Today I went down to Colorado Springs to attend a meeting where El Paso County declared April “Donate Life Month” and made that proclamation in my husband’s honor. And that’s truly what it was.
It was a really emotional trip and I don’t know why that surprised me. But it did. I realized today that Colorado Springs will always mean the bookends of our time together because we had our first hello and our final goodbye within a few miles of each other. Considering where we had lived and how much we had traveled...it’s amazing to think that our life together began and ended in the same spot.
What a fool I was to not realize it before.
I met my husband through my roommate in college, Cheryl. We were freshmen at the University of Northern Colorado and her older brother was a senior at the Air Force Academy. She talked me into going down there for a football game one Saturday morning because she didn’t want to drive alone. And it was there that I met my husband and his friends, Matt, Jason, and Steve.
It seemed like from that moment on, every weekend involved some combination of those guys. A few would come up and hang out over the weekend, trying to get a glimpse of what college life was like without early morning Reveille and forced bed-making. Or Cheryl and I would make our way down to the Academy, trying to pretend that we were “cool” but in reality we weren’t. It didn’t take long for us to become what I still think of as Colorado’s version of Beverly Hills, 90210, with Cheryl dating Jason (they married as well) and me dating my husband.
Even before my husband died, I felt nostalgic for that time when we met...when all of us met. I remember thinking I would probably never feel as special about a moment in time as I did that one. We were young and life seemed limitless. And we were under that assumption because we tested those limits on a regular basis.
After the Donate Life ceremony today, I went back to the Academy and drove around for the first time, alone, since my husband has been gone. I’ve been back with the kids, trying to force them to remember with me what an amazing time in our lives that was, but of course that’s impossible.
I’m hoping that’s something they will understand at some point, but it may take living through a little magic themselves before they really get it.
I drove past the parade field, where Cheryl and I would watch the cadets marching, trying to find the guys we knew in a sea of matching uniforms. I stood overlooking where the cadets walked from the dorms to their classrooms, wondering what the new members of the Thirsty Third were up to and if they realized that the friendships they’re making now may very well be the closest they will ever have. I cried a little bit as I remembered the day that my husband escorted me to his classes when he was a senior, dressed in his blues complete with white gloves.
We all have times in our lives that seem magical to us and very rarely do we recognize those times when they’re happening. We’re too busy, too young, or too naive to know that we are experiencing something that we will eventually look back on and wish we could do all over again.
Every time I drive through Colorado Springs, I see landmarks that remind me of that time in our lives. And even though those memories should feel like a lifetime ago...they don’t. They feel like they were just yesterday.
The Old Chicago’s that Cheryl’s parents took an entire group of cadets and their friends for dinner while we were in college and would do just about anything for a free meal (and now that I’m an adult, I shudder to think what that tab was). Every time I pass by, I think of her dad, who got slightly buzzed on about 2 beers...and then we suddenly couldn’t find him anywhere in the restaurant.
The hotel where Cheryl and I stayed while I waited for my husband (then boyfriend) to pick me up for the Air Force Academy’s Graduation Ball. And the picture I have of that ball when I thought, even at 18, that my arms looked fat in that dress.
The room where he became an officer.
The sign on the way in that says “Welcome to YOUR Air Force Academy” that would always inspire me to say to my husband, “That’s right! It’s MY Air Force Academy! I own your ass!” And now when I think back, I don’t know why I said that because I was too young to even pay taxes.
Fast cars and convertibles. Cheap beer and some sort of schnapps (is it bad that I can't remember?). Wearing a path on I-25, going back and forth every weekend, no matter what the weather was like.
I remember all of us together, for the first time in so many years, after my husband’s funeral. I ignored the other guests and tried to soak up as much time with this group...my group...as I could, feeling like it was just as it had been before and that we hadn’t skipped a beat. And then realizing we were short one person and how impossible it seemed that he wasn’t there.
I’m so lucky that I have these friendships. I worried after my husband was gone that they would be gone too. But I’ve never had to think to myself, “I wonder what ever happened to...” because between all of us, we do our best to keep up. I guess it was impossible to undo the tie that bound us all together in the first place.
I remember that time with laughter, tears, and a lot of both at the same time. I know that time can’t be reversed, but if I could go back, just for a day, that’s where I would be.
When irreversible friendships started.
When a roommate was much more than just someone you shared space with.
When four guys, who seemed to be more like brothers than friends, would dissolve into laughter at one simple toast.
“Here’s to honor.”
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© Catherine Tidd 2011