The year was 2002.
It was late spring. I had been roommating with Shawn for a few months now. It was at this point where I concluded that maybe the whole “roommate thing” wasn’t for me. There were things that we didn’t see eye to eye on like my cats or my staying out passed 10pm on the weekend.
On one occasion Shawn, our other friend Becca and her husband and I went out to a “base bar”. This was a club located next to the base and was supposedly a good spot for some R&B music and dancing according to Becca’s husband who was in the military. Good music and men in uniform…you didn’t have to tell me twice—I was there.
So upon entering this bar/club, I immediately am drawn in. We sat down for a few but then I decided I needed my go-to long island iced tea. Now, me and the long islands have a love/hate relationship. I love drinking them but the next morning I hate how they make me feel. I put the hate part aside and made my way up to the long line at the bar. I’m looking around and taking it all in. Suddenly someone was grabbing my hand. Startled, I looked up and saw this very tall, handsome, well-built man with some bright blue eyes. “Let me show you a quicker way to get a drink ‘round here” I didn’t know whether to thank him or pinch myself because I thought I was dreaming. “Ok, sounds good to me”
He led me to his table where some of his friends were. Clearly they were all the military because they all had the same haircuts. He put his hand in the air for just a second and the waitress came over. He ordered my long island and his Smirnoff. After that, we were inseparable. We danced and talked. I found out he was from Kentucky and his name was Ben. He was in the army and was stationed at Fort Lewis. But what really got me was that southern accent. The “fixings” and “ya’lls” really had me interested. Someone different. Finally.
Ben and I saw each other almost every day. We talked, went out to dinners, and spent countless nights out on the town. He was more like a gentleman than anyone I had ever encountered. He always opened up car doors for me. He always insisted on paying even though I offered on several occasions. But the one thing that separated him from the rest was his ability to make you feel like when you were him, you were not only protected but you were someone important. I attribute all of these things to being from the south. I’m not sure if that’s true or not. But the quote “southern gentleman” rings true in this instance.
On one particular night a group of us went to a salsa club in Fife. Ben refused to dance with me. Not because he didn’t want to but because he said he couldn’t dance to the music. Well, after the 5th time I was asked to dance by a stranger, I decided I really wanted to dance. I stepped out with the little Hispanic guy and we danced a few dances. I came back to the table and Ben was gone. Where had he gone? Nobody knew where he was. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find him. Finally, I decided to check outside and there he was. He didn’t look very happy. “What’s the matter with you” I asked, nudging him with my elbow. “Nothing. Just stepped out for a minute” Ben said. “You wanna dance?” “You know white boys can’t dance to this” he replied with his southern twang. “C’mon, who cares?”
What came next was a game changer. He looked at me and said “I don’t like seeing you dancin’ with other people” What?? Maybe it was the alcohol in him talking. But up to this point our relationship had been just casual. Nothing serious. No labels. I didn’t ask questions and neither did he. We got along great and I wanted to keep it at that for as long as we could. I knew that he wouldn’t be stationed here forever but I tried not to think about that. We just genuinely enjoyed each other’s company and that’s all that mattered, for me anyways. I really didn’t know how to respond. I wasn’t wanting to get into a serious relationship because my track record wasn’t looking so good at this point. I mean let’s be honest I had already struck out 3 times and this fourth prospect wasn’t looking to great just because he was property of the United Stated Army and could be stationed anywhere at any time.
I never could find a proper response to him. So, I suggested we leave a little early. We said goodbye to everyone and left. We found ourselves talking late into the night. He drove me home about 3 am. I went to the door and it was locked. I didn’t have a key. Another “issue” I had with the roommate. I never got a house key. So, I ran back out before he drove away. I jumped in and we decided to go back to his place. Except his place was the barracks on base. This should be interesting. We drove up to these big buildings. I have to admit I was nervous. What if I got caught? Would I go to jail? Would Ben get into trouble? Ben assured me that wouldn’t happen. He had his own room. We walked up to the room and it was smaller than I had imagined. Just a bed and a small T.V. We talked for the rest of the night. Not about anything special but about everything.
The Fourth of July was just around the corner. I was excited to spend it with Ben but I knew soon after I would be leaving for 2 weeks. Shawn invited me to go with her to Mexico for a two-week vacation. There would also be a traditional Hispanic memorial for her late husband. I was looking forward to the trip but not leaving Ben.
We had a “Fiesta” themed going away party at the house. We had sombrero’s and Mexican food. Mariachi music playing and a lot of people made for a good time. It was during these times that I wish Jen and Alphonso would’ve been around. This was their kind of party.
Ben came and we spent our last hours talking and laughing before I boarded the plane. I didn’t know then that this would be the last of uncomplicated times for us. This would be the last of many things for me. Life was going to throw me a curve ball and this time I didn’t know if I was going to swing and hit it… or strike out.
- Disclaimer, names have been changed to protect anonymity