I wasn’t looking for a husband. Heck, I wasn’t even looking for a boyfriend. I was looking for myself. If I was good at anything, it was good at bad relationships. So I was getting to know and like myself – knowing that this was the way to potentially have a healthy relationship in the future. I hadn’t *really* dated in five years. I was okay with that. It was more simple not having that in my life.
And then a friend introduced me to my (future) husband. We were online friends first. We had a lot in common. We are both Veterans, we both had strings of bad relationships, he has a severe TBI and so does my son… We became friends. Close friends. I could talk to R about pretty much anything. And he felt that I was the only person who “got” him and accepted him for who and how he was. Two years rolled by as we got to know each other. I had a HUGE school girl crush on him. He didn’t know and did not seem to share my crush.
The year that I turned forty I took a trip to Germany. R was at the National PTSD Center in California getting treatment. I was only gone for two weeks. He was in treatment for about three months. When I returned from Europe, R called me. He sounded nervous so I asked him what was up. He hemmed and hawed and finally spit out the reason for his call. He wanted to take me out on a date. (Did I mention that he lived in Arizona and I lived in Maine and we had only ever known each other online and via phone calls???) I am never at a loss for words but I was at that moment and all I could spit out was, “Can I call you back?”. Not my most eloquent response ever but I was in shock – I had no idea that he thought of me in that way. We hung up and I called a friend in CT who knew all about my crush. She told me to call him back and say yes, we could figure out the logistics later.
I called R back and accepted. We discussed logistics and he said he’d love to visit Maine. So we started planning. It honestly never crossed my mind, in that moment, how all of the PTSD/TBI/Severely wounded stuff would play in to our budding relationship. I had vaguely thought to myself that I was well prepared for R’s injuries because of my son’s and because I worked in healthcare. I began to read up on combat PTSD and felt that I could handle it all. What I didn’t realize was that those books don’t look like real life at all.
R flew out to Maine a month later and we spent several weeks together. I think we both knew pretty quickly that we wanted to be together long term. Some would say it was very fast, and they would be right. I did get small glimpses of his PTSD while he was in Maine but, again, nothing prepared me for the full force of it on a 24/7 basis.
About six months in, I quit my job, packed up my life and moved to Arizona. I was a bundle of emotions the entire trip out there. I had left behind everything – my job, family and friends. My security. I was excited and terrified all at the same time. We had the typical “honeymoon” phase that any relationship does at first. And then we started closing in on his biggest triggers – Memorial Day and then the weeks leading up to his Alive Day.
I was woefully unprepared for how to deal with what R was going through. I responded like I would to a person who hadn’t gone through what R had. I didn’t realize that there was a better way to respond. I was making things worse. And, quite honestly, I was wondering what in the hell I’d gotten myself in to. I know that sounds really terrible, but it’s the truth. This is not how I thought a “bad” day/week/month was going to look. Our apartment felt like a war zone. I felt like I was walking through a mine field and that anything I said or did had the potential to explode. I truly did not think we would make it through our first year together.
And then I found a book that changed my life while cleaning up after a PTSD tirade. It was a book that had been given to R’s ex wife right after he was wounded. (She left him shortly thereafter.) She had never even opened the book. I sat down in the middle of the mess of broken glass, books, CDs, etc. and I started to read. What that book contained was a virtual road map of all of the ways that I was making things worse. Of what I thought I knew and understood about PTSD that was so wrong. Of ways to listen, respond and understand that would help us weather these storms better. That book saved our relationship. I’m not going to say that the first year wasn’t rocky. It was! But we muddled through and a little over a year after we started dating, R asked me to marry him. I, of course, said yes.