The Frog and the Owl Restaurant is a small café in Franklin, NC where my husband is attending a Park Ranger Certification course. It is one of the few places to eat in the small, Smoky Mountain town other than a fast food or a pizza place. Located on a cobble stone street in between an ice cream parlor and a thrift store, this is where we ate our Valentine’s dinner.
The quaint restaurant was lovely and warm inside, with candles to light each table and artwork on the walls displaying scenes from the beautiful mountainous region. The menu was a selection of pastas, seafood, and steak with a unique and creative twist to each dish. Our normal dinner conversation usually consists of what Eddie is doing in school or what I have been working on back home, but instead we began reminiscing about past Valentines Days and other milestones we’ve reached as a couple.
He’s told me the story before, but there is nothing like hearing it again – the day we met. We were both in the Army and it was my first day at Fort Bragg as a brand new 2nd Lieutenant. Eddie was a Sergeant. The two realms of officer and enlisted are forbidden to have a relationship outside of work, it’s called fraternization and it’s against regulation. Eddie told me that day I walked into the office and introduced myself (I was his boss), he couldn’t help thinking as he shook my hand, Why can’t enlisted girls ever be that pretty? Eddie’s respectful manner and overall genuineness caused me to think, That is the sort of man I could end up being with.
Several months later, Eddie prepared to go to Special Forces Training for a month, a grueling program that only the most physically and mentally fit soldiers stand a chance at completing. However four days before he was scheduled to leave, a theft in our unit threatened to keep him from attending. The entire unit was “locked down.” This meant absolutely no one could leave the building until someone came forward with the missing equipment. We were held there for days, sleeping on the floor, wearing the same clothes, and generally bored out of our minds. Thankfully, Eddie found a Scrabble game and asked if I wanted to play. We played probably 15 games in 3 days. I don’t think I ever beat him (although I’ve beaten him plenty since!), but we really began to talk and enjoy each other’s company despite the miserable circumstances around us. I was even a little sad when the lock down was lifted because I knew it meant he would be gone for a month.
When we were released, Eddie asked me as his supervisor, if I would drop him off at the training center. We pulled up to the building and Eddie collected his gear and got out. I wished him luck and waited in my car as I watched him walk up the long staircase and go inside the building. I could have drove off sooner, but I waited to see if he would turn around and wave to me one last time. He didn’t. He told me much later though, that he could see me in the reflection of the glass double doors and wanted to turn around, but was afraid of showing his true feelings. That’s when he knew he loved me and hoped that I might one day return his affection.
He told me that month was the most difficult month he’d ever endured. The physical pain pushed him to the limit and dozens of soldiers quit the first day, the first week, and all through the rest of the month even up until the very last event. He thought about how easy it would be to just walk away and quit like so many others, but he couldn’t stand the thought of going back and telling me that he quit. I didn’t tell him until later, but I made a bet with someone who didn’t think Eddie had what it takes to make it through. We bet $20 and a month later, that person paid me when we got the phone call that Sergeant Grimes completed the program.
It was just a few short days after Eddie’s return that he mustered up the courage to tell me that he could no longer ignore his growing feelings for me. And although we both knew what we stood to lose – our careers, promotions, salary, respect from peers – it scarcely seemed like there was even a choice to make. Of course we would be together. We should have been together from the first day we met. The consequences that we did endure were nothing compared to what we have already gained and will continue to gain for the rest of our lives.
At the corner table in the Frog and Owl, we talked freely about how lucky we were. It was not an everyday conversation, but a special one, reserved for only few times a year. I’ve lived our love story and have heard our love story, but I always love to hear it again.