1975. I was seventeen. He was older. If he hadn’t joined the Air Force to see the world, we never would have met. It’s twenty-two hundred miles from Phoenix to Sarasota, and desert dwellers don’t thrive in humidity. I sat at the piano playing the hymns of my childhood while the congregation sang and the quiet airman joined in. He wasn’t like the others. I wasn’t like the girls he’d dated. It seemed an unlikely match made in heaven. Those are the best.
I wasn’t looking for marriage. Neither was he. But from June when we first said hello to the following April when we both said good-bye, we fell hard. He was everything I knew I would love in a man. He called me Sonserai, his bright morning star. He also called me The Kid, because I was. I had another year of school to finish. He owed nearly two years to the military when they gave him orders for Germany.
I still remember where we were when I first heard that song. John Denver was the new folk favorite and his lyrics mirrored many of our feelings. “My Sweet Lady, do the tears belong to me, Did you think our time together was all gone?” was a dream of our someday life together and the approaching pain of a long separation. “Follow Me where I go, what I do and who I know, Make it part of you to be a part of me,” was sung joyfully the next fall at our wedding.
But two weeks before he had to report to his next base, we sat in a steakhouse with friends sharing a going away dinner. A melancholy song began to play over the speakers and my heart connected to the sentiment before I could prevent the falling tears. “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go . . .already I’m so lonesome I could cry,” the folk singer mourned. “So kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you’ll wait for me, hold me like you’ll never let me go. I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again, oh babe, I hate to go.”
It’s been over thirty-six years since he came back and those words still make me cry. Sixteen months apart because I was a year too young. But the separation demanded truth from us and, by the time he was discharged by the military, we gained a confidence in our relationship that has seen us through many storms on the level of that separation.
It wasn’t the age of the internet or cell phones or skype. We virtually dated by snail mail with three or four sneaky phone calls—courtesy of his communication air force buddies—thrown in. Every day we wrote about our thoughts and dreams and counted down the days til we’d be together again. And when I sent out the wedding invitations, I gave one of them to the mailman. If not for the postal service, who knows what would have become of us. I still buy stamps out of gratitude.
To this day I don’t understand how John Denver was able to garner our hopes and dreams and heartache into the lyrics that made him famous. I’m not sure why the marriage of a girl many thought was too young to a man some thought was too old for her has turned out to be so enduring. Maybe there’s no way to explain a lasting love. We just keep turning to each other for love and hope and comfort, filling one another’s senses—“Like a night in the forest, like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain, like a storm in the desert, like a sleepy blue ocean. . .”Like 1975.
(Thanks to Liz Shaw for today's inspiration from www.TheWritingReader.com, "Leaving On A Jet Plane.")