News & Politics

First Person: The Worst Morning, the Best Day

I never thought I’d be an Army girlfriend. Then my boyfriend was sent overseas for 18 months.

When her boyfriend, Tyler Beckwith, went away, friends told the author: “A year and a half is a long time.” Photograph by Matthew Worden

A few weeks ago, I hugged my boyfriend and whispered, “I miss you.”

He looked at me a little strangely and said, “You miss me? I’m right here.”

What I meant was I had missed him. And I’m afraid of having to miss him again. Somehow that leaves me feeling as though I miss him even when he’s right next to me.

Tyler returned in November from an 18-month deployment with the Army National Guard. We were luckier than many people who see loved ones head to Iraq or Afghanistan. Tyler was deployed to Kosovo as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force there. A year and a half was a long time to be apart, but I was grateful it wasn’t made harder by the constant worry that he’d be in a life-threatening situation.

I never thought I’d be an Army girlfriend—if there’s even such a term. I grew up in a family with no military ties, and I consider myself liberal, which doesn’t always go hand in hand with the armed forces. War was just a concept I disagreed with, and the Army was as real to me as G.I. Joe figurines.

Now I find myself listening closely to the news, scanning for the words “National Guard.” Each soldier’s death makes my heart ache. And while I didn’t vote for George W. Bush, I care very much what he says as commander in chief—because even though Tyler finished his Kosovo deployment, he has three years left on his National Guard contract. There’s a chance his unit could get called up again.

Tyler and I met in December 2005. Before I knew it, I was in love with his kind heart, his big arms always ready for a hug, his easy laugh, his laid-back attitude. From the start, we knew his unit was planning to deploy that summer to Kosovo. We talked about possibilities that kept our hearts afloat. Maybe he could switch to another unit. Maybe Kosovo would declare its independence and UN troops would go home.

In the end, he had no choice but to go. I drove home after dropping him off at Fort Belvoir as the sun was coming up one morning in July. It was the worst morning of my life.

Many friends, even family members, were hesitant: “You’re going to stay together? A year and a half is a long time.”

I know their hearts were in the right place. They were afraid it would hurt too much and that the relationship might not work out anyway. But not staying together never even occurred to me. I loved him. And as far as I could tell, love could travel through phone lines, e-mails, and care packages.

Our days became planned around Skype calls. I could still sometimes wake up with him and go to sleep with him—it was just on my Mac or over the phone. I sent packages and cards. Most days I wished I could stuff myself into that mailbox. But we made it.

The half of me that was missing has returned. That November day when I picked Tyler up was the best day of my life.

Some nights after we’ve said goodnight, I lie in bed with my eyes open trying to soak it all in. I’m no longer waiting. “Perfect” is the only word that runs through my mind. I hope that day in November can stay the best day of my life. I don’t want to wait for another one.

This article appears in the May 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.

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