By: Kimberly Lara, IML Guest Feature
We’re stopped at a red light. Ding. I shouldn’t check my phone, but I do. The perfect photo of an imperfect retirement ceremony. Andrew and I are halfway home on our way to pick up James to take him to his marching band performance at Friday’s football game. Fifteen minutes ago, our hero retired from the United States Air Force. On Zoom.
Rewind eighteen years. It’s a hot, very hot, Vegas night in late June, and I pull the door open to my Starbucks, with its amber glow beckoning. It’s a quiet night. Just me and the rich aroma of a bold Verona roast. And the buzz of conversation among the baristas. One more refill. I approach the counter and notice his dark hair and genuine smile. “I’m Gus,” he says. “Kim,” I return. Offering a quick smile, I head for the door. Back in the car, I flip down the visor, and in the dim, abrasive light, no makeup. I’ll be back.
Saturday rolls around, and this time, I’m ready. I head back and though it’s busy and bustling, the connection is undeniable. Leaving my phone number on the back of the receipt, I’m not sure what to expect. I’m leaving for college in a month.
They say you should get to know one another. Make sure it’s the right person. The right time. I say love fearlessly and live passionately. That barista, Gus, was an Airman First Class in the United States Air Force, and he got orders overseas six short months after that fateful meeting.
Growing up, I had no experience with the military, save for one friend whose dad was in the Air Force. I visited the commissary on base with her once, and immediately felt like we were entering a very secret, but very cool little societal bubble as we drove onto Nellis Air Force Base. Little did I know then that this short experience foreshadowed what would be the fabric of my adulthood, the driving force behind our family.
While some military spouses undoubtedly have parents or extended family members who have served in some capacity in the armed forces, for many of us, we meet and fall in love with our soldier or Airman, and our heart makes up our mind for us – we figure it out as we go. This was certainly the case for me when I married Gus six months after meeting him only a month after graduating high school.
One dreary May morning, we pulled up to a local pub in Germany, because pubs in Germany are open in the morning. With no car, no phone, and few belongings, we had only one another in those early days. They say it’s hard, marrying young. It is. But we were able to grow up together, not just grow old together.
We spent that first year just as we had hoped. We traveled Europe in a way few others get to experience. Cheaply. A frightening stay in a questionable French motel followed by two nights in a fancy hotel just steps from the Louvre – a reservation we definitely couldn’t afford on the salary of an airman and a part time bank teller. Quick flights on long weekends. Long drives on quiet country roads. We always say we’ll be back.
Gus held our first baby, a boy, born a few short years later, when I was just 21 years old, and had never seen a baby so tiny. Being the youngest from a large family, he was used to babies, and diapers, and crying. I wasn’t. We made a good pair; I would change the diapers, and he would make the bottles. Make sure you marry the right person, they said.
The days were long, but the years were short. We found ourselves headed home, “the States,” as they’re called. A few short years, assignments, and career changes later, we welcomed another boy. We welcomed more military moves, more friends, and more communities.
Promotions, duty stations, resignations, and kindergarten registrations. Crunchy leaves underfoot gave way to tender bright green buds overhead. The diapers are long gone, replaced by seasons of basketball and baseball, then discussions of girlfriends and college-credit courses. Three years before retirement, we began planning for the next chapter. We always said we would return to his home state of Texas, where I would teach and he would enjoy his hobbies of gardening and grilling.
Today, I am cherishing the drop offs and pickups of the boys at the schools they love in League City, Texas. I am cultivating new relationships with inspiring fourth grade students, and Gus is gardening and grilling, but also enjoying his new position at Johnson Space Center here in Houston, an opportunity we only dreamed about.
Military life is full of twists and turns, and it’s easy to get disappointed and disillusioned, but there’s usually a rainbow after a storm. Sometimes it’s a faint ray of sunlight after a brief afternoon shower, and sometimes it’s the bright, colorful expanse of the sky after a hurricane. The retirement ceremony wasn’t what we imagined. But life is. It’s more than we imagined.
In honor of Military Marriage Day, which is August 14th, we would like to feature various military love stories. If you would like to submit your love story to be featured on It’s a Military Life’s blog, please check out the Military Marriage Day website here: https://www.militarymarriageday.com/vppp.