By Karlene Dillon
The first day we met was like no other, it was at the homecoming dance at our school. I had just transferred at the begging of senior year and I clung to my best friend like a child because I didn’t know anyone else. We started to dance around the room and I was having so much fun. Then a slow song came on, my friend quickly ran to her boyfriend and I was left alone.
It was the smile that got me, the way it lit up the room. It seemed to captivate those around him. Everyone was so entranced by him yet he was staring in the distance at someone new no one had ever seen before, me. It was like the whole room was stuck on fast forward and the two of us were happily moving at our own pace. He made his way over and reached out his hand, I thought this was odd, such a formal greeting, but I took it nonetheless. He smiled once more and said “Hello my name is James, and who might you be?”
I swear my heart stopped right then and there but I managed to say, “Caroline, Caroline O’Leary.”
It all seemed to happen so fast after that first meeting. From the first time our lips met on that warm summers day under the oak tree at the park those three meaningful words that changed me forever I had never been happier. I was only 17 and yet I felt like I had found the one who I could spend eternity with. We spent our days running around and acting like two crazy kids in love and our nights cuddled under the stars telling stories until we fell asleep.
After we graduated high school I went on to college to become a nurse and he joined the Marines. A very noble thing to do everyone said, but I was always weary of it knowing that we were in the midst of a war and he could be sent to defend this country. I would always joke that we would move to Canada if this ever happened, become outlaws running from the United States Marines. He would always laugh and tell me how crazy I was but that he would gladly be the Clyde to my Bonnie.
After two years I got my nursing degree and started working at the children’s hospital in town near the base. I would read stories and bring them stuffed animals I always wanted to make sure that they weren’t bored; a hospital wasn’t exactly the most exciting place for a kid to be after all. James would come visit me on his lunch break and would come in his full camoflauge uniform which the kids loved. He would tell them over exaggerated stories about how he saved the president and their favorite was of course the time when he saved Elmo and Big Bird from Oscar the grouch’s evil army with me as his sidekick. They were practically on the edge of their seats as we told the story.
Sometimes Frankie would come with James too, Frankie is James' best friend they have known each other since grade school they were practically inseparable. When James and I started dating, Frankie and his now fiancé would always double date with us, the four of us were unstoppable. Stacy, Frankie’s fiancé works at a coffee shop down the street from the children’s hospital so I had lunch with her too when I could.
“Hey honey! How was work?” I said happily putting our plates out on the table for dinner.
“It was great. Me and the buddies got to go to the shooting range on our break so it was fun.” I noticed a hint of bleakness in his voice, but I was too excited to tell him about the wonderful news I found out today that I didn’t press it. “Carol. I uh I need to tell you something.” James whispered barely audible enough for me to hear.
“Oh! Me too, but you go first.” I responded still giddy. I could barely contain the excitement for what I was about to tell him.
“Well the Colonel came to talk to us today. Well you know how bad it’s been getting in Afghanistan right?” My heart sank all that ran through my mind was No. Please no not right now. “Well they need more help right now, especially from guys in my field of training. I won’t be where the action is happening just on the border of Iraq and Afghanistan in fact I'll probably be bored out of mind fun lack of action.” James laughed half heartedly, trying to make light of the situation. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
“When?” I choked out.
“I have a month I leave on the 28th of June. It won’t be that bad baby I promise I will be back in a year and a half. I will write, call, send a damn carrier pigeon if I have too. I promise that we will always be in contact and I will stay safe.” He assured in his military voice, fearless and strong ready to face anything that came at him. I felt the room get heavier it felt like everything was spinning I couldn’t keep my mind straight. James brought me to the couch and held me as I tried to comprehend the situation that had just happened. “Enough of this we will talk more about it in the morning, what is it that you wanted to tell me?”
I couldn’t even imagine telling him the news now after something so solemn but I managed to put on my best smile “I’m three weeks pregnant, you’re going to be a daddy.” His face lit up immediately. He kissed me with so much farce I nearly fell off the couch.
“I’m going to be a dad! Holy crap! We are going to have a kid!” He exclaimed. He jumped off the couch and spun me around in his arms. If the room wasn’t spinning before is sure was now. I was so happy he was excited but I couldn’t help but think that he wouldn’t be there when he or she was born.
The next few weeks he went to every doctor’s appointment with me, getting so excited at every ultra sound seeing our baby grow inside me. He visited me at every lunch break and anytime he could get the Colonel to let him go off base. He even turned his office into a baby room, complete with changing table and crib all built by him and his friends. He went to Babys’R’Us almost every day buying something new to add to the room, never quite satisfied with the finished product.
“We will wait to paint the room until I get back so that way if the baby’s a boy we can give him a manly jungle room or if it’s a girl a pretty princess room. We can even make her a little castle doll house to play with when she gets older or him a race track for all his little hot wheels and toy monster trucks.” He said on the last day he had to fix up the room and make it perfect. I always thought it was funny how he referred to our possibly little boy as manly but I loved how he could barely contain how excited he was.
Even the children I worked with at the hospital were excited. They were so fascinated when I told them I was going to have a baby they all said they couldn’t wait to meet him or her. They even started drawing pictures to put up in the baby room. I couldn’t wait to bring the baby in so they could all meet him or her. I had always loved the kids at the hospital and I was more than excited, words can’t even describe how excited I was about having a little one on the way.
As we were sitting in the hanger waiting for the planes to come I stood there hugging him as tightly as I possibly could. “I am going to be okay sweetie, I promise. I am going to come back and we are going to get married and grow old in our rockers together like I’ve always told you. I love you so damn much.” Those words should of comforted me but all I could think was I’m not going to wake up to him anymore. I’m not going to get a good morning kiss every day.
“I love you too. Please try to call when you get to Germany before you get on the plane to Iraq.” The tears were starting to run down my cheeks as I suggested, “You think if we ran right now they would notice? We could go to Canada. What do you say Clyde?” I tried my best to smile through the tears and even managed a little laugh remembering our joke.
James laughed and held me to his chest. God, I’m going to miss that laugh. I could hear the steady pace of his heart beat and feel his fingers glide across my back, up and down my sides, and play with my hair. He knelt down and kissed my tummy then carefully pressed his hand on the bump forming. “Daddy will be back soon.” He said then kissed my belly once more and rose to face me eye to eye. “I will be back soon, you will be back in my arms before you know it, well both of you will be in my arms.” He proclaimed gesturing to my belly again and kissing me lightly on the lips and wiping the tears from my eyes.
As we said our final goodbyes and had our last tentative kiss I held him tighter for fear that this might be the last time I feel him in my arms. When he turned to walk away I silently screamed for him to run back to me and never leave my side. I watched the plane take off and I was frozen there for a few moments. Numb to what was going on around me I couldn’t believe that you had left and wouldn’t be there tomorrow. They say that distance makes love stronger but I really didn’t want to test that out this way.
Working at the hospital did help the time go by faster though, all of the children kept me more than busy. They were filled up to the brim with questions after every phone call I had with James. Once I set up the Web-Cam on the big screen in the play room for the kids and they got to talk to Frankie and James. They were all so happy to see their heroes.
Now our beautiful daughter is sitting in her crib waiting for her daddy to return home so she can finally meet him. I put up pictures of him all over her room in hopes that she might recognize her father when he finally returns to us. She is so gorgeous, Samantha, has his eyes and dimples I can’t help but see his face when I look at her. I lay in our bed waiting for the next letter to come, holding on to any remnant of you that I still have left. It has been 1 year 3 months and 19 days since he left. Only a few more months to go and I get to see him again. He will finally get to meet his daughter.
I had the most amazing dream last night and I swear I saw him next to me in our bed. I could feel the warmth of his hand as he caressed my cheek and the familiar softness of his lips and he kissed me. It all seemed so real, he was dressed in his marine uniform. The camouflage slightly dirty from a hard day’s work, it looked like he had a dark stain on his left shoulder I guessed it was probably oil from one of the vehicles he worked on. In the dream he told me how much he loved me and our daughter and how he couldn’t wait to meet her one day, then he wrapped his arms around me and I fell back asleep in my dream. It had felt so real I had half expected to see him in the morning next to me in our bed.
Walking away from her and getting on the plane had to be one of the hardest things I had to do in my life. I hated how I had to leave her especially with a baby on the way, but I knew this came with being a marine. First ones out to fight luckily for me I was a mechanic so I wouldn’t see any major action. I would spend most of my days fixing up the various vehicles and wondering what she’s doing. A year and a half and I would be back, I chose to take no leave or vacation days so I could get back faster. I thought this would be a better idea but as this plane takes me father away I start to realize how long a year and a half really is. Our baby will be almost a year old by then.
I hope we have a boy I’ll get to teach him how to play catch, how to shave, and how to be a gentleman to girls. A baby girl would be nice too though, she would be my princess I would let her get away with anything except when she starts dating I will rip any guys head off who treats my baby girl anything less than the princess that she will be. I was lost in these thoughts when we landed in Germany.
“I’m going to go find a pay phone so I can call Carol” I told Frankie.
Frankie has been my best friend since I can remember he was the reason I joined the marines we had made a pact in 9th grade that we would join together, at that time it was cause we thought girls would find it sexy, but by the end of high school it turned into something we actually wanted to do for ourselves.
After searching I finally found a pay phone and dialed her number. She answered after the second ring.
“Hello?” she said groggily. I had forgotten that it was almost 3 in the morning back there.
“Hey baby I landed in Germany.” She seemed to wake up at the sound of my voice
“James! I’m sorry I didn’t know it was you.” she exclaimed “How was the flight?”
“It was alright, long but there was no turbulence so it wasn’t that bad. I miss you already, how are you?”
“I miss you too. It’s nice hearing your voice though thank you for calling me maybe now I can get a good night’s sleep I’ve been tossing and turning for the past couple of hours.” She said obviously exhausted.
“I’m sorry, my plane doesn’t leave for another hour or so, we can stay on the phone until I have to leave or you fall asleep which ever happens first.”
The next hour went by too quick, she didn’t fall asleep on the phone but she promised she would sleep as soon as we hung up. I reluctantly hung up the phone and walked to the terminal of the plane that was going to bring me to Iraq where I would then be transported to our base in Afghanistan by armored car.
I don’t think it hit me that I wasn’t in the U.S. anymore until about a week after I had got to the base. When I first got a chance to call her again, hearing her voice for the first time in a week made my stomach drop. We talked about mundane things, mostly about what she was doing and how the check up for the baby went.
“We are going to have a girl” I could almost hear the giant smile on her face as she spoke.
As soon as I got off the phone with Caroline I ran to go find Frankie. I found him under the hood of a car.
“I’m having a girl!” I exclaimed barely able to contain myself.
He punched my shoulder and said with a smile, “I really hope she gets all of Carol’s genes cause lord knows no one wants your ugly face.”
I fell asleep that night thinking a baby girl, my little princess. She is going to be so beautiful like her mommy. God I can’t wait to meet her.
The next few months went by painfully slow. I had my routine every day I thought I was going to go crazy from doing the same exact thing. Then I got the message from the colonel, Carol had gone into labor.
Her mom set up the web cam in the hospital room so I could see Caroline and our beautiful daughter after she gave birth. I was right they both looked so beautiful; I couldn’t stop staring at my daughter. She was my daughter; I couldn’t even wrap my mind around that. It all seemed so surreal.
“She has your eyes babe, big and brown she’s definitely going to be a heart breaker when she gets older” Carol chuckled.
“As long as she’s not the one with the broken heart I’m fine with it. We made one hell of a beautiful daughter honey.” I noted. I sat staring at the computer screen for a few minutes after they had both dosed off wishing I could be there to hold them, my beautiful girls.
It’s been 1 year 3 months and 18 days since I left the U.S. only a few more months to go and I will finally be back with my girls. Since the birth of Samantha, Carol has been sending me pictures of her once a week its crazy how much she has grown in just a few months, every new picture I get she looks so much older. She is starting to grow blonde hair like her mom, Carol was right she’s going to be a heart breaker.
Today we had to help some guys transport a tank to a different base. We had done this a few times so I knew the protocol; I had to have my weapon on me at all times. We had to go through an Iraqi town and they were always unpredictable when it came to seeing U.S. soldiers. Sometimes they loved us and brought food and other gifts like we were sent from heaven and other times they looks at us like we were sent from the deepest part of hell.
I got dressed and finished cleaning my gun when Frankie came in and said it was time to go. It was about an hour’s drive through the town then another half an hour till we got to the base we were delivering to. Thankfully I got the front seat so I wouldn’t be cramped in the back. Everything was going as normal until we hit a roadblock in the middle of town. We started to go around it, then everything got hazy. All I remember is a bright flash, screaming and the loudest ringing in my ears that I could ever imagine. Then everything went black.
I woke up in my bathroom at home; I was so confused This must be a dream. I thought that until I stared at my reflection in the mirror it was foggy like someone had taken a blurry picture of me. A candle was lit in the room so I could see the wound on my chest, it stained my suit a deep red. A shiny piece of shrapnel was sticking out of the wound. No this can’t be happening. I just became a Daddy I haven’t even met my daughter yet.
I walked into mine and Caroline’s bedroom and saw her laying there so peaceful in her sleep. I lyed down next to her and kissed her cheek to wake her up.
“James? What are you doing here?” she said half asleep.
“Shhhh sweetie it’s just a dream.” I said trying to make my last moments count.
“I miss you so much James, will you stay with me tonight? Why are you in your uniform? Oh gosh you’re even messy in my dreams, you got oil all over the left side of your uniform.” She laughed. God, I’m going to miss that laugh.
“Caroline, you know I love you and Sammy so much right? And I always will no matter what happens. I will always be here for you guys in your hearts. I can’t imagine a day without you.”
“Of course I know that honey, I love you so much.”
With that I wrapped my arms around her, kissing her neck gently and stayed with her until she fell asleep peacefully in my arms. After I was sure that she fell asleep I made my way to Samantha’s room. Everything was just how I had laid it out when I first found out we were going to have a baby. I leaned over her crib and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
“Daddy loves you baby girl.” I spoke softly to not wake her up.
I made my way back into our room so I could spend the last moment of my time on earth sleeping with Caroline.
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My name is Karlene Dillon I am 18 years old and I will graduate from high school soon and then move on to college in the fall. This is the first story I have ever written about love.