Craig and I met in 1995, the summer after I graduated from high school. I was slaving away in the drive thru at McDonalds asking all of Inverness, Florida if they'd like to try an extra value meal and planning to attend the local community college to which I secured myself a dandy scholarship that fully paid my tuition and books. I lived at home, had my first car and my life was boring and predictable. I had a handful of friends (most went off to college), a crazy frizzy mane of brown curly hair and a few too many extra pounds on my frame. Pretty much the same as high school, minus the car.
Even back then I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I really wanted to be a different person, but that wasn't a viable option, so I chose the safe community college route, hoping that I'd suddenly drop those extra pounds, meet the man of my dreams and never look back. For a down-to-earth realist, I couldn't help but defy my groundedness and keep hoping for some sort of magical transformation.
At this time Craig had returned from his stint in the Army, living it up as young bachelors are apt to do. He was done with the military and ready to put his GI bill to good use. However, he managed to misplace his discharge papers, the DD-214, which happens to be a very. important. document. Especially when trying to get the government to pay for your schooling. Due to the misplacement of the DD-214 and an unfortunate car dying episode, Craig's desire to get moving on with his life was severely impeded.
He worked for his mom, on a part time basis, preparing tax returns, but the dude needed money. Any guesses as to where he took up employment? Ah, yes. He buried his pride and started working at McDonalds.
We were a good team at McDs. It wasn't glamorous, but we had fun. It's hard to be glamorous when your hair is smells like french fry oil and your fingertips permanently smell like onions. We were quite inseparable, although the details of our time dating are beginning to fade. I do, however, remember that a whole lot of fast food was consumed. LOTS of Taco Bell. Oddly enough, we almost never eat fast food anymore. In fact, I haven't eaten Taco Bell in over 10 years. We were a lot different then. Young and uninterested in diet and exercise. It's too bad we wasted our good, young, spritely years eating and laying around. Kids are so dumb.
It didn't take long for Craig to realize that I was a positive influence in his life, not that I'm tooting my own horn, or anything. He knew he wanted to marry me, but also knew that I wouldn't consider it unless he, you know, DIDN'T WORK AT McDONALDS. I'm not knocking solid employment in the fast food industry, but the idea of financial security and health benefits were important to me. Why would I leave my safe home and dive into the unknown? I realize the romantics of the world might be inclined to take that proverbial leap of faith and follow their hearts, but I'm not a romantic. Please excuse me as I take a moment to barf. Did I just use two of the most cliched reality tv dating show phrases in one sentence? Ugh. Forgive me.
The thing is, I think with my head. Sometimes that can be a downfall and a total kill joy, but when considering the finality of marriage vows, I was going to make darn sure that I didn't vow to love, honor and cherish a fry cook. Does that make me sound like an elitist? I'm not. I promise.
None of that really mattered at the time because in my mind, marriage was still a long way off. Craig may have been 24, but I was only 19. I was still in college and, might I add, Craig STILL WORKED AT McDONALDS. I had a feeling we'd be coasting in that situation for quite a long time. Perhaps long enough for me to figure out what it is that I wanted to major in. That is, however, until Craig was on the receiving end of a fateful phone call from one SSG Clapp, the local Army recruiter. No, he wasn't calling to recruit Craig. Actually, he was calling to recruit Craig's sister, who also happened to have moved home. However, his sister was pregnant, thereby unable to fulfill any kind of Army commitment. Thankfully Craig was home to take that phone call. Not because he wanted so badly to get his sister out of the house, but because he wanted to see if SSG Clapp could locate the missing DD-214. The missing piece to the jumbled puzzle!
Not too long after that fateful phone call, Craig got a second call, informing him that he could pick up his DD-214. Such great news! He quickly borrowed my car, took off for the recruitment office, so eager to secure that document and get moving on with the college thing. He had great intentions. Great plans. Triumphantly, Craig returned with the DD-214 in his hand.....and news that he was going back in the Army! Wow, that was a surprise. Although, I found it to be a good surprise. Army=secure job + benefits. After meeting some more with the recruiters, filling out paperwork, having the necessary physicals and such, it was determined that Craig would head to Korea upon his initial re entry into the Army. Korea is a year long unaccompanied assignment, but it offered me time to finish my first two years of college; once he returned, we would get married and move to the next duty station.
A plan was in place. I like plans. I liked knowing what was ahead, but knew that I had time to think things through, plan accordingly and save up some much needed money. The plan was for me to take care of Craig's financial matters while he was away. I was going to manage his checkbook and make sure the large sum of debt he had accrued, and was understandably weighed down by, would be taken care of each month. Things were finally moving in a good direction for Craig. He was happy and so was I.
Two weeks before Craig was ready to ship off, we went to the movies with my sister and her friend in tow. As we sat together in the dark theater waiting for the previews to start, Craig, in a very thoughtful way said "you know, I'd make a lot more money if we were married."
Wah? Huh? Wait a minute.....was that a proposal?!?
To Be Continued........