A few months later I went to Seattle with some of my girlfriends...and ended up spending most of my time with Z. I realized I was crazy about him and mostly tried to ignore the Seattle/Army issue. We danced around it, not really defining a relationship but mostly…we were in a relationship.
Then he got The News. He was being deployed to Afghanistan for a year. My worst nightmare. We had only known each other for a few months…were we really even dating?...did I want to be his “girl back home”? That was a lot of pressure…too much pressure. I pulled away. I didn’t know if I could commit to a year when I had only known him a few months. And I had no desire to try to stick it out only to break up with him halfway through and become an emotional distraction while he was defending our country. I wouldn't be "that girl".
We both made decisions we regret that hurt each other in different ways as we tried to navigate this unfamiliar and uncomfortable aspect of our lives and relationship. I continued to pull away but remained very conflicted since I cared so much for him, but was so scared of what his life in the Army meant for me. Z reached a point where he knew he wanted to be with me, but only on the right terms. So he opened up to me and honestly shared exactly what was on his heart and mind: the good, the bad, the ugly. It was the perfect opportunity for me to get out, and I took it. We broke up, but nothing about it was final, clear, painless, or easy. It was not a clean break, in fact it was as messy as it could be.
We continued to talk, to fight, to push, to try working through things. I cancelled my next trip out to Seattle, my last chance to see him before he deployed. I cried, a lot. And then, he left.
While we were broken up, my feelings hadn’t changed, and neither had his. Another dynamic entered the relationship with the deployment…I was scared to death for his safety, I was sick to my stomach over our current status, I was confused. The year that followed was easily one of the hardest of my life so far. Trying to work out a relationship, to communicate, to grow, to heal, to move forward, to make decisions with someone who is a world away in a combat zone is really, really hard. And that’s a huge understatement. Communication was so difficult, both the physical aspect of trying to connect via phone or email from time zones apart on shoddy connections that would often cut off mid-conversation, as well as the emotional aspect of communication. Connecting, being on the same page, understanding each other...it was just HARD. Our priorities were obviously very different, he was under a lot of stress and in very unfavorable conditions. I was trying to straddle the line between going on with my normal life and dealing with the pain and complication of missing Z and figuring out where he fit in my life and vice versa.
We talked. We stopped talking. We tried to move on. We didn’t move on. I dated other guys, always ending because I wasn’t over Z and couldn’t really move forward with anyone else. I couldn’t shake my feelings for Z or the overwhelming feeling that I really needed to work through every aspect of this hard circumstance in order to come out on the other side (because at that point, it felt like there was no end in sight). I started praying, and praying HARD. Praying for me, praying for Zach, praying for us, whether together in a relationship or moving on singly. I don’t know that I’ve ever prayed so much and with such intensity. I felt like I didn’t have another choice…the only thing that would bring clarity and peace was prayer. So I prayed.
And I started to see big things happen. In my life, in Z’s life, in our relationship. Things that could have ONLY been accomplished because of prayer. Specific, real, tangible answers to the things I had been praying for. So I let go of a lot of my hurt and bitterness and fear and we started to productively work together on our relationship.
I just have to brag on Z a little bit at this point, because this was a really awful, ugly, hard season in our relationship (or lack of relationship?) and he just put his head down and pushed through with perseverance. He pursued me with such intent…there was no question in my mind where I stood with him or how he felt about me. He went above and beyond to make me feel loved and cared for, even from thousands of miles away. He spoiled me. He was creative. He involved my friends, sending money and detailed plans for sushi date nights and trips to the Fox Theater. He sent flowers nearly every week (my roommates the time rolled their eyes every time another bouquet showed up). He wrote letter after letter after letter (and I still have every one). His actions and his words lined up and we slowly built up trust and began to explore what it would look like to actually commit to this relationship.
To be continued...