THE SUMMER OF LOVE
It couldn’t have been a more perfect summer. I was cruising through my Air Force technical school training, acing tests and earning academic achievement awards. I had just finished my Basic Electronic Principals course, having graduated at the top of my class, and I was in the midst of my Networking Essentials course.
Everything I was learning was coming naturally and easy to me, which was a relief after I had just spent the previous year struggling night and day, barely having a life, trying to keep up in my Chinese classes in Monterey. I remember envying those kids who barely studied and yet still aced tests and quizzes as if they had been speaking Chinese all their lives. Now, I knew what that felt like. It might have bored me to tears, but electronics and computer networking sure was easy for me.
And the best part was that I had a life – and a cool new girlfriend! I was so happy. This wasn’t just the kind of excitement that someone gets when an attractive member of the opposite sex shows an interest in you. This was much better. Karen represented everything I ever wanted in a girl but was afraid to ask for. She was intelligent, driven, charismatic, funny, fashionable, and a darn good cook!
Every evening after class and working out, I would drive over to Karen’t apartment and let myself in (I had a key now, how exciting!) and study while I waited for her to get off of work at the real estate office. When Karen arrived home, we would have a couple of beers together (yes, I was drinking again and Karen was teaching me to appreciate finer beers) and Karen would cook dinner for us.
We had a system worked out. You see, Karen loved to cook, but she didn’t like washing dishes one bit. I, on the other hand, loved cleaning and washing dishes, so we had a discussion about this and it was decided that when she cooked I would be responsible for the cleanup. You see? Everything was perfect. Or so I thought…
Like any relationship, there were bound to be misunderstandings and fights. But so far we had been dating for almost a couple of months and so far so good. Everything had happened so fast – and I had fallen in love faster than I had ever imagined possible. I had graduated from the futon to the bedroom within a couple of weeks and we had become quite active in the bedroom not long after.
After we had dinner together, and after I cleaned, we would sit and talk or watch TV together. Karen was very into cartoons and the Cartoon Network – and not just the Adult Swim programming. We watched Teen Titans, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and Full Metal Alchemist among others. Karen had a special obsession with an anime show called Inuyasha.
Karen’s work was schedule grueling. She put in long hours at the office and because she was the lowest on the totem pole she had to pick up the most undesirable shifts, including weekends. Because of this, Karen and I still sent each other regular messages over email and we had both graduated from Friendster to MySpace where we also messaged each other while she was at work.
I filled much of this extra free time playing volleyball in a base league, volunteering as a tutor at a local elementary school, studying with my classmates (this often consisted me and a few other students who “got it” re-teaching the day’s lessons to some of the other Airmen who were struggling in the course). On the weekends Karen would often have to work and I would bring her lunch and steal a few moments to hang out with her in her office.
When Karen wasn’t working on the weekends we used that time to get out of Biloxi. Sometimes we would go to a club in Mobile, Alabama or on another time we would head the opposite direction out of town and go to New Orleans. One weekend some of Karen’s old buddies in a rock band called Brandtson whom she had met in Florida were performing in Lafayette and Karen was super excited to bring me to their show and introduce me to everyone. Actually, I think Karen might have also been a bit apprehensive because apparently she had previously had a thing with the drummer, Jared, and that might have made things a bit awkward.
As Karen and I began to get to know each other better and learn about each other’s personal histories a few rules of engagement began to surface. One such rule came out after Karen went back to Florida to visit her family and friends.
While Karen was on her trip, of course, we talked on the phone every day. We couldn’t stand to not be around each other or talking to each other. One day, however, Karen called me and she was very upset. She told me that she had seen her ex-boyfriend whom she had dated for six years and that she had told him about her and I. According to Karen, her and this guy had broken up shortly before she had moved to Biloxi but he had somehow misinterpreted their breakup as just a break and thought that things were going to work out later down the line between them.
Anyway, Karen expressed to me how terrible she felt because she had not made things clear to him and how he said just awful things to her that made her feel very hurt. My heart was breaking for her. Just who did this guy think he was? What a jerk. On the other hand, I couldn’t really blame him. After all, I knew first hand that Karen was quite a catch and if she had broken up with me in order to take a job two states over I might harbor a hope that that wasn’t really the end myself.
After Karen came back from her trip I learned more about the kind of relationship she and this ex-boyfriend had. It didn’t sound like a very healthy relationship at all. She told me of how he was an extremely jealous and controlling boyfriend and early in their relationship he started to tell her who she could and couldn’t hang out with, who she could be friends with, and when she could go out. It seemed that he never would let her go out without him because he just didn’t trust her. And it wasn’t just that he wouldn’t trust her to not cheat on him, but he didn’t trust her to have the “right kind of friends” that would be a good influence on her.
Of course, all of this sounded just absolutely crazy to me! I couldn’t believe Karen had spent six years with this guy. Karen made it clear to me in no uncertain terms that the if I ever gave a hint of being the jealous type or offered any opinions about who she should or shouldn’t hang out with she would be out the door and never look back. Like my networking classes at Keesler, this was a task that was going to be no problem for me as was quite natural for me to be extremely trusting in a relationship. However, the trauma she had experienced in her last relationship did leave me a bit paranoid about how I behaved and I went to great lengths to let Karen know that I trusted her no matter what.
But Karen did not trust me. She made as much clear to me one afternoon in early June.
It was June 4, 2005. Karen and I had been together for almost two months now and we had only had one real fight up until that point. It had been a strange sort of fight too. So, let me pause for a moment and tell you about our first fight. I’ll get back to June 4th in a moment.
The first fight Karen and I ever had started when Karen and I were watching TV together. A commercial came on that led Karen to make a snarky joke about my growing up and Missouri and something about dumb rednecks. It’s strange really, because I don’t really remember exactly what she said – that became a moot point after what transpired.
When Karen made this joke it offended me somewhat, so I decided to tell her as much. I said, “Karen, look… When I grew up in Missouri one of the things that bothered me most was some of the backwards culture there.
“I hated living in Missouri. But my family is not really part of that redneck culture. My grandparents who lived in Missouri just both passed away last year and your comment just really hurt my feelings. I like your jokes and your sense of humor, but can we just agree that that subject is off limits? It is something I am really sensitive about.”
Karen’s reaction is one that completely shocked me – but one I would learn to get used to in the coming months. She went stone cold silent, stood up, and walked into her room and locked the door. I was completely mystified by this response. I tried talking to her through the door but got no answer. I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on.
Now, if there is one thing I hate more than anything in the world it is being ignored. No, that’s not exactly it… it is when someone blatantly refuses to communicate. Communication is extremely important to me. After knocking on her door and trying to get Karen to come out I quickly became annoyed. And annoyance quickly melted into anger. I began yelling through the door, begging Karen to come out and talk to me about whatever it was that was wrong.
Finally, the door did open and Karen emerged. But she wouldn’t look at me. She wouldn’t speak to me. Instead she went into the kitchen and started washing the dishes. This made me even more angry because it upset the balance that Karen and I had in our relationship: She cooked food. I washed the dishes. It is strange how such a small act can communicate so much. It made me feel like Karen didn’t want me to do my part – that something in our relationship was now messed up and that perfect balance we had been building was ruined.
I begged Karen to just please stop washing the dishes and let me do my part. Finally, she acquiesced and went to the couch and started flipping through the channels on the TV. The only acknowledgement that Karen had given me up until that point was to stop washing the dishes. I immediately set to work on the dishes and continued to talk to Karen through the Kitchen window. Still, no response.
I finished the dishes, dried my hands, and went back into the living room to try to speak to Karen. I sat down next to her on the couch, but she turned away from me. I sat on the floor in front of the TV and she leaned to look around me. Still not a word. At one point she just stared blank faced right through me, visibly reacting to what was on the television and paying me no attention. It was the strangest behavior I had ever seen.
At this point my mind and my emotions were contorted in absolute confusion. I was at my wit’s end. I had never ever had a fight with someone like this. I began to get even more desperate and beg and plead with her as I raised my voice more and more.
“Karen, why won’t you talk to me?! Why won’t you look at me?! What is wrong with you?! What did I do? Whatever it was, I’m sorry! Please, just talk to me. This is crazy! You’re acting crazy!”
I began pacing back in forth between the kitchen and the living room. It wasn’t a very large apartment so the pacing was all rather frantic. Finally, after I reached a boiling point of hurt, anger, and confusion and my voice had escalated to near screaming levels Karen acknowledged me.
“Okay! I’ll talk to you, just calm down. Lower your voice, my neighbors will hear.”
We began to talk and what came out was that Karen was incensed with me for trying to make her feel bad. Yeah, apparently my expressing to her that something she said offended me was, in her mind, a vicious attack on her free speech. My choice to be offended in the first place – when she obviously had no intention to offend me – was a mean spirited attempt to put her down and make her feel bad about herself. And what was worse was that I had just spent the past forty-five minutes yelling at her which was extremely disrespectful.
By the time all was said and done I found myself apologizing to Karen for yelling at her, apologizing for being offended by what she said, and apologizing for telling her I was offended which was a rude attempt to make her feel bad about herself. In retrospect, this was nuts. Sure, I may have gotten out of line when I overreacted to her use of the silent treatment and raised my voice to her, but apologizing for being offended and making her feel bad by telling her she said something that offended me? Ludicrous.
That first fight happened about one month into our relationship in early May and everything had been smooth sailing ever since. Until that day in June.
It was Saturday, June 4, and Karen and I had decided to spend the day in at her apartment hanging out. I had some studying to do and she had work papers to go over so we were having a work/hang out day together. When lunch time rolled around I went out to pick up some food for us and left my cell phone at her apartment. While I was gone Karen decided to look through my cell phone at my text messages and my call log. Of course, she didn’t find anything suspicious, but when I got back to the apartment and looked at my phone it was obvious that it had been tampered with.
“Karen, while I was out, did you look through my phone?”
At first she tried to deny it which made me even more angry. I couldn’t understand the violation of trust – and the lack of trust on her part – when everything seemed to be going so perfectly between us. I explained with exasperation how I had left my phone a certain way and when I came back it was obvious she had been going through it. So, Karen reacted like she did last time and start to shut down completely and locked herself in her room again.
The “argument” had turned into a one-way conversation once again. But at this point, I was so upset I continued through her bedroom door, yelling at her, telling her how violated I was and how I just didn’t think I could forgive her actions. When she finally emerged from her bedroom she began to gather up all the little gifts and trinkets I had given to her over the past two months and try to force me to take them back. All this without saying a word to me.
This further upset me and I tried to explain to her I wasn’t going to take those gifts back just because I wanted to break up with her, I wasn’t like that.
“Those are your things. I gave them to you. I don’t want them back. I bought them for you.”
She wouldn’t listen. And she wouldn’t speak either. She just kept trying to return her gifts to me and finally gave up and went back to her room. I continued to let my anger seethe and continued to give her a piece of my mind about trust in relationships and how snooping was something I couldn’t tolerate and that she of all people should know how important trust was. Finally, I very angrily told her it I needed to think about things but I wasn’t sure I could be with her anymore. Then, I left to go home to my apartment on base.
That night was one of the few times that summer I slept in my own bed by myself. Karen and I originally had plans to go out that night, but now we were “broken up” – or, at least, I was very seriously considering breaking up with her. I drifted off to sleep with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was a fitful sleep.
The next day was not much better. I distracted myself by going shopping on base, studying for my classes, and surfing the internet. Finally, that afternoon I received an email message from Karen in my Friendster account, of all things. It was a sentimental gesture I suppose.
Sunday, June 5, 2005
Subject: My Apology
I know you told me yesterday that you don’t know if you could ever forgive me. I’m not asking for forgiveness, but I want you to know that I am sincerely sorry for going through your phone. i’ve felt like a terrible person ever since and it’s not something i usually do. i was not forcing your gifts back to you. i thought i was being nice, by offering them back to y ou. my purpose was not to ofend you. you’re right when you say i was a completely different person, and i was for doing those things. it is not something i want to be. it will not happen again with anyone else i know or meet. i’m just sorry that it happened with you. i’m sorry. i’m sorry, i’m sorry
After seeing her message, I decided to call Karen up and ask her if we could get together and talk. I met her at her apartment and we sat down to discuss everything that had transpired. I told Karen that I forgave her for what she had done and was glad that she had apologized. Then, I made my apologies for yelling at her and overreacting the way that I had. It was then that I explained to Karen how much I realized I was in love with her and that I could probably forgive her for anything. Karen told me she felt the same way and that she was relieved that I didn’t want to break up with her over this.
That fight and the conversation that occurred afterwards brought our relationship to a whole new level. Or maybe it just made us realize the level our relationship had already quickly evolved to. We were no longer just dating, but “seriously dating” and we began to talk about our future together and make plans.
We discussed Karen’s job situation and my impending transfer to a permanent duty station when I graduated from at the end of August. We decided that no matter what happened we wanted to stay together and we would just figure things out. In the months that followed, we started to discuss other serious subjects such as our ideas about marriage, children, and future career plans.
But that fight also established am unhealthy pattern in our relationship. Once a month, without fail, Karen and I would have a big knock-down drag-out fight. It often would start the same way. Karen would start acting strange, or, not her regular self and say or do things that hurt and upset me. I would express my hurt to her and Karen would react by shutting down and pretending I didn’t exist. My frustration with this behavior would escalate and I would desperately do everything I could to get Karen to “snap out of it” and talk to me eventually raising my voice, calling her names, and in general acting completely inappropriate. Finally, after escalating my begging and pleading with her to an intense enough level, Karen would engage me and we would have it out in a real fight. And things would eventually resolve themselves by me apologizing to Karen for all the inappropriate ways I acted and my audacity to try and make her feel bad by complaining in the first place.
Outside of our once-per-month epic fights, everything else couldn’t have been better. Karen and I were going out regularly, I was basically living with her in her apartment, and she had even taken a trip out to Texas with me to attend my cousin’s wedding and meet the rest of my family. That’s how serious we were. Of course, my family was completely enchanted with Karen. She was a charming and charismatic individual and just an absolute pleasure to be around. My uncle even took me aside and said to me, “This one is a keeper. You better treat her right.”
On schedule, our next big fight came in the first week of July. It was on our three month anniversary of first meeting. And it was over another Airman at Keesler whom Karen had befriended named Cory.
It was no secret that Karen wanted to have her own independent social life and she established this by announcing to me that she was going to start hanging out with an Air Force Reservist she had met named Cory.
For July 5 I had planned to surprise Karen with a special anniversary dinner and romantic evening. I had asked around among some of the local Air Force guys I had met on base and made reservations at a fancy restaurant that was suggested to me. I didn’t tell Karen about my plans, I just assumed that we were going to hang out that night because we hung out together every night and, after all, it was our anniversary.
On Sunday, July 3, when I mentioned getting us hanging out on the 5th Karen informed me that she made plans to hang out with her new friend, Cory, that day. This really disappointed me, but I didn’t want to give Karen a whiff of jealousy or seem controlling in any way like her last boyfriend, so I acted like I was happy for her that she was making new friends and finding things to do outside of just hanging out with me. I already knew she and Cory had been hanging out a couple of times and I tried to invite myself along, but she told me that Cory didn’t really want to hang out with me for one reason or another. This raised my suspicions about his intentions, but I kept those to myself. After all, I completely trusted Karen and knew she would never betray me. If Cory put the moves on her she could handle herself.
I still wanted to have a romantic anniversary evening with her, so very tactfully tried to ask her how long she planned on hanging out with Cory. She said that she didn’t expect to hang out with him past 6 o’clock and that she would call me when she was done hanging out. I called the restaurant and pushed our dinner reservations back to 7:00
It was a four-day holiday weekend, so I spent the day in my apartment on base which had increasingly come to feel like a foreign place to me. I read for a while and then surfed the web on my computer waiting for Karen to call or text me. I began to lose track of time and the next time I looked at the clock it was almost 7pm. Still no message from Karen. So, I sent her a quick text message.
“Hey Karen, just wanted to see if you are still out or if I should come over to your apartment now.”
Karen texted me back that dinner with Cory had run a little late and she would be heading home very soon and she would text me telling me when to meet her there. I almost went ahead and headed over to her apartment then so I could surprise her with some of the gifts I had bought her and we could still make our dinner reservations but something told me to just stay put and wait to hear from Karen. Another thirty minutes went by. So I texted her again asking about her status.
Karen continued to text me back with what seemed like a messages of increasing annoyance. Not with me, but with Cory.
“Hey, sorry, I’m at my apartment now, but Cory invited himself up to hanging out.”
“Cory is still here. He won’t leave, we’re still hanging out.”
At that point I figured Karen was in trouble. And, I was annoyed that I had to cancel our dinner reservations. It seemed like this guy, Cory, was being a nuisance and wouldn’t leave her alone and Karen wasn’t doing a good job of sticking up for herself and getting the message across that he was overstaying his welcome. So, I decided to go rescue her. I hopped in my car and made the short drive over to Karen’s apartment and rung the doorbell. Cory answered the door with a beer in his hand. The TV was on and Karen was standing in the kitchen drinking a beer as well.
I quickly introduced myself to Cory and let myself in. What transpired can only be described as absolute awkwardness. And I made a point of making sure it was awkward. I tried to engage Cory in conversation, but every time he said something to me I made a sort of snide comment back to him. At one point we were looking at pictures on Karen’s wall and he said something about how the pictures must say a lot about what kind of person Karen is to which I replied, “Yeah, you must not know Karen very well. Not like I know her. I guess when you really know someone you just know them.”
At this point, Cory seemed to get the hint, or at least became uncomfortable with the situation enough that he decided to call it a night and see himself out. Karen was all smiles and hugs telling him goodbye and walking him to the door. When she closed the door, I sighed a sigh of relief and said to Karen, “Thank god he’s finally gone.”
Karen, was not so happy however. In fact, the look on her face told me that she was absolutely mortified. She went into a tirade about how I was so rude to the one friend she had managed to make in Biloxi and how I had perhaps ruined her chance at having a friend. I was dumbfounded. I tried to explain to Karen that I thought I was doing her a favor and that by her text messages I had gathered that Cory was overstaying his welcome and that she wanted me to come over and get him to leave. This did not satisfy her and she told me how my behavior reminded her of her ex. I had to beg her forgiveness for the misunderstanding. I wasn’t trying to be controlling or possessive, I sincerely thought I was doing her a favor and had completely misread the situation.
Our third fight was another knock-down drag-out doozie. But, like before, after much yelling, gnashing of teeth, and eventual tears we were able to resolve things and eventually go to bed without being angry or bitter with one another. That was something we had decided that we would never do: Go to bed angry. So, our three month anniversary romantic evening was ruined
Karen continued to hang out with Cory on occasion and I made every effort to not interfere. The entire situation bothered me, but I didn’t want Karen to think I was trying to be possessive of her. I tried a couple of more times to invite myself along on one of their planned outings, and Karen said she would check with Cory to see if he was comfortable hanging out with me. When she got back to me, she explained that because the way I acted the first night I met him, Cory didn’t like me and didn’t want to be around me at all.
I tried to reason with her and asked her for a chance to just meet up with Cory and apologize to him for being rude that night. I told her it was weird for a guy to hang out with another guy’s girlfriend and not want to have anything to do with that guy. I said that if we were going to be together long term like we had talked about our friends needed to at least be comfortable around each other – not that I was telling her who she could or couldn’t be friends with, I just figured it would be more healthy for everyone if we all were friends and at least had a chance to get along.
Karen wouldn’t hear it. Or, at least Cory wouldn’t hear it. Finally, I told Karen what I really suspected, “Karen, this guy likes you. He wants to date you! Does he even know that I am your boyfriend? If he knew I was your boyfriend then surely he wouldn’t be acting like this. There is a certain amount of respect among guys – among fellow service members – that this wouldn’t be happening if he knew we were dating.”
Karen insisted her and Cory were completely plutonic, he had never expressed an interest in her, and that he knew I was her boyfriend. He just felt too awkward to be around me.
“Are you absolutely sure?” I asked her, “Maybe you should just talk to him tonight and re-explain the situation and tell him how sorry I am for making him feel uncomfortable and that it was all just a misunderstanding. I’m sure he will understand and give me another chance.”
Well, Karen and Cory went out that night and she reported back to me that she tried explaining everything to Cory but he still didn’t want to have anything to do with me. “That can only mean one thing, Karen. This guy LIKES you. He wants you. He’s trying to steal you from me. Are you 100% positive he hasn’t done or said anything that would seem like he was hitting on you or wanted to be more than friends?”
Karen just laughed at me and said that of course he hadn’t. She and Cory had a very plutonic relationship and as far as she knew there was a girl back in Nebraska that Cory was into that he was planning on asking out when he finished his training at Keesler at the end of the year and returned back home where he was an Air Force Reservist.
And that was that. Case closed. Karen and I continued to live together in her apartment and every once and a while she would go out with Cory, by herself, and I would stay in or find something else to do that night. We still spent almost every waking moment together: Going to beaches, going to movies, concerts, and watching a lot of Cartoon Network. I made that drive up and down Beach Boulevard every night, listening to The Killers Hot Fuss album on my CD player and snacking on a bag of Swedish Fish (the official soundtrack and candy of the summer of 2005).
Everything seemed perfect. Well, almost perfect. There was one major looming concern drawing closer every day: The end of my training and inevitable transfer to my first permanent duty station which, as far as I knew, could be on the other side of the world. Where would I end up How would Karen and I survive the impending long term relationship?