’t have felt too fast. Everything with Brian felt natural. He was so respectful and sweet. He was 9 years older than me so I felt a sense of security with him. Like he was wise and mature and could take good care of me.
At our three month mark, Brian and I met up with my younger sister Darci in New York to go snowboarding. Brian showed me the ropes. He was such a good teacher. So patient and calm. I was so in love.
At the end of the trip I started to get really bad heartburn. I never had heartburn in my life. I couldn’t figure it out. When I got home, I realized that I missed my period. I was freaking out. I had my little brother Chase (my roommate) run to the store to get me a pregnancy test (he’s awesome). He came back with one and I closed myself in the bathroom. I was so scared. After the prescribed time, I looked down at the test. It showed the faintest second pink line. Positive. “No F***ing way. No F***ing way.” I repeated over and over. I think I was in shock for a while before I really realized what I was seeing and what it meant. I had an interview the next morning for a different job in the Air Force that would change my career path forever. It was the stepping stone I needed to work for the FBI. This changed everything. How could I deploy for a year at a time with a baby? How could I do dangerous undercover work with a child at home? I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. Brian had orders to Guam for the next 3 years. What would happen? What were we going to do? What would my mom say?
I called Brian to break the news. Brian was in shock too I think. He was quiet for a long time. I could only imagine what was going through his head. I mean, we were only dating for 3 months! He reassured me that we will figure it out and everything would be okay. I am not sure if he really believed it but it put me at ease.
The next day, I called and informed my interviewer that I wasn’t able to make it. I shared the news and that I was no longer interested in pursuing that career path. In the next few days, Brian and I shared the news with our loved ones. Everyone was shocked yet supportive. I was the first of my siblings to get pregnant. And the first of all my friends. I knew I was going in blind. Brian and I decided that getting married was the best option for us. That was the only way we could get stationed together and we were talking about it before. What would it hurt? I felt as if this was all happening for a reason and it was just meant to be. If I hadn’t got pregnant, we would have gone our separate ways and I’m sure would always wonder, what if.
By May, we were married. All was right in the world. Sure we didn’t do things in the right order…but in the end had the same result. I was the happiest girl alive. 22, married and pregnant. My dreams were coming true! Brian and I moved in together and started to learn more about the other. We got along really well. Brian wasn’t much of a talker, but I can do enough talking for the both of us! He was just perfect in my eyes. I couldn’t wait to come home from work to him. I was so excited to talk about the future with him and our baby. As my belly grew, I got more obsessed with the pregnancy. As most girls do I imagine. And the more obsessed I got, the more distant Brian became. It sort of bothered me that Brian never wanted to feel my stomach, or show enthusiasm for our baby like I did.
As time passed, it was harder and harder to get things out of Brian emotionally and physically. I felt as if he were shutting down. But maybe he was just getting nervous about the baby. We finally were able to pick out a name. ONE name that Brian liked. Caleb. Little baby Caleb. It was perfect. I loved it. I loved Caleb already. He was what I needed to complete my heart. I always wanted to be responsible for something more than myself. And this was my chance to shine.
October 24, 2012, baby Caleb was born. He came out looking exactly as I expected him to look. It was actually a pretty crazy feeling to look at him and just feel like I knew all about him. Brian was so great during labor and in the hospital. We were the perfect little family. Soon after, we took baby Caleb home. It was so peaceful and nice for the first couple days. This didn’t seem too hard, I thought. Until day 3 arrived. All hell broke loose. I am pretty sure Caleb cried for 8 hours straight. I had no idea how to help him. I fed him, changed him, burped him, bathed him, and tried to get him to sleep. EVERYTHING. I felt so helpless. And Brian did too. Everything he suggested to do, I had already done or didn’t want to do for one reason or another. This went on for the next 6 months. Cry, cry, cry. There were glimpses of laughter here and there but mostly cries. He was the definition of a colicky baby. It felt impossible. I felt so defeated. So stressed and tired.
I lost the baby weight within the first 2-3 weeks. But gained it back by the end of month 2. I wouldn’t eat all day until night time. I would have a giant meal and then go to sleep. I was used to weighing 140-145 (I’m 5’8). I was back up to 175. I had never felt fatter in my life. I know a lot of girls may not think 175 is fat, but to me it was. I was always stick thin. My family is stick thin. I just thought I would bounce back to normal right after. But I didn’t. I started to obsess over everything I ate. I worked out for hours after work. I hated coming home because it instantly made me feel tired. I had to be at work at 430am so I was in bed by 8pm. Brian would stay up until 10 to feed Caleb. Luckily he would sleep until about 6am by 6 months old. Brian and I began to really drift apart. We never saw each other and we did not take the time to talk ever because we were always so tired. I lost sight of everything that made me happy. All I could see was fat and ugliness. I wanted to be skinny again.
Brian and I got orders to Florida shortly after Caleb turned 6 months. It was time to start fresh once again and get my life back on track. A few months after we moved, I was back to my pre baby weight. My body was not the same though. I don’t think it will ever be. That’s something I don’t think a lot of girls understand. I now have a woman’s body. Wider hips, thicker thighs…some stretch marks or “tiger stripes” according to Pinterest. Now it was time to work on Brian and me. I was determined to “fix” us.
I set up date nights, inside and outside of the house. Morning walks, beach days, family outings. The works. Something was still missing. I just didn’t feel happy. I felt as if all of our conversations were one way. He never had much to say. It made me think, did he change over time? Or was he always this way? Did I marry this man or did he turn into someone completely different? I felt as if I couldn’t turn to anyone. My two best friends from high school lived hundreds of miles away, along with all my siblings. I also felt as if they wouldn’t understand anyway. None of them had a kid. I work with mostly guys and they aren’t the best to confide in in vulnerable situations as I have learned through the years.
The next summer, Brian left for 4 months on a work trip. Before he left, I put a ton of little notes in his luggage. I hid them in the soap box and deodorant cap, his laundry, socks, hats, boots, just all over. Each note had a separate message. Either instructing him to do something or a drawing that would make him laugh or feel loved. I wanted to re-spark our relationship and communication. Maybe it would help. As the days and weeks passed, Brian had acted on maybe two of the notes. I felt as if he didn’t really care enough to put himself out there to execute the small flirty tasks.
While he was gone, I was doing 2 college classes and just started a job as an executive assistant. I had a lot on my plate. I would express my stressors to Brian but he just didn’t seem to be able to give me a response that would help me, emotionally. I just felt like he didn’t understand me. And maybe never did. I started to doubt us, to the point where I thought of divorce for the first time. Caleb was now 18 months old. I couldn’t imagine him growing up in a divorced household so I wanted to fix Brian and me as soon as possible. I had a serious talk with him that night and told him that divorce crossed my mind. And that I didn’t feel like I missed him or had any connection with him at all. I knew they were hurtful words, but they were things being left unsaid and I knew I had to get it out. I think it hit home with him because he wrote me a very long email back talking about why he has a hard time communicating and that he too thought of divorce as a possibility and he wanted to work things out.
When he got back, things got a little better. Brian was a lot more involved and seemed to be trying harder. Unfortunately it didn’t last. He and I drifted apart again. I think we just didn’t get each other. We dated for only a few months before all the wedding and baby talk. I finally considered the fact that I really didn’t know the man I married. All I could see was that he treated me with respect and was sweet. He loved me to death. I never considered the friendship aspect. I never knew that you had to be friends with your loved one to be successful in a marriage. It completely blew my mind. I was searching for love in all the wrong places. I just wanted to check the boxes of my imaginary life-to-do-list. It really never mattered WHO I married, but that I would get married by age 21. This was a scary reality check for me. Was is possible to create a friendship, 3 years later? After a baby?
My good friend suggested to me that I go on a deployment. I had been avoiding deployments for my entire career. I didn’t want to put myself in harm’s way when there were other people who would kill to go instead of me. It was my turn to go. My time was ending as the executive assistant and I was being pushed back to my squadron. I was very hot to deploy. I did not want to leave my little baby Caleb (who was 2 now)…but there were no longer any loop holes for me. I had no choice.
I decided to take advantage of it and use the time prior to deployment to spend time with Brian. Brian was also leaving out of the area for a few months for work, so I took my son to my mom’s house in Virginia a month before pre-deployment training. My mom was to watch Caleb for the duration of my deployment (March-November). I asked Brian if he wanted to go with me to drop Caleb off, but he said he needed to stay behind for a work project. I went alone. 14 hours in the car with my baby. We had a blast. We sang to songs, and stopped at the coolest gas stations. Leaving him was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my entire life. I would rather endure all of the pain in my life combined at once, than say goodbye to my son for 9 months again. I will never forget his smile as my dad drove him away in his truck after our normal breakfast at Denny’s. He was so clueless. It hurt me that much more. He was literally my world.
When I returned to Florida, Brian and I started to pack up our rented house. We were going to put all of our belongings in storage while we were away to save money. The month we had together was supposed to be magical and romantic. It ended up being exactly how things were before. Brian was trying, but there was something wrong with me. I just couldn’t feel happy around him. Everything felt so forced and unnatural. I just wasn’t in love anymore.
Shortly after, I left for the 3 week long pre-deployment training. Prior to leaving, I dyed my hair back to its original color. I wouldn’t have a hair stylist at my deployed location and I wanted to start a new chapter in my life titled, The Real Me. I had been highlighting my hair for the past few years while I was dating Mark…one of my failed attempts to keep him faithful. I was going to make every effort to discover my lost identity on this deployment.
During the training, I spoke to Brian on the phone maybe twice. We were really, REALLY lifeless. My roommate spoke on the phone every single night to her fiancé, which made me reflect on my issues with Brian. Why didn’t I feel like I wanted to call him? Why didn’t he want to call me? Were we just, over?
When I returned from pre-deployment training, I had a few days left to spend with Brian before I left for 6 months. We went on dates and tried to spark our romance, but it did nothing for me. I confirmed to myself that my love for him was completely gone. Would it ever come back? And if so, how? As I hugged Brian goodbye, I couldn’t help but think that I wasn’t sad. I was indifferent. How could I feel this way about my own husband? The father of my child? He has been nothing but sweet to me since I met him. He didn’t deserve this, I thought.
A month and a half into my deployment, I was able to admit to myself with 100% certainty that I no longer wanted to be married to Brian. I considered every angle of it. Especially the part where it affected my son. My beautiful baby boy, who only deserved the best. I thought though, what’s better? Him to grow up with two parents that have nothing between them and are not happy? Or two parents that live separately, that will show him unconditional love 100% of the time, and could potentially be immensely happy with either themselves or sharing love with another. I weighed the options and determined that I would rather Caleb grow up with love. Everyone should know what love looks like. He needs to know and see that friendship is the fundamental element in a marriage. I thought, if Caleb were in a marriage with my exact same situation, would I want him to stay and be unhappy, or leave and take a chance to be happy? I would hands down, want Caleb to take a chance. He is too special to spend his life with someone who doesn’t know how to appreciate his greatness. With someone that doesn’t bring out the best in him, that doesn’t push him to his limits, that doesn’t want to show him affection throughout the day because they cannot help themselves. Caleb deserves that. Hands down. And so did I.
I called Brian, and told him my decision. He was surprised yet did not have much to say in return, as expected. Over the months, Brian tried to convince me that he changed. Actions speak louder than words and unfortunately he had already told me the exact things before. I was not about to make the same mistake as I did with Mark. I needed to stand up for what I wanted for once. I was no longer going to let someone dictate my life based off of their feelings.
After all, it’s MY life. I remained firm with my decision. I was sticking to it. It was my new chapter, The Real Me. This time, I am enough. I fit in with myself. I love myself. I don’t need someone to validate my existence. I am ready for change. I am a new woman.
STRONG, CARING, HAPPY, INSPIRED, DARING, BEAUTIFUL.
I CAN do this, and I WILL. NO turning back. I will believe in myself and will not second guess. I am my own worst enemy and I cannot be any longer.
I am a strong WOMAN!
Thanks for reading! Please share your similar experiences or ask questions!